Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Despite the fact that the Giants are out of playoff contention, they managed to put together a swell four-game winning streak. What makes that streak even sweeter is the fact that three of those wins came in a four game set against the Dodgers in LA.
After failing to score off Brian Wilson and dropping the first game to an Adrian Gonzalez walk-off, the Giants managed to beat Clayton Kershaw in the second game. Madison Bumgarner did a fine job hanging with Kershaw, his only mistake being a two-run homer to Juan Uribe. Four straight singles in the seventh inning was all it took for the Giants to notch a 3-2 lead.
Hunter Pence continued his scorching run with a homer to add an insurance, and four runs would be all the Giants needed when Sergio Romo got at Gonzalez, representing the tying run, to ground out to end the game. As satisfying as this game was, it was weird seeing Wilson on Dodger blue. Now that he's in LA, it's amazing how easily it becomes to see why fans of other teams disliked him when he was a Giant. The beard, once a thing to be celebrated and feared, now just looks absurd and ridiculous. His antics - from blowing off Bay Area reporters before the game to outlandish behavior aimed at grabbing attention - now just seem annoying rather than delightfully entertaining. It's not hard to see why the Giants were ready to move on and spare the clubhouse the distraction that is Brian Wilson, despite the fact that his stuff looks pretty good again. In fact, the sweetest moment in that game might have been Wilson in the dugout throwing his hands in the air in anticipation of a Dodger rally only to drop them like a sulking child when Juan Perez made yet another dazzling catch in left field to rob the Dodgers of extra bases and an RBI. The more of a clown Wilson becomes, the easier it is to care less and less that the Giants passed on re-signing him.
With Game 2 in the books, the Giants really gave fans a treat in Game 3. In fact, in a lost season such as this, the Giants managed to make history. Facing Ricky Nolasco - a pitcher the Giants had been rumored to be pursuing at the deadline but were thankfully outbid by the Dodgers - the team scored 19 runs to beat the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. 19 runs! The most runs ever scored in their stadium - a record now held by their most hated rival. A record that will likely be around for awhile. The outcome of that one battle, despite losing the war this year, is enough to almost make 2013 a season worth remembering. It might have been one of the Top 10 most satisfying Giants game to watch - EVER. With nothing at stake but pride, the Giants took all their frustration out on LA's band of high-priced mercenaries, and beat the living snot out of them in front of a sold-out crowd in their own stadium. Hunter Pence hit a grand slam and drove in 7 runs. Brandon Belt had five hits and drove in 6 runs. Tim Lincecum won his fourth consecutive start. And the Giants guaranteed that the Dodgers could not clinch the West in front of them.
Put simply, it was a glorious day of baseball.
With Game 3 a tough act to follow, all anyone was hoping for in the final game was a win. A chance to take the series and not split with these LA goons. Once again, it was Hunter Pence who delivered, smashing two more home runs. He's the only Giant other than Willie Mays to go deep in all four games of a series against the Dodgers. His 12 RBIs in the series against LA tied a franchise record, and his 19 RBIs in his last 6 games are the most by a Giant in a six-game stretch since RBI became an official stat in 1920. On one hand, it's great seeing Pence produce like this because it strengthens the fans' resolve that he's the long term answer in right field for an offensive-challenged team starved for runs. On the other hand, he's producing at such a high level that he's likely driving his price through the roof. Latest speculation has Pence earning more than the 5 year, $80 million deal that Andre Ethier got in LA. Of course, given the Dodgers' penchant for spending, their deals should not be indicators of market value. Hopefully, the Giants can re-sign Pence to a four year deal in the $60 million range.
Anyway, back to this final game here - once again Romo would come on to close the door, but this time he would load the bases and cause fans to sweat. It's easy to appreciate this now because he would preserve the 4-3 win by getting Dodger sensation Yasiel Puig to ground out to short, dashing the hopes of the sold-out home crowd.
A perfect ending to the series. And once Dodger Stadium emptied itself of disappointed Dodgers fans (Why so blue, Dodger Blue?), Pence may have summed up what these final games are all about:
"There's a quote that comes to mind: Things turn out best for those who make the best of what is," he told reporters.
The Giants are making the best of their chance to compete. And so should we.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Giants were officially eliminated from the NL West on Monday after a Dodger victory about fifteen or twenty minutes before Brandon Belt drilled an outside fastball into left field for the Giants' second walk-off victory in a row against the Colorado Rockies.
