Wrapping Up the 2009 Season — Part 1

     I realize that I’ve been absent for some time now but I needed to take a few steps back before wrapping up the 2009 Giants.  It was quite the rollercoaster season here in my inaugural year of Giants coverage and I didn’t want to just come out firing as the season ended with such disappointment and bitterness.  The hated Dodgers took the division and our race for the Wild Card fell short.  The Giants were eliminated with still a week to go in the season and the final seven days were filled with criticism and finger-pointing.

     Now I’m not saying I wasn’t a part of some of those end-of-season debates, but for a legitimate analysis, I needed to take some time.  It’s not like my opinions of the players and the front office aren’t already cemented in my brain, but I honestly feel that the Giants, this year, should be looked at through two sets of eyes.  The first, compares the Giants performance in relation to the rest of Major League Baseball — how our hitters, pitchers and coaches stacked up in comparison to the rest of the league, and the second is how the Giants played and finished with respect to our pre-season expectations. 

     It may not matter, in the grand scheme of things, how the Giants fared with respect to our expectations since you don’t get bonus points for effort and/or desire, but in building a ball club and figuring out who stays and who goes, a player exceeding expectations definitely gets an extra look.  So for that, each player is going to get two grades.  The first will be the player’s actual grade (AG) which is how he fared with respect to his peers in MLB and the second will be the player’s “expectation grade” (EG) which will reflect his performance with respect to how we thought he was going to perform this season.  Personally, the AG is where it most counts for me, but if we’re all going to be on the same page for next season, then the EG should come into play.

Brace yourself….

This may sting a little.

Catchers

Bengie Molina — His 20 HR and 80 RBI were second on the team and right about where we thought/hoped he’d be at year’s end.  Unfortunately, his .265 average was 11 points lower than his career average which tells me that he was pressing at the plate all year and trying to do too much.  He was also slowed by injuries this year, which, when you’re carrying that much weight, seems inevitable.  Defensively, a big concern was the career high 85 stolen bases allowed.  You can’t survive as a backstop in the NL throwing out only 22.7% of baserunners.  AG: B  EG: B-

Eli Whiteside — A .228 avergae with 2 HR and 13 RBI in 127 at bats as the primary backup this year is neither gratifying nor disappointing.  It is what it is.  Defensively, he’s solid and you’re not really looking for or expecting much else in a backup.  Still gets those bonus points for catching Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter.  AG: C  EG: C

Buster Posey — A great minor league year for the Giants backstop of the future where he hit well on all levels.  Not much to talk about for his major league experience as his 17 at bats are an insufficient sample size.  His lack of playing time had more to do with Bruce Bochy being annoyed that he was brought up to “light a fire” under Molina than his ability.  AG/EG:  Incomplete

Infielders

Travis Ishikawa, 1B — A batting line of .261-9-39 in 326 at bats for your first baseman???  Ishikawa fooled the higher ups with some power in the spring and then failed to deliver throughout the year.  He was so bad that the team went and picked up a shlub in Ryan Garko (up next) to try and improve.  Average glove + no power = no job in 2010.  AG:  D-  EG: F

Ryan Garko, 1B — He was hitting .285 with 11 HR and 39 RBI in 236 at bats with Cleveland before we traded Single-A prospect Scott Barnes to get him and hit .235 with 2 HR and 13 RBI in 115 at bats with us.  Terrible.  I think he had one hit that even meant something and before long he was relegated to pinch hitting duties.  He was already on the outs with the Indians and for some reason we (well, I did) didn’t see that in July.  AG:  D-  EG:  F

Emmaunuel Burriss, 2B —  Remember him?  Won the second base job after barely beating out Kevin Frandsen in spring training and then proceeded to do diddly squat the rest of the way.  Was supposed to have greta speed at the top of the lineup and then failed to get on base enough to even matter.  Then we demote him and he breaks his foot and is lost for the season.  Like I even need to post a grade here…  AG:  F  EG:  F

Kevin Frandsen, 2B — The only reason I’m including him here is to get another chance to talk about how he blew that sacrifice bunt towards the end of the season and killed a rally that could have gotten the Giants back on top of the Wild Card chase.  AG:  F  EG:  F

Juan Uribe, 2B/SS/3B — Without a doubt, our best free agent signing of a position player.  Uribe was supposed to add some depth at third and short and ended up as our everyday second baseman most of the way.  He hit .289 with 16 HR and 55 RBI in just under 400 at bats and became a cult hero at AT&T Park.  His late season slump and free swinging ways sent his average below .300, but overall became the infielder we wished we had more of.  AG:  B  EG:  A

