April 2012

New York Mets 5, San Francisco Giants 4: God intervenes on behalf of Brandon Belt and other wackiness

BOX SCORE

Giants fandom has been squealing all season about how Brandon Belt must be starting at first base for the Giants, even as the young first baseman has been hitting below the Mendoza Line and Aubrey Huff was having success at the plate.

But now Belt is hitting above the Mendoza Line … and Huff is not.

Belt is now hitting .238. Huff is hitting .182 after a 1-for-16 skid that included an 0-for-4 day reminiscent of the 2011 Huff (two infield pop ups and two ground balls to the right-side of the infield).

And as if that were not enough to compell manager Bruce Bochy to start Belt on Sunday, the Lord intervened on Saturday in New York.

With two on and two out in the top of the ninth and the Giants down 4-2, Bochy sent Belt to the plate as a pinch hitter.

After falling behind in the count, Belt hit what appeared to be a game-ending pop up to shortstop.

But as shortstop Ruben Tejada drifted out into the outfield, it looked as if maybe Belt’s hit could drop between Tejada and center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Then as Nieuwenhuis came charging in, the ball inexplicably fell behind the Mets center fielder. In the scorebook, it was a two-run, game-tying double for Belt.

If that is not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.

But in the end, it didn’t matter much because the wackiness didn’t end there.

Bochy’s penchant for making move-upon-move — a strategy that paid off with a victory Friday night — ending up biting the Giants manager on Saturday.

First, in the top of the ninth, Bochy had his backup catcher, Hector Sanchez, hit for his shortstop Brandon Crawford to avoid having the lefty Crawford hit against the lefty Tim Byrdak. It was a risky move considering that the Giants’ lone backup infielder, Ryan Theriot, was still not available because of illness.

And the move didn’t pay off when Sanchez struck out.

Then Bochy had Brett Pill pinch-hit for the pitchers’ spot. Now, it’s worth noting that Pill actually had some experience playing second base last year at Triple-A Fresno and took some grounders at second prior to Saturday’s game.

But after Pill was announced as the hitter, the Mets brought in right-hander Jon Rauch. So Bochy then had Belt hit for Pill, taking Pill out of the game.

That move worked — because God decreed it to be so.

But in the bottom of the inning, it forced Bochy into a most unusal defensive alignment. Emmanuel Burriss went to shortstop, Belt went for first and Aubrey Huff went to second.

Yes, we said Aubrey Huff at second base.

Now, in 1,234 games in 13 major-league seasons, how many times, prior to Saturday, had Huff played second base?

None.

Even in 339 minor-league games, he had never played second.

And it showed.

After a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk put runners on first and second with one out, Mike Baxter hit, in normal defensive alignments, what should have been a custom-made double-play ball to shortstop. But in this defensive alignment, it should have at least produced a force out at second.

One problem, though. When Baxter hit the ball directly at Burriss at short, Huff broke toward first base. He actually broke toward first base.

By the time Huff realized he was playing SECOND BASE, Burriss had to adjust quickly and throw to first. But the throw to first was late and Baxter was safe (even though replays indicated he was out).

Now, we have the bases loaded and one out.

Nieuwenhuis followed by hitting a grounder to Belt, who threw to home to force out Scott Hairston.

And this is where Buster Posey, who made two great defensive plays to bail out the Giants in the eighth, made a bad decision.

Posey tried to throw back to Belt at first to double up the fast Nieuwenhuis. When Scott Hairston’s slide home clipped Posey in the foot (another questionable call by the umpire to allow that), Posey’s throw sailed into right field and the Mets won.

UP NEXT

Tim Lincecum hopes to get things figure out when he faces Dillon Gee in 10:10 a.m. Sunday.

San Francisco Giants 4, New York Mets 3, 10 inn: Together, they’re all Giant

BOX SCORE

Here’s a list of players Bruce Bochy used in Friday’s win in New York.

No, wait. It’s probably easier to go with the players he DIDN’T use.

Ryan Theriot (he was too sick to fly with the team Thursday; he flew out Friday)
Tim Lincecum
Dan Otero
Ryan Vogelsong
Madison Bumgarner

In other words, Bochy used everybody except his Aunt Jemima on Friday.

