Matt Cain Dominates Again in Giants’ 1-0 Victory

This was one of those special games in which both pitchers were in total control for the entire night. Through the first nine innings, Matt Cain and Cliff Lee combined to record 54 outs on 179 pitches. Lee went out for the tenth inning, which was another rarity — the last time a starter went past the ninth was Aaron Harang, back in 2007. Eventually, Brandon Belt — pinch hitting in the bottom of the 11th — knocked a single off Antonio Bastardo, and a couple batters later, Melky Cabrera drove him in for the walkoff win: 1-0.

  • Matt Cain was unbelievable during this homestand: 18 innings, zero runs, three hits, 15 strikeouts, one walk. Now keep in mind that he did all of that in under 200 total pitches. Seriously, give it a moment to let that sink in — incredible pitching. He becomes the first San Francisco Giants starter with back-to-back shutouts since Livan Hernandez, back in 2000. The last time any pitcher allowed two or fewer hits in back-to-back complete game outings? 1994.
  • Cliff Lee became the first pitcher to throw 10+ scoreless innings against the Giants since Joe Niekro, back in 1983. (Johnnie LeMaster was the Giants’ leadoff hitter in that game.)
  • I’ve become an Angel Pagan apologist, but there’s little excuse for his failed execution in the ninth inning. And his reaction to the bunt sign (h/t @bubbaprog) was Tejada-esque. That double play (which caused a ~15% drop in win expectancy) was huge. On the other hand, he also happened to demonstrate a few of the reasons why I like him: in the first inning, he led off with a single against Lee, and went from first to third — excellent baserunning — on the Melky Cabrera single that followed. And in the 11th inning, he reached on an error. Nothing special, but he put the ball in play — and the result got Brandon Belt in scoring position. That’s the great thing about a hitter that rarely strikes out (he has two strikeouts in 54 plate appearances thus far), particularly one that never — er, rarely – grounds into a double play. One of the areas in which Pagan consistently adds unnoticed value: reaching base via errors. If Pagan strikes out in that situation, Melky doesn’t hit that walkoff single….By the way, Pagan has collected a hit in all five games since I wrote this (and three of those games were multi-hit games).
  • Javier Lopez‘s strikeout of Jim Thome, beautifully pitched: +.195 WPA. For all the complaints this offseason about how much money the Giants gave to Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, I wouldn’t have felt confident about Dan Runzler coming out to pitch in that critical situation. (For the record, I’m with Lefty Malo and Hanging Sliders on this one — the Lopez contract made sense; the Affeldt one didn’t).
  • That Antonio Bastardo pitch to Melky Cabrera that resulted in the walkoff single wasn’t necessarily a great pitch (it was left over the plate), but it was down in the zone and Melky had a tremendous approach lining it over the second baseman for a hit. It was his third hit on the night, and even though he’d cooled off a little over the past several games, I’m still feeling very good about him this season. He looks like a completely different player than he was pre-2011.
  • Clay Hensley is turning out to be the latest great, cheap bullpen addition. He’s only pitched a few innings so far, but his stuff really seems to translate well to the bullpen. For a non-guaranteed contract with a base salary of $750K? Excellent.
  • The Giants grounded into four double plays in their first 11 games. The Giants grounded into four double plays tonight.
  • Via GN contributor Daniel Rathman: “The starting pitchers combined to record 57 outs tonight. The winning pitcher recorded one.” Yep, wins are stupid.

The offense has reverted to its old ways, but the Giants are rolling anyway: three consecutive series wins, and 6-3 overall since they left Arizona.

Oh, That Offense

Kevin Correia, who’s been the quintessential replacement level pitcher over the last two seasons, held the Giants to one run today. Through six innings, the Giants only managed three hits — two of which were singles, and one of which should have been a single, as Brandon Belt was luckily called safe trying to stretch his hit into a double. The Giants got runners on base in each of the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, but squandered every one of those opportunities. They couldn’t even get Angel Pagan home after a leadoff triple in the eighth.

Overall, the Giants’ offense stranded nine baserunners in a performance reminiscent of last year’s team, and snapped their four-runs-scored streak in the process. On the bright side, Pagan had some very good at-bats today (working the count full in four out of his five plate appearances), and the results were there — a walk and another triple. Additionally, Brandon Belt, who made his first start since last Sunday, went one for three with a double and a walk — which I’d suppose earned him another start for tomorrow’s game.

