Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

Dodgers’ Struggles Put them in a Giant Hole

They say money can’t buy happiness. Well the Los Angeles Dodgers have found the truth in that phrase pretty quickly.

After a slew of trades landed them Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Shane Victorino – as well as forcing them to take on several hefty contracts – the Dodgers have nothing yet to show for their spending spree. In fact, they’ve been worse since making this acquisitions.

Adrian Gonzalez and the Dodgers could be watching their playoff hopes drift away if they don’t start playing with more urgency.

Before trading for Ramirez, the Dodgers were 53-45 – a winning percentage of .540 – even with Matt Kemp spending a good portion of this time on the disabled list. Since then, with a healthy Kemp and Ramirez, Gonzalez and Victorino also joining the club, LA has gone just 19-18, barely keeping their heads above the .500 mark. And while Gonzalez has single handedly helped his new team secure a few victories, including a walk-off 2-run double last night, the Dodgers have limped to a 4-5 record since he came over from the Red Sox.

The Dodgers’ struggles are really quite remarkable. All the players they acquired were former All-Stars replacing fairly marginal players at their positions. Yet the result has been a net loss thus far. A tougher schedule can’t be to blame; 22 of their 37 games since the initial trade for Ramirez have been against teams with a losing record. For a team that has the most offensive talent of any National League team to struggle this much is baffling.

Angel Pagan has been red hot as the Giants have steadily increased their lead in the NL West since Melky Cabrera’s suspension.

Even more distressing for LA is that the Giants, who despite losing one of their best hitters Melky Cabrera to a suspension, have actually played better without him. Prior to the suspension, LA and San Francisco were tied atop the NL West at 64-53, but since then, the Giants have gone 12-5, while the Dodgers have fallen 5 games back entering Monday’s matchup against the Padres.

The Giants have really been the bizarro-Dodgers during this stretch. Despite sending out a weaker lineup and some recent pitching struggles, San Francisco has found way to scrap together wins, albeit against some weaker opponents. Regardless, the Giants have had four come from behind victories in their past six games, a feat which will only fortify their confidence and help them going forward.

While the Dodgers haven’t been bad, their underperformance is gradually pushing them further from the playoffs. This could all be explained as growing pains for the Dodgers as they work to build team chemistry after a fairly drastic overhaul of the lineup. Unfortunately, the time for gelling as a unit has long since passed. As the season draws to its conclusion, slipping backwards in the NL West standings is not the direction Los Angeles wants to go if they hope to make the playoffs. Things could be looking bleak for the Dodgers if they can’t turn things around soon.

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Giants Take Round 1 of Pivotal Series with Dodgers

There’s still over a month left in the season, but the fate of the NL West may very well be decided these next few days as the Giants face off against the Dodgers, a heated rivalry given more fuel as the two teams jockey for positioning atop the division.

For two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, they met Monday at a fairly even place, with the Dodgers leading the NL West by half a game. LA has resurrected their season in this second half, thanks to Matt Kemp’s return to health, as well as the acquisition of several high profile players. Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino have boosted the Dodgers’ offense and made the lineup for threatening.

Bumgarner lead the way with 10 strikeouts to give SF a .5 game lead.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence, who the Giants traded for at the deadline, has fizzled in his time in San Francisco, only recently coming out of a slump in which he hit below .200. Add to that a 50 game suspension doled out to the Giants’ best* hitter Melky Cabrera, a DL stint for Pablo Sandoval, and the sudden loss of consistency from Ryan Vogelsong (combined 5.2 innings, 17 hits allowed, and 11 earned runs his past two starts after pitching at least 6 innings in every start prior this season) and it’s a miracle the Giants haven’t collapsed. The stellar second half of Buster Posey (.424, 11 Hrs, 34 RBI) is all that’s keeping them afloat.

But Monday, Posey’s production was nowhere to be found, as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Instead the Giants were supported by their favorite crutch – their pitching. Madison Bumgarner, facing off against reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, out dueled his opponent, tossing 8 scoreless innings, allowing just 4 hits, and striking out 10 to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory.