Thus, the mild sting - and I say mild because this has been inevitable since the Giants started to stink - really didn't have much of an effect, especially for the fans in attendance at AT&T Park.
Belt's emergence has been a long-awaited revelation. Buster Posey smashed his first home run in over a month. Tim Lincecum continues what could be a celebrated farewell tour. But most importantly, the Giants continue to play competitive baseball. They haven't dropped their guard and exposed the jugular for the third and fourth place hyenas of the National League. All of this continues to make Giants baseball compelling television for us and for the loyal fans who show up at the ballpark.
But perhaps the most fulfilling development here is Brandon Belt. To see him driving the ball, laying off pitches to push his OBP above .350, and playing with newfound confidence finally gives us a reason to believe Belt is finally here to stay. Knowing he will remain a permanent fixture in the lineup and the Giants may finally, after 20 years since Will Clark left, have their young first baseman of the future...
Well, it just makes me so darn happy.
I guess we'll have to wait another 15 years to before we see another left fielder produce anything in the same stratosphere that Barry Bonds did. Then again, we may have been so spoiled there, that it may take an entire generation before we see an All-Star left fielder again.
At least one that wasn't doped up on PED's.
Eric Chavez. Smiling with a sh#t eating grin as he looks down his nose at the anguish of Yusmeiro Petit.
All that stood between Petit and immortality was about 12 inches. One foot. That's about how far Chavez's 3-2 line drive to right field fell in front of a diving Hunter Pence. Petit showed remarkable poise and composure to retire the next batter and secure his first complete game shutout, a 1 hit gem no less.
But the damage had been done. Yusmeiro Petit was one out away from a complete game - the second in Giants' franchise history behind Matt Cain's flawless effort which, coincidentally, took place at AT&T Park just one year ago.
No one knows what the future holds for Petit. Before this game, it was widely speculated that he would remain in Fresno next year, serving as depth for the rotation. His solid outings in spot starts this year had shown the brass that he has value and is worth a spot on the 40 man roster, especially given the fact that the Giants had two starters hit the DL this year.
After this start, Petit will head into spring training meriting serious consideration for a spot at the back of the Giants' rotation. Petit doesn't have hard stuff, but he throws strikes and he's put together a decent resume in the minors. However, if Petit had thrown a complete game, the non-roster journeyman invitee would have probably needed to play himself OUT of a spot on the rotation. He would have been a Cinderella-story that captured the hearts of Giants fans everywhere. The marketing department would have had a field day with him, and the merchandise sold would probably have paid his salary ten times over.
Instead, Petit earned himself serious respect, something he had already done with his quality starts before last night. But doing something only a dozen or so other players have ever done - coming 1 out short of a complete game - earns Petit a special pin that shines bright enough in the sun for the Giants to take even an closer notice next year.
Personally, I still like Petit in Fresno for depth if the Giants can't get a more experienced, proven option or two in free agency. But if GM Brian Sabean comes up short on the bargaining stick, and he can't secure an international sensation from Cuba, Japan, Estonia, or wherever they're popping out of the ground these days, then I'm totally fine seeing what Petit can do next year.
As long as they don't get cute and add Chad Gaudin to the mix as well. Do that, and we might easily find ourselves with two guys who may or may not be starter-worthy and no capable long man in the 'pen or quality depth in Fresno should another starter get injured. All of which, of course, leads us right back to where the Giants are now. And who wants 2013 Redux?
What? No hands?
But let's forget tomorrow for the sake of today. Yusmeiro Petit - a guy you've never heard of, or maybe heard of once or twice, came within one out of a perfect game. In September. When we had nothing else to get all anxious about, Yusmeiro Petit gave us that.
And that, my dear friends, is baseball.
In case the raven hasn't reached you with the news yet, there's a new section open on the blog! Click the "MORE" link in the top toolbar on the Homepage. You'll see a drop down link
for "PROSPECT FILES," a new section at Coogan's Bluff that will focus solely on up and coming prospects within the Giants' farm system.
Could that steely-eyed slugger right there be the home run mashing left fielder of tomorrow?
Check out the future now! Or later. Or even later at night when Comcast airs The Westminster Dog Show
instead of Married... with Children
reruns. But, in all honesty, now is better.