Freddy Sanchez, 2B — The other deadline acquisition for the Giants, and probably just as disappointing as Garko.  His knee was banged up when we got him and then it and his shoulder kept him out of the lineup for most of the second half.  He only played 25 games for the Giants and was pretty much a non-entity and looked like exactly what he is — a decent hitter on the downside of a career.  AG:  C  EG: C-

Edgar Renteria, SS — Not being forthright about a shoulder injury is not the way to get into anyone’s good graces, and one of my sources told me about it back in May (Thanks, Big E).  He failed to help on the offensive front with a feeble .250 average an an OBP barely above .300 and was finally shuttled down to the bottom of the order by year end.  Adequate in the field but with limited range and definitely not worth the $4M+ a year we signed him for.  Maybe next year when he’s healthy, but I’m not holding my breath  AG:  C  EG:  C-

Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B — What can I say about Kung Fu Panda that hasn’t already been said by everyone and his bat?  His 145 at bats in ’08 put him 10 over the limit to qualify for Rookie of the Year honors this season which he would have handily won as he led the Giants in each and every offensive category — hits, average, runs, home runs, RBI, OBP, OPS, slugging….you name it.  He was more than sound defensively at the hot corner and should be considered a strong candidate for a long term contract as soon as possible.  AG:  A  EG:  A+

Outfielders

Aaron Rowand — Talk about an up and down season.  First off, there’s nothing I can say about his defense.  He’s got great range and covers more ground than most center fielders in the game today.  He also goes all out and gives 110% in the outfield.  Hitting, however, is a much different story.  Rowand started off the season pretty cold as he remained buried in the bottom third of the order, however, Bochy had a hunch and moved him up to leadoff and for about a month there, he was unstoppable at the plate, hitting somewhere in the neighborhood of .400 during his time there.  But the bat went cold and he returned to the bottom of the order and slowly became as guaranteed an out as you can be.  AG:  C-  EG:  C

Randy Winn — A perfect example of a guy winding down his career.  The .262 average matched the second lowest average for his career and his pair of home runs marked the first time he failed to hit double digit homers since 2001.  He’s a solid outfielder, but at some point you need to say ‘out with the old and in with the new’.  Your corner outfielders should be hitting for power.  Winn is not.  AG:  D  EG:  C-

Fred Lewis — A bust with the bat and an even bigger bust with the glove.  We all knew Lewis wasn’t a power hitter, but he was supposed to be a quality table setter at the top of the order and a defensive whiz out there in left.  Well, neither was true this season and Lewis eventually lost his starting job.  He had a few nice pinch hitting moments, but was that what we were expecting?  Nope.  AG:  D  EG:  F

Nate Schierholtz — A solid late season development for the Giants as he gradually became a cornerstone in the outfield in the second half.  Again, not much power and the .267 average and the 58 Ks in 285 at bats shows poor plate discipline, but blame for that will fall elsewhere…you’ll see.  Still, Schierholtz was a good callup for us and should be a great 4th outfielder down the line.  AG:  B-  EG:  B+

Andres Torres — He was a decent backup this year and actually could be in line to replace Rowand once the contract is up or the team finds a trade.  Torres hit .270 in 152 at bats with 6 HR and 23 RBI and was a great defensive replacement in the corners in the latter part of the year.  He’s definitely got potential, but not likely to advance further with the club so long as they’re still paying Rowand’s contract.  AG:  B  EG:  B+

Eugenio Velez — Labeled a bust at the beginning of the season, Velez came back to rejoin the club in the second half and produced like a champ.  From hitting .194 in 36 ABs and a demotion in the first half to hitting .277 with 5 HR, 31 RBI and 10 stolen bases in the second, Velez entrenched himself in the everyday lineup.  Sadly, as good as he was for the Giants down the stretch, he’s a dime a dozen in the majors.  AG:  B+  EG:  B+

So that’s the hitters for today.  Stay tuned in the next day or so as we evaluate the pitchers and the…(gulp)…coaching staff. 

Stick a Fork In Us…

…we’re done.

     You know, I never like to throw in the towel until a team is 100% mathematically out of it, but I suppose, in the Giants case, I can make an exception.  After dropping 3 of 4 to the Cubs in a must-sweep situation, I must let go of that glimmer of hope and accept the fact that the Giants are done for the season.  With a 5 game deficit and the Braves having leapfrogged us in the standings, the chances of catching the Rockies in the Wild Card race have gone down to slim and none.  It is time for us to accept our demise and sit idley back and watch another year of October baseball sans the Bay Area.

