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.

Game Recap: Ryan Vogelsong ends his season on a strong note

Giants 3, Rockies 1.
Record: 85-75

  • It’s been quite a season for Ryan Vogelsong, and he ended on a strong note tonight: seven scoreless innings, with four strikeouts and zero walks. It’s actually the first walk-less start he’s had since April. A nice end to a great year for him.
  • The Giants set a new franchise single-season record for attendance.
  • A while back, I noted that Sergio Romo was on pace to do something incredibly rare: he could become the only pitcher ever (with a significant workload) to post a BB/9 of less than 1 and a K/9 greater than 10. After today’s inning (3 K, 0 BB), it’s looking like there’s a very good chance he accomplishes this.
  • Mike Fontenot‘s quietly had a very nice season, posting 1.0 fWAR over 243 PA. He’s arb-eligible for one last time in 2012, and it’s in the Giants’ best interest to tender him a contract. He’s a great complement to RHH Freddy Sanchez.
  • There’s talk of making AT&T Park more hitter-friendly. Gut reaction: that’s absolutely ridiculous. This is the most beautiful park in baseball, and there’s no need for alterations. To do so is to completely ignore the fact that the Giants hitters couldn’t hit this season, and that the park has little to do with that. Check out the park factors, via StatCorner. It basically plays neutral (wOBA) for LHBs and RHBs.