June 2012

San Francisco Giants face big series against Oakland Athletics

As the Giants return to the Bay Area to conclude interleague play with a three-game series at Oakland, they hit a bit of a crossroads.

The A’s are the only team currently with a losing record that the Giants will face prior to the All-Star break.

And the A’s aren’t exactly struggling right now either. They just swept the Dodgers, holding L.A. to two runs in three games. Oakland has won eight of their last nine to push their record to 33-36.

To make matters worse for the Giants, they haven’t won a game in Oakland since Randy Johnson was their starting pitcher — in 2009.

They’ve dropped their past six on the east side of the Bay.

The key to winning in Oakland this weekend? Score more runs.

OK, that seems a bit obvious. But if you look back at this series, the Giants have won their last seven games in Oakland, dating back to 2004, when they’ve scored four runs or more.

When they score three runs or fewer in Oakland, they are 1-20 dating all the way back to 1997. By comparison, in all of their games this season when the Giants score 3 or fewer runs, they are 9-20.

In their past six games in Oakland, they scored a total of six runs.

The key to the Giants’ low-scoring in the Coliseum is two fold. One, it’s a tough park to hit in with its deep, high outfield walls and roomy foul territory.

The other factor? Really good Oakland pitchers.

The A’s will throw some good arms at the Giants … young, but good arms. It starts Friday when Jarrod Parker takes the mound.

Parker had one of his worst outings of the season against the Giants on May 18 when he gave up six runs on four hits and four walks in two innings.

In two of his 10 starts, he’s been tagged for six runs. In his other eight, he has not allowed more than two.

Counter that against Tim Lincecum, who will pitch for the Giants. Lincecum has allowed two runs or fewer in only three of his 14 starts.

The key for Parker will be throwing strikes. When his walk count goes up, that’s when he gets into trouble. Lucky for him, taking walks is something the Giants have not been prone to do.

The Giants have not draw more than three walks in a game since June 12, a stretch of eight games. The Giants are 3-5 in those games.

Saturday’s game brings a more favorable pitching matchup for the Giants, when Madison Bumgarner takes on Tyson Ross.

Ross has 2-6 record with a 6.11 ERA (so Lincecum isn’t the only starting pitcher in this series with a 6+ ERA).

The Giants beat Ross on May 19 in one of his better outings, when he gave up two runs on seven hits and four walks in six innings. The Giants won 4-0.

Sunday’s game features Matt Cain (9-2, 2.34 ERA) vs. Brandon McCarthy (6-3, 2.54 ERA). McCarthy has walked just 19 batters in 12 starts this season.

If the over/under on the number of walks the Giants will draw on Sunday is 1, take the under.

Los Angeles Angels 12, San Francisco Giants 5: Crouching Zito, Whacking Angels

BOX SCORE

Barry Zito needs to work on his crouch again.

Last offseason, Zito worked again on his delivery, standing on the mound with a more pronounced crouch.

It made him look like a batting practice pitcher during spring training, and some began to wonder if the enigmatic lefty was done as a big-league pitcher.

But Zito stayed in Arizona to continue to work on some things when the rest of the team headed north.

Then he stunned everyone by throwing a four-hit shutout at Colorado to open the season.

That was the first of five quality starts in his first seven outings. In none of those seven starts did he allow more than three runs. He had a 2.53 ERA at that point in the season.

However since then, it’s been more of the Zito of old.

He gave up four runs in 5.1 innings against the A’s after the Giants had given him a big early lead. He got tagged for eight runs (four earned) in three innings against the Brewers. His ERA rose to 3.53.

Then he had back-to-back quality starts (7 IP, 2 ER vs. Arizona; 8.1 IP, 0 ER vs. Chicago) and his ERA went back to 2.98 and his record was 5-2. Numbers Tim Lincecum would trade a month’s worth of Double-Doubles for.

But in his last three starts, he’s allowed 17 earned runs in 14.1 innings.

At least in the past couple of starts you could pinpoint Zito’s problems to a few bad pitches or a bad inning.

There wasn’t much good to say about Tuesday’s start against the Angels.

