August 2012

San Francisco Giants 6, Houston Astros 4: The continuing saga of bungling Barry Zito

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito, right, waits as manager Bruce Bochy (15) comes out to the mound to remove him from the baseball game against the Houston Astros in the third inning, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in Houston. Zito pitcher two and one third innings, giving up seven hits and three runs. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

BOX SCORE

The title of Wedneday’s game in Houston could have been “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Zito.”

Or is it “Dr. Zito and Mr. Hyde”?

That’s the problem. We just don’t know.

When you think Zito is going to get clobbered, he turns in a gem. When you think this is a game Zito can win, he gets lit up.

Take a look at the good and bad starts by Zito since June 20:

The good

  • 6/25 vs. Dodgers: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K, win
  • 6/30 vs. Reds: 6 IP, 1 R, 6 BB, 3 K, loss
  • 7/17 at Braves: 7 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, win
  • 7/22 at Phillies: 7 IP, 3 R, 1 BB, 7 K, loss
  • 8/7 at Cardinals: 6.2 IP, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K, win
  • 8/23 vs. Braves: 8 IP, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K, win
  • TOTAL: 41.2 IP, 4-2, 1.75 ERA

And the bad

  • 7/6 at Pirates: 5 IP, 4 R, 3 BB, 3K, win
  • 7/28 vs. Dodgers: 5 IP, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K, loss
  • 8/2 vs. Mets: 4.1 IP, 7 R, 3 BB, 1 K, loss
  • 8/12 vs. Rockies: 5.1 IP, 4 R, 2 BB, 3 K
  • 8/18 at Padres: 4 IP, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 K
  • 8/29 at Astros: 2.1 IP, 3 R, 0 BB, 1 K
  • TOTAL: 26 IP, 22 ER, 1-2, 7.62 ERA

Since August, it’s been even more puzzling. Zito has been able to shut down playoff-contending teams like the Cardinals and Braves. But he can’t contain losing teams like the Mets, Rockies, Padres and Astros.

Luckily for the Giants, they’ve been able to produce enough offensive to counter-act Zito’s last three poor performances and still win.

That’s what happen Wednesday, thanks to Pence and the pen.

Hunter Pence gave the Giants 4-0 lead in the first inning with his three-run home run. Then Zito slowly started to give it back.

The odd part of Zito’s start Wednesday is he didn’t walk anyone. But he did give up seven hits in 2 1/3 innings before getting the hook. He left with the Giants leading 4-3 and was lucky not to get tagged with two more runs thanks to George Kontos’ nice escape act with two on in the third.

Giants relievers Kontos, Guillermo Mota, Jose Mijares, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez limited the Astros to one run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings to preserve the win.

Zito blamed his Wednesday struggles on pitch selection, saying he should have shook off Buster Posey when the catcher called for changeups.

“That’s my job to shake,” Zito said. “It’s nothing Posey is doing wrong. … Sometimes you’re just fixed up togo. You see a sign and go. But it’s one me to throw my pitch.”

At the start of the year, Hector Sanchez was Zito’s personal catcher. Sanchez was behind the plate in Zito’s first 18 starts of the year. But with the Giants needing to keep Posey’s bat in the lineup after Melky Cabrera’s suspension, Posey has caught four of Zito’s last five starts.

So what’s next for Zito. Who knows? His next start comes Monday at home against the Diamondbacks. Then if the rotation stays in turn, it will be vs. the Dodgers, at Diamondbacks, vs. the Rockies, vs. the Diamondbacks, at the Dodgers.

San Francisco Giants 3, Houston Astros 2: Better late than lose

BOX SCORE

Here are the important numbers after Tuesday’s win for the Giants over the Astros.

The Giants’ magic number to clinch the NL West title is 30.

The Giants’ record agains the Astros this season is 6-1.

The Giants’ record since the Melky Cabrera suspension: 8-4.

The Dodgers’ record since their blockbuster trade that was going to put them over the top: 1-3.

He-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-he.

Sorry. That last stat makes me giggle.

But none of that would have been possible if not for one last record — Giants record when trailing after eight innings now stands at 2-50.

It’s hard to call a win over the Astros as a must-win game. But the Astros have been so terrible since the All-Star break that if the Giants don’t beat Houston, especially when getting a good pitching performance like they got Tuesday from Matt Cain … well, it’s those losses they’ll regret come October.

Fortunately, it only took the Giants eight innings to realize that.

The Giants managed only one run off the Astros through eight innings — a fifth-inning home run from Angel Pagan.

That was the Giants’ lone highlight up to that point, well at least on offense.

