Gold Rush Meritocracy

940x583© Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP Photo

Football? What’s that again? I can barely remember… something to do with hats.

Whatever it is, it’s starting pretty soon.

With the preseason imminent, I thought I would discuss of the more exciting aspects of the Harbaugh era and the philosophies that drive the resurgent 49ers. Anyone following the speculation around how the Niners’ roster will look in Week 1 knows how central their ‘here and now’ philosophy is to the formation of the depth chart. The 49ers’ offseason wasn’t as aggressive as some other teams, but Harbaalke went after a wide range of players, setting the team up with as many options as cap space would allow. When Eric Reid was drafted, everything pointed towards him becoming a starter. Dashon Goldson had left a gap at starting free safety, and the 49ers moved up in the first round of the draft to grab All-SEC safety Reid. They also picked up Craig Dahl from the St. Louis Rams, and hinted that defensive back C.J. Spillman would be given a chance to compete. Reid would have to prove himself against a couple of veterans before taking his projected place at the top of the depth chart.

Most of the positions which looked less that superb last season were overloaded with potential candidates for the starting job: the defensive line was supplemented with Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Glenn Dorsey and Nick Moody, the corners with Nnamandi Asomugha and Marcus Cooper, the receiving core with Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore, not to mention the addition of Colt Mccoy and B.J. Daniels as backup quarterbacks. Within each of these groups, there are untested players and players with proven talent, but none of them were given any guarantee of starting until they earned it in the eyes of the 49ers’ coaching staff.

While it might rub self-important players wrong, this philosophy has proven effective in cultivating the atmosphere of hard work and friendly competition that has galvanized the 49ers in practice and on the field. No player, from Patrick Willis to Perrish Cox, looks at their place on the team as permanent. This gives newcomers hope when working to rise up the depth chart, and veterans the impetus to continue to prove themselves as the best option for the team. This is an encouraging idea; it means the team’s successes last season will continue into 2013, and their failures will not. The shortcomings in the secondary and pass rush are not only being addressed but also approached with a broader set of players and strategies than were available last season.

Reid, Dahl and Asomugha have spoken to this philosophy, characterizing it as simultaneously challenging and encouraging. This atmosphere is no doubt helped by the team’s recent success, but it is also a product of the leadership of the 49ers veterans. Amidst all the recent speculation about Kaepernick’s fame undermining his performance, he has shown his willingness to work as hard as possible to stay the starter. No doubt he understands the uncertain nature of the 49ers’ depth chart and his place in it.

Blue Beard

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It really can’t get much worse. Brian Wilson has signed with the Dodgers after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to imagine what further horrible, disheartening things the universe could have in store for Giants fans. Wilson defecting and moving to the worst place on earth is the latest in a long string of absurdities that have leveled our team over the last two months. This stuff is getting biblical: a day after the most powerful man in the world tried to comfort them, the team has to reconcile itself to the news that it will be facing one of the most beloved Giants in recent years in a Dodgers uniform.

I am hoping for a lot of this. It may seem bitter and petty, but at this point bitter and petty is all we got.

Rage

Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants© Thearon W. Henderson/ Getty Images

Yesterday I saw a .gif of David Ortiz smashing a dugout phone in Camden Yards to bits after a frustrating at-bat. For a perennially good hitter playing for a first place team, it was a petty thing to do. And yet I found it weirdly satisfying to imagine one of the Giants doing the same thing. Brandon Belt throws his helmet at the wall, Pablo Sandoval shatters his bat against the dugout railing, Hunter Pence melts the water cooler with laser vision. A small part of me would find this type of meaningless, unproductive gesture cathartic; it would be a welcome sign that the Giants have some little bit of fight left in them. It would show that, during this awful period, the team and the fans are still on the same page. The fan responses to the Giants’ latest blunder, a frustrating sweep by the Cubs, contain a simultaneous cessation of disbelief and a growing wave of anger. Fans are no longer looking at this team as a few breaks away from turning a corner, or a few setbacks from reaching ‘rock bottom’ and rebounding. We are learning that this is a very bad team, and that makes us mad.

But where does this anger come from? How can a fan base still breaking in their World Series t-shirts and hats be upset about anything? It is a matter of expectation. At the beginning of the season the Giants were a good team on paper and, based on the postseason, on the field. There was no reason not to look at a Matt Cain start as an automatic win, or a Scutaro at-bat as anything but productive. At the very least, the Giants were supposed to trade blows with a bloated Dodgers ballclub and settle the debate between the merits of free-spending versus team building. The Giants regressing a little after a long playoff run would have been an unpleasant, but acceptable reality. The fans would say, “Well, that’s baseball,” and move on.