The Angels had a 3-0 lead before Zito recorded his first out, which was mercifully (and somewhat inexplicably) given to him when the Angels decided to sacrifice with two on and no one out … after the first five Angels safely reached base.

Zito left the first giving up four runs and facing all nine Angels hitters.

The Angels tacked on another run in the second before Zito worked a scoreless third, allowing only an infield single.

But he was right back in trouble in the fourth, loading the bases with one out when he was pulled. All three runs came into score on a triple by Mark Trumbo that probably should have been caught by Angel Pagan, leading to only one run.

We’ve said it before. If the Giants win every game pitched by Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner and lose every start by Zito and Lincecum, they’re a .600 ball club. A .600 ball club goes 97-65 over a 162-game season.

But that’s a lot to ask. And it means that every time the Giants lose game started by Vogey, MadBum and Cainer, they need to win games started by Zeets and the Freak.

And the way Zito is going, that puts more pressure on Lincecum to get his act together.

As for Zito, his next start comes at home against the Dodgers, then at home against the Reds. So it doesn’t get much easier for the lefty.

UP NEXT

Vogelsong takes the mound against Jared Weaver as the Giants wrap up their series with the Angels at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. Weaver is making his first start since going on the DL with a strained back. He’ll be on a pitch limit of 80-90 pitches, so hopefully the Giants can at least make him work for his outs.

Melky Cabrera moves into top 3 among outfielders in NL All-Star voting

If the All-Star voting ending today, the San Francisco Giants would have TWO players in the starting lineup.

Melky Cabrera jumped past reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun for third place in the outfield in NL All-Star voting released Tuesday.

Cabrera has 2,144,107 votes to move a little more than 25,000 votes ahead of Braun. Matt Kemp leads among NL outfielders with 3.32 million votes, followed by Carlos Beltran at 2.65 million.

Buster Posey continues to lead among catchers with 2,445,005 votes. He leads Yadier Molina of the Cardinals by 153,438 votes. Posey is trying to become the first San Francisco Giant to be voted the starting NL catcher in an All-Star Game since Ed Bailey in 1963.

The Giants haven’t had two players voted as All-Star starters since 2004, when Barry Bonds (OF) and Jeff Kent (2B) earned the honors.

The last time the Giants had three All-Star starters (via voting) was in 2001 when Bonds, Kent and SS Rich Aurilia won the balloting.

We mentioned that because Pablo Sandoval has moved up to No. 2 among third basemen. Sandoval trails the Mets’ David Wright by about 355,000 votes.

Other Giants among top vote-getters at their positions include 1B Brandon Belt (fourth), SS Brandon Crawford (fifth) and OF Angel Pagan (ninth).

The bad news for Giants All-Star hopefuls is that in-stadium voting ends on Friday, and the Giants are currently halfway through a nine-game road trip. However, Friday’s game is a home-away-from-home game at Oakland.

After that, voting can be done exclusively online through June 28. So let’s hope some wired Giants fans can stuff the ballots.

To vote for your Giants All-Stars, click here.

San Francisco Giants 5, Los Angeles Angels 3: Matt Cain’s encore performance includes Late Night appearance

BOX SCORE

So apparently it’s OK for Matt Cain to hit a golf ball into the bay as part of his pre-game preparations.

Doing a comedy bit for late night television doesn’t work as well.

But at least both pre-game activities produced wins.

On Monday afternoon, Cain recorded the Top 10 List for Light Night with David Letterman. Then Monday night, he posted his ninth win of the season, beating the Angels 5-3.

Cain labored through five innings, leaving after throwing 100 pitches and a 4-3 lead. He gave up three runs on six hits and four walks. He also struck out four.

The Giants added a fifth run in the top of the sixth. Then relief pitchers Shane Loux, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affedlt and Santiago Casilla combined for four perfect innings to complete the win.

Not the best Cain effort. Not even a quality start, as he only threw five innings. But with some timely hitting and solid relief, it was a win.

Last week, with the U.S. Open being held in San Francisco, Cain got permission to hit a golf drive into McCovey Cove prior to his start against the Astros. Then he went out and threw a perfect game.