David J. Phillip/AP
Every team in playoff contention seems to have a formula for winning. The St. Louis Cardinals have done well to avoid handing out bad contracts to guys like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. They also seem to develop hitters better than any team in baseball, and they consistently feature competitive pitching. Even struggling teams like the Mets are trying to build their team around good, young pitching. Theo Epstein did wonders to rejuvenate the Boston Red Sox, and he's trying to do the same thing in Chicago with a Cubs franchise that features solid prospects and young talent on the big league roster. Oakland continues to defy the odds as they make another run at an A.L. title with solid pitching and Moneyball hitters. Good teams have winning formulas.
Which brings us to the San Francisco Giants...
GM Brian Sabean did a fine job assembling championship teams in 2010 and 2012. But let's not forget that neither of those teams steamrolled the league during the regular season. At their core, the Giants won because their pitching was dominant, their defense was sound, and their hitting was clutch. Heading into the 2013 season, the team appeared to have all three of those ingredients in place and were poised for a strong defense of their title. Instead, the team failed to pitch well, played poor defense, and couldn't muster an extra base hit to save their lives. Ladies and gentlemen, your last place San Francisco Giants...
The Giants' struggles this year have put them in a position to replenish their farm system with young bats that can help the team score runs in the future. The brass has already begun this shift, recognizing the surplus of quality arms in the lower minors and drafting a ton of position players early in the last three years. Ideally, all of this converges in two or three years to make a formidable roster that still features Buster Posey at the center.
At the current rate, the Giants will most likely have a top 10 draft pick next June. They could find themselves picking as high as third or fourth in the first round. The front office did a fine job of parlaying previous top 10 picks (Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey) into two World Championships. Since then, the team has had difficulty finding success with their picks at the back end of the first round. A return to the top 10 might bring them closer to finding a better prospect who can be fast-tracked to the big leagues. With that being said, let's take a look at the Giants' likely 10 Step Plan for success today and tomorrow:
Step 1: Find rotational depth. The Giants will need to secure five quality, reliable starters if they want to win next year. Cain and Bumgarner occupy the top 2 spots. A qualifying offer to Lincecum should increase the chances he re-signs with the Giants, perhaps on a two-year deal. Ryan Vogelsong will most likely be back, and he should be a dependable backend starter. But Barry Zito will be gone. Lincecum is no longer a sure bet. And Vogelsong isn't getting any younger. Hence, the need for depth. Yasmeiro Petit and Chad Gaudin have been fine stories this year, but Petit is best utilized for what he has been - rotational depth stored in Fresno. He shouldn't be a candidate for the 5th starter slot. Gaudin was the perfect long man for the bullpen, and he'll work out well in spot starts if necessary next year. His success this season has taught us that much. But he isn't the answer for the rotation woes. Gaudin is best served playing the role he was signed for at the beginning of this season. So what then? The Giants need proven, reliable rotation depth. Perhaps a nice blend of savvy veterans (Bronson Arroyo?) and young talent - say... of the international variety (Masahiro Tanaka?), will help give the Giants a chance to win behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Step 2: Find an OF with extra-base power. The Giants are on pace to hit even less home runs this year than they did last year. I know, I know - this team has (and can) win without the long ball. But 8 singles and 1 or 2 runs - which seems to be an all-too familiar stat line these days - isn't getting it done. Certainly, stranding double digit runners and going 2 for 12 or 3 for 15 with RISP has contributed the the Giants' collapse. But a double with runners on first and second or a three run homer can often make all the difference. The Giants are fifth in the NL with a .259 average, but they're nearly last in the league with an abysmal .374 slugging percentage. They didn't get the power they thought they would from Posey, Pence, and Sandoval. Belt's emergence has helped, but it's not enough. The free agent pool looks shallow in the offseason, so the Giants will likely focus on a hitter like Shin-Soo Choo - a guy with great .OBP and Pence-like .SLG and speed. Speaking of Pence, signing him to a four year deal seems like a good move considering the lack of alternatives on the market.
Step 3: Look overseas. The success of Cuban players like Yasiel Puig and Japanese players like Yu Darvish have proven that teams can find top-notch production from international players. The Giants don't have a good track record of finding success overseas, but they will definitely be involved in negotiations with some of the top players available, like 26 year-old Jose Abreu, Cuba's top offensive player. Plus, they have the marketing team to exploit any international sensation they sign.
