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Some fans need fresh perspective on San Francisco Giants making the 2014 postseason

San Francisco Giants' Hunter Pence, center, rallies the crowd in a post-game cheer for the postseason, after the Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 9-3 in a baseball game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

San Francisco Giants’ Hunter Pence, center, rallies the crowd in a post-game cheer for the postseason, after the Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 9-3 in a baseball game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The San Francisco Giants are back in the postseason, for the third time in five years.

Now I’ve been a Giants fan for 40 years. And this is only the second tim in that four-decade span that the Giants have made the postseason three times in five years (they made it three times in four years in 2000, 2002 and 2003).

And yet, there are a lot of Giants who are not excited about the fact the Giants are in the postseason. Not sure why.

Maybe it’s because the Giants didn’t win the NL West.

Maybe it’s because making the playoffs just means a one-game elimination situation.

Maybe it’s because the Giants blew a 9.5-game division lead.

Maybe it’s because the Giants were SOOOOO bad in June and July.

Maybe it’s because the Giants didn’t clinch a playoff berth by winning a game. Instead, they clinched because of a Brewers loss that followed five Giants losses over six games.

Maybe it’s because injuries have left the Giants’ prospects in the postseason so tenuous.

Who know. But really, I think that some Giant fans need a fresh prospective.

Let’s think back to spring training in March. What would you think of the Giants’ chances of making the postseason if the following things came true?

  • Matt Cain’s season would be over by the All-Star break.
  • Tim Lincecum’s final start would happen on Aug. 23.
  • Angel Pagan would spend two months on the DL and be limited to 96 games.
  • Marco Scutaro would be a non-factor in 2014.
  • Brandon Belt would miss 102 games and hit .241 in the games he did play in.
  • Michael Morse would hit just two home runs after the All-Star break and miss nearly the entire month of September.
  • Sergio Romo would lose his closer’s job in June and never regain it.
  • Brandon Crawford would make a career-high 21 errors.
  • The only player the Giants would acquire by trade is a pitcher who was 1-9 with 4.72 ERA.

Given those facts, what would you have thought the Giants would have finished in 2014.

70-92?

76-86? (Last year’s record).

81-81? I would think that a winning season would have been considered a stretch, given the above facts.

Yet, despite ALL of those hurdles, the Giants finished 88-74 and they are in the playoffs, sending their best pitcher to the mound to win an elimination game.

We’ll remind you the Giants won six consecutive elimination games on their way to the 2012 world championship.

So while there may be a lot of reasons to think the Giants won’t go far this October, there is really one reason to think they will.

They’re the Giants.

And if you need another reason to believe that, well, go root for the A’s.

No matter what White Sox — or Andrew Baggarly — say, San Francisco Giants did not beat Chicago White Sox on a ‘technicality’

Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, right, reaches to tag San Francisco Giants' Gregor Blanco, who was originally ruled out at home but then ruled safe after review, during the seventh inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, right, reaches to tag San Francisco Giants’ Gregor Blanco, who was originally ruled out at home but then ruled safe after review, during the seventh inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

During last offseason, Major League Baseball wanted to implement a rule that would prevent home-plate collisions. The rule would be simple and straightforward.

The catcher is not allowed to block the plate. The runner is not allowed to blow up the catcher. The only time home-plate collisions would happen was when the flight of the ball drew the catcher into the runner’s path, making any collision accidental and unavoidable.

But that wasn’t good enough for old-school catchers and managers. They said “How can we teach our catchers how not to block the plate in just six weeks of spring training when that’s how they’ve been playing the position forever (forever meaning in their pro careers, because blocking the plate was not part of the game they played in Little League, high school or college)?”

So MLB waffled a bit, adding a line into the new rule that catchers could still block the plate, if they had possession of the ball. And a can of worms was opened.

Given that sliver of light, old-school managers did not worry about teaching their catchers about where best to position themselves to be in compliance with the new rule. They simply told their catchers to play the position as they have always played it, and make MLB rule that they were doing it incorrectly.

In the first half of the season, MLB gave catchers the benefit of the doubt. The onus was on the runner to avoid contact. Catchers kept blocking the plate like they always had.

