March 2012

S.I. predicts Giants to capture NL pennant

So, I guess I need to restart my subscription to Sports Illustrated

The venerated sports magazine predicts the San Francisco Giants to return to the World Series in 2012.

SI says the Giants will win the NL West with a 90-72 record, two games ahead of the Diamondbacks and seven games ahead of the Dodgers.

Then it’s off to the playoffs, where the Diamondbacks beat the Marlins in the one-game wild-card playoff.

The Giants beat the Reds in the division series, then advanced to beat the Phillies in the NLCS.

The Giants, SI says, will face the Angels in the World Series on the 10-year anniversary of the teams’ last meeting in the Fall Classic.

SI then predicts another Angels victory.

The prediction of the Angels to win the AL pennant is a sensible one. The Angels spent millions in the offseason adding players like Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson.

The Giants, meanwhile, spent millions in the offseason … to make sure Aaron Rowand is NOT on the team. Addition by subtraction.

Well, whatever the logic, we like SI’s prediction, except we’ll take exception to the opponent.

The Giants have faced a different AL West team in each of the past three trips to the World Series — the A’s, the Angels and the Rangers.

So according for form, the Giants’ next World Series foe should be the Mariners.

And if it is Seattle, the Mariners don’t stand a chance against the Giants’ potent offense — at least potent when compared the Mariners’ offense.

But, hey, pitching wins championships, right?

Giants 5, Indians 3: Burriss’ early exit a precaution

BOX SCORE

Emmanuel Burriss showed off his versatility again Wednesday by getting the start in right field for ailing Nate Schierholtz.

But after getting a walk in two plate appearances, Burriss made a quick exit after three innings, which was curious.

As it turns out, Burriss felt a tweak in his hamstring and decided to let trainers know. Then the decision was made to remove him.

“I’ve got a good thing going,” Burriss told CSNBayArea.com. “Might as well speak up if you don’t feel right. I’ve played a lot of innings. It’s nothing serious at all.”

Burriss, who is hitting .417 this spring, likely will sit out a couple of games, which works out OK for the Giants. Look for Ryan Theriot to get starts at 2B the next couple of days.

Theriot played in a minor-league game Wednesday as he tried to find the timing in his bat. The Giants need to make a call by next Thursday on whether or not to keep Theriot. Henry Schulman of the SF Chronicle had a nice story about Theriot’s situation. To read it, click here.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • LF Brett Pill, who has been quiet lately, made some noise with a three-run home run in the fourth. Just as noteworthy, he took his first walk of the spring.
  • DH Buster Posey went 2 for 4, raising his spring average to .294.
  • C Chris Stewart went 1 for 2 with a walk. He also gunned down Asdrubel Cabrera trying to steal second.
  • C Hector Sanchez kept swinging the hot bat, going 2 for 2, with a double, bumping his spring average to .480.
  • P Eric Surkamp continues to give the Giants confidence that they have some depth in the rotation. Surkamp would be the No. 1 option to fill in if there is an injury or if someone (read: Zito) struggles. He gave up two runs in five innings, both runs scoring on a two-run homer to Shelley Duncan.

UP NEXT

Tim Linecum faces Jamie Moyer as the Giants meet the Rockies at 7:10 p.m.

Giants health report: Sanchez, Vogelsong, Wilson, Posey

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Giants hope that Freddy Sanchez will play his first game in the field on Friday.

Maybe.

Sanchez is slated to take infield practice on Thursday. If he shows manager Bruce Bochy what he wants to see, then Sanchez will play at second base Friday. If not, then he won’t.

And if he doesn’t play in the field Friday, it’s time to really start thinking about Sanchez missing opening day.

Sanchez even admitted Monday that it’s “getting late here.”

“The big thing is double plays,” Sanchez said. “I’m not getting as much on my throws as I should.”

RYAN VOGELSONG: The news was better on Vogelsong. He is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Saturday, when he’ll pitch one inning in the home split-squad game against the Rockies.

Bochy said the plan is to get Vogelsong up to five innings and 70 pitches by the end of spring training. But it’s a narrow window.

If Saturday is his first start, he would get two more starts before the start of the season on normal rest: March 29 vs. the Rangers and April 3 vs. the Athletics in Oakland. That would align him to make his first regular-season start on April 9 at Colorado.

Bochy said that Vogelsong will throw only one inning in the game because “he’ll be amped and we don’t want any setbacks.”

Translation: He’ll likely throw more in the bullpen after his one inning Saturday. He threw 40 pitches in a live BP session on Tuesday.

