May 2011

Cousins vs. Posey: Dirty play or not

The preliminary news is in on Buster Posey, and as we thought, it wasn’t good.

Posey has a broken bone in his lower leg. He underwent an MRI this morning to see if there is additional ligament damage. Until then, we won’t have a clear idea of how long Posey will be out. But Giants fans need to prepare themselves for news of a season-ending injury.

And while we await further news on Posey, the focus on Thursday morning focused on two points: Was the hit of the Marlins’ Scott Cousins on Posey a dirty play? Should there be some rule change to prevent future collisions and injuries at home plate.

We’ll tackle the first question first: Was it a dirty play?

The short answer is no. When Cousins decided to go and force a play at the plate, he knew that if Schierholtz’s throw was an accurate that he was going to be out unless he could dislodge the ball from Posey. Once he saw the ball come straight to Posey, Cousins made his line straight at Posey because he felt that was his best chance of scoring.

It’s a baseball play. It’s been an accepted play for a long while. All of the Giants players said as much. If any upset Giants fan thinks differently, just think back to another home plate collision involving the Marlins and Giants — the final play of the 2003 NL Divisional Series. Was J.T. Snow a dirty player when he crashed into Ivan Rodriguez? No, even though Snow was clearly going to be out, and his only hope was to plow Pudge.

The Giants' JT Snow collides with Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez on the final play of the 2003 NL Division Series.

That’s what Cousins was thinking, too. And here’s something interesting. When I was researching for this post, I found two photos of Scott Cousins sliding into home with the catcher in possession of the ball. He was out on both plays.

Cousins is hitting .158 this season for the Marlins, and he’s fighting to stay on the big league roster. In the situation, Cousins has to score, by any means available to him. So there’s no way he’s sliding home and getting tagged out.

Here’s what he had to say about the play:

The Marlins' Scott Cousins is tagged out at the plate by Braves catcher David Ross

“It’s a baseball play. It’s part of the risk of being a catcher. We’re trying to win the game also. I’m not going to concede the out by any means. I’m on this team to do the little things to help this team win and if that means going hard and forcing the issue because I have speed, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to concede an out.”

Cousins, who played college baseball at the University of San Francisco, said he left badly for Posey and left two messages for the Giants catcher. He also added that he didn’t sleep last night. Well, join the club.

We don’t fault Cousins for the play. We don’t think he’s a dirty player. He wasn’t trying to hurt Posey. He was trying to score.

Cousins is tagged out at home by the Rockies' Chris Iannetta

So that leads us to the second question: Should there be a rule change on plays at the plate?

I spent the morning looking over baseball rules. There’s a rule that states a catcher cannot block the plate if he is not in possesion of the ball. And there’s another rule that says a runner cannot intentionally come in contact with a thrown ball or cannot prevent a fielder from catching a thrown ball.

But apart from that, this play at the plate is sort of in a gray area.

As Mike Krukow said on Thursday’s pre-game show: “It’s anything goes (on a play at the plate) … and the catcher is at the mercy of the baseball gods.”

Peter Gammons tweeted Thursday about how Carlton Fisk changed his approach at plays at the plate after a collision in 1974, employing a sweep tag for the rest of his career.

The implication there is that Posey should not have been blocking the plate.

But he wasn’t.

Posey was out in front of the plate, but was caught by a short hop on Schierholtz’s throw, which caused him to back into the plate slightly. Still, there was a clear path between Cousins and the plate, and the collision occurred in front of the plate between the plate and the mound — not between the plate and third base.

That was the concern of manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher. Should a runner be allowed to blow up a catcher who is not blocking the plate?

It’s a valid question, and it’s something Major League Baseball needs to look at.

It’s not about changing Major League Baseball into Little League Baseball. It’s about keeping baseball players on the field, and not on the trainer’s table.

Busted Buster: Giants catcher Posey is hurt and it’s ‘not good’

Now every San Francisco Giants fan is wishing that Aubrey Huff had struck out in the ninth.

An improbable ninth-inning comeback, capped by Huff’s two-out, two-run single, led to the most disturbing play Giants have have seen in a long while.

Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins, top, collides with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) on a fly ball from Emilio Bonifacio during the 12th inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Cousins was safe for the go ahead run and Florida won 7-6. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Catcher Buster Posey suffered an ankle injury when his left ankle was bent back during a collision at home plate with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins as Cousins scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 12th in the Marlins’ 7-6 win over the Giants on Wednesday.