On the pitching side of things, Ryan Vogelsong looked good in his return to the mound. After a six-pitch first inning, he ran into some trouble in the second when his command seemed to falter a little; the Pirates were able to tack a couple runs on the board there. After that rough patch though, he settled down and was pretty exceptional from that point forward, retiring 12 consecutive Pirates at one point in the outing. The final results: 6.1 IP, 2 R, 7 K, 3 BB. The Giants’ rotation put together some terrible starts at the beginning of the season, but the trio of Matt Cain/Barry Zito/Ryan Vogelsong really shut down the Pirates this series: 22.1 IP, 4 ER, 22 K, 4 BB. They’re the Pirates, but whatever. Very good pitching nonetheless.

Tim Lincecum will start for the Giants tomorrow as they begin a three-game set against the Phillies. He’s looked awful all season long, and accordingly, people are hitting the annual Tim Lincecum panic button as early as ever. I’m not worried yet, but tomorrow’s start should be a very interesting one to watch.

As a quick aside, apparently it was Pagan’s decision to stay at third base on that Melky Cabrera grounder in the third — he didn’t see where the ball had gone at first. Not that it would have made a difference…:

“He said he didn’t see the ball. He came up, apologized. He said, ‘I just didn’t see where the ball went at first. I hesitated, then I didn’t want to go.’ Normally on that ball you score,” Bochy said. “That’s a big run. Didn’t really change the game but at the same time these are some of the small mistakes I was talking about that we made today that came back to haunt us.”

Barry Zito Solid, Giants Improve to .500

When Barry Zito loaded the bases in the first inning, then subsequently allowed a two-run single to Neil Walker, it was looking like Monday’s Zito was all but history. But he settled down with a 1-2-3 inning in the 2nd, and was ultimately great the rest of the way. There were some hiccups on defense — including a couple errors at the hands of Pablo Sandoval — but Zito ended up giving the Giants seven solid innings with three runs allowed (one of them unearned). I was a bit surprised when Bruce Bochy sent Zito out for the seventh inning, as he was at nearly 100 pitches; and I can’t help but wonder how much Brian Wilson’s absence factored into that decision. But I have to hand it to Bochy there, as Zito managed to escape the seventh completely unscathed, retiring the top of the Pirates’ lineup in order. His velocity chart was particularly interesting, as he amped it up in the later innings (although “amping it up” to 84 on the radar gun isn’t necessarily impressive).

So, kudos to Zito. He’s started off his season like this: 16 innings, two earned runs, eight strikeouts, one walk. And I never could have imagined Zito stringing a couple starts like this together. In fact, this is the first time in Zito’s 13-year career that he’s ever begun a season with back-to-back starts of 7+ innings pitched — which is pretty amazing. Will it continue? Probably not (at least, depending on how you define “continue”). I don’t expect a lot from Zito, but he’s more than proven that he’s capable of mediocrity. And that’s all the Giants need from the fifth spot in the rotation. Plus, to echo Josh, the lack of walks from Zito thus far is a pretty encouraging sign.

As for the offense, they extended their 4+ runs scored streak to a whopping eight games, which is the team’s longest such streak in five years. This didn’t come as much of a surprise, of course, as Charlie Morton was on the mound. When it comes to left-handed hitters, Morton essentially throws batting practice. They’ve hit .335/.415/.530 against him for his career, and last season (which was his best season), they hit .364/.460/.500 against him. The Giants’ starting lineup, one through nine, was composed entirely of left-handed/switch hitters.

Angel Pagan, who I expect will start to heat up, finally collected a couple of hits (single, triple) and stole a base. Aubrey Huff, hitting out of the cleanup spot, was downright terrible today — three groundouts and a strikeout. Of all the hitters in tonight’s starting lineup (excluding Zito), Huff was the only one who failed to reach base.

In the ninth inning with the game tied at 3, following a single, Bochy made the ridiculous decision to send Ryan Theriot to the plate against Chris Resop to bunt — instead of pinch hitting Brandon Belt. Theriot failed to lay down the bunt, and eventually worked the count full. Then he singled. Of course, that doesn’t justify sending Theriot (an awful hitter, especially against right-handers) up to the plate in lieu of Belt. Bochy used a couple pinch hitters tonight, going with Gregor Blanco and Ryan Theriot, and leaving Belt on the bench the entire game (although it looked like Belt would have come to bat had Burriss not singled).