Instead, the Giants have become the worst team in the league. In almost every game since late May, some part of the team has failed to function properly. If they get a good start, they can’t hit. If they get a good start and hit, they can’t score runs. If they get a good start, hit and score runs, the bullpen can’t hold on. If they get a good start, hit, score runs and the bullpen holds on, someone commits an error and they lose anyway. There is no single problem here; it has become something systemic that is beyond anything anyone outside of the clubhouse can hope to explain.

The Giants are the polar opposite of a punchline team with a recent track record of disappointment; the world knows how well this exact group of players can play on the biggest stage. Yet they have traded fates with the Dodgers, who are winning with a random assortment of high-profile athletes from the far corners of baseball. The Giants have gone from so high to so low in such a short amount of time that it is difficult to understand how all this began, or conceive of a way for it to end. The only thing we know at this point is the 2012 Giants will not be together for much longer, and that may be for the best.

The King is dead, long live the King!

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“The Reds just don’t go away.” -Krukow

So ends the reign of the World Champions. After Bronson Arroyo Arroyo’d the Giants for nine innings and Tim Lincecum had a multi-homer meltdown I began perusing a very interesting Wikipedia list for the Giants’ spirit monarch. Louis I ruled Spain for seven months after his father’s abdication, his reign ending after an unfortunate bout of smallpox returned his father to the throne. While it wouldn’t really be accurate to cite smallpox as the reason the 2013 Giants are no longer really in contention to extend their reign, it certainly feels like something equally random and unfortunate has worn the team down to the battered group that will take the field against the Cubs tomorrow. The Giants are kings no more.

This series was the one that forced everyone to finally realize that the Giants aren’t really in it this year. The problems that the team is currently facing have been multiplying since April; it is no longer a slump or a question of the starters being worn out after last year’s playoff run. It is a team that is leaning heavily on Barry Zito to give a great start, and when that doesn’t work out, giving the ball to Jean Machi and Jake Dunning and hoping that Guillermo Quiroz can knock some runs in. Nothing about this speaks of a club that is waiting for it’s chance to burst out and streak into first place. The Giants are running on fumes and callups, and the time has come for us fans to start thinking long-term.

My hope is that the team give the fans something to cheer for. It doesn’t seem like the Giants will be dismantling the whole operation and starting from scratch, which means the team will remain relatively whole. This isn’t a bad thing; however we choose to look at this year, the Giants have assembled a core of great players that the front office can build around. Getting a few nice prospects from another team will be far better in the long term, and help the Giants construct a rotation and lineup that can square off with teams like the Cardinals and come away with wins. All that said…

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© Michael Macor/The Chronicle

I watched Game Three of the 2012 NLDS at a bar in the Lower Haight. The atmosphere wasn’t good; everyone was hoping for a win just so we could have some small thing to cheer for as the playoffs passed the Giants by. I distinctly remember the bartender saying something like “It’s baseball, so who knows?”. All we wanted was one playoff win to be happy about. Eight months and one championship later, we just want a few regular season wins to cheer for. The Giants have sixty games left to play, so keep the faith and cheer for the Giants, but know that the front office machinery has already begun moving towards 2014 and beyond. It’s still baseball, so who knows?

Searching for Ownage

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© Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the spirit of last night’s pummeling at the hands the Cincinatti Reds, I decided to do a little digging and find out who has the most ownage over the current Giants roster. I am not the first to try and establish a list of players that routinely frustrate the Giants, but it isn’t easy to examine ownage as a function of statistics. My evaluation is partially based on my recent memory of the batters and pitchers who make Giants fans clutch the couch cushions in fear. It would be valuable to develop a system that evaluates a broad range of stats, but I decided to go with the most basic stat for hitters (Batting Average) and pitchers (Earned Run Average). The list isn’t surprising; ask most fans who has ownage over the Giants and they will give you at least three of the players listed here.

Pitchers:

Clayton Kershaw

Vs. Giants: .733 W-L%, 1.32 ERA, .158 OPPO AVG in 21 Games

Kershaw has been a bonafide Giant slayer since he showed up in 2008. His dominance of the Giants is annoying, but the fact that he seems to pitch better at AT&T (.174 OPPO AVG, 0.78 ERA in San Francisco) than anywhere else makes it worse. Facing a team he routinely baffles in a pitcher-friendly ballpark seems to vastly outweigh the collective malice of 42,000 Giants fans. There is little doubt that Kershaw is and will be the Giants’ primary antagonist for many years.

Statistical aberration: Marco Scutaro has great numbers against Kershaw. His .348 AVG against the Dodgers’ ace is yet another reason to love Scutaro.