The loss was the first one-run loss for the Giants at home this season — like anyone cares about that.

What’s on everyone’s mind is the sight of Posey writhing in pain at home plate, then being aided off the field by two trainers while putting no weight on his left ankle.

Posey had X-rays on the ankle at the stadium Wednesday night. The Giants gave no results of those X-rays, only adding that he’ll undergo an MRI on Thursday.

But this quote from the blog of the San Jose Mercury News’ Andrew Baggarly is very distrubing.

Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins, top, collides with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) on a fly ball from Emilio Bonifacio during the 12th inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Cousins was safe for the go ahead run and Florida won 7-6. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Giants official: “Not good.”

Baggarly: “Broken?”

Giants official: “Not good.”

Not good is right.

So while we wait for further news on Posey, it’s time to consider all options for the Giants. But before we do, let’s set one thing straight.

Cousins’ hit on Posey was completely clean. The Giants said so. The Marlins said so. Anyone who knows anything about baseball, whose vision is not obscured by a little (or a lot) black-and-orange passion, will say so.

With one out in the 12th, Cousins was on third when Emilio Bonafacio hit a fly ball to shallow right center. Nate Schierholtz caught the ball, and Cousins decided to force the Giants to make a play.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) is carried off the field after a collision with Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins during the 12th inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Cousins scored the go-ahead run on the play as Florida won 7-6. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Schierholtz’s throw was on target and clearly beat Cousins to the plate, and Cousins knew it. His only option, as he saw it, was to hit Posey, who was blocking the plate, and hope to dislodge the ball. However, Posey didn’t not field the throw cleanly and had no time to recover the deflected ball when the collision occurred.

As Cousins hit Posey — Cousins’ shoulder into Posey’s chest — Posey fell backward, twisting his left ankle underneath him.

Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez had it right when he said: “It was a tough play at home. Posey was doing his job blocking the plate and the runner was doing his job. He was trying to get to home plate.”

So then as we wait for the biggest question to be answered (how badly is Posey hurt), we are left to consider the next question: What do the Giants do next?

While we try to keep positive thoughts in our heads and hearts, it’s really hard seeing any scenario in which Posey doesn’t make a trip to the disabled list. So, it’s time to consider all options.

Start Eli Whiteside and call up a catcher from the minors to serve as his backup or in a platoon. It’s not a particularly comforting option, considering that Whiteside is hitting .200 this season with nine strikeouts in 25 at-bats. The Giants are 4-3 in games started by Whiteside this season. In two of those games (both wins), Posey started at 1B. Last season, the Giants were  18-14 in games started by Whiteside. Also, the catchers down in Fresno have not been very impressive. Chris Stewart is hitting .221 with 0 HRs and 10 RBI in 33 games for the Grizzlies. Jackson Williams is hitting .220 with 0 HR and 7 RBI in 22 games for Fresno. It’s doubtful the Giants would reach to Double-A to find a catcher, but Johnny Monell is hitting .221 with 6 HRs and 20 RBI in 40 games for the Richmond Squirrels.

Sign a free agent to backup or platoon with Whiteside. Bengie Molina’s name has been thrown about a possibility. But the last we heard from Molina was back in spring training when the catcher admitted he was focused on spending time with his family and not a return to baseball. In March, Molina told Newsday: “I wish I could be playing right now, but I’ve got other priorities right now. It could be how Pedro (Martinez) did it halfway through (2009), something like that. It’s not like I’m planning on doing that. If it comes up, and I’m ready to go, I’ll do it.” So even if Molina considered a comeback, this would hardly be an immediate fix. He hasn’t even been thinking about baseball. He’d have to get back into playing shape. Even if he started now, the Giants would be lucky to see him in uniform by the All-Star Break.

A trade. There are catchers out there who could be acquired. If the Nationals decide they want to commit to young catchers like Wilson Ramos or Jesus Flores, they might be willing to trade Ivan Rodriguez. Rodriguez is chasing 3,000 career hits and recently said he’s like to play three more seasons. Wishful thinking, maybe. But he’s in the second year of a two-year $6 million contract. Maybe the Nationals would be willing to part with that contract. They’re in need of a first baseman with Adam LaRoche hurt, and the Giants have Travis Ishikawa and Brett Pill down at Fresno. Perhaps one of them, and a young arm, could entice the Nats. The Mets’ Ronny Paulino ($1.3 million contract) is another option.