Step 4: Draft right-handed power. AT&T Park was not built for left-handed hitters, Barry Bonds being the lone exception. But a good right-handed bat with some power has a chance to post good numbers at home. Currently, the only prospect in the minors who has shown the ability to rake is Mac Williamson, who's hitting .292/.375/.504 with 25 home runs for Single-A San Jose. Williamson projects as a big league regular in the outfield, and he's a big right-handed bat. The Giants need more of those. Christian Arroyo (2013, 1st round pick) hit .326/.388/.511 in 45 games at the Rookie Arizona League, though he doesn't seem to possess much power as his 2 home runs suggest. His .SLG was bolstered by 18 doubles and 5 triples, which the Giants could certainly use more of these days. In that same span, Ryder Jones (2013, 2nd round pick) posted a .400 slugging percentage. Time will tell if these young players can continue to show extra-base power as they advance through the system. In the meantime, the Giants need to continue to add more big bats to the farm.
Step 5: Maintain a stingy bullpen. Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, are all slated to return next season. There's a good chance Javier Lopez re-signs. Sandy Rosario has acquitted himself well this year. So has Jean Machi. Heath Hembree developed a nasty slider to accompany his heater, and he should be a power arm in the 'pen and the likely closer of the future for the Giants. The Giants will continue to shop for reliable arms that can help them win games late. This part of the formula helped bring two titles, and you can't win without a solid bullpen.
Step 6: Find experienced depth at second base. The Giants need to spell Marco Scutaro. The Giants hoped they'd get two more productive years out of Scutaro. He's been solid this year, but he has limited range at second base and his health is declining. He's no longer a player the team can rely on all year. Ideally, he shouldn't be playing more than 4 or 5 times a week, which means the Giants will need to find someone who can play up to 50 or 60 games and contribute with the bat. Joe Panik isn't ready, and he may never be given his .260 finish in Double-A this year.
Step 7: Sign cornerstone players to long-term contracts and negotiate team-friendly deals with young talent. The Giants inked Posey and Cain for life. Bumgarner's contract might be the best in baseball from a team standpoint. Belt and Crawford are excellent contributors who continue to get better everyday, and they're signed on the cheap. So is Romo. Only Pagan's deal and Scutaro's contract seem to favor the players, but neither of those are crippling in the way Aaron Rowand's contract and Barry Zito's deal were in year's past. The Giants will have a lot of money coming off the books at the end of this year, and they need to spend it wisely. But if the Dodgers have taught us anything, it's that you need to spend it. The Giants are one of the only teams in baseball that enjoys consistent sell-outs at home, and considering their dismal season and possible last place finish, they owe it to the fans to put a winning roster together.
Step 8: Re-evaluate the coaching staff. This probably happens every year, but the Giants have been stubborn about retaining their coaching staff. This can be justified by the fact that they have won two titles in three years. But a first to worst finish this year should involve a bit of shake-up somewhere. Skipper Bruce Bochy isn't going anywhere, and Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner remain vital to the pitching staff. It's possible that fatigue and gradual age and decline can be attributed to the pitching woes this year. Hensley Muelens should be put on notice though, as the Giants haven't been able to generate the runs they need to win and that needs to change before next year. Their ineptitude with RISP is unacceptable, and they can't win if it continues.
Step 9: Improve the defense. The Giants feature Gold Glove-caliber defenders at first base and shortstop, and solid defense from Posey behind the dish and Sandoval (when he's healthy and slimmer) at third. They need a better glove at second to replace Scutaro in the later innings and whoever they sign in the outfield needs to be competent with the glove. Pagan's defense is passable, but the team will likely keep Gregor Blanco as a speedy defender who can play all 3 outfield positions well, making him a fine fourth outfielder. Nonetheless, team-wide the Giants made too many mistakes in the field this year and they need to tighten up their defense and shore up their fundamentals. That should be a primary focus to end this lost season. No sense in waiting until next year on this one when there are games to be played now.
