August Has Been Kind

Last night, it looked like the Giants were going to waste yet another strong outing from Matt Cain. With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, Cain surrendered a run, giving the Astros the lead. The Giants entered the ninth with a one-run deficit to overcome and the bottom of the order taking on the task; the odds weren’t promising. But four pitches later, Brandon Belt had singled to lead off the inning, and Joaquin Arias had ripped a double down the left field line to drive him in. A couple batters later, Hector Sanchez blooped a single into shallow center field, and the Giants took a 3-2 lead. It was the kind of game the Giants have lost hundreds of times over the past several years; except they didn’t lose last night.

August sure has been kind to the Giants. Well, in the win-loss column, at least. The Giants are now 16-10 on the month, good for a .615 winning percentage. That makes this their best month so far, which is somewhat odd considering that they’ve gone Melky-less since the 15th. But that’s the thing — others have been picking up the slack. Buster Posey should win NL Player of the Month at this point, as nobody in the majors has had a better August. In fact, this month has firmly placed Posey in the MVP race, and assuming he can finish the season well, he’ll have a strong case come voting time. If Posey weren’t putting up otherworldly numbers this month, Angel Pagan (.353/.422/.608) would probably be deserving of player-of-the-month honors. Given his extended struggles, it’s been especially refreshing to see Pagan hit a stride. In the month of August, he’s actually surpassed his combined June/July totals for walks and total bases. And then there’s Joaquin Arias, who’s posted a 200 wRC+ in 54 plate appearances. His 2012 offensive numbers are now somehow better than Carlos Pena‘s.

And like that, the Giants now have a 3.5 game lead in the NL West. It’s not huge, and it’s certainly close enough to make things interesting, but it affords the Giants some breathing room. The Dodgers have made some big splashes, most notably the recent mega-trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto. While I’m confident that the trade hurts — maybe even cripples — the Dodgers in the long-term, it’s very difficult to write them off in the short-term. There’s no denying the collection of talent on the Dodgers’ current roster. But the Giants are starting to pad onto their division lead, and with 33 games to go, things are looking good.

Announcing the Winners of the Matt Cain DVD Contest

The Giants/Dodgers series is over. The Giants won all three games, scoring a total of 14 runs. Brandon Belt failed to get a hit in the series.

There were four commenters that guessed that the Giants would sweep. Of those four, nobody correctly guessed the Giants’ total runs scored or Brandon Belt’s hit total. Therefore, the winners are the first two to correctly guess that the Giants would sweep: Justin C and Jack Coppinger. Email me (giantsnirvana@gmail.com) within the next few days from the address listed along with your comment, and I’ll arrange for the DVD to be mailed to you.

Best Series Ever

Didn’t that all seem a little too easy?

The Giants scored in the first inning of the first game of this series, and never gave up their lead. They were never winning by a significant margin, but the way Madison Bumgarner was pitching, even two runs of support was enough to feel comfortable. Heck, even after Sergio Romo coughed up a solo homer to make it a one-run game, Javier Lopez came in and shut the door immediately. Just like that.

Last night’s game wasn’t entirely a walk in the park. But once again, the Giants got some runs up in the first inning, and never looked back. There was one moment in that game — one brief, isolated moment — that was cause for concern. Tim Lincecum was missing some spots in last night’s outing, so I was slightly worried when he worked himself into that sixth inning jam. Matt Kemp came up, representing the tying run. But in an instant, he smoked the second pitch into right field, and it was caught. And then there were two outs, and Jose Mijares came in to pitch against Andre Ethier — who is essentially Brandon Crawford when it comes to hitting left-handed pitching. Aside from that brief moment of tension with Kemp at the plate, it felt like the Giants were in total control the whole night.