Still, it seems extremely tight. It would make more sense to use the April 10 off day to skip Vogey’s turn and have him open season on April 15 at home vs. Pirates.

BRIAN WILSON: The Giants said they are taking the foot off the accelerator on Wilson’s pitching schedule after The Beard reported mild arm soreness.

Wilson last pitched Saturday and had been throwing every three days. The Giants have pushed him back to Thursday.

He played catch Wednesday and looked fine, according to CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly. Bochy said if it had been the regular season, Wilson would have pitched.

Wilson has hit 96 mph on the gun this spring, and Bochy called this normal spring soreness.

OK. But, still, hmmm.

BUSTER POSEY: Posey caught a spring-high six innings Tuesday and looked good when he pounced on a bunt attempt and threw out the batter at first.

“Buster looks fine,” Bochy said. “We’ll start cranking it up a little bit here.”

The next step is catching back-to-back games, which could come soon. Posey was in the lineup Wednesday as a DH.

Many fans and media members have commented that opening day is two weeks away and Posey is only catching six innings.

It’s not that he CAN’T catch a full game. It’s that the Giants are taking it conservatively, trying not to push things, waiting to see how Posey reacts.

So far, Posey has responded well to every step he has taken this spring.

Diamondbacks 4, Giants 3: Good and bad from Zito

BOX SCORE

A little more than two weeks from opening day, the Diamondbacks and Giants met in a mini-preview of the season-opening meeting.

Both teams put out lineups that looked a lot like they might on April 6.

Barry Zito made 83 pitches, the most of any Giants starter this spring. That’s the most important stat. The other numbers were mixed.

He walked four and gave up three runs on seven hits in five innings.

Much of the bad numbers came in a rough first inning.

The game opened with a bunt single by Willie Bloomquist. Zito then gave up a two-run homer to Gerardo Parra. Two batters, two runs. Zito went on to walk two batters in the inning, but a double play helped him escape further damage.

In the second, he gave up a leadoff double to Cody Ransom, who was sacrifice to third and scored on a sac fly by Bloomquist.

But after that, Zito manage to put up three zeros in the next three innings. If he had managed a fourth, that would have been a quality start — the best of what Giants fans can hope for from Zito.

“He got better as he went,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He started locating better, getting a better rhythm there. Earlier he got some balls up, and he wasn’t quite hitting his spots. But he threw good his last couple of innings.”

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • OF Angel Pagan continued an uneven spring by going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Meanwhile, OF Gregor Blanco, who was a late addition to the lineup for the injured Nate Schierholtz, was 1 for 3 with a walk and two more stolen bases. Pagan was batting leadoff, and Blanco in the No. 6 spot. Hmmmmm. But, again, Blanco was a late add, and was just plopped into Schierholtz’s spot in the lineup.
  • C Buster Posey was back behind the plate. He went 1 for 2 with a walk.
  • OF Melky Cabrera continue to hit, going 2 for 4.
  • The Giants had eight hits, seven singles. The lone double was from Ryan Theriot, who was 1 for 2 with a walk as he continues to heat up from a very slow start. Henry Schulman of the SF Chronicle had a nice blog post on Theriot. I knew Theriot’s contract was a non-guaranteed one. I was not aware that Fontenot’s also was not guaranteed. To see the full post, click here.

UP NEXT

It’s Eric Surkamp’s turn to take the hill as the Giants face the Indians at 1:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the MLB Network.

A look at how ex-Giants are doing this spring

The past is the past, and it’s always better to look to the future. But we still thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the players parted ways with since the end of last season.

We’ll start with Pat Burrell and Orlando Cabrera, who decided to retire after last season. And then there’s Miguel Tejada, who had the decision to retire made for him by the other 29 big league clubs who didn’t offer him a spring training invite.

But there are other ex-Giants who are still playing. So let’s take look at some of them.

Andres Torres, of, Mets: Torres was a fan favorite in San Francisco and many were sad to see him go. But after a breakout 2010, Torres could not repeat that success in 2011. Now, the Mets are hoping he will claim their starting job in CF. He’s had a modest spring, slowed some by a hip injury earlier this month. He’s hitting .273 (6 for 22) with a triple and two stolen bases. He’s only struck out twice, but only walked once.