Matt Latos

Vs. Giants .571 W-L%, 2.19 ERA, .259 OPPO AVG in 11 Games

The product of foolish genetic experimentation with porcine DNA, Mat Latos is one of the most hated athletes in San Francisco. Not only does he pitch really well against the Giants, but he is certifiably evil. The Giants don’t have to face him much since he left the division, but he deserves all the ire directed at him. Statistical aberration: Buster Posey has .778 SLG against Latos, and we all know why.

Bronson Arroyo

Vs. Giants .500 W-L%, 2.69 ERA, .213 OPPO AVG in 13 Games

A more recent development, Arroyo has allowed only one run in his last three games against the Giants. He is not an incredible pitcher, but he seems to have no difficult knocking out Giants hitters . Kershaw and Latos are both personally invested in defeating the Giants, but Arroyo succeeds pitching against them like he would any other team. Although he doesn’t have the career numbers of some of the honorable mentions, he makes this list because of his recent dominance. Statistical aberration: Brandon Belt owns Arroyo. Belt its hitting .556 with an .889 SLG in 9 at-bats. This might be the most Brandon Belt statistic in the strange world of Brandon Belt statistics.

Honorable Mentions:

Ian Kennedy- 2.54 ERA .667 W-L% in 16 Games against the Giants.

Carlos Zambrano- 2.32 ERA .833 W-L% in 13 Games against the Giants.

Jason Marquis- 2.95 ERA .583 W-L% in 17 Games against the Giants.

Yovani Gallardo- 2.81 ERA .667 W-L% in 9 Games against the Giants.

Batters:

Chris Denorfia

Vs. Giants .339 BA .477 OBP in 109 AB

Denorfia doesn’t exactly inspire fear; he doesn’t hit for power against the Giants and thus is simply a very pesky part of a mediocre lineup. That said, he has consistent ownage on every starter except Lincecum and most of the bullpen as well. He strikes me as a Scutaro-type hitter; his value is contingent on the rest of his team hitting well after he gets on base. In 109 at-bats he has only 7 RBI.

Statistical aberration: He hasn’t seen much of Lincecum, but hasn’t done very well, hitting .167 with 2 strikeouts in 6 at-bats.

Aaron Hill

Vs. Giants .306 BA .345 OBP in 108 AB

Although he isn’t as feared as his counterpart at first base, Hill does well against the Giants, including hitting a remarkable .538 against Tim Lincecum. He is statistically comparable to Arroyo; a competent role player with a overall career batting average of .272 that enjoys inexplicably effortless success against San Francisco. Statistical aberration: Hill struggles against Zito, his stat line reading

.190 AVG, .190 OBP and .190 SLG in 21 at-bats.

Brandon Phillips

Vs. Giants .299 BA .344 OBP in 117 AB

The Reds’ endlessly obnoxious second-baseman has been a big part of their recent success against San Francisco. Defensive skill aside, Phillips’ aggressiveness at the plate and on the base paths seems to work equally well in both the Great American Ballpark and at AT&T. For whatever reason, this aggression hasn’t translated into enough Giants strikeouts to neutralize the threat he represents. Statistical aberration: Phillips has not reached base once in 6 at-bats against Chad Gaudin.

Honorable Mentions:

Carlos Beltran- .294 BA .379 OBP in 109 AB

Jose Reyes- .328 BA .409 OBP in 58 AB

Starlin Castro- .329 BA .369 OBP in 79 AB

A.J. Ellis- .279 BA .416 OBP in 72 AB

Buster Posey, A.J. Ellis, Vic Carapazza, Clayton Kershaw

© AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Ownage is a difficult thing to explain. Kershaw pitching well against San Francisco seems logical given his remarkable overall skill as well as the history between his team and the Giants. Arroyo proving nearly unhittable doesn’t follow the same logic. How this sort of dominance comes about is impossible to say; one could attempt more compelling statistical arguments than my own or look at it as something psychological that develops between an athlete and an opposing team. Whatever the explanation, the consistent success of some players against the Giants is something they must deal with every season.

‘roids

FILE: 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun Tests Positive For PED

So Ryan Braun has been outed as a PED user and also as a jerk. I don’t want to delude readers into thinking that they will find some kind of pithy, intellectual reaction to the media’s ham-handed efforts to conclude something about Braun and PED use in this post. It’s just that I, along with every other baseball fan, have been forced to consume a tremendous amount of fluff on this issue, and I feel that I have to at least give some kind of opinion on the matter.