The defensive highlight was the tandem catch of a foul pop by Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford that might remind some of the Bob Boone/Pete Rose catch from the 1980 World Series, only better.

Here’s a look:

But even so, it looked as if an eighth-inning wild pitch might beat them as the Giants trailed 2-1 entering the ninth.

Then the Giants started stringing hits together.

It started with a leadoff single by Brandon Belt.

Joaquin Arias came in to pinch-hit for Gregor Blanco and raked the first pitch he saw down the third-base line for a double, scoring Belt.

After a Brandon Crawford strike out, Hector Sanchez delivered a pinch-hit single to center to score Arias.

Then Sergio Romo pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

Now the Giants have a 3.5-game lead over the Dodgers, their largest such margin of the season.

And with Joe Blanton pitching Wednesday for L.A. in Colorado, it makes Giants fans feel better about not knowing which Barry Zito will show up Wednesday to take the mound for the Giants.

Blockbuster trade reveals the price of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ soul

The price tag for the Los Angeles Dodgers? $2.15 billion.

The price tag for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ soul? $260 million.

The new owners of the Dodgers showed last week that they committed to winning and committed to winning now, by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for James Loney and a handful of prospects.

I went looking for some insight on this deal, and the reaction was almost uniformly this: The deal makes the Dodgers better.

We’ll not argue that point. Adding Adrian Gonzalez at first base instead of the platoon of James Loney/Juan Rivera make the Dodgers better … RIGHT NOW.

But will it make the Dodgers better than the Giants? Will it be enough to erase the three-game deficit the Dodgers had in the NL West when they made this deal? Will it be enough to overcome a tougher schedule than the Giants?

The Dodgers have 16 of their remaining 33 games against teams that currently have a winning records — the Giants, Reds, Cardinals and Nationals.

The Giants have six of their remaining 34 games against teams with a winning record — the Dodgers.

But the real question is how long will it make the Dodgers better and what will be the impact on the franchise in years to come?

Consider this. Before the deal was made, the Dodgers were locked into more than $123 million in guaranteed contracts for the 2013 season.

After this deal, that number skyrocketed to $181.3 million. And that only covers 17 players. They still need to pay another eight players to fill out a 25-man roster, meaning their payroll likely will approach $200 million in 2013.

By comparison, the Yankees — THE YANKEES — are only committed to $117 million in guaranteed contracts for 2013. Baseball-reference.com projects the Yankees payroll at $187.8 in 2013.

The Dodgers’ projected 2013 payroll? $197.7 million.

That means that next season, for the first time since God knows when, it’s likely the team with the largest payroll in baseball won’t wear pinstripes and live in the Bronx.

Nobody told us that one of the Dodgers’ new silent partners was the ghost of George Steinbrenner.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Dodgers are now locked into $128.7 million in guaranteed contracts in 2014, paying only seven players. And in 2014, Clayton Kershaw will be eligible for his final year in arbitration, and likely will command a salary of more than $20 million.

The folks in Dodgertown are giddy about this deal. But if this were such a great deal, why is it that EVERY American League team, plus a majority of NL teams passed on these contracts?

That’s how the waiver claim process works. Every American League team, plus any NL team with a record worse than the Dodgers had to say “No thank you. We don’t want these contracts, even if it means we have to give up nothing in return.”

It’s clear that in order get Gonzalez, the Dodgers had to pick up the contracts of Beckett (2 years, $31.5 million after 2012), Crawford (5 years, $102.5 million) and Punto (1 year, $1.5 million).

In Beckett, they get a pitcher with a career ERA that sits at almost 4.00 and was at 5.23 this season.

In Crawford, they get a player whose made more news with his injuries than his bat the past two years in Boston.

If there’s an added positive impact of the deal on the Giants, it’s this: with the Dodgers outfield set with Kemp, Ethier and Crawford, it will take the Dodgers out of the market for an outfielder this offseason.

That’s good news for the Giants, who likely will be looking for a couple of outfielders, as they look to replace Melky Cabrera and possibly re-sign Angel Pagan.

Ten things San Francisco Giants fans need to know about Francisco Peguero

As the saying goes, better late than never. Or in this case, better late than in September.

On Thursday, the Giants promoted outfielder Francisco Peguero from Triple-A Fresno to replace Justin Christian, who was placed on the disabled list with a sprained wrist.

Last week, when the Giants lost Melky Cabrera to suspension and needed to add an outfielder, they had two options in Fresno: 1, Justin Christian; 2, Francisco Peguero.

Well all knew what we were getting from Christian, which wasn’t much.

In the four games since his most recent call-up, Christian saw his big-league average go from .158 to .125.