For a team whose season appeared over after the Cabrera news, the Giants have shown a lot of heart and fight in their play. Since the suspension, San Francisco has won 3 out of 4 (if you discount their loss on the day of the news, which I will, since they only found out an hour before the game). Of course three of those games were against the lowly Padres and it’s also a tiny sample size, but regardless, the Giants have shown they aren’t going to roll over.

Hanley Ramirez has his sights set on knocking the Giants off their spot atop the division.

With Sandoval now off the DL and returning to his past form (2 RBI in Monday’s win over the Dodgers), the emerging contributions from the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – at the bottom of the lineup, Pence recovering from his month-long slump, and the continued excellence of Posey, the Giants may not be a team on the decline. At this point, Los Angeles seems to have a more talented roster, but if San Francisco can keep up this level of play while continuing to use their anger at the Melky situation as fuel, things could get interesting in this NL West race. And with such a small gap between the two teams, this series gains even more importance. If one team can gain a multi-game lead over the other, it could be difficult to overcome.

Now with a half game lead, the Giants will throw Tim Lincecum into the ring against Joe Blanton, hoping to expand hold their spot atop the division. If Monday’s game was a pitcher’s duel, Tuesday’s game should be anything but, as both starters are still trying to shake off their season-long struggles.

But with the hunt for the playoffs in full steam, now would be the perfect time for both of them to stop sucking.

 

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Melky Cabrera Banned for PEDs: How Baseball Should Respond

It was a memorable turnaround story in the making.

For years, Melky Cabrera bounced around the league, bringing nothing but his mediocre statistics with him.

Then his fortunes began to change last season. He batted .305 with 18 homers and 87 RBIs last season. All of a sudden, Melky Cabrera was “The Melk Man.”

His encore performance in 2012 was even better – an MVP-caliber season, second in the NL batting race, an All-Star game MVP, and offensive leader for a division leading ball club – until it hit a little snag: the truth.

On Wednesday, Melky Cabrera tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and was suspended for 50 games.

From his teammates to his supporters and to baseball fans everywhere – he deceived us all.

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What should never have been…

It was all a lie. A lie caught up in more lies.

A few weeks ago, a Giants reporter caught whiff of a rumor that Cabrera tested positive for PEDs and asked him if it was true. Cabrera denied ever using them, and the reporter issued him an apology in his next column.

You have to ask – Why Melky, just why?

Why take the chance of your reputation being tarnished forever?

Why bring the steroid era out from under the rug?

Why disgrace the game of baseball like that?

The answer seems obvious – money. Cabrera was set to be a free agent this offseason, and putting up noteworthy numbers were sure to lead to a life-changing payday.

But somewhere along the way, it all came crashing down on Cabrera.

Behind him, he left a shameful, tainted mess. The All-Star game. Home-field advantage in the World Series. The Giants win total so far.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should have not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down,” Cabrera said.

Okay Cabrera did own up to the truth so I’ll give him credit for that. But Cabrera’s not sorry for using PEDs. He’s only sorry he got caught.

The steroid era plagued the game for years, and in hindsight, for decades. It was supposed to be a handicap of the past.

In the past five to ten years, baseball has cleaned up the game pretty well. Still some players are still using PEDs, and a few of those are making monumental impacts on the game because of it.

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Does Big Papi’s admission taint that legendary 2004 ALCS 0-3 rally?

Imagine if Melky didn’t use PEDs? The Giants offense, already on life-support with him, would sputter and leave the Dodgers with a considerable lead in the NL West.

Let’s go further back to 2008/2009. What if Manny Ramirez, scorching hot at the time, didn’t use them? The Dodgers probably don’t make it to the NLCS in 2008 and another team gets a chance to make the World Series.

Let’s raise the stakes. What if David Ortiz didn’t use them? Maybe the Red Sox don’t win the World Series in 2004 because they don’t even get past the ALCS, where the Red Sox needed numerous late game heroics from Ortiz to win the series.

It’s time to make the punishments for PED use more stringent so even less players will think about using them.