     It’s definitely been an interesting ride and there will be plenty to debate and lament over come the offseason, but for now, we”re just goin gtro have to finish out the season, hope that Tim Lincecum can walk away with his second consecutive Cy Young award amidst a season of disappointment, and ride off into the sunset with what remains of our baseball dignity.

     There will be plenty of time for finger-pointing and accusations, plenty of contracts to argue over and more than enough time to discuss what we need to do to fix all that went wrong with 2009.  For now, let’s just play out the remaining games and try not to embarrass ourselves.  We still need to play with pride.

     I’ll be back during the week for end of season report cards and then we’ll plan our attack on 2010.  For those that have stayed with me all season, I thank you very much for reading and look forward to continuing through the offseason and into next year.   

Wilson Blows Game, Possibly Season

     I don’t know what makes me feel worse this morning — having to write about last night’s game or seeing the email blast from the Giants announcing that post-season tickets are going on sale today.  Neither is very appealing and both have made this morning’s breakfast find its way back up the throat a few times.

     There’s really not much I can say about yesterday’s 3-2 loss to the Cubs.  Brad Penny threw a fantastic game, our hitters struggled to figure out Ryan Dempster but eked out a pair of runs to take the lead, and Brian Wilson failed to close it out in the 9th.  It really is as simple as that.

     But there might be something here or there that I can take issue with and share with you.  Like how about the fact that Penny was tossing a great game and had only thrown 94 pitches through 8 innings?  You’re telling me that he couldn’t have gone one more inning?  I know you’re supposed to trust your closer, but this is Wilson we’re talking about and the game is a MUST-WIN!!!

     Would it have been so bad to start warming up Wilson but still let Penny go out for the 9th?  If he gives up a hit (he allowed only 7 all game) or a walk (only one last night), then fine…get the shower warmed up and pull him then.  But to hand the ball over to Wilson to start might have been, to me, a questionable move.  Especially when he walks the leadoff batter, gets the next two outs, has an 1-2 count on the potential third out and then loses him and the game on a 2-2 fastball that Jeff Baker and everyone else in the baseball world watching seemed to know was coming.  Just a disaster.

     It was a golden opportunity blown and blown hard.  We just finished watching the scoreboard operator post the final as the Padres took down the Rockies.  We were primed to gain another game in the Wild Card chase and we failed to deliver.  I said yesterday that based on the remaining schedules of us, the Rox and the Braves that we were going to need to run the table and I don’t think that’s changed at all.  I’m not going to count us out just yet, but that uphill climb just got a lot steeper.  If we don’t take the next 3 from the Cubbies, then I’ll have no choice to stick the proverbial fork in us.  I won’t want to, but we’ll be done. 

Is It Time To Pack It In?

     First off, no, my absence from writing over the past week has not been a result of the Giants crumbling aganst the Dodgers and fading into an angst-ridden tie with the Braves for 5 games out of the Wild Card (4 if you count last night).  The process of moving all of one’s things (plus those of a wife) is a grueling one and something I hope to never have to do again for quite some time.  Because not only is the move itself aggravating, but the prep work for one house and the cleanup of another locks you in so deep that it’s nearly impossible to get to watch a game, let alone write about it.  But enough excuses.  Let’s talk about what we’ve got in front of us.

     10 games to go — 4 against the Cubs, 3 against the Diamondbacks and 3 against the Padres.  4 games out of a Wild Card spot.  I’m not going to lie to you.  It looks bleak, at best.

     But wait…

     What’s this I hear?  It’s the stadium DiamondVisions all over the country!!

     A segment from Rudy where the coach steps up and says, “No one comes into our house and pushes us around!”

     It’s Adrian lying in her hospital bed in Rocky 2 telling Rocky to win and Burgess Meredith in that gravelly voice yelling, “Well what the hell are we waiting for???” followed up with the Rocky theme music.

     It’s that scene in Animal House where we are asked the always entertaining, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

     It’s Rob Scneider in ever Adam Sandler movie yelling, “You can do it!!”

     As the great Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”  4 games back with 10 left to play may look insurmountable, but it most definitely isn’t.  I could go on and on with great baseball comeback stories, but it’s time for the Giants to build their own.  Yes, they will definitely need some help along the way, but the main focus is on winning;  and yes, winning all 10.  I’m not going to lie to you and say winning 7 or 8 can do it — well, maybe it can, but we shouldn’t be in that frame of mind.  We should be thinking that if we want the post-season bad enough, the next 10 are a must.