But then runners started to complain. Was there a new rule or wasn’t there one? And MLB started to listen. So after the All-Star break, we started to see a swing in how these plays were being ruled on replay.

If the catcher was in the runners path without the ball and didn’t give the runner a path to the plate, the runner would be ruled safe. It didn’t matter how far ahead of the runner that the ball arrived to the plate.

In short, if teams weren’t going to get their catchers to position themselves correctly in compliance with the new rule, MLB was going to do it for them.

And if you’re on the wrong end of one of these calls, you don’t like it. Just like White Sox manager Robin Ventura found himself in when umpires overturned a call in which the Giants’ Gregor Blanco was thrown out at the plate in the seventh inning on Tuesday.

The play resulted in a 1-1 tie, and the Giants went on to score six more times in the inning en route to a 7-1 win. And Ventura was livid.

“You look at the spirit of the rule of what they’re trying to do and what it’s actually doing, and it’s a joke,” said Ventura, who was ejected for arguing and kicking dirt on the plate after a review that lasted nearly five minutes. “We obviously disagreed with it, and we got hosed today.”

Ventura continued: “They don’t take into consideration that the guy was out by a longshot.”

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! At what point did Ventura start to disagree with this rule. If you rewind back to Tuesday night’s game, Ventura found himself on the opposite end of a similar play.

In the 10th inning, Chicago’s Jordan Danks were ruled out at the plate on a tag by Buster Posey. Ventura came out to have the play to review to see if Posey blocked Danks’ path to the plate, even though Danks was out by a longshot.

One problem, however. The review showed that Posey didn’t block the plate, that he did leave Danks a pathway to the plate.

And why is this? Well, it’s because that’s how the Giants have taught their catchers to position themselves on plays on the plate. They instruct their catchers to get out IN FRONT OF home plate, between home plate and the pitchers mound, field the throw, then apply a sweep tag. That’s what Posey did.

Now fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon. White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers did not get out in front of home plate. He stood right over it. And when he went to field the throw from first baseman Jose Abreu, Flowers left leg clearly blocked off the entire plate from the oncoming Blanco. Flowers even admitted this much, but said that’s not the point.

Except it IS the point.

Some have said the Giants won Wednesday on a “technicality” including CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly, who called the ruling “lasso-sized legal loophole.”

This is what Flowers said: “I don’t think anybody has an understanding of this rule,. That’s not the purpose of this rule. The purpose of this rule is to prevent a situation like Posey had. It’s not when a guy is out by 30 feet. ‘Oh, he blocked the plate?’ That had no impact on him being safe or out. And there’s no clarification on that.”

There. Flowers just proved my point, even if he didn’t intend to, when he said “this rule is to prevent a situation like Posey had. It’s not when a guy is out by 30 feet.”

Flowers was referring to the Scott Cousins play — I call it the Cousins play because the responsibility for that collision was completely on Cousins — that prematurely Posey’s season in May 2011.

Here are three irrefutable points about the Cousins/Posey play.

  • Posey was NOT blocking the plate on that play.
  • Posey DID leave Cousins a lane to the plate.
  • Cousins did believe he would be out by 30 feet. He felt that from where right fielder Nate Schierholtz was throwing the ball, Cousins would be out easily. His only recourse was to try to dislodge the ball from Posey. As it turned out, Posey got caught with a short hop that he didn’t handle cleanly.

And that’s the point of the new rule. MLB wants catchers to leave runners a lane, so they don’t feel like their only course of action is collide with the catcher. And leaving a lane is all determined by where the catcher sets up to receive the throw.

So here’s another question for Flowers. If Blanco was going to be out by a longshot, why was Flowers even blocking the plate in the first place?

“I had two seconds to get from behind home plate to catch (and) make a tag, and I’m supposed to be able to make sure I don’t block the plate, catch the ball and make the tag, all within two seconds on an infield dribbler?” Flowers said. “That’s not realistic. That play doesn’t make any sense.”

But it is realistic, if it’s a play that you have been trained on doing correctly. Buster Posey had time to do it correctly Tuesday night because he’s been trained to do that. Flowers, likely because the White Sox have not made it a priority, appeared as if he hasn’t been trained on this.