Step 10: Get a faster, deeper bench. Hunter Pence has 21 stolen bases. The only other player with double-digit stolen bases is Gregor Blanco, and he only has 11. Belt has deceptive speed, and Crawford can leg out a triple. A power-speed combo would be ideal for whichever outfielder the Giants sign this offseason, and they need more productive players on the bench who can fly.The Giants got hit with injuries to Pagan and Scutaro this year, and they didn't have the bench to compensate for it. Good teams have depth everywhere. Joaquin Arias continues to be reliable; Hector Sanchez is shaping up to be a fine backup to Posey, but Tony Abreu, Brett Pill, Roger Kieschnick, Nick Noonan, and Juan Perez have shown that they aren't the answer if a starter goes down for an extended stretch.
So, in 2014 the Giants will enjoy a motivated Pablo Sandoval in a contract year. They will hopefully re-sign Pence to man right field. Pagan will be back again, and if we're lucky, he'll stay healthy. They'll try and sign an impact bat for left field (or center if they move Pagan there first). They will look to seek out and sign depth for the rotation and bench. They'll look at international players and hope to strike gold. They'll have a shot at a blue chip prospect with a top 10 pick in next year's draft. And they'll continue to draft hitters to pair with their stellar lower-level pitching in the minors, while at the same time bringing in fresh, new young arms as well.
With so much to do in order to have a chance to win next year, there won't be a lot of time to dwell on this year's lost season. And looking forward instead of back may be the most important step of them all.
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — AP Photo
When 41,815 or so fans consistently turn out to see a team play baseball, it is widely assumed that team is good. In theory, the Giants should be good. Sadly, they have not been that good this season, which is why it's rewarding when they win for all the fans in attendance who continue to support them despite the fact that they're in last place.
And rewarded this weekend, they were. Last night's victory marked the first time the Giants have scored 6 runs at home since July 9th. They've barely averaged over 2 runs per game at home since the All-Star break, so this outburst was long overdue. Sadly, four of those six runs came on a feeble ground attack that was aided by some dribblers and broken bat singles. Certainly, the Giants mixed in some hard contact, particularly from Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco, and the Giants spotted Tim Lincecum a 4-run lead in the first inning - a rarity these days.
Lincecum was able to get comfortable quickly, and he pitched well to earn his second victory in seven starts since his no-hitter in mid-July. An overtaxed bullpen got bullied around a bit, but Sergio Romo was able to slam the door in the ninth for a 6-3 win that was actually closer than it looked until Pablo Sandoval drilled a two-out, two-run single in the 6th. All things considered, it was a nice win for the home crowd.
Ryan Vogelsong followed that up with a nice win of his own today. Just when it appeared age may have finally claimed his effectiveness, Vogelsong pitched 8 innings of brilliant baseball, holding the Pirates to a measly 2 hits. He looked wily as ever, and it's a shame Bruce Bochy's decision to pinch-hit for him in the 8th cost him a chance at a complete game. After missing 69 games this year with a fractured right hand, Vogelsong apparently got the rest he needed after a grueling October followed by the World Baseball Classic. He looks solid and focused, intent on finishing the year strong despite the team's record. With Pagan and Affeldt coming back when the rosters expand, the Giants are setting themselves up nicely for a run back up to respectability, even if the division is now beyond their reach.
It seemed like typical Giants' baseball up until the 8th inning, with the team failing time after time to cash in on runners in scoring position. Brandon Belt alone stranded 6 men on base in his four at-bats. Once again, it was Pablo Sandoval who delivered the big hit to give the Giants the insurance they needed, this time nailing a two-run triple to right-center with runners at the corners. Sandoval seems poised to finish the year producing well and figures to head into the offseason with a goal of returning to camp in the best shape of his life.
But the real story here was the fact that the Giants received the kind of starting pitching they have grown to expect over the years. Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong limited the Pirates to 1 run over 13 innings. The Giants scored four runs or more in both games, and they embark on a trip through the NL West playing some of the better baseball they've played in awhile.
And we need to continue to stand by this team because it's been too easy to do so when things were going so well over the last few years. A lot of fans would have jumped ship by now, but everyone from Bruce Bochy to Lincecum, Sandoval, and Romo will be the first to tell you how much these players appreciate the unconditional support they receive every game, no matter what the standings look like.
And when you see a quarter of Dodger Stadium empty during the Dodgers' most exciting surge to the playoffs in ten years, you begin to realize how blessed you still are to be a Giants fan.
Photo: Eric Risberg
Oh, and Matt Cain is on the DL for the first time in 9 years. This is without question the most embarrassing and despicable fall from grace I have ever witnessed from a professional sports team. It's unfathomable to me how a team can win a World Championship one year, return virtually the same lineup, and then find itself sporting the 5th worst winning percentage in all of baseball, sitting 20 games back of first place with only 30-something games left to play.