     It starts tonight, back in AT&T Park with the struggling Cubs who sit 10 games behind the NL Central leading Cardinals and 3 1/2 behind us in the Wild Card race.  They’ve suspended outfielder Milton Bradley for the season and are pretty much going through the motions to finish out 2009.  Not a formidable opponent in my, or anyone else’s mind and anything less than a 4 game sweep of them will be unacceptable.

     After that it’s the D-Backs again at home, whom we just took another 2 of 3 from and are now 10-5 in the season series.  Arizona has nothing to play for but pride and spoiler status.  If the Giants are truly hungry enough, then this series can be wins 5, 6 and 7 with 3 games to go.

     Then comes, what I consider, the make or break test for our boys.  We finish up the season with a 3 game set in San Diego, a place that has not been kind to us this year.  We are 6-9 against these clowns this year and if you think about it, they’ve singlehandedly killed our season.  Just think about where we’d be today had we taken care of business against a team picked to finish dead last in the NL West.  Those 9 losses speak louder than you can imagine, and if we don’t avenge them with a three game sweep to finish the season, then San Diego has every right to laugh at the Bay Area as we fall short of yet another post-season.

     But like I said, besides winning these next 10 games, we’re going to need some help, and (fingers crossed) it looks like the MLB schedule makers sensed our needs.  The Rockies have a pretty tough road ahead of them.  They finish up the season series with the Padres tonight and then face a 3 games set against the Cardinals who are vying for home field advantage in the playoffs, 3 games against the Brewers and then they finish their season with 3 games in Chavez Ravine where the Dodgers are competing with St. Louis for that same home field advantage.  If the Giants really can win their last 10, then it may be time for us fans to start wearing some Cards hats and some Dodgers jerseys in support.

     And what about the Braves?  Sadly, their road seems to be paved a bit more smoothly as they finish up with 3 games against the scrappy Marlins, but 7 against the Nationals.  I hear the moans and groans from all over right now even as I type this, but we have to accept it.  Maybe if the Nats played like they played against the Dodgers last night, then the outlook might look better.

     But we did this to ourselves, without any help from anybody.  Our hitting was anemic all season, and our pitching has caved in at the end of the year when we needed it most.  We got no help from the front office as our two deadline deals were both busts, and we’re getting no help from the fair weather fans that have abandoned us like rats from a sinking ship.

     It’s up to us now.  It’s up to the players to show us what they’re truly made of and it’s up to us to not give up on the season right now. The team needs us just as much as we need them and maybe….hopefully…we can make a magical run to finish out the year.

     Here’s hoping for the best…..and preparing for the worst.  

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

     It’s about the only thing I like about the third installment of the Godfather saga, this quote.  It’s a little overplayed, but what can you do?  With a movie that lacks substance, you only have so many options for the trailer to lure in your viewers.

     But the phrase is so appropos to being a Giants fan I’ve found.  To equate it to something in my world, it’s kind of like being a Jets fan in the NFL.  You love your team, you stand by them through thick and thin, and you’re perpetually met with failure and disappointment at season’s end because you bought into the hype.  You thought they were better than they actually were and you’re left standing there holding the bag at the end of the year with nothing to show for it.  They sucked you in by playing a handful of great games and then dropped you off a cliff with their usual play.

     I get it now, Giants fans.  I feel your pain.  I see why every year can be a struggle, because I too thought the Giants were better than they actually were and had very high hopes for them throughout the season.  They flashed some great moments for us this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m sorry, but these are the same old Giants.  They are, more or less, the exact same team they were back in April — great pitching and in dire need of a big bat.  They may have won more games than we expected, but you know what…?  They are who we thought they were (thank you Dennis Green).

     Let’s just take this past week as a microcosm of our year, shall we?  We’re in the mix, the playoffs are a strong possibility, we’re coming off a .500 road trip against the Phillies and Brewers and we get to host San Diego before we tangle with the Dodgers and Rockies for the next 9 games — a do or die situation, it seems.  And what do we do?  We drop two of three to the Padres, look like garbage on the field, have an injury concern to our star player, and limp into the Dodgers series like a bunch of last place little leaguers who just want the season to end.  We look pathetic, the fans are disgruntled, and yet we still hold out an inkling of hope that maybe, just maybe, we can rebuild some momentum and take down our hated rivals.

     Well, this weekend looked a lot like one of those fight scenes from the old Batman TV series with us playing the role of the Joker’s henchmen.  Flashes of “BLAM!”, “POW!”, and “OOF!” were all over AT&T Park and in the end, we were left flat on our backs, outscored 19-4 in the first 2 games.  Sure we took the third game 7-2 thanks to Brad Penny and the back-up squad, but hey, even the Joker and his boys have to escape to fight another day, right?