“I even played,” pitcher Matt Cain quipped.

Yes, he did. So let’s relive the carousel of players.

With the lefty Jonathan Niese on the mound for the Mets, the Giants went with a righty-heavy lineup.

  1. CF Angel Pagan
  2. RF Melky Cabrera
  3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
  4. 1B Buster Posey
  5. LF Brett Pill (his first career start in left)
  6. C Hector Sanchez
  7. 2B Emmanuel Burriss
  8. SS Brandon Crawford
  9. P Barry Zito

Pill was the first to go. After he grounded out in the top of the fifth to complete an 0-for-3 night, Bochy put Nate Schierholtz in RF and slid Cabrera over to LF for a better defensive lineup.

Then came Zito. He had another solid outing (5 IP, 2 ER, 4 Hits), but umpire Kerwin Danley’s fickle strike zone led to three walks and a lot of deep counts. Zito hit the 100-pitch mark by the end of the fifth.

So when Zito’s spot in the batting order came up in the sixth — and with Bochy now down to three available hitters on his bench — the skipper sent up Cain to bat for Zito. Cain struck out.

Guillermo Mota entered the game and pitched a 1-2-3 sixth, including two strikeouts.

When the left-handed hitting Josh Thole was brought in to pinch-hit for catcher Mike Nickeas to lead off the seventh, Bochy brought lefty Jeremy Affeldt in for Mota. Affeldt set down all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings.

Brandon Belt pinch-hit for Affeldt in the ninth, striking out on three pitches.

Belt stayed in the game in the bottom of the ninth in Bochy’s first double-switch of the game, replacing Posey at first base. Santiago Casilla took the mound.

But Casilla threw only two pitches, giving up a leadoff infield single to Jason Bay. With a string of lefties due up, Bochy yanked Casilla and brought in Javier Lopez.

Lopez got Lucas Duda to fly out before walking Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Josh Thole’s single tied the game and put the winning run on third base.

Bochy then pulled his second double-switch, bringing in Sergio Romo to pitch and Gregor Blanco to play CF in place of Angel Pagan.

Romo got Mike Baxter to ground into a fielder’s choice on a great play by Belt at first and Sanchez at the plate. Belt fielded the chopper from Baxter, spun and threw a strike at home, where Sanchez put a sweep tag on Nieuwenhuis. Romo then struck out Ruben Tejada.

Sanchez was the hero in the top of the 10th, too, when he singled home Melky Cabrera with the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the 10th, Romo gave up back-to-back singles to Daniel Murphy and David Wright to open the inning. Out came Bochy again for his third double switch.

“He got his cardio in,” Affeldt quipped about his manager.

This time, Bochy went to Clay Hensley, and brought in Aubrey Huff to play LF with Cabrera going to RF and Schierholtz coming out.

The idea here was if the Mets tied the game again and sent it into the 11th, the pitcher’s spot would be up third. So instead of bringing Hensley in, then having to have Huff pinch-hit for him in the 11th, which would force Bochy to bring in his last reliever (Dan Otero), the double-switch would allow Hensley to pitch the 11th, if needed, by having Huff hit in the pitcher’s spot.

Any defensive liabilities that Huff might bring to the outfield alignment were negated by an outstanding job by Hensley. He got Ike Davis to ground out, then struck out Jason Bay and finally got Duda to fly out to center to end the game.

Bochy told Casilla he would be getting the lion’s share of closing opportunities. But he added that he would also play matchups.

“Throw ‘em out there and hope it works out,” Bochy explained.

It did Friday.

UP NEXT

Ryan Vogelsong takes on Mike Pelfrey in Game 2 of this four-game series. First pitch is at 10:10 a.m.

San Francisco Giants Friday Farm Report (4/20)

Fresno Grizzlies outfielder Justin Christian was named the Pacific Coast League player of the week for the period ending April 15.

At the time of his selection for the honor, Christian was leading all of professional baseball with a .553 averge (21 for 39) with seven doubles and a .595 on-base percentage.