I will first say that I have spent very little time researching PED use in baseball. There are some very good writers writing very good things about the issue, but if you crave a nuanced viewpoint, I doubt I would be able to satisfy you. I am one of the many voices writing and speaking about Braun and PEDs. Most of those voices, from blogs to radio to television, have about the same level of background and understanding of the issue as I do, which is little to none. The only difference between the uninformed hardline view and mine is the willingness to look at PEDs as something besides a moral issue to which there is only one appropriate response: anger. For me, the history and complexity of performance enhancing drugs in baseball is like the copy of Dubliners on my bookshelf. It is something that, someday, with the proper mindset and desire, I will explore and most likely find quite interesting. Until then, I refuse to acknowledge any opinion I form after watching SportsCenter or listening to sports radio as legitimate, except for one.

I do not buy the claim that PEDs ruined baseball. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Sergio Romo strike out four batters in a row last night, nor would I have enjoyed, in some weird, masochistic way, watching the Giants get trounced by the Reds over the last two days. The thing that bothers me about the issue is the PED-accusation voice in the back of my head that pipes up every time a player performs an extraordinary, potentially record setting string of feats. PED use is something so harped on by sports media voices that they have opened our minds to a subconscious world where every player performing well above average will probably be suspended for steroid use by the end of the season. Yes, this is the result of players making the choice to juice, but it also the result of a media cycle that has made us wholly cynical about the athletes we choose invest our emotions in. Fortunately, players on other teams doing great things with bats and gloves is a relatively minor part of my enjoyment of baseball. What is disturbing is how deeply this debate, and the self-righteous voices that dominate it has penetrated the psyche of baseball fans.

Diamondbacks Series

628x471© Marcio Jose Sanchez

Whatever role you think the All-Star break will play in the Giants’ 2013 season, the team seems to have enjoyed the time off, and used the time to work on the things that have come unglued since April.  Even though they couldn’t seal the sweep, the Giants showed a lot of good signs against the division leaders. They weren’t dominant, by any means, but the team did enough things right to take the series and give us all something to cheer for. It might have been a result of baseball withdrawal after the break but this series felt very eventful, full of lessons for the team and plenty of good and bad stuff to talk about. Beating the Padres was great, but that’s what should happen. Taking on the team that had managed to stay atop the division for a long time and coming away with wins felt like a much bigger statement.

One of the really good signs in this series was the improvement at the plate. No, it wasn’t a scorefest and the Giants once again struggled with RISP (3 for 21), but the lineup looked more focused and had some great at-bats. During the slump, the Giants made some mediocre pitchers look really good, swinging at everything and making weak contact when it would have been far wiser to wait the pitcher out. Whether or not this becomes a trend remains to be seen, but the Giants looked far more willing to let Arizona’s struggling rotation put itself into bad situations. Although he collected no hits in the series, Scutaro walked five times, giving the heart of the order a chance to go to work with someone on base. This sort of patience also ensures that starters won’t last; forcing Wade Miley to average twenty pitches per inning worked very much in the Giants favor.

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After the Giants lost out to the Pirates, I claimed that quality starts guarantee wins two-thirds of the time. This has proven sort of true, but it is still aggravating to watch an awesome start from Madison Bumgarner mean nothing as the team beats itself with stupid mistakes. Resident Action Bronson look-alike Chad Gaudin remains the most effective starter in the rotation, and Matt Cain looked strong despite giving up four walks in five innings of work.  Unfortunately, the Giants got one win out of two really good starts, which takes a lot of the fun out of the whole thing. The bullpen will go on Affeldtless after the lefty strained his groin in game two of the series. Another injury is not the ideal way to start the second half, but the bullpen still has enough parts to function

The bad bits of the series all happened in game three. Kensuke Tanaka made a splash after some big plays in left field, but played like the career infielder that he is on Sunday. He added to this with some foolish baserunning that helped Arizona turn a double play that should never have happened. Tim Flannery also made a big mistake, waving in Buster Posey for no good reason instead of stopping him at third and giving Hunter Pence a chance to hit with runners on second and third with no outs. Over-aggression from the third base coach of a team that struggles to score isn’t surprising, but ‘testing’ a notoriously strong outfield is useless.

Whether or not Brian Sabean goes after a bat before the deadline, this isn’t a team that can take runs for granted. They have to pitch really well and play great defense, or lose. The slump was ugly, but it would be even uglier to lose out in the second half because of defensive errors and bad baserunning. No team is perfect and taking two out of three against a division leader is great, but against better teams with bigger bats a great start from Bumgarner isn’t a luxury they can allow to slip away. One day at a time, boys.