It was poor decision-making — not utilizing Belt, though it didn’t end up mattering. Belt hasn’t started a game in a week, but he’ll apparently be starting tomorrow’s game. His playing time for the next week or so could be determined by how he performs tomorrow, so hopefully he pulls it together. He’ll have the benefit of facing Kevin Correia.

Anyway, with that 4-3 walkoff win, the Giants are now .500, and things are really starting to roll. Ryan Vogelsong makes his return to the mound tomorrow.

Matt Cain’s Best Start Ever

Let’s see here…

This was Cain at his absolute best: the location, the movement, the pitch selection…all at the top of his game. And he was just cruising; only once did Cain need 15+ pitches to get out of an inning (that came in the sixth, in which James McDonald broke up the perfect game). It was really something special. As far as near-perfect games go, this was incredibly close. Had Brandon Crawford been positioned ever-so-slightly to the left, that McDonald single would have been just a groundout.

Madison Bumgarner Dazzles, Giants Win 4-2

And that’s the formula. It took the Giants several games to master it, but there it is, finally: a strong outing from the starter, shutdown relief*, and just enough run support. It’s rather surprising, but six games into the season, this was only the Giants’ second quality start. In fact, this was only their second decent start. Four of the previous five starts — the one exception, of course, being that Barry Zito shutout — were simply terrible:

  • Lincecum: 5.1 IP, 5 R
  • Bumgarner: 4 IP, 4 R
  • Cain: 6 IP, 5 R
  • Lincecum: 2.1 IP, 6 R

Of course, “quality start” doesn’t really do this outing justice. Madison Bumgarner had a no-hitter going through 5 innings. In his first go-around against the Rockies lineup, seven of the nine outs he recorded came via the groundout, and one came via the strikeout. Through those first three innings, he faced the minimum. Through the first five innings, he faced the minimum plus one. With one out in the sixth, Tyler Colvin lined a ball to left and in an unsuccessful attempt to preserve the no-hitter, Melky Cabrera dove for it. Colvin ended up with a triple, and eventually scored, but that was the only run that would be surrendered by Bumgarner; and he came right back out in the seventh and retired Cuddyer, Rosario, and Young in order. He only ended up with two strikeouts, which was a bit odd, but the real dominance came in the form of his batted ball distribution: he induced groundout after groundout, with a few infield flies sprinkled in, and the Rockies generally didn’t make much hard contact.

*As for the relief, okay, maybe that wasn’t “shutdown.” That ninth inning was quite an adventure. Three hits, a well-hit liner that — fortunately — was right at Emmanuel Burriss, and a bases-loaded walk. Wilson was clearly injured (apparently it was an ankle tweak), and it seemed foolish to leave him in the game there. The sight of Dave Groeschner nervously pacing back and forth in the dugout is very unsettling. For obvious reasons, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch Wilson struggle through pain and try to stay in the game. Luckily it doesn’t seem all that serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Anyway, he eventually got the save.

Meanwhile, the Giants have now scored 33 runs through the first six games; in each of those games, they’ve scored 4+ runs. It might not seem like much, but the Giants’ longest such streak last year was seven games, with their second-longest stretch lasting all of four games.

There are 156 games left in the season. It’s much too early in the year to make any sort of confident assertions, but I’m becoming increasingly sure of one thing: I was wrong about Melky Cabrera. He’s opened the season with a six-game hitting streak, and in four of those six games, he’s collected multiple hits. All the general small sample size caveats notwithstanding, he’s looked excellent at the plate, and we’re not just seeing BABIP luck here. He’s made consistent hard contact, and he’s in great physical shape. So far, it’s looking like his 2011 season was more than just a fluke.

As for Angel Pagan, the outfield acquisition I was enthused about, I’m not all that concerned…at least not yet. He had some pretty good at-bats today (saw 25 pitches in five plate appearances), and one of them resulted in an RBI single on a solid line drive to left. But the best part about his season thus far: 25 plate appearances, two walks, one strikeout. That bodes well for him going forward.

The Giants are 2-4. They’re in last place in the NL West. But the Angels and Red Sox are also in last place in their respective divisions. They’ll begin a three-game series at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow. Should be a good way for the Giants to jumpstart their season.

Barry Zito Shuts Down Rockies, Leads Giants to 7-0 Win

Barry Zito threw 53.2 innings last year; and he was terrible. From racking up strikeouts (5.4 K/9) to avoiding walks (4.0 BB/9) to keeping the ball in the park (1.7 HR/9), he did nothing well. The results, accordingly, were ugly: a 5.87 ERA, a 5.60 FIP, and a 4.65 xFIP. In a month, he’ll turn 34. And he looked awful this spring (16 hits allowed in his last 5.1 innings!).