The perfecto led Cain, who was voted NL Player of the Week, to record a spot for Late Night. To watch Cain’s appearance on Late Night, click here.

If you want to just read Matt Cain’s Top Ten Things I Want To Achieve Now That I’ve Thrown a Perfect Game, here they are:

  • No. 10 … Throw a perfect game with my other arm.
  • No. 9 … Convert the mound into an organic vegetable garden.
  • No. 8 … Discover a cure for groin pulls.
  • No. 7 … Open my dream salon.
  • No. 6 …. Catch a line drive with my mouth.
  • No. 5 … Fix the economy … just kidding. That’s impossible.
  • No. 4 … Pitch an inning without my pants.
  • No. 3 … Appear on Jay Leno’s “Ten at Ten.”
  • No. 2 …. Throw a hole-in-one
  • No. 1 … Win the contest to replace Regis Philbin

UP NEXT

Barry Zito faces C.J. Wilson at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday in Anaheim. With the way Zito has been throwing lately and how Wilson has pitched this season, expectations are a bit low for the Giants. But since they are coming off a loss when Madison Bumgarner pitched (and pitched well), the Giants need to counter that by winning a game that Zito starts.

Seattle Mariners 7, San Francisco Giants 4: Missed opportunities and bad decisions

BOX SCORE

It was not a happy homecoming for Tim Lincecum. But before we talk about another non-quality start for the Freak, we’ll start with missed chances on offense and poor decisions on defense. That’s where this game was swung.

The Giants put runners in scoring position is each of the first four innings, but they failed to deliver the big knockout punch on Kevin Millwood.

Still, a couple of clutch two-out hits by Ryan Theriot and Melky Cabrera helped the Giants take a 4-2 lead. But those other missed chances would come back to haunt them.

With the game tied 4-4 in the sixth, Lincecum was pulled after giving up a leadoff single to Jesus Montero. Jeremy Affeldt came in relief and gave up a single to Michael Saunders.

After Justin Smoak flied to center for the first out, Dustin Ackley hit a chopper to the right of second base that Brandon Crawford gloved. Crawford attempted to tag out Saunders heading to second, but wasn’t able to get him. The hesitation cost Crawford time to throw out the hustling Ackley.

So instead of second and third and two outs (or even first and third; Crawford had a better chance of forcing out Saunders at second by throwing back to Ryan Theriot covering), the bases were loaded with one out.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a hard grounder to third that Joaquin Arias had to go to his knees to field. But Arias looked first at second base before throwing to first … too late and the Mariners plated a run with help of two balls that didn’t leave the infield.

Brendan Ryan’s two-run single made it a three-run sixth.

And after tagging Millwood for four runs on nine hits in five innings, the Giants went hitless against the Mariners’ bullpen.

As for Lincecum, it was yet another hot-and-cold outing. After giving up a pair of solo home runs to Casper Wells and Montero in the first inning, Lincecum retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced with John Jaso’s second-inning walk the only batter to reach.

But then Lincecum battled with mechanics out of the stretch after giving up a leadoff single in the fifth. He walked Jaso on four pitches (none close). After falling behind 2-0 to Ryan, Ryan bunted the runners to second and third.

Ichiro Suzuki then hit a chopper up the middle that Lincecum probably thinks that he should have gloved. Instead, it went for an infield single when Theriot was able keep the ball from going into center.

Theriot’s play save a run, but only momentarily. After getting ahead of Wells 1-2, Lincecum tried to strike him out with a low changeup.  Instead he bounced well in front of the plate, and the ball kicked off Posey for a wild pitch, scoring Jaso.

Lincecum’s five runs allowed in five-plus innings allowed his ERA to go up again to 6.19. His next start is slated for Friday at Oakland.

UP NEXT

Madison Bumgarner pitches for the Giants against Felix Hernandez as the Giants try to win their first series ever at Safeco Field. Game time is 1:10 p.m.

San Francisco Giants 4, Seattle Mariners 2: Another quality start from Ryan Vogelsong

BOX SCORE

The Giants accomplished something that they’ve never done in four previous trips to Seattle — win the opening game of the three-game series.

