Friday, September 17, 2010
Friday Fairy Tale
This fondness stemmed from the days when Paulie was a young baseball card collector, obsessively organizing boxes and boxes of cards, sorted by team and player. Amongst all of his cards, he had a particular affinity for the players on the Brewers. Maybe it was the cool logo. Paulie was awestruck when he opened a new card pack to reveal heroic and colorful Brewer players such as Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas, and even big Joey Meyer, whom Bill James once described as "kind of gross". A shift by the Brewers to the National League briefly threatened Paulie's mild affection for the Brew Crew, but the memories of Harvey's Wallbangers held strong.
Then, one day, the Brewers' obese Prince smashed a walk-off home run against the Giants. This displeased Paulie, but it wasn't enough to break the cease-fire. Then, as the obese Prince came home into the waiting arms of his teammates, he engaged in a home run celebration that some might call "obnoxious", or "bush league", or "asshole-ish".
As the obese Prince leapt upon home plate, creating a cascading ripple effect amongst his waiting teammates, his ample girth shook not only the surrounding five-mile radius, but also the foundations of Paulie's now-shaky alliance with the Brewers. The resulting quake was so strong that said alliance crumbled to the ground, never to put back together again.
Even with this, Paulie thought it over and was prepared for peace the next year. In Spring Training, Barry Zito issued a warning shot to the obese Prince to indicate that Paulie was displeased. This, Paulie believed, would drive some sense back into the Brewers and re-establish the long-held peace between the two teams. Alas, the obese Prince would not back down, and after the Prince's strange, belligerent post-game rantings, Paulie made preparations for war.
When the Giants descended upon Milwaukee for the first time in 2010, the battle plans had been drawn months before finally came to fruition. The Giants went in to the land of beer and sausage and did what any team would do when shown up by a vastly inferior opponent: they beat the ever-loving shit out of them. There was Shock. There was Awe. The obese Prince's kingdom was burned and pillaged. His jesters were beaten. Paulie wept tears of joy. There was much rejoicing in the land of Stankeye.
Now the reanimated remnants of the obese Prince's kingdom stands in the way of Giants and the division title. Luckily, Paulie trained his warriors in the fine art of Zombie-killing. With two weeks left in the season, only a Brewers sweep and a run to the NL West championship would make the land of Stankeye live happily ever after.
--The Giants ended their season series against the Dodgers last night in fine fashion, smoking them 10-2 behind the strength of three home runs and a 12-strikeout performance by Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants win the matchup with the Dodgers this year, 10-8, which is astonishing considering the Giants lost five of the first six games against their evil counterparts. Three of those wins were late-innings humiliations for the Dodgers, so that just sweetens the tea. What a great year in Giant-Dodger history.
--Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of this...
That it was so long ago makes me feel extraordinarily old, but it's one of the great moments of my life as a baseball fan. It seems like just yesterday that I was jumping up and down in excitement upon hearing Ted Robinson's home run call on the radio.
--Edit: I just caught this, but it's too good to let pass by the weekend. When a grown man accuses you of having "poopy in your pants", I'm not sure whether you should be insulted or just weirded out.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In the Words of King Leonidas...
The Giants gave up one hit tonight. One hit! That, plus only one unearned run. One measly unearned run. Barry Zito pitched his best game in a while and the bullpen made short work of the Dodger hitters. Yet they still lost.
Games like this will happen. Clayton Kershaw is the real deal, as loathe as I am to say that about any Dodger, and he wasn't effing around tonight. Knowing the recent incompetence of Jonathan Broxton and rest of the Dodger bullpen, Joe Torre would have been sent to the nuthouse had he even contemplated taking Kershaw out for one of his lesser staffmates in the later innings. Thus, unlike this magical game in July, it was beat Kershaw or go home. The way Kershaw was rolling in the eighth and ninth, it was clear the Giants would be getting home long before the Strong Guy, the Fat Guy, and the Genius came on. I can take heart in two things: one, that the fast game enables me to get this post up so I'm not typing away in the wee hours; and two, that the Giants won't have to even look at Kershaw again in the year 2010.
So instead of dwelling on tonight's blink-and-you'll-miss-it loss, I'm going to look forward to tomorrow's game, and throw out a few links.
-I'm a big, dumb nerd for two things in life: baseball and The Simpsons. So imagine my glee when I came across this article by Chris Jaffe, in which he matches each major league team to a Simpsons character. This is like a match made in heaven for me, like if U2 and The Police teamed up (oh, wait). He even mentions Kang and Kodos. That's just awesome.