My expectations for him this season are quite low. But, needless to say, he surpassed them today.

Against a lineup with some pretty talented hitters (Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Michael Cuddyer, to name a few), he twirled nine shutout innings. Just four hits — a double and three singles — and not one walk. He wasn’t overpowering (four strikeouts, seven swinging strikes in total), but he was very efficient — it took him only 114 pitches to complete the shutout.

This was, by all means, tremendous stuff: he had but one no-walk start in the previous two seasons; the last time he pitched a shutout was back in 2003, when Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro were still in baseball and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira manned the left side of the Rangers’ infield; and the last time any Giants pitcher tossed a shutout at Coors Field? It’d actually never happened before…

Not only that, but he also worked the at-bat of a lifetime.

The Giants’ offense, meanwhile, did their job again today: seven runs scored, bringing their season total to 21 runs (or roughly five runs per game). They seemed to have caught Jhoulys Chacin on an off day (he clearly wasn’t himself), but that’s not to take away from their performance (Brandon Crawford worked a solid at-bat against Matt Reynolds before driving in three of those runs). Even Aubrey Huff and Angel Pagan, who have been struggling in the extremely-early going, had good days at the plate.

The most intriguing thing about today, however, was Hector Sanchez, who seems to have developed a rapport with Zito. I’m still not completely sold on whether he’s ready, but he sure had a strong showing today — both defensively and offensively. I do think that the fact that the Giants went with Hector as their lone backup catcher to begin the season says a lot about how advanced Hector is. How great would that be if he could give Posey some rest, hold his own at the plate, and coax a quality outing from Barry Zito every fifth day?

Anyway, the Giants finally won one. They’re off to a slow start (1-3), but they’ve looked good.

Well, except for Ryan Theriot.

The Giants Are Now 0-3

Well, that was a tough loss. Just like the first two games. After three innings, the Giants had a 6-0 lead. Around the middle of the sixth inning, they had a still-comfortable four-run lead. It really looked like they had the game locked up because Matt Cain is Matt Cain and the Giants’ bullpen is the Giants’ bullpen. A couple homers later, Arizona was within one; and after a messy seventh inning, they had taken the lead. The Giants didn’t recover.

Losing the first three games of the season is never pretty. Losing them to the Arizona Diamondbacks, of all teams (given that they’re the biggest thing in the Giants’ way as far as winning the division goes)? Even worse. But considering that San Francisco was just swept, at least it happened like this: the Giants lost these games because Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain surrendered 14 runs over 15.1 innings. And that’s not a trend that’ll continue. The good news is that the Giants’ offense, weak as it may be, managed to score 14 runs over three games against some pretty good pitching. And while that’s probably not a trend that will continue either, it’s certainly nice to see the offense showing signs of life. Especially as it pertains to Buster Posey (2 for 4, BB, HR), who is returning from an ugly injury and only played in 45 games last season.

It’s April. We spent all of last month trying not to draw meaningful conclusions from the numbers, and it still applies to these first several games. Brandon Belt is pressing. Angel Pagan hasn’t looked good. Whatever. There are still 159 games to go. The more interesting thing to watch will be how the Giants respond — i.e. how long will it take for Aubrey Huff to play his way out of a starting role?

Barry Zito is pitching tomorrow. Should be…interesting.

That Could Have Been a Lot Worse

Willie Bloomquist, who really shouldn’t even be batting leadoff, hit a single off Tim Lincecum to get things going for the Diamondbacks. The next batter, Chris Young, hit a home run. And that pretty much set the tone for the game; Lincecum gave up a couple bombs in the first inning, and ultimately couldn’t get through six innings. His fastball velocity sat around 90, topping out at 91.4 MPH. More concerning though, as Dustin Parkes pointed out, was the location. He had trouble keeping the ball down in the zone, and according to Brooks Baseball, only 23 of the 42 four-seamers he threw went for strikes.

The overall results weren’t pretty — 5.1 innings, five runs, and four of the six hits he allowed went for extra bases. But there’s a silver lining: seven strikeouts, one walk. Last season, Lincecum had eight starts in which he allowed fewer than two walks. Seven of those games came in the first half. Walks were a problem for Lincecum last season, and he’s made a point to address the problem this year (pitching to contact). Hopefully, this start is a sign that he’s headed in the right direction. (And the strikeouts were still there, which is important.)