     But now here’s the rub.  Here’s where we find ourselves getting sucked in again.  We look like [insert your own term for feces here] against the Padres, worse in the first two games of the Dodgers series, take the last one on Sunday, and coupled with the Rockies finally losing a game or two, we’re still only 4 1/2 out with the Rockies coming into town for a 3 game set. 

     We’re still in it, right?  Ugh!  Yes.  Technically we are.  But after that sad display between the last two games against the Pods and the first two games against the Dodgers, we look nothing like a team hellbent on making the playoffs.  Nothing.

     So in come the Rockies and their 4 1/2 game lead and what happens?  We smoke ’em!  Tim Lincecum returns from a cranky back and shuts down their offense and suddenly we put up 9 runs and cruise to victory.  The hope is alive and even the fans, those whose hopes have been temporarily crushed for the umpteenth time, are back on board and are feeling the excitement.  Yup.  That’s right, fans.  Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in.

     The lead is now 3 1/2 and we’ve got two more against the Rox with the hopes that by the end of this 3 game set, we’re only 1 1/2 back and heading to L.A.  Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?  Sadly though, the danger isn’t felt by the opposition as much as it is felt by us.  Maybe we take care of business this week, but then it’s down to Chavez Ravine for three and who knows where that’ll leave us.  If we play like we did on Friday and Saturday, then we’re nowhere.  If we play like Sunday and Monday, then maybe we’ve got a shot.

     Unfortunately though, after this weekend it’s 6 more against Arizona, 4 against the fading Cubs and then another 3 against the Padres who make us look sillier than those old Batman fight scenes.  Winning the games against the Rox and Dodgers is big, but unless we can learn to win the games we’re supposed to win, we may as well start cleaning out the lockes now and get ready to watch the playoffs from our sofas.

     I won’t make any guesses and I certainly won’t be making any predictions here.  We’ve seen it all to often this season.  We show that we can play great ball one day and then fold like a 7-2 off suit in a Texas Hold ’em tournament.  I’ll stick around and support as much as I can, but to be honest, I’m going to continue to brace myself for heartache.  As little of the season remains, it’s still a long road to the playoffs for the Giants.  Let’s hope they’re gearing up, but don’t go betting the farm on them just yet.

Frandsen’s Lack of Fundamentals Costs Giants

     If you’ve been reading regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been jumping all over Bruce Bochy for his refusal to bunt runners over in the last few weeks.  The Giants are the most offensively challenged club in the majors right now, they have little or no power, and to scratch out a run or two has been a chore.  So why wouldn’t Bochy, on more than one occasion, put the bunt on to move runners to third with less than 2 outs?  Well, after yesterday’s game, I now have my answer.

     Not only do we not have the ability to slug our way to victory, but apparently, we don’t have the ability to bunt either.  I know I’m generalizing here, but it’s all about simple fundamentals — somethign the Giants are seriously lacking.  How in the world, after spending so much time in the minors where learning to bunt is a NECESSITY, can Kevin Frandsen do what he did in the 8th inning of yesterday’s 4-2 loss to the Padres? 

     For those that didn’t watch, let me lay out the scenario.  The Giants are down by 2 runs and have men on first and second with no outs.  Pretty simple thing, if you ask me…pull Rich Aurilia out of the on deck circle and put in Frandsen to bunt the runners over into scoring position, right?  Well, Frandsen tries a drag bunt at first (I don’t know what the hell that’s about — just sacrifice yourself for the team, stupid!) and fails, but somehow, thanks to some wildness for Padres reliever Luke Gregersen works his way into a 3-1 count.

     A 3-1 count!!!

     Now with the Padres corners pinching in, the aggressive move could have been to let him swing away, but Bochy played it safe and kept the bunt on.  Just move the runners.  That’s all we’re asking you to do.  But what does Frandsen do?  Yup.  Pops the ball up in the air to be easily snagged by a charging thrid baseman.  Worst thing he coul dhave done, and a huge rally killer.  It took all the momentum the Giants had and flushed it down the crapper.

     Sure, maybe the Giants still could have gotten something going, but with the wind just sucked out of their sails, Eugenio Velez (who has been spectacular since his call up, right Mark?) struck out trying to do too much, Freddy Sanchez feebly popped up to the shortstop, and the next thing you know the Padres were happily trotting to the dugout.  They could have just cancelled the 9th inning as the Giants had nothing left in the tank.