So MLB gave him, and the White Sox, a valuable lesson. And they got what they deserved.

And that’s not a technicality.

Instead of trading prospects, San Francisco Giants call up a pair from Double-A for playoff push

Matt Duffy

Matt Duffy

When Matt Duffy and Jarrett Parker were told Thursday not to board the Richmond Flying Squirrels team bus for Altoona, they thought that they had been traded as part of a deadline deal.

That would be completely logical.

Instead, both Class AA players were getting promoted to the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants made no deadline deals Thursday to go with the acquisition of Jake Peavy. Instead, the Giants will make a playoff push with the players they have.

That started Friday, when Duffy, an infielder, and Parker, an outfielder, were called up to fill the roster spots vacated when second baseman Dan Uggla and outfielder Tyler Colvin were designated for assignment.

It was the first time since August of 2011 that the Giants have promoted a player midseason from Double-A. Back then it was pitcher Erik Surkamp.

A position player had not been called up from Double-A since Darren Ford earned a September call-up in 2010 as used strictly as a pinch-runner and defender.

The Giants are expecting Duffy and Parker to contribute more than that.

As for Duffy, the move is intriguing. Duffy, drafted as a shortstop, was an 18th-round pick out of Long Beach State in 2012. He has hit at every level: .247/.361 OBP in shortseason A Salem-Keizer in 2012, .307/.405 for Low-A Augusta in 2013, .292/.342 in high-A San Jose in 2013.

He’s hitting .332 with .398 OBP for Double-A Richmond in a pitcher-friendly Eastern League. He led Richmond in hitting by a long shot. And through his minor-league career, he’s walked about as much as he has struck out.

Jarrett Parker is another story. Parker, a second-round pick in 2010, has struggled at the start of every season in the minors, then recovered toward respectability. He hit .253 for San Jose in 2011, .247 for San Jose in 2012, .245 for Richmond in 2013 and .275 with 12 HRs and 58 RBI in 99 games for Richmond this year.

But he’s a big-time swing-and-miss guy: 144 Ks in 127 games in 2011, 175 Ks in 122 games in 2012, 161 Ks in 131 games in 2013, and 103 Ks already in 99 games in 2014.

But he may not be with the club for long. Brandon Belt is expected to be activated from the seven-day concussion disabled list this weekend. When that happens, look for Parker to return to Richmond.

Even if the Giants opt to jettison Travis Ishikawa when Belt returns, look to Parker to get a return bus trip to Richmond by next week when Angel Pagan is expected back from the DL.

Pagan played in an Arizona Rookie League game Friday night, and looked good. Barring setbacks, Pagan could return to the Giants when they arrive in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

But Duffy, as one of two middle infield reserves — along with Joaquin Arias — figures to stick around longer. At least until Ehire Adrianza comes off the disabled list. But that likely won’t happen until the Giants return from this 10-game road trip.

As for Uggla and Colvin, their stints with the Giants may not be over. If both players clear waivers, and they should (Uggla for sure), they could be sent to Fresno, if they accept the assignment.

Report: San Francisco Giants acquire Jake Peavy, which can’t be good news

Boston Red Sox's Jake Peavy, left, delivers a pitch to Houston Astros' Jose Altuve in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Boston Red Sox’s Jake Peavy, left, delivers a pitch to Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the San Francisco Giants are finalizing a deal to bring veteran pitcher Jake Peavy to the Giants.

Details are still being worked out, according to the report. But the Red Sox will reportedly get minor league pitchers Heath Hembree and Edwin Escobar.

The details being worked out likely involve money and other provisions. Peavy is making $14.5 million this season with the Red Sox, meaning he is still owed about $6 million. He has a player option of $15 million for 2015, but he is unlikely to reach the milestones to make that option vest. He would basically have to double his current innings output of 124 innings this season to allow that option to kick in.

Normally when Giants GM Brian Sabaen makes these midseason deals, I reserved judgment, preferring to defer to his better judgment.

The Giants have made several midseason deals over the past few years. Not all of the deals have worked out as the Giants hoped, but at least the Giants didn’t have to give up much to get them.