All-Star Break Giants Roster MegaPost

429909075_640© SF Giants Production

The Giants have given us a lot of drama in the first half of the 2013 season. There were remarkable highs and crushing lows, but overall it has been a couple months of confusing, injury ridden baseball. Although most of the rational world is counting the Giants out of playoff contention, there are still a few glimmers of hope here and there. The biggest question seems to be whether or not the front office will decide to keep the reigning champions together, or play the long game and trade away some of their high-profile players for money and prospects. This, along with a division-wide slump has made each game leading up to the All Star break feel disproportionately important. The break has given us all a chance to catch out breath and reexamine a team that has been shaken up numerous times since April.

Lineup and Defense:

posey-THUMB© CSN Bay Area

Buster Posey:  .325/.395/.536

The only bad thing about Buster Posey is that he won’t be able to play forever. The Giants signed him to a lengthy contract during the offseason, but this has done little to change his amazing production on both sides of the ball. Much like last year, Posey has been the only truly consistent batter in the Giants lineup, hitting for power and racking up a team-high 56 RBIs. The only knock against him is his defensive play at first base, which is mediocre, but this isn’t surprising for someone playing out of position.

Highlight: Walk-off home run against the Dodgers.

Brandon Belt:  .260/.336/.448

Belt is one of the most interesting players in baseball, in my opinion. Despite being an all-around decent hitter and excellent first baseman, he has unwittingly established himself as a lightning rod for criticism. He is one of the most hotly debated Giants; many fans see him as dead weight while others claim that there are great things in his future should the team choose to be patient with him. He always seems to come to the plate at the wrong time; if the bases are loaded with two outs, Belt will find some way to keep the Giants from scoring. I won’t speak on his potential just yet; I’d like to believe that he will hit above .300 next season but until it happens I won’t look at him as anything but a defensive asset. If you find yourself grinding your teeth thinking about Belt, just consider how well he has played his position since joining the team.

Highlight: Four-hit game against the Nationals.

Marco Scutaro:  .316/.367/.400

Scutaro has proven that he can get on base with consistency, and for that reason alone he is worth having around. He has proven fallible at second base; I do not know whether it is age or just a regression to the mean but his defensive play has been middling at best. Scutaro strikes me as a player that is only as valuable as the team around him; he can reach base consistently but, when the Giants are struggling to produce runs, can do little else. If the middle of the order is hitting well, Scutaro suddenly becomes an asset, but with Sandoval and Pence struggling, he isn’t proving as useful as his .316 average indicates.

Highlight: Being awesome at his first All-Star game.

Brandon Crawford:  .272/.333/.388

For whatever reason, Crawford has avoided much of the criticism leveled at his fellow Brandon for the same offensive foibles. He has definitely shown growth at the plate, but looks to be a couple of years away from becoming an offensive mainstay like Posey or Scutaro. He has made some spectacular plays alongside some boneheaded misplays; he ended the first half of the season with ten errors, the third-most in the league for shortstops. He is the prototypical high-upside player; the Giants are banking on his improvement and it seems logical that it will pay off down the road.

Highlight: Absurdly difficult grab against the Rockies.

Pablo Sandoval: .266/.317/.397

Another hotly-debated infielder, Sandoval has gone from heroically productive to groan-inducing in just a few months. Sandoval is a key batter that the Giants take their cue from; his struggles mirror those of his team and vice versa. He has proven as agile as ever at third base, but this doesn’t make up for his total lack of discipline in the batters box over the last few weeks. He will be one of the players to watch in the second half; if he comes out swinging, look for the team to follow suit. As the only true power-hitter on the team, the Giants need Sandoval healthy and productive. Fun fact: Sandoval is hitting .361 with two outs and RISP.

Highlight: Walkoff smash against the Nationals.

Andres Torres: .256/.304/.361

One of the many players harmed by the Pagan injury, Torres has been a mid-level producer and a slightly below average outfielder. He was originally brought in as a platoon outfielder, but has been seeing a large amount of playing time since Pagan went on the disabled list. His waning defensive skills have stung the Giants, and he hasn’t been able to make up for it with his speed or his bat. It is a weird case of the team basically getting the production they were expecting from a player. It is the fact that he has had to play every day that has been problematic.

Highlight: Walkoff single against the Phillies.

Angel Pagan:  .262/.314/.374

Pagan’s inside the park homerun left him with a strained hamstring, forcing him off the roster for the rest of the season. He wasn’t having an amazing season before the injury, but he was a reliable leadoff hitter and a decent outfielder. He was a solid part of the team, certifiably not star calibre but someone who the Giants could depend on. His departure had more of an impact than anyone expected; the outfield hasn’t been quite the same since he left. He brings a passion to the ballclub that is sorely missed. Streaky or not, the Giants will miss him hitting leadoff in the second half of the season.