Now, we get our first look to see what Peguero, a top prospect in the Giants’ farm system can do.

So here are 10 things you should know about Francisco Peguero.

  • NO. 1: Peguero is a 24-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic. He is 5-11, 195 pounds who bats and throws right-handed.
  • NO. 2: He was signed by the Giants at age 18 and has spent the past seven seasons in their farm system — 2006-07 in the Dominican summer league, 2008-09 between Class A Salem-Keizer and Class A Augusta, 2010 in Class A San Jose, 2011 between San Jose and Double-A Richmond, and 2012 with Triple-A Fresno.
  • NO. 3: He’s rated as the Giants No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com, behind OF Gary Brown and ahead of RP Heath Hembree.
  • NO. 4: He’s a free-swinging, high-average, low-walk, low-power hitter. Just think of Pablo Sandoval, minus the power and 60 pounds.
  • NO. 5: He has a cool first name for a Giants player.
  • NO. 6: He’s a solid fielder who was rated with having the best outfield arm in the Giants’ organization after the 2011 season. He’s played 308 minor-league games in right field, 165 in center and one in left field.
  • NO. 7: The Giants say he’ll platoon in left field with Gregor Blanco.
  • NO. 8: He’s stolen 128 bases in seven minor league seasons. But knee problems have limited him to 12 steals in 2011 and only one in one attempt at Fresno this season.
  • NO. 9: A career minor-league .305 hitter, he hit .329 in 2010 with Class A San Jose, .312 in 2011 with San Jose and Double-A Richmond and .272 with Triple-A Fresno.
  • NO. 10: He got off to a very, very slow start at Fresno this season. But picked it up by hitting .336 in June and .326 in August. A lat injury limited him to 11 games in July. Just before being called up, he saw his 22-game hitting streak end on Wednesday.

San Francisco Giants 5, Atlanta Braves 2: It’s Barry Zito … again

BOX SCORE

Barry Zito. What can you say about Barry Zito.

Well, he’s done what he needed to do this season.

He didn’t need to be the ace.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito throws to the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

He didn’t need to be an All-Star.

He didn’t need to be the guy deserving $20 million a season.

He was going to get paid regardless.

What he needed to be is a serviceable end-of-the-rotation guy.

Zito is now 10-8 with a 4.31 ERA. Match that up with other No. 5 pitchers around the league, even No. 4 pitchers, and that’s right on line.

But here’s a stat that might surprise some.

Zito actually posted better ERAs in 2009, when he was 10-13, and 2010, when he was 9-14. ERAs those years 4.03 and 4.15.

The big difference this season it is that Zito has been hit-and-miss this season.

In Zito’s 10 wins this season, he has an ERA of 2.21.

In Zito’s eight losses this season, his ERA is 8.31.

Thursday was a good start as he took a shutout into the ninth inning. Manager Bruce Bochy sent him out in the ninth despite having thrown 108 pitches. Back-to-back hits to open the ninth led to Zito’s exit, and Zito finished with two runs allowed in eight-plus innings.

Here’s an interesting twist in the Zito story.

If Zito pitches 400 innings combined over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, an $18 million player option kicks in for 2014.

Some fans have expressed some concern that if Zito continues to pitch well, he might actually approach that 400 inning milestone.

Well, the numbers say otherwise.

Zito has pitched 146.1 innings this season in 25 starts, an average of 5.9 innings per start. He is slated to make seven more starts. If he pitches his average of six innings per start, that would push his 2012 season total to 188 innings.

That means he would have to pitch 212 innings in 2013 for that option to kick in. Zito has not pitched more than 199.1 innings during his stint with the Giants.

San Francisco Giants 8, Los Angeles Dodgers 4: How about Joaquin Arias in left field?

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We have to admit, when we saw the Giants’ lineup Wednesday that included Joaquin Arias in the No. 5 hole, MoreSplashHits was hoping the Giants could find a run or two somewhere and hope Matt Cain could do the rest.

It turns out the No. 5 spot was the wrong place for Arias. He should have been batting in the No. 4 hole.

Arias went 3 for 5 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI as the Giants beat the Dodgers to complete a three-game sweep in Chavez Ravine.

Is it too early to talk about magic numbers? If not, the Giants’ magic number to clinch the NL West is 36.

The win pushed the Giants’ record to 5-2 in the post-Melky days, even though production from left field in the past few days has been very limited.

Justin Christian got the start Wednesday, going 0 for 3 with a bases-loaded walk. Christian is batting .125 this season and does not have a hit in his last 18 at-bats dating back to July 22. He is in a 1-for-33 skid.