I wrote about this earlier, listing the prospects the Giants have given up in midseason deals the past five years. Really, only Zack Wheeler has amounted to anything, and the jury is still out on him.

But I’m going to say now that I don’t like this deal. To me, it represents of harbinger of bad news.

And here’s why.

CAIN SITUATION MUST BE BAD: When Matt Cain went on the disabled list after the All-Star break, manager Bruce Bochy said Cain could be down “one week, two weeks …. eight weeks. We just don’t know.” The Giants have been cagy with health reports of their players. So when they say they don’t know, we have to conclude they at least suspect. And the consumation of this deal must indicate they suspect that Cain may not return this season.

THE PRICE WAS TOO HIGH: In giving up Escobar and Hembree, the Giants parted with their No. 2 and No. 11 prospects, according to MLB.com’s preseason list of prospects. Both pitchers have appeared to be on the fast track to the majors in recent spring trainings. Escobar, 22, was thought to be in position to get a call-up this season, but he’s had a rough season in Triple-A. He’s 3-8 with 5.11 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 111 innings at Fresno. Hembree, 25, was thought to be the Giants “closer of the future” a couple of springs ago. But this season represents his third at the Triple-A level. He is 1-3 with 3.89 ERA, 18 saves and 46 strikeouts in 39.1 innings this season with Fresno. He was recently named a PCL All-Star. He did have a brief stint with the Giants in 2013, throwing 7.2 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts. So I might have been OK giving up one of these two pitchers, along with some lower-level prospects, for Peavy. But giving up both?

THIS AIN’T THE SAME JAKE PEAVY: This has not been a good season for Peavy, 33, in Boston. He’s 1-9 with 4.72 ERA in 20 starts. He leads the American League in home runs allowed with 20. Here are most stats for 2014 to sample

  • His ERA+ of 83 is the lowest of his big-league career.
    His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 4.81 is his highest since his second big-league season in 2003 when he was 22.
    His WHIP of 1.427 is the highest of his career.
    His Hit Allowed Rate of 9.5 is the second highest of his career.
    His HR Allowed Rate of 1.5 is the highest of his career.
    His Walk Rate of 3.3 is his highest since 2002.
    His Strikeout Rate of 7.3 is his lowest since 2002.

Looking for good news?

The Giants are clearly hoping that a return to the National League, where he hasn’t pitched since 2009, will do Peavy good. His four starts against NL teams this season have all been quality starts.

They are also hoping that pitching in AT&T Park will provide better results than pitching in Fenway.

Well, Peavy is 14-2 with 2.21 ERA against the Dodgers in his career also looked good to the Giants. Although it should be pointed out that most of those starts occurred in 2009 or earlier when Peavy was a different pitcher and the Dodgers were a different team. Peavy did limit the Dodgers to one run on three hits in a complete game win in Dodger Stadium last August.

And for good news, Peavy make be on the mound when the Giants face the Dodgers on Sunday night, instead of Yusmeiro Petit.

A look at prospects San Francisco Giants traded away in recent midseason deals

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler follows through with a pitch against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 20, 2014, in San Diego.  (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler follows through with a pitch against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 20, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

As the Giants consider making a midseason season trade to bolster the run toward the 2014 playoffs, it might be a good idea to look at what happened to the prospects the Giants traded away in midseason deals over the past five years.
2009 Tim Alderson (for Freddy Sanchez)

Alderson was the Giants’ No. 2 pitching prospect (behind Madison Bumgarner) when he was traded to the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez. Alderson never made it to the big leagues and was traded to the Orioles organization in July 2013. He was 2-4 with 6.12 ERA for the O’s Triple-A affiliate this season before being released. He signed with the A’s and is currently pitching in Class A Stockton.

2010 Joe Martinez and John Bowker (Javier Lopez)

Martinez, a decent long reliever/spot starter with the Giants, made five appearances with the Pirates in 2010. He spent most of the next three seasons in the minors with the Pirates, Diamondbacks and Indians. He was 0-3 with 16.36 ERA with the Angels’ Triple-A team before retiring this April at age 31. Bowker played for the Pirates’ Triple-A team after being acquired in the trade and earned a September call-up. He made the Pirates 2011 roster as a reserve, but spent most of the season in the minors before being traded to the Phillies late that season. In 2012, he went to play in Japan.