Highlight: Inside the park walkoff home run against the Rockies.

Hunter Pence:  .262/.305/.455

Pence is an interesting case. He has enjoyed the adoration of Giants fans ever since arriving in San Francisco, but hasn’t really lived up to the hype that preceded him. He has a great glove and plays his heart out, but has become such a non-factor in the lineup that he looks like one of the more likely candidates for trade before the deadline. He has plenty of upside; his 48 RBIs are the second-most on the team and he has proven to be a prolific base-stealer. Like Sandoval, he will be setting the tone of the second half. If the Giants opt to keep him around, it will be for his defensive skills and reputation as a clubhouse spark plug.

Highlight: Throwing out Hanley Ramirez at third base against the Dodgers, no-hitter saving catch against the Padres.

Gregor Blanco:  .277/.339/.367

Blanco is an understatedly awesome Giant. Although he hasn’t been great as a leadoff hitter, he has enjoyed another relatively productive year in San Francisco. He has great range in the outfield, and his .277 average is proof of a good return on a player the Giants brought in to complement a brand new outfield in 2012. His production has dropped since it became necessary for him to play every day, but he still represents a valuable addition to the team.

Highlight: Leadoff homer against the Braves.

Joaquin Arias:  .282/.302/.327

Another low-key role player, Arias has been a great utility infielder since joining the team last season. He started the season off slowly, but had some great hits and proved that he can play any infield position with aplomb. Arias seems like a player that needs a few games as a starter before he gets locked in at the plate. He played third base and shortstop last year, replacing an injured Sandoval and a struggling Crawford and hit a respectable .270 in 79 games. He has been close to an ideal utility player for the Giants, and his stint on the DL after a hamstring strain and appendicitis has taken a good bat off of the Giants’ bench.

Highlight: Nice stop and throw against the Diamondbacks.

Callups (Nick Noonan, Guillermo Quiroz, Tony Abreu, Juan Perez, Hector Sanchez, Brett Pill, Kensuke Tanaka, Francisco Peguero, Cole Gillespie, Jeff Francoeur):

A nasty bout of the injury bug has forced the Giants to use way too many callups. As is so often the case with callups, there have been a few great moments amid a lot of disappointment. Most of the callups have looked totally outclassed by Major League pitching; Gillespie, Pill, Noonan and Quiroz surprised no one by failing to contribute at the plate. For some of them (Noonan, Perez), this is simply lack of experience, for others (Quiroz, Pill, Gillespie) it is a lack of talent. The Giants’ latest additions have been the most interesting, however. Tanaka and Francoeur both have lots of experience, and are used to the spotlight. Whether or not Tanaka can fill in adequately in left field or Francoeur not look totally lost at the plate remains to be seen, but both will be better equipped to handle the rigors of the Majors than some of the younger callups.

Highlights: Perez’ glove, arm. Tanaka’s first catch. Quiroz’ walkoff home run.

Starting Rotation:

NLCS - St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game One© Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner

3.02 ERA 122 SO/34 BB

Big Country has been rock solid. He has flirted with no-hitters a few times this season, and reigns as the undisputed ace of the Giants pitching staff. All of this is underlined by his remarkable youth; at 23, he has already shown a dominance and poise that takes some pitchers many years in the majors to develop. He has had a few bad games this season, but they are vastly outweighed by his ability to give the Giants a chance to win against any team. He is a good reason to be excited for the future of Giants baseball.

Highlight: Fearlessly challenging Jesus Guzman to charge him in a game against the Padres.

Tim Lincecum

4.26 ERA 125 SO/48 BB

Lincecum is the most interesting member of the rotation at this point. All eyes are on the Giants to see what they decide to do with their one-time ace. Lincecum has been slowly improving his game over the course of the season, showing some really good stuff against Toronto and Atlanta and finally pitching a no-hitter against the Padres in his most recent outing. Whether or not any of this is evidence of some kind of return remains to be seen. I think Lincecum is too much of a local icon for the Giants to want to trade him this season. It would be worth it to wait and see whether or not he can use his recent success as a blueprint for further improvement. If he proves that that his recent flashes of skill can turn into something more, he may be given another chance by the Giants, or offered a big contract by another team. Until then, he will be working to shore up the Giants’ rotation in the second half.

Highlight: Pitching a no-hitter against the Padres at Petco Park.

Ryan Vogelsong

7.19 ERA 40 SO/18 BB

Vogelsong’s injury was the most tragic moment of the season so far. After struggling mightily in almost every game since the beginning of April, Vogelsong had what was no doubt the best start of his season agains the Nationals, only to have it cut short. There isn’t much that can be said about Vogey; his recovery is on schedule, but nobody knows how he will pitch once he returns. He has proven to be a master of recovery from previous failures, but is nearing the end of his long, strange career. Should he find his way back to dominance, it would no doubt restore some life to his battered ballclub, but it isn’t something that the Giants should count on.