Ryan Vogelsong pitched into the eighth inning, giving up two runs and Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera homered to send the Mariners to their sixth straight loss at home.

The blasts by Posey and Cabrera gave the Giants eight homers in their past four games.

“I think what really got us going was (Madison) Bumgarner’s homer,” Posey quipped.

It was an odd and bit uneven night for Vogelsong.

Early in the game, the Mariners were hitting the ball hard … but directly at Giants defenders.

The Mariners only managed two hits through the first seven innings against Vogelsong, with a lot of loud outs early on.

“What you like about him, he keeps his composure out there,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He continues to grind it out and make pitches.”

But then Vogey settled into a groove. In the end, it was a dunker and a seeing-eye single that got Vogelsong out of the game with two on and nobody out.

Javier Lopez came in and gave up a single that did not score anyone. The Mariners did eventually plate two runs on groundouts, the second one should have been a double-play ball that Sandoval bobbled.

Then Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla shut the door for the victory.

Posey got the Giants on the board with a solo home run in the second inning. Cabrera added a two-run shot in the eighth which provided to be pivotal with the Mariners scored twice in the bottom of the eighth.

And Brandon Belt continued his current hot streak, going 2 for 4 with a double.

UP NEXT

Tim Lincecum returns to the mound — one day after his 28th birthday and in his first start in his hometown of Seattle. Hopefully, those two factors will turn things around for the Freak against Kevin Millwood. First pitch in 7:10 p.m. Saturday.

San Francisco Giants return to Pacific Northwest: Series preview

MoreSplashHits doesn’t know whose in charge of this interleague scheduling, but we like it.

As they do every three years, the Giants are facing the Mariners in interleague play. And for the fourth consecutive time, the Giants-Mariners series will take place in Seattle. The Mariners haven’t been to AT&T Park since 2000. Since then the Giants have played series at Safeco in 2001, 2006 and 2009 and now 20012.

Since Safeco Field is the closest big-league park to MoreSplashHits, we are all for that.

Although the Giants may not be so excited about that. They’ve gone 2-7 in their nine games at Safeco.

But, of course, that was the pre-World Series champion Giants. It will be a different story for the post-World Series champion Giants. We hope.

MoreSplashHits hasn’t seen a Giants win in Seattle since their 15-11 win in 1999 in one of the last games played in the Kingdome.

We’ve got plans to be there Sunday.

Weekend pitching matchups:

FRIDAY: Ryan Vogelsong (5-2) vs. Justin Vargas (7-5), 7:10 p.m.

The Mariners have lost five games in a row since their combined no-hitter against the Dodgers last Friday. They got swept at home by the Padres. Enough said. Vargas has allowed at least three runs in his last seven starts. Vogelsong enters on a five-game winning streak, and the Giants have won in his last seven starts. He also not allowed more than 3 runs in any of those starts.

SATURDAY: Tim Lincecum (2-7) vs. Kevin Millwood (3-5), 7:10 p.m.

Millwood is scheduled to make his first start since pitching six perfect innings against the Dodgers, then leaving with a groin strain. He had his next start pushed back two days. The Giants haven’t won a Lincecum start since April 28. But this is The Freak’s first start in Seattle. Lincecum grew up in nearby Renton and pitched for the University of Washington. And he can expect some Northwest weather. Weekend forecast calls highs in the 60s with a 30 percent chance of showers. The roof figures to be closed.

SUNDAY: Madison Bumgarner (8-4) vs. Felix Hernandez (4-5), 1:10 p.m.

King Felix is in a mini-funk (compared to Lincecum). He’s given up at least four runs and not pitched past the sixth inning in any of his last three starts (all losses). Bumgarner is coming off his best start of the season, giving up one earned run on six this in 7 2/3 innings and striking out 12.

What Aubrey Huff’s fall from grace means for Giants and the DH

It seems that a National League pitcher can’t throw a no-hitter without a member of the 2010 World Series champion Giants getting hurt.

When Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 1, reliever Ramon Ramirez landed on the DL when he strained his hamstring sprinting out to join the celebration at the mound. He has yet to return.