2010 Dan Turpen (Ramon Ramirez)

Turpen, a reliever never, made it out of the minors, first with the Red Sox, then Rockies and currently Twins. He’s pitching for the Twins’ Double-A team.

2010 Evan Crawford (Mike Fontenot)

An outfielder, Crawford never made it above Class A ball. He’s currently playing Independent ball in the Frontier League.

2011 Henry Sosa, Jason Stoffel (Jeff Keppinger)

Sosa made a brief appearance with the Astros in 2011. He was later released and signed with the Dodgers this season. He is 1-2 with 3.72 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Albuquerque. Stoffel, a reliever, is still in the Astros’ system. He’s 2-3 with 2.91 ERA this season for Triple-A Oklahoma City.

2011 Thomas Neal (Orlando Cabrera)

Neal, an outfielder, spent 2011 and most of 2012 in the minors before earning a September callup from the Indians. He was released in January 2013 and signed with the Yankees, earning a couple of brief promotions in June and July of 2013. The Cubs claimed him off waivers in August of that year. He signed a minor-league deal with the Reds in 2014. He’s hitting .254 in 80 games for the Reds’ Triple-A team.

2011 Zack Wheeler (Carlos Beltran)

The former No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Wheeler was the Giants’ top prospect when he was dealt to the Mets for Beltran. Wheeler was promoted in 2013, going 7-5 with 3.42 ERA in 17 starts. He is 5-8 with 3.78 ERA in 20 starts this season for the Mets.

2012 Charlie Culberson (Marco Scutaro)

Culberson has bounced back-and-forth between the Rockies and Triple-A since being acquired. He is hitting .188 with 2 HR and 12 RBI in 61 games for the Rockies this season.

2012 Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin (Hunter Pence)

Schierholtz hit .273 with 1 HR and 5 RBI for the Phillies after the trade in 2012. He signed as a free agent with the Cubs in 2013, hitting 21 HRs, 68 RBI and .251. He had 5 HR, 31 RBI and is hitting .199 this season for the Cubs. Joseph, a catcher, was the key piece in the Pence deal. But he has not realized his potential yet as concussion injuries have slowed his progress. He hit .209 in 21 games for Triple-A Leigh Valley last year. He’s hitting .282 in 21 games for Double-A Reading this season. Rosin pitched 2013 in Double-A before being taken by the Mets in 2013 Rule 5 Draft and traded to the Dodgers. He was on the Dodgers’ opening day roster, but never appeared in a game before being claimed off waivers by the Rangers in late March. He pitched in three games before being DFA’d by the Rangers in April and returned to the Phillies. He is 2-5 with a 4.46 ERA as a reliever for the Philles’ Double-A and Triple-A teams this season.

San Francisco Giants have a magic number and it’s four

four

We’re past the All-Star break. Time to start talking about magic numbers, right?

OK, maybe not. But there is a magic number for the Giants and winning baseball games … at least in the past month.

It’s four.

That the number of runs you have to hope the Giants score tonight against the Phillies. Or any night for that matter.

Since June 20, the Giants are 11-0 when they score four runs or more in a game.

When they don’t, they are 0-15.

Not an earth-shattering stat exactly.

For the season, the Giants are 40-10 when they score 4 or more runs in a game, and 10-34 when they do not.

But here’s one stat that I thought was interesting.

When opponents score two runs in a game, exactly two runs, the Giants this season are 8-9.

EIGHT AND NINE when the opponent scores just two runs.

Not like you had to explain that stat to Matt Cain or Ryan Vogelsong.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain looks on from the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, May 16, 2013, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain looks on from the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, May 16, 2013, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

As San Francisco Giants revolving door turns: Cain, Belt out; Uggla, Kontos, Duvall, Petit in

Dan Uggla

Dan Uggla

As the post All-Star break began, San Francisco Giants fans were lifted with some hope.