The Giants get Groundskeeper Willie, but I think I'd prefer an association with Chester Lampwick more. Lampwick was the guy who came up with Itchy and Scratchy, only to be thrown into a life of poverty when another bastard stole his idea. Like Lampwick, the Giants are trying to reclaim past glory (the titles they won in New York) that another bastard stole from them (the Dodgers, and the titles they won when they moved to LA). Let's hope a 2010 World Series win is their equivalent to a rocket car.
*Nerd U2 rant here, so feel free to bypass this next blurb, all non-believers. In their last show in Zurich, U2 ripped out this obscure and totally awesome song (their best song of the entire decade of the 2000's, in my opinion) for the first time ever, which warmed the hearts of obsessive U2 fanboys such as myself. The version they premiered is altered a little, and it's clunkier, cheesier, and Bono fucks up the lyrics...but it still kicks ass. Give it a look if you like the band and want to check out something different from them.
-From Jonah Keri, the former BP-ite, comes this great article about the Texas Rangers and the new workout regimen Team President Nolan Ryan has imposed on the team's pitchers. Tired of watching pitching prospects get endlessly babied, (and with no drop in pitching injuries to correlate with this coddling), the strikeout king has insisted that in order to breed healthier pitchers, these pitchers have to be able to build up endurance. Thus, he's making them throw more long toss, run constant wind sprints, and throw batting practice in between starts. It may seem a bit counterintuitive in these days of the conservative pitch count, but the early returns (the Rangers started this in early 2009) have been pretty positive. It's a long read, but well worth it.
-From the AL Cy Young debate, we get the good and the bad. The Good: Aaron Gleeman, on Felix Hernandez's brilliance and why Joe Morgan still doesn't get it. The Bad: Don Amore outthinking himself trying to lift C.C. Sabathia and Clay Buchholz above King Felix. While we're at it here's The Ugly, featuring some bizarre logic that would crown Sabathia the MVP (?!?).
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Going in to the series in San Diego, I was cautiously optimistic, despite the Giants' misery against the Pads this year. In retrospect, I should have been bloody enthusiastic. I didn't take two major factors into account. One, that the Padres are truly playing like crap. I mean, you have to see it first-hand to grasp the magnitude of the Padres' current suckiness. They aren't hitting, they're making stupid mistakes (i.e. Miguel Tejada's general idiocy on Friday and Luis Durango's flub of a fly ball today), and they look like a team beaten just based on their body language. In short, they appear to be toast. That isn't to say that they won't recover and rub the Giants' faces in it, but right now they look like a spent force.
The second factor I didn't take into account for this series was that the Giants would be basically playing four games in front of a home crowd. Today was especially egregious, but all four games featured crowds that appeared to have at least as many Giant fans as Padre fans, and loud chants of "Let's Go Giants!" were rarely drowned out. Hell, on Friday, some guy was watching the game during his wedding party in a condo across the street, and he had a bunch of Giants banners strewn out.
Game 1: I didn't pick up this game until late, but I didn't really need to, because literally the second I got home and turned on the TV, Pat Burrell launched a ball to where no baseball has ever gone before, and the Giants cruised to an easy win. Four home runs, early scoring, and a near-complete game win from Matt Cain? It was pure beauty having taken on the form of a baseball game.
Game 2: An ugly one, but a win nonetheless. Jonathan Sanchez slogged through one of those starts that promotes chain smoking (he walked seven in five innings), but the Giants pulled it out thanks to Aubrey Huff's hustle (or bad baserunning, take your pick) and a Miguel Tejada brainfart.
Also in the game, Brian Wilson pulled out another multi-inning save like it was clockwork. The save stat is stupid, yes, but having a shut-down bullpen guy who can come in and throw multiple innings and then demand to have the ball back the next night is far from overrated. I used to be a prime Wilson skeptic, but I've been converted into a true believer. Any time he's employed like the relief specialists of yore, it puts a smile on my face.
Game 3: The Padres can thank three people for their victory yesterday: Tim Stauffer, the starting pitcher, Yorvit Torrealba, who hit the deciding home run, and Jerry Crawford, the home plate umpire with the asinine strike zone. To be fair, Crawford was calling it both ways and Stauffer was exploiting it nicely. At some point though, you have to stop calling pitches that are a foot off the plate strikes. Why? Because that's not a freaking strike, in any league on any planet. On the FOX broadcast, Eric Karros kept harping about the strike calls on Buster Posey, and how he wasn't going to get them because he was a rookie. That's ridiculous enough if true, but the bad strike zone was in effect for everybody, and the Giants were the recipients of some particularly bad calls. And yes, I am whining.