He is not the answer — or part of the answer — in left field, even though he had a sensational catch Wednesday, which you can see here:

Gregor Blanco looked like he might be ready to contribute again, going 4 for 8 in his first two games after Cabrera’s suspension. But he has gone 1 for 11 since four games since, including five strikeouts (which is most troubling).

If Christian is not the answer and Blanco is not the answer, then who is?

The Giants had Ryan Theriot take some fly balls in left field recently. Theriot has played six games in the outfielder in his eight-year big league career.

If Theriot is being considered, then what about Arias?

When Pablo Sandoval was on the DL last month, Bruce Bochy was asked who was his emergency catcher, with Emmanuel Burriss in Fresno.

Bochy said it was Arias, even though he’s never played the position as a professional.

Arias has played three games at second base, 24 at shortstop and 55 at third base this season. He’s a possible option at first, where he’s played five games in his five-year big-league career.

Why not give him a look in left field? He has only played one game in left field in 180 big-league games over five season. In fact, it was only one inning.

Arias’ game Wednesday was a career game. He managed five extra base hits and five RBI in June and July. He had three extra base hits and five RBI on Wednesday.

But it’s more than one big game. Arias has been swinging the bat pretty well of late.

Arias has hit safely in 13 consecutive games in which he has had at least three plate appearances, dating back to July 24. He was hitting .246 on July 24. He’s hitting .280 now.

He’s hitting .426 in the month of August. He’s 9 for 15 over the past five games. He’s got a hot bat. Ride it while it’s hot.

San Francisco Giants 4, Los Angeles Dodgers 1: Angel Pagan helps fill Melky void

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There has been a lot of talk about players who need to be huge since Melky Cabrera was suspended.

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Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt.

But the biggest player in the post-Melky days has been Angel Pagan.

In the first five games of the Giants’ current road trip, Pagan is 11 for 23 with five runs, three doubles, a triple and three RBI.

And in Tuesday’s win over the Dodgers, he turned in the biggest play on defense with help from catcher Hector Sanchez.

After Tim Lincecum sailed through the first five innings by giving up no runs on two hits and no walks.

Then it looked like Lincecum was headed to his dreaded blow-up inning.

A.J. Ellis opened the inning with a walk, which was followed by a single by Juan Rivera.

Then Shane Victorino singled to center which almost surely appeared would score Ellis from second.

Pagan came up throwing to home. First baseman Buster Posey did not cut off the throw, which was on the mark and Sanchez blocked the plate to get Ellis out.

So instead of it being 4-1 Giants with no outs and runners on first and second, the score remained 4-0 with one out and runners on first and second.

Adam Kennedy followed with another single, which loaded bases.

So the Dodgers had produced a walk and three singles, but had no runs to show for it. But they also had Matt Kemp coming up.

Kemp drove a Lincecum pitch to deep right field, which Hunter Pence caught on the warning track for a sacrifice fly.

Bruce Bochy then did what he would not have done in previous years with Lincecum. He pulled him before things exploded on him. Jose Mijares came in and struck out Andre Ethier to end the inning.

Santiago Casilla pitched two perfect innings, then Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez teamed up to get the final three outs in the ninth, with Lopez getting Ethier to ground into a game-ending double play for his third save of the year and his second in two nights.

Now, the Giants lead the Dodgers by 1.5 games in the NL West. At the very least, the Giants are now guaranteed of leaving L.A. in first place in the NL West. With Matt Cain throwing Wednesday, they have a chance to sweep the Dodgers and leave with 2.5-game lead.

Five good reasons the San Francisco Giants can win without Melky Cabrera: Pitching wins championships

Pitching wins championships. It’s an overused cliche. But when it comes to the Giants, it’s true.

Pitching drove them to the 2010 World Series title. It kept the team’s head above water when it lost Buster Posey in 2011. And it can keep the Giants driving toward the postseason in 2012.

As of Aug. 16, the Giants’ team ERA of 3.66 ranks fifth in the National League. But it does not compare to the 3.20 ERA of 2011 or the 3.36 of 2010.

However, if you remove Tim Lincecum’s numbers from the team ERA, it sits at a more comparable 3.38.

Now, we don’t suggest the Giants remove Lincecum from the rotation. We just use that stat to point out that the team’s ERA has been inflated by Lincecum’s dreary first half of the season.

Since the All-Star break, Lincecum has a 3.33 ERA, right in line with what the rest of the staff has produced for the season.

So if Lincecum can continue to pitch like he has since the All-Star break — and the Giants’ weaker schedule should help him do that — the Giants should have the pitching to keep them in the race.