And then the same happened tonight. Except tonight was a walk in the park. The Giants put three runs on the board in the first inning, and then Matt Cain took the mound. Cain retired the first seven hitters he faced, and then five of the next seven hitters he faced. Through five innings, the Dodgers were scoreless. And in the sixth inning, the Giants tacked on another three runs. By the end of the seventh inning, the Giants had a seven-run lead. Even when the Dodgers kept chipping away at that lead in the eighth inning, never did it feel like the Giants were actually in danger of relinquishing it. And Joaquin Arias, of all players, drove in five runs.

Not even a month ago, the Dodgers came to town and ripped the Giants’ collective heart out. The Giants had a three-game lead in the NL West before the series began, and by the time the Dodgers were gone, so was sole possession of first place. It was a gut-wrenching series, the kind that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for weeks. The first game was stolen by the Dodgers in the tenth inning, on a Hanley Ramirez home run off Sergio Romo — sound familiar? And in the subsequent two games, the Giants were shut out. The Dodgers scored 14 runs, and that was 14 more than the Giants. In that series as a whole, in their own home park, the Giants only scored three runs.

This was the polar opposite of that experience. There were runs, leads, wins. There were inconsequential homers hit by Hanley Ramirez off of Sergio Romo. The Giants waltzed into Los Angeles a second-place team, and they’ll exit with a modest first place lead.

Given how that last Giants/Dodgers series had gone, I was very nervous about the prospect of the Giants facing the Dodgers on the road. But it went well, shockingly well, and without much stress at all. It’s truly difficult to overstate how amazing this series was. Man, that felt good.

Splash Hits: 8/21/12

The Cool Things That Madison Bumgarner Does | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
Madison Bumgarner does cool things.

San Francisco Giants pitchers excel at ‘stealing’ strikes – ESPN
Giants pitchers have excelled at “stealing strikes” early in counts, as Chris Quick notes.

Scouting Report: Kyle Crick (RHP) | Baseball Prospect Nation
A scouting report on Giants pitching prospect Kyle Crick.

Pence’s Impatience Costing Him with Giants – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Pence has been chasing lots of pitches since coming over to San Francisco.

Melky Cabrera’s Positive Test, Not Performance, Proves PED Use – Pinstripe Alley
There’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Melky’s use of PEDs was responsible for the uptick in his production.

What’s San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera worth now? – ESPN
Jayson Stark on what Melky Cabrera is worth now.

Madison Bumgarner Outduels Clayton Kershaw in 2-1 Giants Victory

We all came into this game expecting a pitching duel. Clayton Kershaw, reigning Cy Young Award winner, 24 years old, going up against the just-turned-23-year-old Madison Bumgarner. This wasn’t the first time the two had faced — they’d met once before, in April 2011. But that wasn’t much of a battle. Today’s head-to-head, unlike the previous one, did not disappoint.

Bumgarner scattered four hits across eight innings; each of those hits was a single, and Kershaw, surprisingly enough, had two of them.

That fourth inning sequence of events, in which Bumgarner breezed past the heart of the Dodgers’ order, just blew me away:

  • He worked around Matt Kemp for six pitches, mostly staying out of the strikezone, and eventually got him to ground out.
  • Then after falling 2-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he came at him with four straight sliders, freezing him on a high-and-inside pitch for a called strike three.
  • And then to top it all off, after Andre Ethier fouled off a few pitches, Bumgarner got him to swing right through the high heat.

Of course, Bumgarner was on top of his game all night long. And that was the most amazing part, really. Even with his pitch count running well past 100, and the Dodgers’ hitters having gotten to see him a couple times, he was still untouchable in those final two innings.

Kershaw himself dominated the Giants’ lineup, though he wasn’t able to keep them entirely quiet — thanks to some timely hitting. Angel Pagan led off the game with a double, and came around to score on a sac fly; and then with two outs in the sixth inning, the Giants managed to string together back-to-back-to-back singles for the second (and final) run.

The final pitching lines:

Kershaw – 8 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.
Bumgarner – 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.