     Hitting wise, the Giants have been a disaster and Frandsen’s inability to lay down a proper sacrifice bunt is just yet another reason that hitting coach (if you can even call him that) Carney Lansford should be fired.  The team has no plate discipline, ranks near the bottom in almost every offensive category, and can’t seem to display simple fundamental skills that any little leaguer works his butt off to master.  I don’t even know why we woul dwait to dismiss him until after the season.  Maybe canning him today will spark something for this stretch run in which we are disgustingly falling behind. 

    

Bumgarner Shines in Debut But Bullpen Costs Him and Giants the Win

     When news came that Tim Lincecum was being scratched from his start yesterday due to back spasms, there was definitely a buzz amongst Giants fans.  There were the uninformed that just lamented over the loss of their ace for one game against the lowly Padres and then there were the ones that found the silver lining as they were about to witness the debut of the Giants’ “next big thing”.  Madison Bumgarner’s name has been thrown around plenty over the last year and a half, whether it was for a call up or in trade talks, but finally, the fans at AT&T Park were going to get to see the 19 year old lefty phenom that they’ve heard so much about.

     Now obviously, a kid as green as Bumgarner is right now will never replace the talented Timmy that we’ve all grown to love, but the glimpse we got last night, to me, was very satisfying.  I know, we’re in a playoff run and every game counts, but I’d much rather get a peek at the future against the Padres and a chance to juggle the rotation so that Lincecum can face the Dodgers this weekend, wouldn’t you?

     And that peek into the future was pretty damn good, if you ask me.  Bumgarner went 5 1/3 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits with 1 walk and 4 Ks.  When he left the game in the 6th, the Giants were up 3-2 and the kid was in line for his first big league win.  Overall, I’d say he pitched a solid game.  His fastball may not have looked as strong as usual (he usually hits 95, but for some reason it hovered closer to 90 mph), but he looked poised for a guy who was given only 3 1/2 hours notice that he was making his big league debut.  His other pitches looked solid as there was good movement around the strike zone, and his only two mistakes were found in the bleachers courtesy of Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Aside form those two shots, Bumgarner allowed only 1 runner into scoring position his whole time out there and that guy was stranded after inducing yet another ground ball out.

     Now maybe it was a set pitch count or something, but for some reason Bochy pulled Bumgarner after he got Adrian Gonzalez to fly out for the first out of the 6th innings.  I’m still wondering, but what can you do?  Bochy does a lot of weird things, if you ask me.  In any event, Bumgarner left to a nice ovation and, well….you know the rest of it.  Brandon Medders gave up a game tying homer in the 7th and Sergio Romo and the usually stable Jeremy Affeldt combined to blow it in the 8th.  The Giants lost and lost even more ground to the Rockies who beat the punchless Reds.

     But pushing the playoffs aside for just a moment, Giants fans had to be happy with what they saw from Bumgarner.  He’ll likely help from the bullpen for the rest of the season and may get an occasional spot start here or there.  But the seasoning he’s going to get now, plus a potentially solid spring next year, and the Giants could be looking at an even better rotation next season than they had walking into this year. 

Time to Move

     So let me start off today by saying that, to be honest, I watched zero baseball this past weekend.  With the wife and I moving at the end of the month, this little 3 day holiday weekend was spent spackling, priming and painting the new place while maneuvering around several fantasy football drafts.  Big thanks to Mark for bringing us up to speed in yesterday’s comments section.

     But with moving being the theme for the weekend, let me talk about the Giants moving forward in their season as they attempt to overtake the Rockies for the NL Wild Card berth.  After a .500 road trip to Philly and Milwaukee, the Giants came home last night and properly dispatched the Padres.  No matter how they may have fallen apart in the latter innings of the contest, they still came away with the win and that’s what’s most important.  Sure, it would have been nice to close it out cleanly, but let’s just take solace in the fact that we won and didn’t fall further behind the Rockies who are still surging.

     Right now though, we should be focusing on the games ahead.  Forget about what’s happened up to today.  Forget about the heartbreaking losses, forget about the games we could/should have won, and forget about the runs we wish we could have produced.  This is it.  These are your Giants, for better or for worse.  We are a club built on pitching and have little or no hitting to brag about.  This is who we are, and these are the guys that we shoul dsupport for atleast the next 24 games.  Don’t worry about what the Rockies are doing.  Forget about the Dodgers.  We need to concentrate on us.  No one else.  Just us.