Christian is a regular Crash Davis.

He’s 32 years old and has played 42 total big-league games, including 18 last season with the Giants, when he hit .255 in 47 at-bats.

Christian was an undrafted free agent when he was signed by the Yankees in 2004 at age 24.

He’s toiled in the minors since, earning a brief promotion with the Yankees in 2008.

He signed a minor-league contract with the Giants before the 2011 season.

Since earning the PCL honor, Christian has not cooled off much, going 5 for 17 this week.

He’s currently hitting .476 with 2 HRs, 11 RBI and 12 runs. He has a .517 OBP.

Other players of note

Triple-A Fresno (11-4)

  • OF Roger Kieschnick: Christian isn’t the only Fresno outfielder who’s hot. Kieschnick is hitting .424 with 3 HR, 9 RBI, 8 doubles and 15 runs.
  • 2B Joaquin Arias: Arias impressed the Giants with his glove in the spring. Now, he’s also swinging a hot bat. He’s hitting. .373 with 2 HR, 12 RBI and 8 runs.
  • OF Francisco Peguero (No. 8 Giants prospect by Baseball Prospectus): The Grizzlies have five players hitting .313 or better, which is why Peguero, one of the team’s top prospects, is concerning. He’s hitting .196 with 1 HR, 11 RBI. However, in his past seven games, he’s 7 for 27 (.259) with 1 HR and 8 RBI.
  • 2B Charlie Culberson (No. 11 by BP): Batting .276, with 0 HR, 7 RBI, 5 doubles, but a team-high 14 Ks.
  • 3B Conor Gillaspie (No. 20 by BP): Batting .235 with 1 HR, 4 RBI.
  • RP Heath Hembree (No. 3 by BP): All eyes are on Hembree in the wake of Brian Wilson’s season-ending injury. Hembree is 1-0 with 1.80 ERA and 2 saves. He has 4 Ks in 5 IP and suffered his first blown save last week.
  • SP Eric Hacker: It hasn’t been all hitting in Fresno’s hot start. Hacker is 3-0 with 2.00 ERA, 10 K, 3 BB in 18 IP.
  • SP Andrew Kown: Kown also has been solid as a starter with a 2-0 mark with a 2.20 ERA, 10 K, 5 BB in 16.1 IP.

Double-A Richmond (7-8)

  • 3B Chris Dominguez: Dominguez is making a nice transition to Double-A, hitting .415 with 1 HR and 10 RBI in 11 games. More importantly, he’s limiting his strikeouts (8 in 42 PAs)
  • C Tommy Joseph (No. 4 by BP): Joseph got off to a slow start. He’s hitting .231, 0 HR, 2 RBI. But he’s collected a hit in his last six games.
  • OF Gary Brown (No. 1 by BP): The former first-round pick has been slow to adjust to Double-A, hitting .208 with one stolen base in three attempts. He has one more hit (11) than strikeouts (10). His OBP is .306.
  • SS Ehire Adrianza (No. 13 by BP): A defensive whiz, but questions remain with his bat. Starting the season hitting. 176 with 11 Ks in 51 ABs will not help much. But he does have 9 BBs.
  • OF Wendell Fairley: Another prospect really has struggled, going 1 for 19 (.053) this season.
  • SP Michael Kickham (No. 9 by BP): Kickham is 1-1 with 2.84 ERA in 3 starts. He has 13 Ks in 12.2 IP, but also has 9 BB

Class A San Jose

  • SS Joe Panik (No. 2 by BP): After impressive Short A season, Panik is off to a slow start, hitting .241. But with 9 BB, his OBP is .343. He has 6 doubles in 58 ABs.
  • 1B Ricky Oropesa (No. 17 by BP): Known for his power, Oropesa hasn’t shown it yet with (0 HR, 3 2B) in 44 ABs. He’s hitting .273.
  • C Andrew Sugac (No. 6 by BP). Sugac is batting .268 with 0 HR, 3 RBI in 41 ABs.
  • OF Jarrett Parker (No. 18 by BP): It’s hit or miss for Parker. He has 12 hits (9 extra-base hits) with 4 HRs. But he’s hitting .255 as 26 of his 35 outs have been by strikeout.
  • RP Josh Osich (No. 10 by BP): Osich has thrown 3 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 walk, with 4 Ks.