Cody Ross, of Red Sox: Ross started the winter looking for a three-year deal. He ended up taking a one-year deal for $3 million from Boston. Now, the Red Sox are hoping Ross can hold down an outfield job until Carl Crawford gets healthy. So far, it’s looking like a good move for Boston. Ross is hitting .455 (10 for 22) with 2 HRs and 5 RBI. He’s also only struck out three times.

Ramon Ramirez, rp, Mets: Probably the most painful parting for the Giants of the offseason in terms of quality. But the bullpen was strength of the Giants. Early returns for the Mets have been mixed: 11.25 ERA, 9 hits, 5 earned runs in four innings. But he also has seven strikeouts. But Ramirez has never put up big spring numbers. He has spring ERAs of 8.71 and 7.94 the past two seasons.

Mark DeRosa, inf., Nationals: DeRosa looked done by May of last season, with a lingering wrist injury. But he says his wrist feels as good as it has since he originally hurt it back in 2009. And the spring numbers show that: .429 (6 for 14), 1 HR, 1 RBI and a whopping 8 walks, giving him an .636 OBP. It’s odd for anyone to walk that much in the spring when hitters are trying to find their stroke. But it will be a big part of DeRosa’s game as he tries to earn a bench role for the Nationals.

Jeff Keppinger, 2b, Rays: A lot of Giants fans wanted Keppinger to stay and Mike Fontenot to go. But Keppinger is not quite as versatile and a bit more expensive. Now, he’s looking for a bench job with the Rays, doing his usual Keppinger stuff: .333 (8 for 24), 1 2B, 2 RBI and two walks.

Jonathan Sanchez, lhp, Royals: The Royals were hoping to catch a diamond in the rough with Sanchez. So far, they’re just getting rocks. Sanchez has made two spring starts. In his first, he worked on throwing strikes and got tagged for three runs on four hits and no walks in one inning. His second start included two walks, and four runs on three hits in two innings. He has a 21.00 ERA in 3 IP this spring.

Aaron Rowand, of, Mia: Rowand is trying to land a reserve outfield job with the Marlins, and it’s not going well. He got a hit on Saturday, but it was just his second of the spring. He’s hitting .077 (2 for 26) with five strikeouts. Looks like he’ll be spending quality time with the family this summer, counting the $11.5 million the Giants will be paying him this season.

PADRES 5, GIANTS 1: Freddy Sanchez may open season on DL

BOX SCORE

First, we heard it was going to be last Wednesday.

Then, no, it was Friday.

Then possibly on Saturday.

And now it’s Monday, the Giants have a day off, and we still don’t know when second baseman Freddy Sanchez will play his first game in the field.

It won’t be Tuesday. Wednesday?

Bochy said Sanchez was still throwing tentatively during his last full-speed infield drill last week, and the manager wants to see him game-ready in practice before putting him into a game.

“Once he takes a good infield and feels like he can play in a game, we’ll put him out there,” Bochy said. “But not until then.”

Sanchez could take infield practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, then take a day off, and could be ready to play the next day. But the uncertainty has led Bochy to admit that his second baseman could open the season on the DL.

“We’re down to two weeks, and he hasn’t gotten out there yet,” Bochy said. “We’re still optimistic that we’ll get him out there, but each day that goes by the possibility grows a little bit that he’s not going to be ready.”

Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss are battling for backup infield jobs. It figures that only two will make the team. Henry Schulman of the SF Chronicle said Theriot has not looked good in the field or at the plate this spring. Theriot is hitting .200 (6 for 30).

The Giants covet Theriot for his experience, his right-hand bat and his ability to hit lefties. But they have also starting give shortstop Brandon Crawford more opportunities this spring against lefties. Crawford hit his first spring home run off a lefty, the Mariners’ Hong-Chih Kuo.

“Any home run feels good,” Crawford said. “That is came off a lefty, it probably feels better.”

Burriss went 2 for 2 with a triple and a walk Sunday, raising his spring average to .441 (15 for 34). He also has five steals.

If Sanchez opens on the DL, all three infielders should make the team. Another option is to put Ryan Vogelsong on the DL to open the season, activating him on April 15 when the Giants first need a No. 5 starter.

Then, the Giants could open the season with 11 pitchers, allowing them to keep an additional position player on the roster at least for the first nine days of the season.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Brandon Belt had a double in three at-bats, leaving his spring average as .368 as Aubrey Huff sat out with a sore back.
  • Madison Bumgarner looked ready for the season, giving up four hits and no walks in five scoreless innings. He wanted to pitch into the six, but Sunday’s less-than-ideal conditions led Bochy to have MadBum finish his day with 20 pitches in the bullpen.
  • Clay Hensley gave up three rusn on three hits in one inning, although two runs were unearned.