Five good reasons the San Francisco Giants can win without Melky Cabrera: No. 4, The Giants have endured worse (Buster Posey)

The loss of Melky Cabrera was truly devasting. But it’s nothing new to the Giants.

It can’t compare to when the Giants lost Buster Posey for the season in 2011.

Many pundits like to say the Giants’ 2011 season effectively ended with Posey’s season ended with his ankle injury. Giants fans know better.

When Posey’s season ended last year, the Giants were left with a lineup consisting of ailing Pat Burrell and Cody Ross and inept players like Aubrey Huff, Miguel Tejada, Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand. Freddy Sanchez’s season would end a couple weeks later. Put it all together and the Giants had the most anemic offense in many years.

The Giants tried to replace Posey, who was playing a more vital position than Cabrera’s left field, with two players who struggled to hit .200 — Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

And the loss of Posey didn’t last six-plus weeks. It was four-plus months.

Still, the Giants managed to remain competitve and stayed in first place into August. Their playoff push was eventually derailed by injuries to Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, not to mention a DL stint by Carlos Beltran.

Even with all that, the Giants made a late push in September that almost got them back into the wild-card race.

If the Giants could do that in 2011 without Posey, the 2012 Giants certainly could manage with Cabrera.

San Francisco Giants 2, Los Angeles Dodgers 1: Ten reasons why this was a big win for the Giants

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In baseball, it’s often said not to read too much into one win. It’s a 162-game season. The Giants still have eight more games against the Dodgers. And it’s only August 20.

All that is true. And I heard someone say that the Giants fans may not think Monday’s win was that big win two days from now.

But MoreSplashHits disagrees. So here are 10 reasons why Monday’s victory over the Dodgers was a big win.

NO. 1: THEY AVOID A SWEEP – The worst thing that could have happened to the Giants is being swept again by the Dodgers and leave L.A. 3.5 games out of first place. Now, at worst, the Giants will leave 1.5 games back. Or they will leave a half-game ahead. Or they will leave 2.5 games up. Monday’s win makes all that possible.

NO. 2: THEY BEAT KERSHAW – Last year, Clayton Kershaw owned the Giants, going 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA in six starts against them. This season, Kershaw has a 1.74 ERA in four starts against the Giants. Very good. But he is also now 1-3 against the Giants. Hard to imagine the Giants have beaten the Dodgers five times this season, and three have come against Kershaw. The Giants beat him 2-1 on May 8, 2-0 on June 26 and 2-1 on Monday. Kershaw’s lone win was a 4-0 win on July 29.

NO. 3: BACK IN FIRST – The victory moved the Giants back into first place, one day after giving the Dodgers back the lead in the NL West.

NO. 4: LINCECUM STARTS TUESDAY – Tim Lincecum has been better since the All-Star break, but the Giants still can’t count on their former ace to deliver a quality start every time out. So coming into his start off a win — instead of back-to-back losses — will allow Lincecum to relax a bit. Plus, he’s facing Joe Blanton, who has given up 14 runs in 15.1 innings since joining the Dodgers.

NO. 5: CAN’T WASTE A GOOD START – After having two starters (Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong) failing to pitch into the fifth innings in their last two games, it was imperative that the Giants get a quality outing from Madison Bumgarner. They got that, as MadBum threw eight shutout innings. And the Giants cannot afford to get solid pitching outings and waste them.

NO. 6: IT WAS ON NATIONAL TV – Scribes across the country have been writing off the Giants in the wake of the Melky Cabrera suspension. It was a perfect time to show that the Giants are here to stay in the NL West, as the game was aired live by ESPN.

NO. 7: THEY BEAT AN NL WEST RIVAL – The Giants came into Monday with an 8-10 record this season against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. They have a 24-9 record against the other teams they will face the rest of the season. Given that schedule and coupled with the Dodgers’ tough schedule and the Diamondbacks’ 4.5 game deficit, the Giants can win the NL West by simply playing .500 baseball in the remaining 18 games against L.A. and Arizona. Now, they are 1-0 in those final 18.

NO. 8: GIANTS WERE COMING OFF A LOSS – If the Giants are to stay in this race, they must avoid long losing streaks. The best way to do that is to not start ANY losing streaks. Having lost Sunday in San Diego, the Giants made a move toward starting a winning streak on Monday.

NO. 9: THE DODGERS WERE COMING OFF TWO WINS – The Giants also have to do what they can to prevent the Dodgers from going on a long winning streak. The Dodgers finished their recent road trip by winning their last two in Atlanta.

NO. 10: IT’S THE FREAKIN’ DODGERS – Any win over the Dodgers is a big win.

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