 

Class A Augusta

  • Kyle Crick, RHP (No. 5 by BP): Crick is 0-1 with 3.68 ERA in 2 starts. The big issue is 8 BB in 7.1 IP.

Finals 26 Baseball 101 questions are finally answered

With all the Giant news (Brian Wilson, Madison Bumgarner, etc.), we kind of got derailed from our Baseball 101 series.

So we’ll finish with a flurry, answering the final 26 questions from Mark Hermann’s 101 probing questions on baseball

76. What record is least likely ever to be broken?

Cy Young’s 511 career wins. Any pitcher hoping to break that mark would need to average better than 25 wins a season for 20 seasons. Since no one has won more than 24 in a season since Bob Welch won 27 in 1990, we’d say it’s a long shot.

77. Given that Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp had the highest WAR rating (a statistic measuring how much more he meant to his team than a hypothetical Triple-A replacement), shouldn’t he have been the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player?

Yes, he should have. But apparently you can’t be the MVP if your team doesn’t make the playoffs, even though that had more to do with the other eight players in the lineups for Brewers (team of MVP Ryan Braun) and the Dodgers than anything Braun and Kemp accomplished.

78. Why is stealing signs from the bases or dugout considered part of the game, while peeking from the batter’s box to see the catcher’s signal is considered cheating?

Because there are a lot of baseball traditions and rituals that don’t make a whole bunch of sense.

79. Is it fair game to call for a squeeze play in the ninth inning of an exhibition game?

Yes, and it’s also fair game for the catcher to knee the sliding runner in the groin while covering home plate.

80. What is the bigger obstacle to the Orioles snapping their 14-year streak of losing records: their ownership or their brutal division competition?

Ownership. The only way the O’s keep up is by drafting and developing quality young players (like the Rays) or spend on free agents (like the Yankees and Red Sox).

81. Are six Mets-Yankees games every season three too many?

Yes. Same is true for other regional interleague rivals. Three is plenty. And I’m sorry, but why do the Mariners and Padres play six times every year?

83. When the Astros move to the American League next season and there is an interleague game every day, will interleague play cease to have whatever special appeal it does have?

No loss of appeal when there is no special appeal to interleague play except when regional rivals play each other.

84. How often will Nationals manager Davey Johnson be asked to compare Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Once, if Johnson answered the question with “Strasburg and Harper never smoked crack.”

85. Why do they rub mud on every major-league baseball? (Hint: check out baseballrubbingmud.com).

To allow pitchers to get a better grip on the ball.

86. Should Major League Baseball shut down for a couple weeks at midseason to allow for the World Baseball Classic, as the NHL does for the Olympics?

Absolutely not.

87. Does Marvin Miller belong in the Hall of Fame for the way he revolutionized baseball through collective bargaining?

Absolutely yes.

88. With statistical and video analysis having become so sophisticated, what does the future hold for bird-dog scouts?

No amount of stats or video will replace having a real set of eyes on a player to assess all the intangibles.

89. Fenway Park is celebrating its centennial season this year, but is it time for a new park in Boston? (A plan in 1999 that proposed a new stadium was scrapped.)

No. It’s fine just the way it is.

90. Who has more influence in baseball than agent Scott Boras?

Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner. Boras’ influence would be negated if there weren’t an idiot with an open checkbook willing to give him everything he wants.

91. Is it fair that teams compete for the same wild-card spots when they play considerably different schedules?

Not really, but that’s what the one-game wild-card playoff should help fix (actually, we’d like to see a best-of-3 series).

92. Why, 51 years after Hal Richman introduced the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game, do middle-aged men still drive to Long Island from as far as Ohio and Ontario to buy the new season’s cards?

They don’t have wives or girlfriends .. or a computer for that matter.

93. Who was the best athlete ever to play professional baseball: Jim Thorpe, Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan or someone else?

Bo Jackson.