The Giants had a modest three-game winning streak. It appeared they were starting to get healthy with the return of Brandon Belt and Marco Scutaro.

But then the reality of Monday hit like a rock.

The Giants placed Matt Cain on the disabled list for the third time this season. And it felt very similar to his first two trips.

Before the All-Star break, Cain was reshuffled in the rotation to the No. 5 spot. Manager Bruce Bochy said, at the time, there was no specific reason for this and that the Giants just wanted to give Cain more time.

Then came news Friday of Cain’s “cranky elbow,” but that he was still expected to start Tuesday against the Phillies.

Then came news of his third DL stint on Monday with elbow inflammation. Cain is eligible to return from the DL Sunday against the Dodgers, but at this point it looks very doubtful.

It was like deja vu from his first two stints, first with a finger laceration and later with a hamstring strain. First reports said “yeah, he’ll be OK and make his next start” followed by “DL time.”

So Yusmeiro Petit gets the call again to fill in for Cain.

On the surface, you can say Petit’s 3-3 record and 3.86 ERA this season is better than Cain’s 2-7 mark and 4.18 ERA. But then you look at Petit’s relief/start splits.

He’s 2-1 with 2.45 ERA in relief and 1-2 with a 5.81 ERA in his five starts.

George Kontos, who has been pitching very well lately in Fresno, gets the call to fill Cain’s roster spot.

Then came news that Belt would be placed on the seven-day concussion DL. Belt was hit in the face with a thrown ball during batting practice on Saturday. Belt was looking to receive a throw from shortstop when another one came in from second base.

Figures.

Belt started the game Saturday and came out of the game with dizziness. He’ll be eligible to return on Sunday vs. the Dodgers.

Adam Duvall got the call to fill Belt’s roster spot. Duvall, who got called up in June, has hit 3 HRs, 11 RBI and .310 in his last 10 games with Fresno.

And, finally, the Giants took a flyer on veteran second baseman Dan Uggla.

When Uggla was released by the Braves last week, several Giants fans on Twitter was screaming for the Giants NOT to sign him. They compared him to Brandon Hicks, except older and not nearly as good a fielder.

But given their options at second base, it’s a no-risk move to sign Uggla to a minor-league deal and send him to Fresno in an effort to find his stroke.

Uggla has an Aug. 1 opt-out date. That means if he hasn’t been called up to the Giants by then, he can opt-out of his deal and find a better one somewhere else.

It gives the Giants about 10 days to see if Uggla can help.

The best-case scenario is that the Giants catch a little lightning-in-a-bottle with Uggla, similar to what they did in 2010 with Pat Burrell and Cody Ross.

At worst, Uggla spends 10 days in Fresno. That should be long enough.

Everyone hits in Fresno. Juan Perez is hitting .337 in Fresno. Hicks is hitting .333 since he got sent to Fresno.

If in 10 days Uggla isn’t hitting in Fresno, let him take his opt-out.

Is Tim Lincecum back? Well, you could say The Freak has never been better

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws in the first inning of their baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, July 11, 2014, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws in the first inning of their baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, July 11, 2014, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

All of the talk around San Francisco these days revolves around one question.

“Is Tim Lincecum back?”

After two Cy Young seasons and two world championship seasons, Giants fans want to know if The Freak is back to his form from 2008-11 after a very bumpy stretch since 2012.

Well, one way to answer that question is to say Tim Lincecum has, in fact, never been better.

After his past four starts since June 25, Tim Lincecum’s stats are as follows …

  • 4-0
  • 30.1 innings pitched
  • 10 hits allowed
  • 1 earned run
  • 9 walks
  • 24 strikeouts
  • 0.30 ERA

Now compare that to his best four-start stretches over his career.