Apparently, based on recent interviews, Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy can't fathom it either because he has no more answers as to how this happened than I do. Sure, Pagan's injury hurt the team, but Pagan isn't Buster Posey, and when Posey went down in 2011, the team stayed competitive through most of the season despite its offensive futility. That's what good pitching gives you - a chance to win.
2013 has been a year marked by terrible pitching and even worse hitting. In short, the Giants are on the verge of finding themselves with a top 5 draft pick one year after winning it all.
Hey, it worked out for the Colts in the NFL - they lost their best player in Peyton Manning, tanked one year after making the playoffs, then landed Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick. Lo and behold, they made the playoffs again that year. The difference, of course, is that the Giants have a payroll monster with more money than the US Mint in the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they're poised to pull their best Yankee impression and smother the National League with their disgusting new money attitude and frivolous spending on whatever their latest whim is.
Granted, we have to give the Dodgers credit. Despite the ungodly talent on their roster, they could have just as easily tanked this year due to poor chemistry or the pressure that comes with lofty expectations. And by god, they probably would have if not for the 22 year-old adrenaline shot in the arm they dug up in Cuba known as Yasiel Puig. The formula didn't work for the Los Angeles Angels because they couldn't surround Mike Trout with enough pitching to win. The Dodgers acquired everyone and everything available on the shelves, both here and abroad, and they went from having one quality starter in Clayton Kershaw followed by a bunch of hobbled goonies to suddenly throwing Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Ricky Nolasco to the mound. Their high-priced mercenaries like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez starting hitting. They fortified their bullpen and starting seeing production from the little guys like Nick Punto, Juan Uribe, and Skip Schumaker. And then--
Ah hell, who cares about the rest. Basically, the Dodgers got good in a hurry, and that's what is supposed to happen when you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on talent. It's what happens when you rig a video game to put all the best players on your team. I often wonder how I would feel if the Giants did that. Would I still be as passionate and supportive if my team just bought their talent instead of nurturing homegrown players into stars?
Probably, I would. Because fans want nothing more than to win, and most of them don't care how. Because 1989 hurt and 2002 still stings even now, despite 2010 and 2012. Because Barry Bonds was originally a Pirate. Because at the end of the day, you can't truly buy success. You can buy the tools for success. But the players still have the execute. The team still has to gel. And the pressure still has to be surmounted. The Dodgers failed at this last year. So they went out and spent even more. Now they are winning. A lot. And the Giants are losing, big time. And it sucks. But that's the way things go.
I suppose the only silver lining to this free fall is the fact that the Giants just might have a high enough draft pick to land as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is in baseball. A Mike Trout or Bryce Harper would be swell. In fact, it would be more than swell. It would be f$%ing grand. Because that's what it's going to take to compete in the NL West from now on, especially since the Dodgers will outbid the Giants on the best free agents available, and most of the ones who could help the Giants the most don't want to hit at AT&T Park. And the Giants don't have the payroll to just outbid the league and offer hitters enough cash not to care about the weather. So unless they trade for or draft players who are destined to be great and force them to play in San Francisco, we probably won't be seeing big bats at home for awhile. It's the tragic irony of playing in what many consider the best and most beautiful ball park in the entire league. Judging by the Giants record, Mark Twain was right when he said the coldest winter he ever saw was a summer in San Francisco.
Right now, Brian Wilson is slamming the door on opponents for the Dodgers while the Giants are losing 3-1 to the Pirates. 2010 and 2012 were not torture. 2013? Yeah, this is torture.
For the first time in awhile, it will be more than just the lunatic fringe who will be watching with keen and eager eyes as the Giants draft what will hopefully be the next big thing.
After all, who isn't wishing that the Giants can make like the Colts, even if they'll never have enough money to deal like the Yankees.
And for the record, I'd rather win like we have the last few years with homegrown talent when nobody expects you can do it and savors the thrill of something more than with store bought talent when everybody expects you should do it and simply won't expect anything less.
Money can't buy everything. But it certainly bought the NL West this year. Hopefully, the buck stops there.