94. What sort of mentor will the new, outgoing Manny Ramirez be to A’s teammate Yoenis Cespedes, the heralded free agent from Cuba?

Well, if the A’s want center fielder Cespedes to learn how to make a lunging cut-off of a throw from the right fielder to the second baseman, a great one.

95. If you didn’t know Dodger Stadium will turn 50 on April 10, how old would you say the sparkling place looks?

I’d say about 25 years old. It’s still looks great, but it’s design clearly predates the trend of retro-style ballparks started in the 1990s by Camden Yards.

96. What makes Vin Scully stand out among announcers, even now, in his 63rd season?

Well, for one, he’s Vin FREAKIN’ Scully. That ought to be enough. As a Giants fan, who grew up listening to Vin Scully, there’s none better.

97. Can any full-time, big-salaried player do worse than Adam Dunn’s .159 batting average in 2011?

No, because the Giants, and then the Marlins, released Aaron Rowand.

98. Other than your favorite team, who has the best uniforms?

The Baltimore Orioles. Not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the black-and-orange combination.

99. What chance does Kansas City have of ending a 26-year playoff drought (the longest of any city in the bigs, considering the Expos/Nationals have split their 30-year hiatus between two hometowns)?

This year, slim to none. But if they continue to develop young players and make some smart free agent signings, they could contend in the next couple of years. Every team but the Royals have won the division since 2007.

100. Which team was the greatest in baseball history?

The 1927 New York Yankees

101. Who’s on first?

Yes, we know.

San Francisco Giants 1, Philadelphia Phillies 0: It’s Matt Cain, again

BOX SCORE

When the Giants put runners on first and third with nobody out in the first inning, and then didn’t score, I was sure that was going to come back and haunt them.

In one way it did. It kept Matt Cain from recording his second consecutive shutout victory.

But thanks to Cain and a solid effort from the bullpen, it didn’t. The Giants kept the Phillies off the board too, allowing them to win in the 11th on an RBI single by Melky Cabrera.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain throws to the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

However, the real story on this night was Cain vs. Cliff Lee.

Matt Cain’s numbers:

  • 9 IP, 2 hits, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4K, 91 pitches, 64 strikes.

Cliff Lee’s numbers

  • 10 IP, 7 hits, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, 102 pitches, 81 strikes

“I haven’t seen two pitchers pitch that well. What a matchup,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Terrific game by two guys that hooked horns and neither one was giving in.”

It actually looked like the Giants would get to Lee early when Angel Pagan led off the game with a clean single to center. Cabrera followed with a bloop single to right, allowing Pagan to reach third.

But Pablo Sandoval followed with a fly to right too shallow to score Pagan, and then Lee got out of the jam by getting Buster Posey to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

Now, you can’t blame Bochy for not playing for one run in the first inning. But you could in the fifth when it was evident that both pitchers were dealing.

In the fifth, Brett Pill led off with a double that one-hopped over the center-field fence. But with Ryan Theriot up next, Bochy did not have Theriot try to bunt Pill to third.

Instead, Theriot grounded to shortstop, forcing Pill to hold a second. Then Nate Schierholtz came up, and grounded to shortstop, forcing Pill to hold a second. And Brandon Crawford ended the inning by, you guessed it, grounding to short.

Those outs were the first three of 12 consecutive batters that Lee set down.

“I had a good changeup and I was throwing my curveballs for strikes,” Lee said. “I don’t usually do both in the same game. When things are going well, I try to work fast. I try to keep a good pace. Everybody likes that. I was told I was don after nine (innings), but I said I could easily pitch another inning. I tried it again after 10, but it didn’t happen.”

Good thing, too. Because after Lee got out of jams in the 9th and 10th by inducing double-play grounders, Antonio Bastardo came into pitch the 11th.

After Crawford opened the inning by striking out, Brandon Belt singled to center. Belt took second on third baseman Ty Wigginton’s error on an Angel Pagan grounder. Then Cabrera lined a sharp single to right to score Belt.

On the winning play, Belt broke at the crack of the bat, even though Cabrera’s line sailed just over the reach of leaping second baseman Freddy Galvis.