The eventual solution may be a combination of any or all of these. But if ends up being a long-term solution, then the bottom line is: Not good.

Just another one-run win for the Giants … again

The Associated Press

Some people say the Giants can’t keep winning like this.

And yet, they still do.

The Giants won ANOTHER one-run game at home on Friday, when Aubrey Huff’s single in the bottom of the 10th gave the Giants a 2-1 win over the Oakland Athletics.

The win was the Giants’ 11th at home this, the 10th at home by one-run and sixth walk-off win at AT&T Park.

“That’s what this team does — guys come through in the clutch,” Huff told the Associated Press.

The Giants also improved to 5-0 in games started by Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong gave up one unearned run in six innings of work. He has now gone 20 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean said this week that Barry Zito will not be automatically given his spot in the roster back once he returns from his ankle injury. Zito has begun throwing, but for now it looks like Vogelsong will have to struggle for Zito to return to the rotation.

A successful road trip for Giants … sort of

The Giants returned home Friday from a seven-game road trip that became a six-game road trip with a rainout in Chicago.

With back-to-back wins in Los Angeles (always a good thing), the Giants finished the trip 3-3.

And if you go by the old adage of “win series at home, play .500 ball on the road” that would make the trip a successful one.

With a 10-5 home mark and a 14-14 road mark, the Giants remain right on course for a 95-win season.

The road trip saw the Giants score more than four runs in a game — Wedneday’s 8-5 win over the Dodgers — for the first time since May 3. That was a 12-game streak of four runs or fewer, a stretch in which the Giants went 8-4.

While some will say there’s no way the Giants can expect to keep winning games like that, MoreSplashHits takes the approach that the offense cannot continue to struggle like that.

But, of course, we’re still waiting for the offense to come around. And Giants fans are still waiting on a nice relaxing, blowout win.

Here’s another stat from the road trip. Wednesday’s 8-5 win over the Dodgers was the first since April 28 — a stretch of 17 games — in which the Giants did not win by either one-run or by shutout. And although it was a three-run win, it was a win in which the Giants took the lead in their final at-bat.

Then on Thursday, it looked as if the Giants would win by another shutout; it would have been their sixth shutout win. But with two out in the ninth, Madison Bumgarner gave up a bloop single, and then a double off the wall to make a 3-1.

And then we got another severe case of the “Willies” as Brian Wilson walked the bases loaded before giving up a sinking line drive by Jamey Carroll. Fortunately, Nate Schierholtz made a diving grab to save the game.

Wheeeew.

You know, we’ve been saying this for a couples of weeks now, but enough with the torture already. Giants fans need a relaxing victory.

The Giants have not won a game by more than three runs since April 18. That’s more than a month ago.

Now comes interleague play and a weekend series at home against the Oakland A’s. And it would be wishful thinking to hope that the offense can have a big game with the arms the A’s will throw out: Trevor Cahill (6-1, 1.82 ERA), Brett Anderson (2-3, 3.30) and Gio Gonzalez (5-2, 2.31).

But, then again, the Giants scored eight  runs in a game started by Clayton Kershaw, who had a streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings against the Giants. So, who knows?

So are the Giants good … or just lucky?

Well, the Giants are 21-16, exactly where they should be at this point in the season, according to MoreSplashHits theory of winning series at home and playing .500 on the road.

After Thursday’s win over Arizona, the Giants have played five home series. If they won 2 of 3 in each of those series, they would have a home record of 10-5 right now.

They have a record of 10-5 right now, thanks to a 6-0 homestand that included sweeps over the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

And they are 11-11 on the road — exactly .500.

But that’s where the expected stats stop. How the Giants got to their 21-16 record is pretty strange.

The Giants have amassed a 21-16 record while scoring 128 runs and giving up 126. If not for the Giants’ 10-0 win over the Dodgers in the third game of the season, the Giants actually would have been outscored by their opponents.

According to Bill James’ Pythagorean W-L record, the Giants should be 19-18. This stat helps measure a team’s luck. If their record is better than their Pythagorean record, their a little lucky.

OK, we’ll give James that.

But when you look at the Giants home games, the numbers get even stranger.

The Giants are 10-5 and have been outscored at home by seven runs.

That’s because nine of the Giants’ 10 wins have been one-run victories, including five walk-off victories.

The Giants are a major-league best 12-3 in one-run games. They are 9-0 in one-run games at home.