Game 4: I had a sense of dread going into this one, but that went away when Posey lined a home run off of Giant-killer Mat Latos, a small bit of revenge for the smashing of Dave Flemming's sun roof. All-in-all, Latos labored through four innings and the Giants cruised to an easy win, capped in hilarious fashion when Luis Durango dropped an easy fly ball in center field, allowing the Giants' sixth run to score.
What a wonderful weekend for an exorcism. The Giants chased away some major Padre demons and come away with a 7-3 road trip. They get the Dodgers after a day off tomorrow. The Dodgers have given up on their season, and it shows, but they're certainly going to show up when the opportunity arises to screw the Giants, so the next three games won't be a picnic.
Monday, September 06, 2010
Flashback: Spring Training 2009
Let's be perfectly clear on this. I absolutely hated the Juan Uribe pickup back when it happened. Hated it. I believe I had some pretty uncomplimentary things to say right here. Uribe was coming off of a horrible 2008 in which he helped kill the White Sox in the playoffs with his hopeless flailing (he was replacing the injured Joe Crede at third base). He also hadn't been any good at the plate in three years, and by all measures his defense was on the decline. His 2006 season offered one of the most grotesquely bizarre hitting lines you'll ever see, as Uribe hit 21 home runs but walked just thirteen times and put up a hideous .257 OBP.
Some assumed he'd just be brought in as a part-timer or a warm body in Spring to prevent Emmanuel Burriss from getting too complacent as he fought for the everyday second base job. I wasn't fooled, though. Knowing the history of Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy and their love for veterans and that magical grit or whatever other strange, baseball-savvy odor they emit, I knew Uribe was going to get way too many at-bats. I hated the signing like few others, despite it's relative low risk. As the 2009 season dawned, I sat back and waited for Uribe to fail, fingers poised over keyboard with evil intentions in mind.
My how things have changed. One thing is assured when you get into the business of being an armchair expert, typing nonsensical, drunken ravings about the Giants in your underwear at hideous hours of the morning: you're going to be wrong quite a bit. Uribe still employs that beer league softball swing, but when he uses that swing to belt game-winning bombs off of obese Dodger relief pitchers in critical stretch drive games, well...it's never felt so good to be so frickin' wrong about a player.
--I loved seeing Nate Schierholtz be the hero in today's extra-inning win over Arizona. His 11th-inning frozen rope triple plated the winning runs, and this only a few innings after he was picked off first base in embarrassing fashion by Dbacks catcher Miguel Montero. I've ranted and raved over the past two weeks about how I think Schierholtz should get more starts because of his glove (he hasn't started a game since late-July), and hits like today's might provide the incentive for Bruce Bochy to get him in the lineup and tack Jose Guillen's worthless butt to the bench.
--After today's stellar showing, Madison Bumgarner now has a tiny 2.25 ERA in eight starts on the road, as opposed to a less-than-sparkling 5.24 ERA at home. This is probably a complete fluke, as most pitchers tend to pitch better at home than on the road (not to mention Bum's home ERA is inflated a little by that gawdawful start against Cincinnati). Still, I demand that, until further notice, we stop referring to Bumgarner as MadBum, and instead bestow him with the moniker "Mad Max". As in, The Road Warrior.
Oh hell yeah...
Saturday, September 04, 2010
Why the Giants Can Catch the Padres
About two weeks ago, when the Giants grabbed Cody Ross on waivers, ostensibly to block the Padres from getting him, some wags in the media, including one of my favorite columnists, questioned whether the Giants should even be worried about the Padres at all. At that point, they were six games back, I think, and just coming off of that horrid loss against Jaime Garcia in St. Louis. Although the Giants were about as down in the dirt as you can possibly get at that point (and as many reactionary KNBR callers were getting their nooses ready), even the most hardened naysayers should know that a month left in the season is enough time for a lot of things to happen. Now, of course, such claims that the Giants should give up the division race look downright silly.
The Giants enter Hades for a three game set with the Dodgers, and they are now just three games back in the division. The Padres are suddenly reeling, having now lost eight in a row. The odds of winning the division are still against the Giants, but now they have the momentum, as well as some other factors that spill in their favor. Here are a few reasons to be optimistic about the team's chances of catching the Pads down the stretch.
-They're only three games back with a month to play. Ok, so the easy one first. Not only is there a lot of baseball left to be played, but the Giants and Padres play seven more times down the stretch, including a final series in San Francisco which could set the stage for some major drama. Of course, the Padres have had the Giants' number this year, but given the way the Padres have played of late, the tide could turn very easily.