With that jump Belt, easily beat Hunter Pence’s throw home. Without that jump, he might have been out at the plate.

“I was hoping (it was a hit),” Belt said. “Thank goodness it was because if it wasn’t I was going to be in some big trouble. Off the bat, it looked like it was easily a base hit to me. And I wanted to end the game right there.”

Belt’s instincts gave the Giants a 4-2 homestead and evened their season record at 6-6.

UP NEXT

The Giants get a day off Thursday before opening a seven-game homestead in New York against the Mets on Friday. Barry Zito faces Jonathan Niese in a 4:10 p.m. game Friday.

San Francisco Giants 4, Philadelphia Phillies 2: Santiago Casilla vs. Brian Wilson

BOX SCORE

Most people around baseball are talking about how devastating it is for the Giants to lose closer Brian Wilson for the season.

But for those Giants fans who have watched Wilson over the past two seasons, we’ve seen something different.

In 2008, when the Giants turned over the closer job to a 26-year-old Wilson, he recorded 41 saves, and casual observers were impressed. But other numbers were less impressive: 4.62 ERA, 4.0 walks per 9 innings, 9.7 Ks per 9 and 1.44 WHIP.

Over the next two years, the numbers got better:

2009: 38 saves, 2.74 ERA, 3.4 BB per 9 IP, 10.3 K per 9 IP, 1.20 WHIP

2010: 48 saves, 1.81 ERA, 3.1 BB per 9 IP, 11.2 K per 9 IP, 1.18 WHIP

That’s what people remember, the 2010 Wilson who led the Giants in the NL West division title, NL championship and World Series title.

But then came the 2011 Brian Wilson:

3.11 ERA, 5.1 BB per 9 IP, 8.8 K per 9 IP, 1.47 WHIP.

One stat the was probably most discouraging: Between 2008-10, Wilson allowed between 13-18 percent of inherited runners to score.

In 2011, he allowed 46 percent.

Giants fans knew something wasn’t right with Wilson. The Giants knew that too. That’s why in the offseason they made moves to keep both Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt when conventional wisdom had it that they would keep one.

Then the Giants held Wilson back early in spring training, then later kept him out of major-league spring training games. Could it be they did that to hide him while he worked on adjustments and changed his pitching approach?

So, after watching those first two regular-season outings in Colorado, it was hardly a stunner to Giants fans that Wilson would be done for the year.

But moving forward, when the Giants look for a replacement to close games, what they need is someone who can replace the 2011 Wilson, not the 2010 Wilson.

The 2010 Wilson was long gone. The best the Giants could have hoped for Wilson in 2012 is a repeat of 2011.

Now that they turn to Santiago Casilla to close, they can hope for more.

Here are Casilla’s numbers since joining the Giants in 2010:

2010: 1.95 ERA, 4.2 BB per 9 IP, 9.1 K per 9 IP, 1.193 WHIP

2011: 1.74 ERA, 4.4 BB per 9 IP, 7.8 K per 9 IP, 1.123 WHIP

He converted 8 of 10 save opportunites in 2010-11, the bulk of which came late last season when Wilson went on the DL. He allowed 13 and 20 percent of inherited runners to score in the past two seasons.

Casilla’s numbers don’t measure up to Wilson’s in 2010. But they are MUCH better than Wilson in 2011.

So, the Giants will be just fine with Casilla as closer. Frankly, I feel better with Casilla going out there in the ninth than being forced to watch Wilson try to gut out three outs.

Now, I know there are some who will say pitching in the ninth is much different than pitching in seventh or eighth.

But I don’t agree. This is the Giants we’re talking about. Given their offensive struggles, they play in a high number of close games. And with their offensive problems, a run surrendered in the seventh or eighth is just as likely to cost the team a win as one given up in the ninth.

Giants relievers are well-versed in pitching under pressure.

On Tuesday, Casilla earned his first save of 2012, giving up just one hit — a bloop single by Juan Pierre — and no walks in his inning of work.

UP NEXT

It’s Matt Cain vs. Cliff Lee in the series finale between the Giants and Phillies at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Philadelphia Phillies 5, San Francisco Giants 2: Nine good reasons why you should not panic about Tim Lincecum

BOX SCORE

Another Tim Lincecum, another rough start for The Freak.