On Wednesday, Aubrey Huff attempted to jump over the fence protecting the dugout after Matt Cain’s perfect game and missed. Huff fell and sprained his knee.

He is expected to be placed on the disabled list. Outfielder Justin Christian is expected to be called up and join the Giants for their weekend series in Seattle.

Manager Bruce Bochy said he had planned to use Huff as a DH during the Giants’ nine-game swing into AL parks. So this could be a blessing in disguise for the Giants.

Huff was hitting .182 when he went on the DL for the first time this season because of anxiety on April 22. Since returning on May 7, his batting average has actually gotten worse.

Huff has made only four starts (all at 1B) since coming off the DL. He is 3 for 25 (.120) with one double and one RBI since May 7.

Christian, 32, has been having a solid season at Fresno. But with the Giants’ bevy of outfielders there was no place for him with the big club.

He’s been hitting .364 (with a .432 OBP) with 7 HRs and 31 RBI. He has 25 strikeouts and 25 walks in 250 ABs, and he’s 10 for 15 on stolen bases.

But we’ve seen how numbers in Fresno compare to numbers at San Francisco with players like Joaquin Arias, Conor Gillaspie and Charlie Culberson.

Brett Pill, who wasn’t an option to get called up because he just got sent down last weekend, is hitting 11 for 27 (.407) since joining Fresno.

The next question is how much will Christian play? Well against left-handers, like Friday’s starter for Seattle Jason Vargas, Christian could start, if Bochy wants to give Melky Cabrera a breather and play him at DH. Cabrera’s been nursing as sore hamstring. Cabrera has played three games as a DH in his career, including two last season with Kansas City.

In that scenario, the lineup could look like this

  1. RF Gregor Blanco
  2. 2B Ryan Theriot
  3. DH Melky Cabrera
  4. C Buster Posey
  5. CF Angel Pagan
  6. 3B Pablo Sandoval
  7. 1B Brandon Belt
  8. LF Justin Christian
  9. SS Joaquin Arias

An alternate lineup against lefties would be to start Hector Sanchez at catcher and Buster Posey at DH.

Against righties — the Mariners are planning to start Kevin Millwood on Saturday and Felix Hernandez on Sunday — we could see Nate Schierholtz in the DH role, or the aforementioned Sanchez catching/Posey DH scenario.

Houston Astros 6, San Francisco Giants 3: It’s a Splash Hit for Brandon Belt

BOX SCORE

Sure, we could focus on the negative: Barry Zito’s ever-climbing ERA, failing to sweep the Astros, the Giants’ post-perfect game hangover.

But we’re MoreSplashHits. So when there are more Splash Hits, we celebrate it.

Especially when it comes from Brandon Belt.

On Thursday, Belt hit …

  • the first Splash Hit of 2012,
  • the first since Belt accomplished the feat on Sept. 27 of last year,
  • the 61st Splash Hit in the history of AT&T Park
  • the 26th Splash Hit not hit by somebody named Barry Bonds
  • and he became the 8th Giant with multiple Splash Hits, joining Bonds (35), Pablo Sandoval (6), Felipe Crespo (2), Michael Tucker (2), Ryan Klesko (2), Andres Torres (2) and Aubrey Huff (2).

It also helped the Giants avoid going the latest into the season before the first Splash Hit of the season. That came on June 15, 2009, when Andres Torres belted the first of three Splash Hits the Giants hit in 2009.

More importantly, it was Belt’s third home run in three games after hitting none in his first 48 games in 2012.

Belt came out of the gate in a funk, hitting .167 in his first seven games with seven strikeouts. Belt then found himself coming off the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement, as he continued to work with batting coach Hensley Meulens on his approach in the batters box.

The hits started to come for Belt. The strikeouts dropped off. His average rose to .294 on May 3. But those results came at the expense of his power stroke.

Then Belt took another turn, as he continued to find himself on the bench in favor of Brett Pill against left-handed starters. Belt went from May 18 to June 6 with just six hits and only one extra-base hit. He averaged hit its low-point Sunday against Texas at .224.