The current standard is a 50 game suspension for a first time offense. That’s not enough anymore. This is a big boy league, and now it’s time for big boy consequences. How about a season? Let’s add community service during that downtime too.

The current standard for a second offense is 100 games. Second chances are fine, but third chances aren’t. A second offense should be a lifetime ban from the game.

Baseball has done a superb job of ridding the game of PED use in the last five years, but now it needs to finish that job.

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A Resurgent Tim Lincecum Toes the Rubber

For the entire first half of the 2012 MLB season, Tim Lincecum has been hearing about how he just isn’t good enough.

He’s been told that his speed has gone down, that his workout regimen is insufficient, that his pitching windup has too many moveable parts to be diagnosed properly after a few bad starts.

That if he screws up one more time, his season as a starter for the San Francisco Giants will be effectively over.

Clearly, this past week’s All-Star break allowed Lincecum to escape the speculation and criticism and he responded in a big way in his first start of the second half, blanking the Houston Astros over eight innings of brilliant work on Saturday night.

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Lincecum showed signs of his former self on Saturday night, fanning 11 Astros in a dominating performance.

Lincecum entered the game with an NL-worst 6.42 ERA (among qualifying pitchers) and 10 losses and the expectation was that he would undergo yet another one of his early-game meltdowns.  On this night, that nightmare inning never came.

The Freak’s performance came as a pleasant surprise to the more than 40,000 Giants fans who witnessed his season high in innings pitched (8), strikeouts (11) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (11:1).

After an eighth inning in which he completed his own strikeout against the last batter he faced, flipping a dropped third strike that had dribbled up the first base line to Brandon Belt to retire the side, Lincecum received a standing ovation from a Giants crowd that was as appreciative as it was excited.

As Lincecum’s fate would have it, the crowd’s elation was short-lived.  Giants interim closer Santiago Casilla couldn’t hold the 2-0 he had been handed, blowing his fifth save of the season in one of the most bizarre turn of events imaginable.

With the Giants ahead by one and with two outs already recorded in the top of the ninth inning, Casilla got Astros catcher Chris Snyder to chase a curveball in the dirt to earn his third strikeout of the inning.

The ball then bounced off the shin guards of Giants catcher Hector Sanchez, who tracked down the ball and threw wildly to first base, allowing centerfielder Justin Maxwell, who had not stopped running, to score from second base and tie the game.

The miscue handed Lincecum a no-decision on the night, but the Giants were able to overcome.

Sanchez would later redeem himself by driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th and Lincecum remained encouraged by his performance following the win.

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Replacing an injured Brian Wilson at the start of the season, Casilla has struggled to shut the door as of late.

“I’m going to take the small steps as they come,” Lincecum said. “Even though we won I’m going to go home and reflect on this and think about the things I did well and try to duplicate them in my next start.”

After his ability to respond to the widespread doubt on Saturday, all signs point to a resurgent Lincecum.  Sure, his speed might not be what it once was, but “The Freak” appears to once again have confidence in his ability—often times all it takes for a struggling pitcher to turn a disappointing season around.

His ERA now sits at 5.93, which is still not good enough in the eyes of many, but certainly a good enough improvement in one night of baseball.

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National League Wins Third Straight All-Star Game

After a nearly 14-year losing skid, the National League All-Stars have officially started a new streak.

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T.I., uh, I mean… Adam Jones… was just one of many American League players to struggle at the plate.

Reversing a trend that began in the 1990’s just two years ago at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, the N.L. went to work early on Tuesday night, winning their third straight Mid-Summer Classic in an 8-0 laugher in Kansas City.

Coming into the break with a 9-5 record and a 2.58 ERA, American League starting pitcher and Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander did not earn his stripes this evening.

He pitched only one inning and surrendered two walks and five earned runs in a performance that sealed his league’s fate before national anthem singer Luke Bryan could finish the word “brave.”

It was widely speculated around the league that San Francisco Giants fans “cheated” the All-Star voting system, liberally using internet voting to secure spots for a number of Giants players, including third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who started over a probably more deserving David Wright.