Lincecum gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings of work, his longest outing of the season (ouch!) in the loss to the Phillies on Monday.

And while there is certainly concern for the two-time Cy Young winner, there’s certainly no reason to panic … yet.

So for each of the nine first-inning runs Lincecum has allowed this season, we’ll pass along nine good reason NOT to panic about Lincecum.

1. He lowered his season ERA. OK, fine, it may have been only because he came into the game with an ERA at 12.91 and now it sits at 10.54. But it’s something.

2. If the defense had helped him out, Lincecum would have had his damage minimized if not eliminated. Placido Polanco’s one-out double should have been caught, instead of falling between Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera. Pagan then did not field Hunter Pence’s single cleanly, eliminating any chance of a play at the plate with the less-than-fleet-footed Polanco. Laynce Nix’s two-run double, which capped the first-inning scoring, should have at best been a one-run double and more like a one-run single, but Cabrera could not get to the ball before it headed to the wall in right. We’ve seen a lot of this from Cabrera this season (thank God we’re not depending on him to play CF). This issue may actually have a bigger impact on Brandon Belt. The Giants’ best defensive outfield alignment in Cabrera in left, Pagan in center and Nate Schierholtz in right. But Monday, Schierholtz said so Aubrey Huff started in left and Belt at first. After watching his defense struggle Monday, we may see more of Schierholtz patrolling AT&T Park’s tricky right field.

3. The Giants are used to having one of their five starting pitchers struggling. They’ve been used to it since 2007.

4. After the first inning, Lincecum limited the damage, allowing only run on four hits over the next five innings. Through three starts, Lincecum has a first-inning ERA of 27.00. He’s given up nine runs in the first inning this season. In 33 starts last season, he gave up a total of 8. If he can get THAT figured out, things should improve.

5. Who needs to worry about Tim Lincecum when you’ve got Barry Zito!!!!

6. Lincecum’s drop in velocity can be attributed to a lack of control than anything else. Lincecum said all through the spring that the has struggled to locate his fastball, leaving many up. That fact, and the fact that he is looking to reduce his 86 walks from 2011, has led to the reduced velocity. If you can’t control your fastball, what do you do? You take something off of it so that he can gain more control. According to CSNBayArea.com, Lincecum was throwing between 90-92 in the first inning, when he gave up those four runs. After the first, he threw between 89-91. Why? To gain command. We expect once Lincecum finds his rhythm and command, the mph on his fastball will rise back to the 92-93 that we are more used to.

7. The upcoming schedule is a favorable for Lincecum. His next start is slated to come Sunday in the New York. And even with their hot start, the Mets are still the Mets, hardly a vaunted lineup. And even with the fences moved in a bit, Citi Field continues to be more of a pitchers park. Then Lincecum should miss the series in Cincinnati (good thing) so he can open the next homestead against the crummy Padres.

8. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are both locked up through 2017.

9. We’ve seen Lincecum go through funks like this before. And we’ve seen him work his way out of these funks.

Pittsburgh Pirates 4, San Francisco Giants 1: Welcome back, 2011 Giants offense

BOX SCORE

Well, we all knew the eight consecutive games of scoring 4+ runs was going to end.

We were hoping it might come against Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. But Kevin Correia?

The Giants were held to one run on five hits by the Pirates in the series finale.

It wasted a solid outing by Ryan Vogelsong in his season-debut, giving up two runs on four hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven.

After failing to record a quality start in three games in Arizona, Giants pitchers have posted quality starts in five of their next six games.

  • Barry Zito 9 IP, 0 ER in Colorado
  • Madison Bumgarner 7 1/3 IP, 1 ER in Colorado
  • Matt Cain 9 IP, 0 ER (1 hitter) vs. Pirates
  • Barry Zito 7 IP, 2 ER vs. Pirates
  • Ryan Vogelsong 6 1/3 IP, 2 ER vs. Pirates.

That’s more like it.

But the offense fell back to old habits on Sunday, including failing to get a runner home from third with no out in the eighth. But there were silver linings.