     We have 2 more against the Padres today and tomorrow and we need to win them both.  After that it’s 3 against the Dodgers, 3 against the Rockies and then another 2 against the Dodgers before we get a “break” and play a 3 game set against the Diamondbacks.  Even looking ahead like that can be dangerous.  We always get amped up about playing the Dodgers, but if we’re looking at them, then no one’s paying attention to the Padres, and that’s not good.  Task at hand….say it like a mantra….task at hand.

     I’ll be paying closer attention now that most of my labor-intensive house work is through, so let’s all keep our focus and win these next two…at the least.  We’ll cross the Dodgers bridge when we come to it, but for now it’s all about the Padres.

     Let’s beat the hell out of them!!

     Go Giants!!   

Penny Reigns Over Philly While Bochy Blows Rubber Match

     Wednesday was an interesting day for Giants fans.  One day after inking former Dodger Brad Penny, the club announced that they were, at last, bringing up heralded rookie backstop, Buster Posey.  Speculation loomed that Bengie Molina’s quad injury was more serious than we were being told, and the hype of Posey’s bat and abilities was enormous.  Penny went to the backburner.  That is until the game started.

     Going into the contest, manager Bruce Bochy said that he hoped to get maybe 5 innings out of his new 5th starter.  His expectations were low as the veteran righty hadn’t pitched since August 21st and he apparently didn’t want to add any additional pressure to the situation.  But I guess pressure is what helps drive Penny as he cruised through 8 innings of shutout ball giving up just 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 2 as the Giants stole one 4-0 from the defending World Champs.  It really was a thing of beauty and injected new life into Giants fans all over.

     And what was even better was Penny’s attitude.  He sounded strong, he sounded confident, and best of all he sounded happy.  He talked about waiting for the deal to finalize, sitting at home, getting pumped as he rooted on Jeremy Affeldt to finish off the Rockies, solidifying the Giants tie for the Wild Card.  He talked about playoff hopes, he talked about how he felt joining the likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and he talked about how excited he was to return to the NL West.  He said all the right things, endeared himself into the hearts of Giants fans, and then reinforced it all with an amazing debut.  By the end of the night, there wasn’t even the slightest buzz about Posey…except for me.  I’m pretty excited about him and what he can do.

     And for the record, Giants fans.  I’m just gonna interject real quickly with this:  If you aren’t excited about the prospect of Posey getting some major league work, whether it’s 50 at bats or 150, then you don’t know the type of player he should eventually blossom into.  Think vintage Craig Biggio, and if you don’t remember who that is, then check out this link to his stats.  If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what will.

     Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

     So the rubber match in this 3 game set with the Phillies was set for last night with Lincecum on the hill opposite Pedro Martinez.  I had hopes that the Giants, energized by the previous night’s victory would have fared better against the aging Martinez, but then I remembered…it’s the Giants.  Sure, Eugenio Velez masked their true identity with a leadoff home run to start the game, bu tthen their true colors came through as Pedro made easy work of them throwing just 87 pitches through 7 innings with 9 Ks.  Including Velez’ shot, the Giants managed just 5 hits off of him.

     Opportunity did knock, however, but again, Bochy’s refusal to actually play small ball when you’re supposed to play small ball turned away a golden chance to steal an extra run.  In the 6th inning, Velez, acting as the sparkplug yet again, led off with a double with the game tied at one apiece.  Both pitchers were throing exceptionally well, so it really was integral to get that run across.  But just like the Colorado game where Bochy refused to call for a sacrifice bunt to move Ryan Garko from second to third with no outs, he did the same last night.

     With Velez on second and no outs, the call seemed simple enough.  Edgar Renteria came to the plate and, in a game where, again, the Giants were struggling for hits and Lincecum was shutting down the opposition, should have been ordered to drop down the bunt.  Simple enough right?  Guess not.  On the VERY FIRST PITCH HE SAW, Renteria weakly grounded out to the shortstop and failed to move the runner over to third.  Why didn’t Bochy call for the bunt???  Renteria is no masher, by any stretch of the imagination, and with Pablo Sandoval and Bengie Molina up next, surely we could have gotten the run across.  I’m still shaking my head.

     And so there the game went.  Lincecum got burned the very next inning by a Ryan Howard double that plated Chase Utley who was hit the plate appearance before, and rather than it tying the game, it gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead which is where it all finished up.

     Now I know people are calling for Bochy to be named Manager of the Year, but this is yet another wasted opportunity for a team in contention by their manager.  Poor decisions like this could actually cost us the Wild Card.  The Rockies had lost earlier in the day and we had the chance to move into another tie with them, but we blew it.  Our hitters failed again which to me is a direct correlation to the abilities of Carney Lansford as a hitting coach, and Bochy blew the exact same situation a second time around.