Sandoval quickly showed the importance of voting early and often, hitting the first bases loaded triple in All-Star Game history off of Verlander in the first inning to put the National League ahead 4-0.  Giants players would drive in five of the N.L.’s eight runs.

On the mound, the National League pitchers were masterful.  With such a deep bullpen allowing relief pitchers to go all-out against the one or two batters they faced, flamethrowers like Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman proved to be particularly devastating, both topping out at over 100 miles-per-hour in the eighth inning.

In one particular at bat, Kimbrel’s repertoire was just too much for American League hitting.

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Going 2 for 3 with 2 RBI, Melky Cabrera was one of three San Francisco Giants to deliver big in the All-Star Game and was named MVP.

Having blown a 100 mile-per-hour fastball by Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians to get ahead 0-2, Kimbrel unleashed a filthy backdoor curveball at 87 miles-per-hour that caused Cabrera’s knees to buckle and the American League’s hopes to fade even further.

The American League All-Stars barely even let out a whimper all evening on offense.  Only one player on the entire roster, 20 year-old Angels outfielder Mike Trout, was able to reach base twice as the team scratched together a meager five hits on the night.

The sole high point of the American League team may have been its home fans.  The American League faithful (a.k.a. the Kansas City Royals faithful) showed their class throughout this All-Star week, which is typically the norm for loyal Midwest fan bases.

Last night, American League Home Run Derby captain Robinson Cano heard deafening boos after failing to pick Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, who has 16 home runs on the season, to be on the four-man squad.  An airplane message even reiterated the message before first pitch, declaring, “Congrats, Billy!  You blew it, Cano!”

The boos quickly turned into cheers as a jet-lagged Cano failed to clear the fences once.

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The Royals have seemingly never been able to win in Kauffman Stadium, one of the league’s most picturesque ballparks.

Still, the Royals fans stuck around to cheer on the rest of their American League brethren, applauding Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder as he hoisted his second Home Run Derby trophy.

Their biggest throwback, class-act moment, however, came on Tuesday night when Chipper Jones stepped up to the plate in the top half of the sixth.

This would be Jones’ only at-bat in his last All-Star Game, and the 40,000-plus on hand certainly made it a momentous occasion, rising to their feet for a thunderous standing ovation.  The curtain call received an audible, “Wow!” and a tip of the cap from the usually unsentimental Jones, who would later poke a single to the right side.

Aside from saying goodbye to a first ballot Hall of Famer and showcasing a beautiful, often overlooked Kauffman Stadium, this All-Star break in Kansas City served as an opportunity for the National League to start a dynasty of its own.

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Baseball’s Wild Standings: Will They Hold Up?

So were at the All-Star break in baseball. You what that means? It’s time for some classic division races through the dog days of summer. It’s been the year of the underdog in baseball, with the Nationals, Dodgers, and Pirates atop their division, and the Phillies and Red Sox in last place. Here’s a look at all the current division leaders, and predictions on whether they will hold on to win, and if not, who will take the division crown instead.

AL East – Current 1st place: Yankees, 7 ½ game lead on Orioles

As long as the Yankees don’t choke like in the 2004 ALCS, they should wrap up this division with ease.

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Mike Trout and the Angels are on a collision course with the Rangers. They could meet in the ALCS.

AL West – Current 1st place: Rangers, 4 game lead on Angels

The streaking Angels are coming on strong and look like the second best team in baseball. Too bad the best team in baseball, the Texas Rangers, play in their division. The Rangers have it all: Pitching, hitting, defense, and experience.

AL Central – Current 1st place: White Sox, 3 game lead on Indians, 3 ½ game lead on Detroit

Weren’t the Tigers a sure fire pick to win the AL Central? Easy money in Vegas, right? In preseason, all 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked the Tigers to win the division. Well so much for that. The Tigers though still have two great hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, in the middle of the lineup, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. Eventually this talented Tigers team will figure it out, and should win a tight division race.