Surely you notice the symmetry in the two lines. Both went eight innings, notching ten strikeouts with zero walks. How often do you see that?

Well, I dug through Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and the answer is: never. Only twice before, at least dating back to 1918, have two opposing pitchers in the same game tallied ten or more strikeouts while not walking anybody. The last occurrence was on April 9, 2003, with Mark Prior and Javier Vazquez doing the pitching. But Vazquez failed to go past the seventh. Before that, the only other occurrence was on July 12, 1997, in a duel between Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele. But again, Sele only went seven innings.

Shockingly, as I tweeted earlier: This was the first occurrence in baseball history in which both starters have gone at least eight innings with 10+ strikeouts and zero walks.

In other words, we just witnessed an historically great pitching duel.

And the best part is that the Giants came out on top. Although not before making things a little more interesting… Sergio Romo was one strike away from securing the win for the Giants, at which point Hanley Ramirez unloaded on a 1-2 pitch and promptly sent it into the left field stands. If anything, this should serve as a reminder that Hanley Ramirez is still a dangerous hitter, and has certainly channeled his younger self since coming over to the Dodgers. This was his fifth homer (and 12th extra-base hit) in 25 games with LA. Hanley is definitely something to be concerned about.

Anyway, following the home run, Javier Lopez came in and finished off Andre Ethier, giving the Giants the 2-1 victory. And just like that, they’re back in first place.

Splash Hits: Post-Melky Edition

Bay Area Sports Guy – Deflated Giants lose first game after losing Melky Cabrera
A recap of yesterday’s events, with video interviews of several Giants players.

Big, Important Opinions on Melky Cabrera – McCovey Chronicles
Not an easy topic, but Grant knocked it out of the park.

On Melky And Morality | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
A well-reasoned look at the moral implications of Melky’s actions.

Baseball Prospectus | BP Unfiltered: Melky Cabrera, PEDs, and the Giants’ Playoff Odds
How much did Melky Cabrera‘s suspension affect San Francisco’s odds of appearing in October?

Is 50 Games Too Weak a PED Punishment? | FanGraphs Baseball
Alex Remington explores whether the 50-game suspension is too weak a punishment for PEDs.

Should S.F. sign Cabrera after this? – SFGate
Should the Giants re-sign Melky? I say absolutely yes.

Well, That Didn’t Help

Tim Lincecum’s outing started in typically rough fashion today, as the Nationals tagged him for two runs in the first inning, and worked up his pitch count to 38. He was actually pretty sharp at times in today’s start, but by the end of the fourth inning, he was in the midst of his third go-round at the Nationals’ lineup and already up near 100 pitches. So that would do it for him.

There’s no question that today was all about Melky. But had Lincecum pitched well, and the Giants won this game (and the series), it would have been a heck of a lot easier to forget about Melky, even if only for a while. Today’s game was especially painful because five of Lincecum’s six second-half starts had been good — one more start like the one he had on July 14th, and I probably would have been ready to toss aside any concerns about Lincecum. Should we be as concerned about Lincecum as before?

In the later innings of this one, it looked like the Giants might be able to put together a comeback. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth, but only managed to score one run. And in the ninth, when Pablo Sandoval appeared to have popped out to end the game, the ball dropped and Hector Sanchez came around to score. Suddenly, the Giants had Buster Posey up at the plate, representing the tying run.

And he struck out. And they lost. And that’s just how it goes sometimes.

There are a few silver linings though (not that they outweigh today’s unfortunate news). Among them:

  • The Giants scored four runs on a day that Stephen Strasburg started against them.
  • Brandon Crawford reached base a couple of times, and has now hit safely in eight consecutive games.
  • Gregor Blanco, taking over in left field for Melky, had a multi-hit game. He had gone 21 at-bats without a hit before his single in the sixth inning.
  • Pablo Sandoval went two for four with a walk.

Tomorrow’s a new day. A day off, in fact. Much needed.