Highlight: Pitching lights-out against the Nationals.

Matt Cain

4.55 ERA 103 SO/37 BB

The shocker of 2013 has been Matt Cain, who has looked pedestrian against teams that once struggled to hit his pinpoint fastballs and changeups. Whether this is a poorly-timed slump or a sign of things to come is one of the most important questions the Giants face going forward. No one will be surprised if Cain manages to salvage his season and help the Giants fight their way back into first; this is Matt Cain, after all. He has shown some signs of his old self, but not enough to keep Bochy and the rest of us from worrying. He will be another important player to watch going forward.

Highlight: Dominating for eight innings against the Rockies.

Chad Gaudin

2.39 ERA 55 SO/23 BB

Terrible legal troubles aside, Gaudin has proven himself as a viable starter. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen; the Giants need to be careful not to overuse him as he is not accustomed to long outings. It is difficult to predict what will happen to Gaudin going forward. No matter how well he pitches, the Giants should not hesitate to take him off of the roster if the accusations against him are true.

Highlight: Pitching really well in his first start against the Cardinals.

Barry Zito

4.88 ERA 67 SO/41 BB

Zito has returned to Earth. He should be commended for his hard work and astounding effectiveness last season, but whatever was working for him in 2012 is gone. If the rest of the rotation were performing as well as we expected them to, Zito would not look like such a liability, but as it stands, he is another item on a long list of pitching problems the Giants must address. Of all the struggling Giants pitchers hoping to improve in the second half, Zito has the lowest chance of succeeding, but that doesn’t mean we should call it quits on him just yet.

Highlight: Pitching seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals.

Bullpen:

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Mike Kickham

10.61 ERA 18.2 IP 21 SO/8 BB

I have a weird vision of a highschool sports movie type scene in which Kickham comes in to close out a game against the Dodgers. He throws some wild pitches before Posey comes out and tells him to ‘trust his stuff’. Kickham steels himself and throws a gorgeous pitch right past Hanley Ramirez. Hanley goes “Woah…”, cue montage of Kickham dominating batters for the rest of the season. Yeah, its sorta weird, but Kickham has some good stuff and it wouldn’t surprise me if he manages to shave some digits off of his ERA in the games to come. He was slated to start games in two of the most hostile ballparks to the Giants, Dodger Stadium and the Oakland Colliseum, and showed some serious poise before getting knocked out of the game. I foresee good things.

Sandy Rosario

2.01 ERA 22.1 IP 21 SO/9 BB

Rosario was thrown into the mix in the middle of a very rough patch for the Giants’ bullpen. He seemed content to hang sliders for the first few of his relief appearances, but has since gotten himself together and helped the Giants out a lot. Of all the new pitchers the Giants called up this season, Rosario looks the most green, but that doesn’t mean he is bad. As he gets adjusted to the Majors he should improve.

George Kontos

4.85 ERA 42.2 IP 40 SO/ 16 BB

Kontos was an unsung hero last season, but has struggled in his late relief role since April. Bochy gave him a few more chances than he deserved to sort out his slider before he was sent down to the minors. The window is closing fast for Kontos; the Giants have gotten enough good out of their callups that he may no longer be worth keeping around.

Jeremy Affeldt

3.55 ERA 33.0 IP 21 SO/ 16 BB

Another rock-gone-wrong, Affeldt had an awful start to the season and hasn’t been able to replicate his 2012 dominance. Affeldt is one of the more cerebral pitchers on the Giants; he wears his failures around his neck and struggles to let things go. He is also a pitcher who steps up in high-pressure situations, and may improve as the drama of the pennant race heightens.

Jake Dunning

3.31 ERA 16.1 IP 13 SO/4 BB

Another good part of the first half of the season, Dunning has done a lot of good for the Giants in his short stint with the team. At 24, he looks like a solid long-term righty addition to the Giants bullpen. He may end up battling Sandy Rosario for a spot on the roster now that Casilla has returned.

Santiago Casilla

1.80 ERA 20.0 IP 16 SO/ 13 BB

Casilla’s injury seemed to herald a decline in the overall quality of a once-dominant bullpen. He is the only true flamethrower the Giants have, and is an effective complement to Javier Lopez in late innings. If he is able to control his fastball as well as he did last season he will be a big help when the Giants try to lock down the late innings.