The bottom line is this: The Giants are 21-16 and in first place in the NL West despite hitting .236 as a team (ranked 12th in the NL), scoring 128 runs (15th in the NL) and have a team OBP of .305 (also 15th in the NL).

Some might say the Giants are lucky to be 21-16 right now, and that they’re more lucky than good.

But we these offensive numbers HAVE TO get better. And the schedule gets a bit more favorable in June, when the Giants have a 10-game homestand, and again in July, when they have stretch in which they play 13 of 17 games at home.

And they should have Pablo Sandoval back in the mix in June.

So if luck has played a role in their 21-16 start, we’ll take it. I don’t know if it’s better to be lucky than good, but it’s certainly better to be 21-16 than 16-21.

Ho-hum, just another thrilling home win

If there were a sobering part of the Giants’ recent string of wins, it’s that they entered Tuesday night’s game against the Diamondbacks having won five of their last six games by either scoring the go-ahead run in their last at-bat or by shutout.

So how did they open against the Snakes? By taking the lead in their final at-bat AND by shutout.

Is it selfish to ask the Giants for a boring 7-2 victory?

Maybe, but we’ll take the 1-0 victory over the Giants.

With his eight scoreless innings Tuesday, Tim Lincecum now has not allowed a run in his past 17 innings of work.

Before the game, the Giants got some good news for their scuffling offense when outfielder Andres Torres and infielder Mark DeRosa came off the disabled list.

The surprising news came on which two players the Giants sent down to make room for Torres and DeRosa: infielders Ryan Rohlinger and Emmanuel Burriss.

We knew Rohlinger was going. He had hardly played since getting called up when Pablo Sandoval went on the shelf. But the decision to keep outfielder Darren Ford.

It leaves the Giants very thin on infielders on the bench. With Torres and DeRosa in the lineup Tuesday, it left the Giants with a bench that consisted of catcher Eli Whiteside, infielder Miguel Tejada and outfielders Pat Burrell, Darren Ford and Nate Schierholtz.

While admitting that keeping three reserve outfielders is unusual, manager Bruce Bochy said he kept Ford because he brings a dynamic that the Giants are sorely missing: Speed.

At least on Tuesday, Bochy was right.

In the bottom of the ninth after Buster Posey led off with a walk, Bochy had Ford run for Posey.

Ford stole second base without a throw. Then one out later, Ford scored on a double down the left field line by Cody Ross. If Bochy had stayed with Posey, it would have been runners on second and third with one out — instead of a 1-0 victory.

The win was Giants’ fourth in a row, and sixth in their last seven. It improved the Giants’ home record to 8-5 on the season. Of those eight home wins, seven are one-run wins, including five walk-off wins. Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Rockies was the lone “yawner” at home.

So, really, Giants. Could we please get a 7-2 victory?

Bochy is slumping, too

There’s no denying it. The Giants are struggling.

Giants fans are celebrating the fact that Aubrey Huff is no longer hitting below .200. They can’t say the same for Cody Ross or Miguel Tejada. In fact, the 6-7-8 hitters in Thursday’s lineup were all hitting under .200 (Ross, Tejada and Eli Whiteside).

But not only are the Giants hitters in a slump, so is manager Bruce Bochy.

The skipper has not made solid contact when trying to put on plays to help a lineup struggling to put runs on the board.

On Tuesday, we saw Bochy more animated than we’re used to see him, when he angrily kicked a dugout step when the Giants failed to get a runner home from third with no one out in the ninth inning of a 6-6 ball game.

Or maybe he was upset with himself for not putting on a play.

Here’s how it went down.

Leading off the top of the ninth, the Giants had a rare combination of speed with Emmanuel Burriss and Darren Ford leading off.

The problem with these two speedsters is that they first must get on base. But Burriss and Ford both accomplished that feat — by hitting the ball a combined 75 feet.

First Burriss reached on a swinging bunt. Then he stole second base.

Ford tried to bunt him over to third, which he did. But his bunt was so good, it allowed Ford to reach first.

So now the Giants had runners on first and third and no outs. Bochy let Rowand swing away to get a run home. Not a bad strategy as Rowand was one of the hotter hitters in the Giants lineup during the road trip.

But Rowand popped out in foul territory to Mets first baseman Ike Davis.