-The Padres have a rough schedule. Certainly rougher than the Giants', anyway. From here on out, the only team the Pads face with a losing record will be the Cubs. On top of that, they have a four-game set in St. Louis, smack in the middle of a ten-game road trip that will also take them to Coors Field. That ain't fun. When they get back from that road trip, they get the Reds, who currently have the best record in the NL. Compare that to the Giants, who get the Dbacks six times, and also one series each against the Cubs and Brewers.
-The Giants' offense is as good as it has been in, well, six years. Gone are the days when we would just assume a ground ball double play would occur whenever the Giants strung two hits together in the late innings. The Giants now have some legitimate thump in their lineup, for the first time since, yes, 2004. Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, and Pat Burrell are the three imposing middle-of-the-order hitter we've been yearning for for years. Freddy Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval look like they're starting to heat up, too. Combine that with Andres Torres continuing to rake at the top of the order, and added punch from Cody Ross against lefties, and this is the most potent lineup the Giants have had since Bonds left.*
*Blogger's Note; Uh, yeah, this was written before the Giants got shut down by Chad Billingsley. Let's just whistle our way past that for now...
-The Padre offense is still terrible. Even with the additions of Miguel Tejada (who is basically crappy, anyway) and Ryan Ludwick (he isn't), the Padres still have a hard time scoring runs. They can't blame it on the ballpark this time, either, as they score just as many runs at home as they do on the road. They rank near the bottom in nearly every hitting category and only really boast one scary, game-changing hitter in Adrian Gonzalez. Other than him, there are a lot of Will Venables (though to be fair, Venable's middling .705 OPS actually merits a 100 ERA+ in that crazy ballpark).
-The Padres' pitching might be built on a house of cards. The Padres have had tremendous pitching thus far but, with the exception of the freaking studly Matt Latos, have also had a lot of good fortune. That's not inherently bad, of course, but it does mean that a semi-collapse could occur at a moment's notice, if it hasn't already.
Take Jon Garland. He's having a hell of a year at first glance, with a 3.29 ERA to go with 13 wins and a lot of solid innings munched. If we get a little nerdier, however, we can see that he's living on a shaky foundation, if not one built on a flood plain with crumbling levies. First off, Garland's career ERA is a decidedly averagish 4.33, so his current low mark already screams insane fluke. Some of the success comes from Garland being a fly ball pitcher playing in the vast spaces of Petco, but much of it is due to just plain luck, and pitching in front of a good defense.
Garland's xFIP (for you non-dweebs, it's essentially ERA dictated by factors a pitcher can control), is 4.54. Now, that's a lot more in line with his career totals. Sure enough, if you look at most of the other Padre starters, including Wade LeBlanc, a pitcher with a similar repertoire to Garland, you'll see that their xFIPs are substantially higher than their ERAs (excepting, interestingly enough, awful Kevin Correia, who has an xFIP way lower than his actual ERA). This doesn't necessarily mean that a correction in Garland's ERA will occur over the course of the last month; it's just extremely likely, given his fielding independent stats and his history. Likewise, most of the Padre starters look likely to regress given a simple reversal of luck or the loss of a key defensive player. Hey, speaking of which...
-Gone with the Gwynn. The Padres recently lost Tony Gwynn Jr. to injury, and he'll be gone until at least the last week of the season, if he isn't completely done for the year. Now, Gwynn is having a miserable year at the plate and has never been a very good hitter, so why, you ask, would his loss have any kind of effect on the Pads? Well, because he might be the best defensive center fielder in the league. Yes, Gwynn's UZR rating is 13.1, meaning, essentially, that he's saved 13 runs more than an average center fielder. That number is insane when you realize that Gwynn hasn't even really played every day.
With him gone, the Padres have to live with lesser glove talents in their outfield (Gwynn's injury shows why they may have had interest in Cody Ross), and that could be a major impediment for a team that has relied on the best defense in the NL for a lot of their success. Never underestimate the value of a guy like Gwynn to a team full of fly ball pitchers playing in a ballpark with an expansive outfield.
I have a sinking feeling that I'm jinxing the Giants with this "hell, this is why the Padres suck and will collapse" post. In my mind, I've had a long and sordid history of jinxing the team, from continuing to record Game Six of the 2002 World Series even as the Giants started falling apart, to staring too long at the waitress's cleavage at a sports bar during a key game last year. So I'm seriously tempting fate here.
Still, this isn't to say that the Padres are terrible and are guaranteed to fall apart. They've been doing this for too long to simply reveal themselves to be a total fluke this late in the game. These are just some reasons why Giants fans should like their chances of making this an interesting September. And wouldn't you know it, as I write this, the Pads are in the process of losing their ninth straight game.