Meanwhile, against the ace of the D’backs’ staff, the Giants’ hitters managed to put nine hits and three runs on the board. The Giants’ one-through-seven batters all had hits at one point or another in this game. Buster Posey collected a couple singles and drew a walk, Pablo Sandoval was his 2011 self, and Melky Cabrera looked pretty good at the plate (well, aside from this oddity). They weren’t entirely dominated by Ian Kennedy.

There were squandered opportunities, particularly in the earlier innings. And none stood out more than that seventh inning, when Bruce Bochy left Aubrey Huff in to face LOOGY Joe Paterson. Paterson held left-handed hitters to a .574 OPS last season. Huff is a left-handed hitter. Brett Pill, a right-handed hitter, was available off the bench. That’s what he’s there for. He probably should have hit for Huff — with a defensive replacement coming in for Huff thereafter. But that’s definitely not where the blame lies for this loss, and furthermore, I’m inclined to believe that Pill against left-handed pitching is not a terribly significant improvement over Huff against left-handed pitching. And for what it’s worth, Huff put up a pretty decent at-bat regardless.

A lot of things went well for the Giants in this one, and the lineup is looking…competent. Quite simply, San Francisco wins this game with a better start from Lincecum. Not an ideal start to the season, but oh well.

Game Recap: Giants finish season 86-76

Rockies 6, Giants 3.

It’s been a disappointing season. It’s had its ups and downs, but moreso the latter — thanks in most part to an absolutely atrocious offense. It sucks that the Giants couldn’t win the final game of the season, but it’s ultimately inconsequential.

Eric Surkamp made his sixth start, and did nothing to make me think more highly of him. It’s a small sample size — these six starts. Maybe he needs time to adjust to the big leagues. I maintain, for example, that he’s a pitcher with — at the very least — above-average control, and that this will manifest itself sooner or later. But the fact remains: he hasn’t impressed, and I’m inclined to believe Keith Law — that Surkamp isn’t much more than a fifth starter.

The lineup, a typically unconventional game-162 lineup, was one of the worst the Giants have thrown out all season…again, not that it matters. Though even with an LHP on the mound, I would have liked to see Brandon Belt and Andres Torres starting.

Oh well.

There’s a lot of speculation that this is Pat Burrell‘s final career game. This has yet to be determined, of course, but if it is, man — what a fantastic stint he’s had with the Giants. Think about how much he’s cost them: they paid him the league minimum for a few months in 2010, and signed him to a $1MM deal for 2011. During that time, he’s posted 3.3 fWAR — an estimated value of $13MM+. Not bad.

Sergio Romo ended his season well, adding another 0.2 innings of scoreless work. Few relievers in the history of baseball have had a season this incredible…

Sergio Romo ended the year with 1.50 ERA, 65 G, 48 IP, 29 H, 5 BB and 70 SO. Yep, SEVENTY strikeouts. FIVE walks.Wed Sep 28 22:05:54 via web

 

Be sure to check out Bay Area Sports Guy’s interview with Sergio Romo today about his status as kind of a cult hero on SFGiantsNirvana.com Twitter and the blogs.

Last but not least, just want to thank all of those who read this blog! It’s been an enjoyable season, and hopefully next year sees better results for the Giants.

Game Recap: Madison Bumgarner.

Giants 7, Rockies 0.

Madison Bumgarner went seven scoreless innings tonight, striking out nine, while walking none. That brings his overall K/BB on the season to 4.15. In the past, I’ve looked at the historical implications of his season given his age. But even without taking into account the fact this is his age-21 season, he’s been amazing.

How many San Francisco Giants, in history, have posted a K/BB above 4.00 in a single season?

Four. Three hall-of-famers, and a former Cy Young runner-up. Well, now it’s five, as Bumgarner joins them.

He has quite a future ahead of him.

Tonight was all about the future, too (especially with the news regarding possible extensions for Sabean and Bochy). As the Giants play these final games, the focus has shifted in that direction. And the young players that represent the future — Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, (Conor Gillaspie) — provided reasons for optimism.

  • Belt went three for three with a walk and a splash hit.
  • Crawford collected a couple hits and a walk
  • And Gillaspie hit his first career home run (an inside-the-parker).
This is exactly what I like to see at the end of a season like this.