     If our coaches can’t seem to do their jobs correctly, how can we expect the players to do so?  I still think we’re goin gto take the Wild Card, but I have to admit that mistakes like this are making me nervous.  If you want to be a playoff team, you have to play like a playoff team.  And that means coming up big in games like this…both the players AND the coaches.

Penny and Posey to Ignite Giants?

     What can you really say about last night’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of the defending World Champs?  We managed only 2 hits off of Phillies’ starter Cole Hamels and lost a heartbreaker to open the series.  But let’s not get mired in the doldrums about it.  There’s actually a bright side.

     First of all, let’s put it into perspective.  While Hamels is certainly having an off season, he’s still a top flight pitcher with nasty stuff and can blow away hitters on any given day.  With our offense being as punchless as it is, especially without the likes of Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval in the heart of the order, to be 2-hit by an ace is not something we can get ourselves down about.  These things happen.

     What we can concentrate on is the fact that Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Medders combined to allow only one run to one of the strongest lineups in their home park which just so happens to be a hitter’s haven.  Jimmy Rollins:  0-4;  Chase Utley:  0-3;  Jayson Werth:  0-3;  Raul Ibanez:  0-2.  How about that?  The only guy who actually hurt us was Ryan Howard who went 2 for 4 on the night and knocked in the Phillies lone run in the 4th.  Sanchez looked fantastic as he went 6 strong innings allowing the one run on 3 hits and notched 8 Ks.  Medders then came in in the 7th and gave up 2 meaningless hits over the final 2 frames.  It was a pitching gem for us, and we should be very satisfied.

     As a matter of fact, we should be downright ecstatic as Sanchez is now 3-3 since the All Star Break but has a 3.34 ERA and is holding opposing batters to a .190 average in that time.  I’m not backing off my stance that we should have traded him sometime around hurling a no-hitter, but I definitely can’t complain about his second half performance.  He has been a key part in keepin gthe Giants in the hunt here and will hopefully continue as we make our push towards the playoffs.

     So now that last night’s game is out of the way, let’s focus on what’s ahead….

     Making his Giants debut today is none other than former Dodger Brad Penny.  As I noted yesterday, the Giants inked Penny to a minor league deal immediately upon hearing that the Red Sox released him.  Now I’m not saying Penny is going to save our season and I’m certainly not expecting him to be lights out…especially facing a lineup like the Phillies.  But I do think it was a huge move for the Giants.

     I’ve got nothing against Joe Martinez, but I think Penny makes for a much better 5th starter.  He’s got playoff experience and a veteran presence that this pitching staff lost with the injury to Randy Johnson.  I think he’ll continue the mentoring of guys like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain while also posting quality numbers along the way.  Over the last 3 years he’s got a 3-1 record at AT&T park with a 3.00 ERA and his numbers against both the Rockies (3.26) and the Diamondbacks (3.00) in that time have been solid and could prove to be the difference maker in those remaining series.  His numbers against the Padres may not be so hot, but with how weak they’ve become, I’m not concerned.  And then there’s the Dodgers.  If the rotation stays as is, then Penny will be on schedule for his next 2 starts to go against L.A. and you know he’ll be ready to go strong.  He’s 20-11 with a 4.08 ERA at Dodger Stadium the last 3 years and those numbers are actually bloated from an injury plagued 2008 season.  I see big things in store for Penny over the next month…and beyond.

     The Giants are also getting some help in the lineup finally.  With Molina continuing to have trouble recovering from this latest quad problem, the Giants have, at last, decided to bring up Buster Posey from Triple-A.  They were hoping to leave him in the minors untiul next year, but with the playoffs at stake and Eli Whiteside not showing much of a stick, the move was necessary.

     Posey started the season in Single-A where he destroyed pitchers, hitting .326 in his first 80 games.  He was quickly promoted through the system and now comes up to the majors having hit .325 on all minor league levels with 18 HR and 80 RBI.  Now don’t get crazy and expect the kid to start knocking the ball out of the park, but what you can expect is a high average with some great situational hitting.  Posey can spray the ball to all parts of the field and should be exactly what the Giants need to improve their dismal .250 average with runners in scoring position.  Defensively, he’s also top notch and I think the fact that with guys like Lincecum and Cain and Sanchez, he’s not going to have any troubles gelling with the staff.

     Th eplayoff push is here and the Giants are looking pretty damn tough.  Get ready for some serious and, at last, meaningful September baseball, Giants fans.  They’re going to need you as much as anyone else right now, so don’t let them down.

     Go Giants!!!