Then came Miguel Tejada — he of the sub-.200 batting average. Instead of putting on a play like a suicide squeeze or safety squeeze, utilizing Burriss’ speed and Tejada’s ability to put a good bunt down (we’ve seen it a couple of times this season), Bochy let Tejada swing away.

He popped out. The only surprise there is that he didn’t strike out.

Then after Mike Fontenot (the most feared No. 3 hitter in the majors) walked, Buster Posey popped out to end the inning.

Then came Wednesday. The Giants had Nate Schierholtz on third and Tejada on first with one out and Cody Ross at the plate.

Ross had worked the count full when Giants announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow had this exchange:

Mike Krukow: “Well, do you start Tejada (from first base)?”

Duane Kuiper: “I do not.”

Krukow: “You’re bettting on contact. And Cody Ross already has swung through two fastballs. That’s what you’re looking at if you’re Bruce Bochy.”

Makes sense. Except Bochy must have been in the toilet during those first two whiffs by Ross because he sent Tejada.

Ross swung and missed for strike three, Tejada was hung out to try and Schierholtz tried to make something happen by breaking to the plate. But he was thrown out.

So Bochy has been aggressive when he should have been conservative, and conservative when he should have been aggressive.

Fortunately, those two previous situations came in Giant wins.

Let’s hope that a return home this week helps the Giants break out of their hitting slump. Because Bochy’s batting average is not so hot right now either.

Weekly Farm Report 5/2

Things have been so discouraging with the big club that we haven’t been very inspired to throw up some more posts recently.

Then we thought that maybe there’s some encouraging news down on the Farm. So here it is.

Brandon Belt, 1b-of, Fresno (AAA): Ok, so we know Belt can hit minor-league pitching. In his first eight games since being sent down to Triple-A, Belt is hitting .458 with two home runs and 8 RBI. He has eight walks and seven strikeouts. His OBP is .594 and he’s slugging .833 for an OPS of 1.427. Belt has been playing more OF than 1B since heading to Fresno, partly to prepare him to play there when he returns to the bigs and partly to keep Brett Pill in the Fresno lineup.

Brett Pill, 1b, Fresno (AAA): Pill continues to hit at Fresno, batting .360 with 4 HRs and 23 RBI. His OPS is .950.

Thomas Neal, of, Fresno (AAA): Neal continues to play well after a slow start with a foot injury. He’s hitting .333 through 12 games. But 10 of his 13 hits are singles, he’s only drawn two walks and stolen just one base.

Connor Gillaspie, 3B, Fresno (AAA):
The next option in the farm system at 3B while Pablo Sandoval is on the shelf, Gillaspie has shown more discipline at the plate. He’s hitting .273 over the past 10 games with an OBP of .400. For the season, he’s hitting .261 with 2 HRs and 17 RBI with an OBP of .356.

Steve Edlefsen, P, Fresno (AAA): The Fresno bullpen has been good, led by Edlefsen, who has a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings of relief. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 10/1. That’s good because of the five starting pitchers still at Fresno, four have ERAs over 5.00.

Charlie Culberson, 2b, Richmond (AA): Culberson remains the bright spot on a roster in which only two players have batting averages above .240. Culberson is hitting .292 with 1 HR and 9 RBI. He’s scored 10 runs in 23 games. He’s still striking out too much, 9 times in past 10 games. But he’s starting to works some walks (5 in past 10).

Eric Surkamp, p, Richmond (AA): We’re guessin the league Richmond plays in is a pitchers’ league. Because the Flying Squirrels have three starting pitchers with ERAs under 2.22. Surkamp is 0-2 despite a 2.21 ERA. He’s struck out 31 batters in 20 1/3 innings of work. Justin Fitzgerald is 2-0 with 1.45 ERA, but he’s walked 12 for a team-high WHIP of 1.66.

Gary Brown, of, San Jose (A): Brown continues to play well with .333 average through 23 games. He’s 17 of 23 in stolen base attempts, and has scored a team-high 20 runs. He’s also worked 10 walks for an OBP of .418.

Chris Dominguez, 3b, San Jose (A): Dominguez remains San Jose’s big power pat with 6 HRs and 18 RBI in 24 games. But he’s also struck out a staggering 29 times.

Zach Wheeler, p, San Jose (A): Wheeler is 2-0 with 3.38 ERA and his strikeout-to-walk ration is 27/6 in 21 1/3 innings.

Kelvin Marte, p, San Jose (A): Marte is 3-1 with 0.94 ERA in 28 2/3 innings.

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