NL Central – Current 1st place: Pirates, 1 game lead on Reds 

How about another consensus? Before the season, not one ESPN Baseball Analyst out of 45 picked the Pittsburg Pirates to win the division, let alone win one of the two wild cards. Now that’s a surprise party! Heck, I wasn’t even born the last time the Pirates had a winning record, in 1992. The Pirates are 4th in the National league in pitching, one spot behind the Reds. Both are in the botton half of the NL in hitting. This dead-even race should come down to the final week of September. It’s a toss up, but I’m going with the ‘Cinderella’ Pirates.

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Will the Braves or Mets chase down the Nationals in the NL East? Well we already know what Bryce Harper thinks, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

NL East – Current 1st place: Nationals, 4 game lead on Atlanta, 4 ½ game lead on Mets

The 2012 Nationals first place run is the latest surprise in a baseball season full of them. They’ve done it with a major-league best, team 3.20 ERA. Hitting can come and go, but pitching is usually a constant. Nationals will win the division.

NL West – Current 1st place: Dodgers, ½ game lead on Giants

In preseason, only 5 out of 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked them to make the playoffs, and that includes the division crown and either of the two wild card spots. And those predictions were based on a healthy Matt Kemp, who has been anything but that. What the Dodgers have done so far has been a fairly tale run. They’ve played far above their heads and everyone’s expectations. But even Matt Kemp’s return won’t save the anemic Dodgers offense. Unless the Dodgers add another bat via trade, the Giants should edge them out for the division crown, and if Tim Lincecum ever figures out his issues, they should run away with it.

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The Identity Crisis of the MLB All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star Game has become such a jumbled mess, I doubt anyone – players, league officials, or fans – truly understands what it has become. The main issue with the game is pretty simple: it has no identity.

The MLB All-Star Game, hosted this year in Kansas City, has a number of flaws that the league needs to address.

Bud Selig and the players union decided to add some weight to the game starting in 2003, by awarding the winning league with home field advantage in the World Series. The reasoning behind this decision was to get players to take the game more seriously, since their title hopes depended on it.

Why then, would the league trust the decision making of the majority of the teams’ rosters and starters to the fans, most of whom will vote solely for their favorite teams’ players? The MLB advertises the game as being for the fans; why then is this game more than a lighthearted affair for players and fans alike to celebrate the first half of a season?

The MLB needs to decide which identity it wants its All-Star Game to take because it certainly can’t be both. If the fans are the main say in who is on the team, then get rid of the game’s impact on the postseason and let home field advantage be determined by which team had the better regular season record.

But if Selig wants to keep the All-Star game as a competitive affair, give the fans less power in determining the rosters. If I were a team in contention for the World Series, I would much rather have David Wright at third base than Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting nearly 50 points lower and missed a month due to injury (and this is coming from a Giants fan).

The San Francisco Giants provide a perfect example of why fan voting shouldn’t be the main determinate for the All-Star roster, which was announced Sunday. Their aggressive voting campaign landed them three starters for the NL squad: C Buster Posey, 3B Sandoval, and OF Melky Cabrera. Of those three, only Cabrera is truly deserving of a starting spot, as he has lead or been amongst the leaders in hits and batting averaging for the league for most of the year.

Fan voting goes the other way too, keeping qualified players off the team. Some notable snubs this year include 1B Albert Pujols, OF Andre Ethier, SP Johnny Cueto, 2B Brandon Phillips, SP Yu Darvish, and 1B Edwin Encarnacion, among others.

Even David Wright is facepalming from the ridiculousness of the All-Star Game.

While it’s fun for fans to see their favorite players in the Midsummer Classic, the honor for a player of being selected is almost like an award, and it doesn’t seem fair for fans, many of them not experts beyond their own team, to decide who to honor as baseball’s best. This line of thought doesn’t hold as true to baseball as it does to other sports such as basketball, where small rosters mean making the team is more prestigious. The MLB features at least 1 player from each team at it’s All-Star Game. Which brings us back to the point: if the game affects the World Series, why are unqualified players being chosen to play for it?

Texas Rangers’ manager Ron Washington, who will manage this year’s AL team, has decided to take the fan friendly approach, announcing each player elected to his team will play in the game. Now it’s up to the MLB to decide which of its All-Star Game’s dueling identities to embrace.

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