UP NEXT

The Giants will keep their rotation intact by having Matt Cain throw a minor-league game Monday. Barry Zito will get the start Tuesday against the Diamondbacks at 1:10 p.m.

Media members think Gregor Blanco has made Giants roster

Outfielder Gregor Blanco is a non-roster invitee who hasn’t played in the majors in two seasons. He had an injury-riddled 2011 in the minors.

And yet the vibe around media members in the Cactus League is the speedy outfielder will be on the Giants’ 25-man roster to open the 2012 season.

After watching Blanco use his speed to leg a single to right into a double in Saturday’s 3-3 tie with the Dodgers, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury noted how a couple of opposing beat writers reacted.

“Gee-whiz, he’s fast,” said one.

“Sheesh, he can fly,” said another.

OK, OK. Those aren’t direct quotes. But MoreSplashHits is a family fan blog, so we cleaned up the language.

Pavlovic noted it was the third time this spring that he’s heard other beat writers marvel at Blanco’s speed. “Likely won’t be the last,” Pavlovic added.

In another post, Pavlovic shared a conversation he had with a Venezuelan writer, who said Blanco has been the best player in the Venezuelan Winter League the past five years, calling him “an on-base percentage wizard.” Blanco was the VWL MVP this past winter.

On-base wizards have been a myth on the Giants rosters in past seasons, so his addition would be appreciated.

This spring, Blanco is hitting .444 (16 for 36) with 10 runs, two doubles, five walks, a .512 OBP and a major-league best seven steals in eight attempts.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says Blanco has already earned a spot as the No. 4 outfielder. For his impressions, click here.

Giants 7, Athletics 2: No freebies from The Freak

BOX SCORE

 

Is it possible to scatter six extra-base hits? Well, Tim Lincecum found a way to do that Saturday against the Oakland Athletics.

Lincecum gave up six hits — one single, two triples and three doubles — but only one run in six innings, his longest outing of the spring.

Five of those extra-base hits came in the first two innings, but Lincecum worked his way out of a trouble with a little help from Nate Schierholtz.

It was all part of Lincecum’s pledge this spring: Throw more strikes.

“No walks,” he told CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly. “It’s a huge thing for me. It’s about getting ahead, and even when you don’t, not being afraid to throw a wrinkle down the middle. For me, that’s a two-seamer. Hopefully, you induce a ground ball or something.”

Lincecum’s 86 walks last season ranked second in the National League last season (with extra thanks to Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito being hurt for a good portion of the year). Also, his 3.99 pitches per batter kept Lincecum from going deeper into games.

He was worried that was the case Saturday when he came in after the fourth inning and was surprised to find out he was only at 48 pitches.

“I was like ‘oh, I guess it’s not as bad as I thought,” he said.

 

 OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  •  The offense got off to a slow start, managing just one hit in the first three innings. But the Giants got it going in the fourth with a single by Freddy Sanchez, double by Melky Cabrera, sacrifice fly (with two strikes) from Pablo Sandoval, double by Nate Schierholtz and home run from Ryan Theriot.
  • Theriot’s home run was one of three on the game for the Giants. Sandoval and Angel Pagan added solo shots.
  • Pagan, coming off have a wisdom tooth pulled earlier this week, went 2 for 4 with a stolen base and home run.
  • Brian Wilson allowed an unearned run, but also walked two in his two-third of an inning. He also struck out two.

Giants 7, Mariners 5: Brandon Crawford becoming complete player

BOX SCORE

In the offseason, the Giants said they would be willing to let Brandon Crawford be their starting shortstop if they upgraded their offense enough.

After adding Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, it didn’t appear the Giants had done that. Yet Crawford entered camp with the shortstop job his to lose, even with the addition of Ryan Theriot.

We all knew Crawford could pick it at shortstop. But after watching him hit .204 when he was rushed to the majors last season, we weren’t sure if his bat was ready.

But Crawford went to work on his swing in the offseason, making it more compact so he could get on pitches quicker. And the results have been evident this spring.

Crawford belted his first home run of the spring Thursday in the Giants win over the Mariners.

“He’s worked on shortening up his swing, and he’s getting results,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We know it’s Spring Training, but it’s nice to see him swing the bat.”

He is hitting .400 (14 for 20) with a .520 OBP this spring. And maybe most importantly, no strikeouts in 25 spring plate appearances.
After the Giants drafted Crawford after UCLA, they discovered they had a slick-fielding big shortstop with a big swing.