  • They only had five hits, but three were extra-bases hits, including the second straight stand-up triple from Angel Pagan, who is start to swing the bat better.
  • They made contact. They only struck out three times, and once was by Vogelsong. (The other two were from Buster Posey. What?!?)
  • Brandon Belt got a start and went 1 for 3 with walk, stolen base and double. More importantly, he did not strike out. Unfortunately, he’ll undoubtedly return to the bench Monday against Halladay.

UP NEXT

It’s Happy Lincecum Day, or at least we hope it is. Lincecum needs to fall in line with the rest of the rotation and give us a quality start. Starting at home should help things, but will it be enough to beat Halladay at 7:05 p.m. Monday? We’ll see.

San Francisco Giants agree to five-year deal with Madison Bumgarner

The San Francisco Giants are blogger’s dream. They never leave you short on things to blog about. Let’s see what we’ve had in the last couple of weeks.

  • Matt Cain signed a monster deal.
  • Buster Posey got the shingles.
  • Tim Lincecum cut his hair.
  • Brian Wilson blew out his elbow.

There’s barely enough time to blog about the games. In the midst of trying to get caught up came another bombshell on Monday.

The Giants agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with 22-year-old Madison Bumgarner.

With Bumgarner have less than two years of MLB experience, we just didn’t think this deal would be anywhere in the works. We weren’t even thinking about it.

But the Giants were, and good for them.

But it’s a good deal for MadBum and Giants.

Bumgarner was set to make $575,000 this season. Now he’ll average $7 million a season in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. There are vesting club options in 2018 and 2019, but the terms were not available.

There was a chance that MadBum could have been eligible for arbitration after this season as a Super-2 player, if he had been in the top 17 percent of his service class. Bumgarner was considered to be on the line on whether he would or would not be a Super-2 player.

If he were a Super-2 player, the Giants would have four years of arbitration with Bumgarner before the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. Bumgarner would have been eligilbe for free agency in 2017.

Now, the Giants don’t have to worry about any of that.

“Preserving our core pitching for the long term remains a top priority for the Giants and today’s extension certainly helps further that goal,” general manager Brian Sabean said. “Madison has already proven that he is one of the best left-handed pitcher in the game today and we are confident that he will continue to succeed for many years to come.”

For those who think this is too much, too soon for MadBum, consider this:

  • This deal is $1 million less than what the Giants paid Aaron Rowand in 2010, 2011 and 2012 combined.
  • It is $3 million less than what they’ll pay Barry Zito this season and next season, and that’s not including the $7 million buyout in 2014.

If Bumgarner is not Super-2 eligible at the end of the season, the deal is a score for him. He’ll go from making about $700,000 in 2013 to $7 million.

If he is a Super-2, he could have easily been looking at making $5 million in 2013, so the deal is good for the Giants, even when making a Super-2 will give MadBum an additional $5 million for the length of the deal (or $8 million average).

Some may say this deal signals a direction for the Giants away from signing Tim Lincecum to a long-term deal in the next year or two.

We say “nonsense.”

What this deal does is give the Giants some salary certainty that gives them the ability to budget a long-term deal for Lincecum.

San Francisco Giants 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 3: Another quality start from Barry Zito

BOX SCORE

The San Francisco Giants have lost a pitcher they will play $8.5 million this season.

On the flip side, they actually get something out of a pitcher they still owe $46 million to.

Barry Zito threw his second quality start of the season, giving up two earned runs in seven innings Saturday and giving the Giants the chance to rally and beat the Pirates in the ninth inning.

Emmanuel Burriss scored on an error in the ninth inning to give the Giants their first walk-off win and reason to celebrate after the news that closer Brian Wilson is likely done for the year.

With the Giants’ talented and deep bullpen, the loss of Wilson can be weathered. But getting something out of Zito is huge for the Giants’ prospects this season.

We’ve seen Zito put together decent first-halves of the season or decent second-halves. But never a full season of success. So we take the early success with a grain of salt. But what we have seen is very encouraging.

Zito will make his next start Friday against the Mets in New York.

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