Then the Astros came to town. Belt, starting twice against left-handed starters, went 4 for 10 with two walks and three homers. All three homers came against lefties — a shot off Wesley Wright that one-hopped into the bay on Tuesday, a guacamole shot to center off J.A. Happ on Wednesday (it hit the avocado tree behind the center-field wall), and then finally his Splash Hit of Wandy Rodriguez on Thursday.

“I know from past experience I can hit righties as well,” Belt said. “That gives you a comfort feeling up there.”

He only hit two of his nine home runs last year at AT&T. Now, all three of his homers have come at home in 2012.

Belt’s opportunity came about in part from Pablo Sandoval’s activation, which led to Pill’s demotion to Fresno. Now, it looks as if the Giants will be without Aubrey Huff for a while (he sprained his knee trying to jump the dugout fence after Matt Cain’s perfect game).

Belt needs to the seize this opportunity, take over that first-base job and never give it back.

Giants fans have been waiting 1.5 years for this.

San Francisco Giants 10, Houston Astros 0: A most perfect night for Matt Cain and the Giants franchise

BOX SCORE

On Tuesday, Madison Bumgarner became the third pitcher in Giants history (since 1900) to hit a home run and strikeout 12-or-more in the same game, joining Juan Marichal and Mike Krukow.

Top that, Matt Cain.

OK, fine.

Cain became the 22nd pitcher in MLB history and the first in the long storied history of the Giants franchise to throw a perfect game as he retired 27 consecutive Astros on Wednesday night at AT&T Park.

It was a historic night on many occasions.

  • The 125-pitch outing was the most pitches thrown in a perfect game.
  • That’s because Cain also struck out a career-high 14 batters. Cain tied Sandy Koufax for the most strikeouts in a perfect game.
  • The 2 hour and 36 minute game was the second longest perfect game history, trailing only David Wells’ perfecto in 1998, which took 2:40.
  • And the 10 runs of support the Giants provided Cain were the most runs scored by the winning team in a perfect game. In fact, the 10 runs were more that what the winning teams scored in the previous five National League perfect games combined.

In every no-hitter or perfect game, there are pivotal plays to keep the performance intact.

The first occurred in fourth inning, when Jordan Schafer hit a one-hopper down the first-base line. Replays appeared to show the ball kicking up some chalk about a foot in front of the first base bag. That doesn’t necessarily mean the ball was fair, but it does show how narrowly foul it was (if it was actually foul at all).

First base umpire Mike Muchlinski appeared to flinch, as if he were about to point and call the ball fair before raising his hands and calling it foul.

“There’s not really a good replay that shows anything, but I thought it was fair,” Shafer said. “Just the way it works.”

Houston manager Brad Mills came out to debate the ball.

That was the closest the Astros came to getting a hit … until the sixth inning.

That’s when, with one out, Chris Snyder hit a ball that off the crack of the bat looked like it would be long gone for a home run. But the thick bay air knocked the ball down enough to allow Melky Cabrera to make a catch up in front of the left-field wall.

Then, leading off the seventh, it was Schafer again. Schafer smacked a drive deep into triples alley that right fielder Gregor Blanco raced after and made a diving catch at the warning track to keep the perfecto going.

From there, it was pretty much all Cain.

He got J.D. Martinez to ground out to Joaquin Arias at third in the eighth, with Arias making a nice play on a slow roller. Brett Wallace struck out for K No. 14, and Chris Johnson grounded out to short.

In the ninth, Brian Bogusevic flied out to Cabrera in foul territory. Snyder flied out to Cabrera for out No. 2. Then Jason Castro grounded to deep third with Arias making the strong throw to first for the final out.

And the celebration was on. The Giants spilled out of the dugout as Buster Posey lifted Cain with a bear hug. After the initial mob scene, Cain spent time sharing congratulatory hugs with every teammate. Then Cain hoisted Gregor Blanco with an extra hug of thanks.

Ten runs scored for the Giants. Three home runs for the Giants (Cabrera, Brandon Belt and Blanco). A perfect game from Matt Cain. Could the night get any better than that?

Oh yeah, the Dodgers lost, too.

Perfect.

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