That big swing left big holes. Crawford had a 24.4 pct. strikeout rate in his first full year in the minors in 2009 (between Class A and AA). In 2010 (also A and AA), it was a 22.7 pct.

When he got called up last year, Crawford knew he needed to focus more on making contact, which he did. His strikeout rate was 14.1 pct in the majors. Unfortunately, the improved contact was often weak contact, result in the average around the Mendoza Line.

Now, he’s making contact, and it’s solid. The Giants have him penciled in for the No. 8 spot in the lineup. And they have Theriot on the lineup to play against tough lefties (Crawford’s average was as even more anemic .133 against lefties).

So expectations are low for Crawford. But he’s exceeding them right now.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Another day, another Gregor Blanco highlight. Blanco opened the game with a single and went to second when the outfielder bobbled the ball. He advanced to third on a fly ball and scored on Brett Pill’s double. Then, as Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News put it, “went to San Francisco to find an apartment.” Possibly.
  • Another player doing his best to secure a San Francisco address is Brandon Belt. Belt went 3 for 5 with a run and RBI. He nearly missed a homer on his double off the wall in right. He’s hitting .375.
  • C Hector Sanchez went 1 for 2 and is now hitting .450. But his issues behind the plate remained evident. He allowed a runner to go from second to third on a passed ball, then allowed that runner to score on a wild pitch.
  • Barry Zito got threw four innings, throwing 62 pitches (38 for strikes). He gave up two runs on four hits, with two walks and four strikeouts. The two runs came when he walked Casper Wells on a 3-1 pitch, then gave up a home run to Mike Carp.

UP NEXT

Eric Surkamp will be on the mound and Buster Posey behind the plate as the Giants face the Cubs at 1:05 p.m. Friday.

Giants 2, Indians 2: Busting out

BOX SCORE

It was great to see Buster Posey catching again.

It was great to see Buster Posey swinging the bat in a game again.

But we were thinking Wednesday, it would be really great to see Buster Posey get a hit again.

Posey put together three 0-fers in his first three spring training games, and that stretch extended to 0 for 8 in Wednesday’s game against the Indians.

But in his third at-bat Wednesday, Posey drove a Tony Sipp fastball the opposite way over the right-field wall for his first spring hit — a home run.

“I thought I hit it pretty good,” Posey said. “I’m just glad I hit it hard. That’s the goal every time.”

It was another good sign on Posey’s road to recovery.

There have been some talking heads who have doubting whether Posey will be fully recovered by opening day.

Posey is not one of them.

“I think I’ve been lucky as far as not having any setbacks,” he said. “I don’t know if I need to knock on wood or what. But I think we’ve got a game plan the rest of the way through. I’ll be ready on April 6.”

The now is for Posey to take Thursday off and catch again on Friday. He hopes to catch six innings in a game next week.

And as far as knocking on wood? Yes, Buster, you do need to knock on wood. Base knocks. Keep ‘em coming.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Gregor Blanco continues to give the Giants reason to think. He went 1 for 3 with a walk. Blanco drew a walk to open the game (a rarity for the Giants in 2011). He was moving on Melky Cabrera’s grounder to first. When Cabrera was thrown out with the pitcher covering first, Blanco scooted all the way to third base. That allowed him to score on Pablo Sandoval’s ground out. Manager Bruce Bochy said the decision to keep Blanco on the 25-man roster will likely go right down to the wire. “He’s certainly intriguing, isn’t he?” Bochy said.
  • Matt Cain gave up two runs on five hits and walk in 3 2/3 innings. He struck out four. One run allowed scored on an inning-ending double play when Asdrubel Cabrera came across the plate before the Giants could complete a tag-out double play in the first. The other run scored when Mitch Lively came into relieve Cain in the fourth and allowed an inherited runner to score from third on a wild pitch.
  • Relievers Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Clay Hensley and Dan Otero each recorded 1-2-3 innings.
  • Not sure if it’s a cause of concern, but the Giants’ bats have gone a little cold in recent days. They were limited to four singles andPosey’s home run on Wednesday. They also struck out eight times with only one walk — the walk to Blanco to open the game. But this early in spring, hitters prefer to swing the bat than take pitches. For example, the Indians struck out 14 times with just one walk.

UP NEXT

Barry Zito takes the mound at the Giants face the Mariners in a 7:05 p.m. at Peoria. The game will be televised live on the MLB Network.

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