July 16-Aug. 1, 2007: 2-0, 26.1 IP, 14 H, 4 ER, 13 BB, 26 K, 1.37 ERA

April 19-May 4, 2008: 2-1, 27.1 IP, 24 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 23 K, 0.99 ERA (3 scoreless outings out of four)

Aug. 12-27, 2008: 3-0, 27.2 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 0.98 ERA

July 27-Aug. 12, 2009: 2-0, 32.2 IP, 21 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 37 K, 1.10 ERA

April 5-23, 2010: 4-0, 27 IP, 19 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 32 K, 1.00 ERA

May 4-21, 2011: 2-1, 29.2 IP, 21 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 30 K, 0.91 ERA (3 scoreless outings out of 4)

July 9-28, 2011: 3-1, 25 IP, 15 H, 3 ER, 15 BB, 26 K, 1.08 ERA

Aug. 7-24, 2011: 3-1, 29.2 IP, 18 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 29 K, 0.91 ERA

Clearly, he’s never had a four-game stretch that was as good as his current run in terms of run prevention. In fact, it’s not even close.

It’s also important to note that his strikeout rate on the current stretch is not as high as in his previous impressive stretches.

But also in only two of the previous stretches did Lincecum give up fewer walks than his current streak, and in none of his previous stretches did he allow fewer hits than his current one. Again, it’s not even close.

So is Tim Lincecum back to being the pitcher he was in 2008-11.

No. He’s a different pitcher. But he’s getting the results.

Now some folks out there are still a bit skeptical, and they take Lincecum’s recent run with a grain of salt.

Freak me once, shame on you. Freak me twice …

They’ll point out that with all of his recent success, his ERA still sits at 3.66. Lincecum hasn’t had an in-season ERA that low (after May 1) since the end of the 2011 season.

But consider this. If you remove Lincecum’s two worst starts of the season (April 9 vs. Arizona, 4 IP, 7 ER; June 3 vs. Cincinnati, 4.1 IP, 8 ER), and Lincecum’s ERA drops down to 2.86. That represents 17 of his 19 starts.

Also consider he has posted quality starts in six of his past seven starts (just missing one — 6 IP, 4 ER — vs. Arizona on June 20), and in nine of his past 12 starts. And one of those non-quality starts was when he was lifted after 96 pitches despite throwing five scoreless innings vs. the Cubs.

Yes, Lincecum still has a big home-road disparity in his numbers. But 9 of his last 12 starts at home. So it’s hard to tell if his recent success is due to pitching so often at home, or if his high road numbers are due to the fact that he made four road starts prior to May 8, and only three since, when he has started to figure out how to pitch without being overpowering.

So while the jury is still out for some, we are impressed and encouraged by Lincecum’s recent success.

Will he be the Cy Young-winning super stud of 2008-09?

Maybe not. But can he be a top-of-the-rotation quality starter?

We’re beginning to think “yes.”

Brian Sabean’s inability to fortify bench in offseason is cause of San Francisco Giants’ midseason slide

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy adjusts his cap after his team was retired in order  during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies of a baseball game in Denver on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Rockies won 2-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy adjusts his cap after his team was retired in order during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies of a baseball game in Denver on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Rockies won 2-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Brian Sabean made this bed. Now, we all have to sleep in it.

Luckily, with the way the Giants are playing, the ZZZZ’s coming easily.

Last offseason, the Giants went into the offseason with some basic questions

  • Who will replace Barry Zito in the rotation?
  • Would the Giants re-sign Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and/or Javier Lopez?
  • Who is going to play left field?

The Giants answered those questions by signing Tim Hudson and Michael Morse and bring back Lincecum, Vogelsong and Lopez.

And, for the most part, those moves have worked out for the Giants. Most fans smart enough to realize the Giants were going to be in on top-of-the-market free agents, like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, would agree with that.

But there was one area I kept waiting for the Giants front-office to address. And it wasn’t an area that was going to cost of ton of money, and yet would pay big dividends down the road.

And that is the bench. And more specificially, the infield bench.

Now, the Giants were expecting that Marco Scutaro would be ready to open the season. But when you have a 39-year-old second baseman with a history of back trouble, wouldn’t want some insurance?

And Giants fan watched the likes of Tony Abreu and Joaquin Arias last year and knew that there were better options to serve as Scutaro’s backups.

I watched as Emilio Bonifacio signed with the Cubs, Skip Schumaker signed with the Reds, Mark Ellis signed with Cardinals. I even wondered why the Giants weren’t in on Justin Turner when he received a non-roster invite by the Dodgers to Spring Training.