Photo: Alan Diaz
It wasn't that long ago that the Miami Marlins came into the Giants' home park and manhandled them. Back then, the Giants were still in contention. Aspirations were high, expectations even higher. Such is not the case any longer, but it's still nice to waltz into Miami and be one win away from sweeping the Marlins in their yard. According to Giants' beat scribe, Andrew Baggarly, the Giants haven't recorded a winning record on a road trip of two cities or more all season.
Despite a 38-pitch fourth inning, Matt Cain continued his strong second half to even his record at 8-8. He's tossed five consecutive quality starts since the All-Star break, and other than a mistake over the plate to Giancarlo Stanton that still hasn't landed yet, his 7 innings of two-run ball more than gave the Giants a chance to win. A full offseason of rest for Cain should hopefully ensure a better first half next season, and a strong finish to this season will give him some momentum to build on heading into 2014.
Sticking with the prowess on the mound, it should be noted that Sergio Romo became the sixth Giant in franchise history to record 30 saves in a single season. He's already cemented his legacy in orange and black, but it's nice to see him productive and healthy in August. Durability was always a chief concern when it came to Romo and closing, so it's encouraging to see him holding up to the rigors of the job. With the door officially closed on Brian Wilson, the Romo era continues in full swing. His SO and BB rates are far better than Wilson's ever were anyway, which equals far less torture. And let's be honest, Giants fans have endured enough torture of every kind in the last 3 years. An easy 1-2-3 finish to the season will do everyone some good here.
Brandon Belt continued his hot August. Sure, his 11-game hitting streak came to an end, but Belt coaxed a couple of walks to reach base twice in this game. He's settling in nicely in the number 3 hole, despite my feeling that he's a better 5 or 6 hole guy. The numbers dictate lineups though, and right now Belt is the Giants' hottest hitter. Without a capable leadoff man, Bruce Bochy has been forced to move Marco Scutaro to the top of the order to generate some action at the top of the order. Brandon Crawford's OBP success and higher average makes him suitable in the two hole for now, so Belt's hot streak and Posey's slump make the current lineup a deft strategy on Bochy's part. Crawford went without a hit as well, but he did manage to earn a walk and score a run like Belt. Hopefully, Posey's two walks and hard single represent a return to form for the Man Child. Pablo Sandoval and Gregor Blanco managed to make big contributions in this game, and their all-out hustle paid dividends in giving the Giants the extra runs they would need to stave off the Marlins in the end. I almost thought Blanco would score the team's second inside-the-park HR this season until Tim Flannery put on the breaks when he saw a clean relay. Triples are almost as fun to watch anyway, and the Giants have been piling up on them the last two days. It was good to see a guy like Blanco come through, especially given his current struggles and inability to stick as the team's leadoff man in Angel Pagan's absence.
Marco Scutaro - Pagan's latest replacement at the top of the order - saw his lower back flare up again, so the top of the lineup could again be in flux. With Pagan's return imminent, it shouldn't be long before the Giants have a their leadoff man again, even if Pagan is less than ideal in the role (he's still the best option the team has now, and in the foreseeable future). Once Scutaro's back loosens up a bit (at 37, something tells me this will be a chronic issue that plagues him until the end of his contract), it will be interesting to see where Bochy places Crawford and Belt in the batting order.
Either way, it's been a pleasure to see two dynamic young players making enough of an impact to find themselves hitting so high in the lineup. It goes without saying that their success will go a long way in determining Brian Sabean's offseason plans to bolster the roster. Depth at second base and a left (or center) fielder with some pop and defense will be top priorities.
But first base and shortstop - two positions that have long been black holes of futility in the Giants' lineup since Will Clark in the 80's and Rich Aurillia and Omar Vizquel in the 90's - appear to be adequately filled for a long, long time. September call-ups should bring Francisco Peguero up to compete with Roger Kieschnick in left field. This will give Sabean and Bochy a chance to see what they have to two players with lots of tools but little pedigree. It's unlikely that either will change offseason plans much, but with the Giants out of contention there will be no excuse not to let the youngsters play in the mud, which is exactly what the Giants are in this season.
But sometimes playing in the mud can be downright fun when you forget that it's actually mud.
After a nearly two week hiatus, Coogan's Bluff is back online. A good honeymoon is as euphoric as winning a World Series, so now you can all relate and forgive the prolonged absence. After all, there isn't much baseball in Iceland, Scotland, and Malta. It took a few days to find the only baseball fan in Scotland, but only a few minutes to make him a Giants fan. So... what did I miss?
