Monday, September 29, 2008



I finally snapped my personal Dodger losing streak at Mays Field yesterday, as the Giants beat L.A. 3-1 to give Tim Lincecum his 18th win in a very fun game. It was about as thrilling as any game could be when it's the last game of the season and everything is decided. Knowing that the Cy Young was at stake, everybody was hanging on Nate Scherholtz's at-bat in the seventh inning, praying he'd knock in the run and give Timmy the chance for the win. Fortunately for us all, Nate came through and Lincecum ended up earning the victory. Lincecum solidified his Cy case by absolutely dominating for seven innings. The first nine outs he got were all on strikeouts, the first time that's happened since 1986 (when Sid Fernandez did it for the most awesome team of all time that year).

I am also happy to announce that I am the proud owner of a Tim Lincecum Giants shirt. Walking around Mays Field yesterday, I was just overwhelmed by how pumped up everybody was about Lincecum and the season he was having. In a 90-loss season, it was great to see Giants fans revved up about something. When they could have just stayed home and watched the, ugh, Raiders, they turned out en masse to watch and root on the most exciting Giants pitcher in a long time. With the Lincecum love so infectious, I decided I just couldn't leave the stadium without dropping 25 bucks on a Timmy shirt. Needless to say, there won't be any disparaging photos involving the Lincecum jersey on this site any time soon.

The 2008 season ends on a high note, and honestly, how many of us would have ever thought that coming out of Spring Training? If you're a Giants fan and, at the beginning of the season, you told me that you'd be excited about the team on this day, September 29, I've have called you either a liar or assumed you were perpetually high on pain killers. I think most of us just assumed that by this time Lou Seal would have hanged himself from the Coke slide and we would have all developed writer's cramp from the endless hate mail we were sending Brian Sabean.

No such misery, though. As opposed to last year, when the roster was stocked with a bunch of boring veterans with seeming death grips on starting jobs in 2008, now we have a group of young players who might actually be good major league players. Pablo Sandoval can rake, Fred Lewis is fun, Sergio Romo looks freaking awesome, Emmanuel Burriss is an interesting find, and Eugenio Velez is...well, a pretty bad player. OK, I guess all the young guys can't be good, but there's suddenly a lot of promise in the Giants organization, especially with Tim Alderson, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Conor Gillaspie not too far away from the bigs. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I think I'm almost excited to be a Giants fan again.

Leaving the ball park yesterday, it became clear that I'm not alone. On the way back home, I was listening to Michael Urban's show on KNBR, and caller after caller chimed in raving about the team and the positive direction it was going. Most of the comments were typical mindless sports talk blather, with the usual ridiculous trade scenarios thrown in for good measure (someone proposed an asinine trade involving Aaron Rowand for Brandon Phillips, illustrating why I just refuse to listen to sports talk anymore), but whatever. It was just cool to hear such enthusiasm from so many people about the team, a far cry from the days when listening to KNBR post-game shows would only get you Larry Kruger making racially insensitive comments about the team's collection of bad hitters. One caller basically professed his undying man-love for Urban on the air, so things got a little, uh, carried away, but the fun never stopped.

Urban did drop one little nugget of insanity during the proceedings, though. Perhaps he was still high from the Lincecum 13-K performance and scintillating win, but at one point in all the post-game revelry, Urban said that he expected the Giants to improve by 15 games next season. Whoa, there, buddy. I'm excited about the Giants in '09 too, but let's not start waxing each other's bikini zones just yet. 15 games? I'm not sure Urban realizes how drastic an improvement that is. That essentially means that the Giants would be strong playoff contenders next season and, brother, I don't see it.

The Giants aren't the Tampa Bay Rays, a team overloaded with talent that just needs a tweak here or there before they become a title contender. There are still a lot of problems here. Even when the youth movement gained steam in August, the team offense still wasn't very good. The team OPS was just .720 in September and was only four points higher in the second half of the season than it was before the Break.

There are still a ton of lineup questions to be answered. I'm not convinced Travis Ishikawa is the answer at first at all, Sandoval seems like a stretch playing third base every day, no one knows if Burriss's plate patience is for real, and the team is kidding itself if it thinks Velez is an everyday player. They need to find some room for Nate Scherholtz, but that would involve trading Randy Winn and how easy is that going to be? Will Aaron Rowand find the bat that he lost in May?

Behind Lincecum and Cain, there are just as many worries with the pitching staff. Is Zito going to put it together? Is Jonathan Sanchez anything but an injury-addled tease? Kevin Correia was a mess this year and the fifth starter spot is wide open with no appetizing in-house options. The bullpen is basically a Magic Eye poster; look real hard and maybe something is there, but it certainly just looks like a big jumble of crap at first glance.

Expectations should be tempered a little, is all I'm saying. The Giants made it clear in the second half that they're committed to building the next winner through their system and not with crappy short-term fixer-uppers, and that's all we really asked for in 2008. If the Giants can improve to 80 wins next year I'd say that's a reasonable goal. With a little luck, they might outwit ol' Pythagoras and sneak into the playoffs in a poor NL West.

What I don't want to see are misguided moves to acquire veteran stopgaps, led on by the idea that the Giants are a hairsbreadth away from being a contender. This only sets the franchise back, but it seems that the front office has finally learned from its mistakes and won't go that route. If the Giants stay good on their commitment to developing the young guys and don't make any dumb free agents signings this offseason, then it's clear that 2009 will be the most anticipated Giants season since 2004.

--Omar Vizquel was brought out of the sixth inning yesterday and received a huge ovation. I have to admit, he wasn't my favorite Giant. In the last two of the four years he was here, he was flat out awful, and in 2005 he didn't exactly set the world on fire either. You can make a great argument that signing him wasn't nearly the priority that the Giants made it out to be.

All in all, though, he was a Good Giant. His defense was still good and his acrobatics were fun to watch, and it's always neat to have a guy finish up a terrific career with your favorite team. He was loved by fans and teammates alike, and it's easy to root for a player like that. I certainly stood up and joined in the thunder.

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