So who did Sabean bring in? Brandon Hicks, an infielder with 55 games of big-league experience and a career batting average of .133.

In fact, the entire bench the Giants broke camp with was not all that impressive: Hector Sanchez, Arias, Ehire Andrianza, Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez.

But the Giants poor benched was masked in the opening weeks of the season as the Giants … a) got off to hot start at plate, particularly with power; b) stayed healthy; c) caught lightning-in-bottle with Hicks’ unexpected power output.

And then the Giants’ power output cooled off, injuries came (first to Brandon Belt, then Angel Pagan) and Hicks’ offensive production completely dried up.

Now, when manager Bruce Bochy looks for alternatives to spark the lineup, he’s finding a bench that is bare.

How bare? Consider this.

I took the “ideal” starting lineup of every National League team (this is the lineup each team hoped to put onto the field to begin the season provided everyone was healthy), then subtracted the production of those players (and batting production from pitchers) from the total production of the team this season to measure the production of each team’s bench and midseason minor-league callups.

In doing that, I found, with no great surprise, the Giants have the third-worst bench batting average in the NL at .201 through July 4.

To make matters worse, the two teams that rank lower in bench production than the Giants have not depended on their bench that much.

The Cardinals had the worst bench batting average in the NL. But the Cardinals have had the third-fewest bench at-bats this season. The Phillies are No. 2 in bench batting average and No. 2 in fewest bench ABs.

However, the Giants have the third-worst bench batting average, but have required the third-most bench ABs in the National League.

So they have one of the worst benches in the league, and they’ve had to depend on that bench more than most of the teams in the league.

That’s a bad combination.

SO what’s the solution?

Well, they can get healthy. The Giants are hopeful that both Scutaro and Pagan will be able to return to the lineup after the All-Star Break. In a couple of days, Pablo Sandoval should be able to return.

Apart from that, they need to improve the depth of this roster. And that won’t cost a truckload of money or gut the farm system.

Remember in 2010, the Giants added the likes of Cody Ross and Mike Fontenot. In 2012, it was Scutaro. When acquired, none of these deals with thought to be blockbusters. But they did produce two NLCS MVPs and key cogs in those title runs.

And they need a little luck. For every Cody Ross, there’s a Jose Guillen. For every Scutaro, there’s an Orlando Cabrera.

But the answer to the Giants’ woes may not be that far away. Sabean missed his chance to deal with this shortcoming in the offseason. But he gets his second chance as the trade deadline approaches.

Adam Duvall and other San Francisco Giants who hit home run in first big-league game

San Francisco Giants' Adam Duvall at bat during their baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Thursday, June 26, 2014, in San Francisco. The game was his first in the major league. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

San Francisco Giants’ Adam Duvall at bat during their baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Thursday, June 26, 2014, in San Francisco. The game was his first in the major league. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

With Adam Duvall in the lineup today against the St. Louis Cardinals — which might be the last game we see Duvall play with Giants for a while with Brandon Belt due off the DL Friday — we thought we’d commemorate the players who hit a home run for the San Francisco Giants in their big-league debut.

  • Adam Duvall, June 26, 2014 (Mike Leake, Cin)
  • Brett Pill, Sept. 6, 2011 (Wade LeBlanc, SD)
  • a-Brandon Crawford, May 27, 2011 (Marco Estrada, Mil)
  • John Bowker, April 12, 2008 (Todd Wellemeyer, StL)
  • Eliezar Alfonzo, June 3, 2006 (Orlando Hernandez, NYM)
  • b-Will Clark, April 8, 1996 (Nolan Ryan, Hou)
  • Randy Kutcher, June 19, 1986 (Craig Leffterts, SD)
  • c-Johnnie LeMaster, Sept. 2, 1975 (Don Sutton, LAD)
  • b-John Montefusco, Sept. 3, 1974 (Charlie Hough, LAD)
  • a-Bobby Bonds, June 25, 1968 (John Purdin, LAD)
  • Orlando Cepeda, April 15, 1958 (Don Bessent, LAD)

Notes

a-grand slam
b-first big-league plate appearance
c-inside-the-park home run

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