Apparently, everything (and nothing) has changed since my departure in late July. The Giants somehow managed to dig themselves even deeper into the hole they started before I left, aided in large part by the Dodgers refusal to lose since the All-Star break. And I've read that Brandon Belt and Buster Posey swapped places on the spectrum of awesome while I was gone as well. Oh, and Brian Wilson is a Dodger now. So, let's recap and see where we stand:
1) Brandon Belt has emerged as one of the Giants' best players. He had quietly been putting together a solid season, but a recent NL Player of the Week award, 11-game hitting streak, and .431 average in August has made this very clear public knowledge now to the delight of Giants fans everywhere. He also leads the team in home runs with 15. Yes, this is a lost season, but Belt's arrival bodes well for both a successful end to this year and the team's chances for success next season. The faithful have waited a long time for this, and with a potentially weak market of available free agent hitters this winter, it's nice to know the team could finally be set at first base for the first time since Will Clark packed his bags for Texas.
2) Buster Posey has been grinding. He's on pace to start 124 games at catcher, which would be a career high. The team's struggles on the mound in the first half led to longer games behind the dish for Posey, and he's starting to show fatigue. Since the All-Star break, Posey is hitting .219 with a .290 OBP and a paltry .289 slugging percentage that features only one home run. No one is truly worried about this slump though. In fact, Posey is still batting over .300 for the season. And with Belt producing at first base and the Giants out of contention, there's no need to push Posey's bat into the lineup when he can just as easily rest. He remains the heart and soul of this franchise, and resting him gives the Giants a chance to play...
3) Hector Sanchez. This name hasn't inspired much confidence or excitement amongst fans, but young swicth-hitting catchers with quick bats are prized commodities in baseball. It's been an injury plagued, down year for Sanchez, but he's been getting the seasoning he needs in Triple-A. This recent call-up, coupled with DFA-ing Guillermo Quiroz, likely means Sanchez is here to stay as Posey's back up. A recent power-surge has helped his cause as well. The biggest concern with Sanchez has always been his defense, and if the brass feels he has made enough progress in this regard, then it makes sense to have him on the roster. And in a lost season where Posey needs a break, he'll play enough to warrant it.
4) Brandon Crawford's diving catch of a Bryce Harper line drive might have been my favorite highlight to watch when I returned from my trip. He seems to make a dozen of these types of plays each year now, but we shouldn't take for granted any of them. He plays Gold Glove defense at shortstop, and hopefully the league will recognize it accordingly. Most people figured that if his bat came around, they would. Heading into September, Crawford is hitting .275/.333/.397. He's doing exactly what we all hoped he would, and it's a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year.
5) Pitching. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have pitched much better in the second half. Despite a rocky start yesterday in Miami, Chad Gaudin has been a pleasant, although unexpected, surprise. Madison Bumgarner continues to pitch like an ace. The bullpen found Sandy Rosario and retained Javier Lopez. Romo continues to be an elite closer as the Giants officially move on (in bittersweet fashion) from Brian Wilson. It stands to reason that two title runs in three years have added fatigue to the pitching staff, and the team's remarkable run of good health on the mound finally ran out this season. But it's nice to see that guys like Lincecum and Cain aren't completely broken, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Lopez and Lincecum might actually be wearing orange and black next season.
All things considered, there remains plenty of reasons to keep watching this team play. Hopefully, they can play spoiler and screw the Dodgers. That doesn't seem very likely with the way LA has been playing, and if the Dodgers buy the pennant like they're poised to do, then we will cross our fingers and hope for a choke job in the end.
The Giants, though, are featuring some young talent finally growing into their own skin. So while our hearts and dreams have already turned the corner to next season, our eyes have good reason to keep playing in the mud for just a little while longer.
The Giants surprisingly stood pat at the deadline, Roger Kieschnick finally got his call-up, and Brett Pill knocked in 4 RBIs in place of Brandon Belt in Chad Gaudin's stellar start against the Phillies. Lots of news, but as I am away in Europe right now, it will be hard to post updates on here until August 15th or so. I will do my best to keep things fresh here in between travel from one place to the next, so don't abandon the site completely. In the meantime, feel free to check out some of the other Giants' blogs around the Internet by clicking on them in the menu on the right. Cheers! And go Giants!