Javier Lopez

1.61 ERA 22.1 IP 25 SO/ 9 BB

Bochy seems to use Lopez very carefully; although his numbers are extremely good he rarely gets the chance to go after more than three batters. Whether this is warranted is hard to say; Lopez is clearly a good guy to have in the bullpen, but may not be able to maintain his stuff like Gaudin or Affeldt.

Jose Mijares

2.48 ERA 32.2 IP 37 SO/10 BB

Mijares was a great late-season addition in 2012, putting in good work against lefties and helping out the Giants in the NLCS and World Series. He is the Gregor Blanco of the bullpen; a really valuable if unheralded addition to an already solid bullpen.

Sergio Romo

2.86 ERA 34.2 IP 38 SO/7 BB

The Giants recent slump has kept Romo from getting consistent work, but he has been great as the closer. Romo is a over-thinker and perfectionist, but has managed to keep his head in a good place for most of the season. He will also benefit from the escalating intensity of the second half of the season; Romo shines under bright lights. If he should struggle, the Giants have a decent alternative in Casilla.

Bad Ol’ Internet and the San Francisco Giants

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Someone posted a link to Hunter Pence’s amazing website on Twitter the other day. Visiting his obviously long forgotten foray into digitalia is like going back in time to when the internet was still called the World Wide Web. It reminds us of an era when athletes and celebrities did not have or want teams of social media experts to build an internet brand and following, opting instead to sit down some offseason afternoon to slap together a Papyrus font stricken, MIDI laden webpage with no clear purpose. I thought it might be worthwhile to look for other Giants who might have left a fledgling website untended. Here are my favorite finds, in no particular order:

Rich Aurilia: For whatever reason, Aurilia decided to put together a pretty well designed virtual map of his ‘world travels’. There are photos and little blurbs about some of the places he visited, but not much else. The whole thing seems like a weird plug for a vacation service called DreamTrips. It doesn’t feel as much like a virtual time capsule as some of the others, but it also doesn’t have any reason for existing.

Kenny Lofton: Some smitten fan went out of their way to make a fansite for the Giants’ 2002 NLCS hero, Kenny Lofton. It is also a database of the creator’s Kenny Lofton memorabilia collection, which is creepily thorough. Gotta admire the dedication, I guess.

 Joe Nathan: Although it looks like someone has been updating this webpage, they unwisely decided to stick with a stripped-down-Wikipedia design. I am assuming the background didn’t load and that it was meant to look something like this.

Benito Santiago: I actually sorta like this one. The music cracks me up and the website looks professional by early internet standards. The photo gallery also has some gems. Santiago clearly put a little more thought into his web presence than some of his teammates.

David Bell: Your eyes weren’t ready for this, were they? This website had me down on my knees, cursing Google for creating Adware. Somewhere beneath the popup advertisements for dog food and sketchy legal consultation, the website’s title exclaims: “David Bell, You gotta love this guy!” The ‘facts’ page is interesting; I didn’t know Bell hit an inside-the-parker against Randy Johnson!

 Kurt Ainsworth: I don’t know how Angelfire managed to stash a popup in basically every dimension of this website. The background looks like a microscopic photo of platelet cells or something else mildly revolting and most of the links on the sidebar don’t really work. I could almost hear the AOL logon sound as I stared at this webpage.

 Omar Vizquel: I commend Vizquel for thinking out what must have been a pretty unique design at the time for his webpage/blog. It is probably the sort of webpage they teach you to build at Academy of Art University; simple, relatively effective and boasting at least one needless photo essay.

Ryan Theriot: Yes, it’s for a good cause, but this page looks like it took about two minutes to build. Also, seeing a giant picture of Theriot in a Dodgers uniform almost made me forget this.

A.J. Pierzynski: Unsurprisingly, Google warned me about the harm Pierzynski’s website might do to my computer (and probably my brain) before allowing me to reach the page. Apparently, his site plays host to some kind of malware, no doubt uploaded by Pierzynski himself to troll any pocket of humanity that hasn’t already been menaced by his existence.

Tim Lincecum’s No-Hitter

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A few years down the line when Tim Lincecum is retired, his list of accomplishments will include a no-hitter pitched on July 13th, 2013. As a stand-alone item a no-no is impressive, but the true significance of last night’s game lies in the context. Lincecum has been a mystery since his major league debut, bewildering the league with a funky delivery, earning two Cy Young awards and leading the Giants to a World Series victory in 2010. Two years later, his dominance vanished, and the Giants were unable to ‘fix’ their star pitcher. People began to wonder whether Lincecum could remake himself to compensate for the waning speed of his pitches. Could he find some way to rope-a-dope opposing batters with pitches that no longer went 95mph? Last night was an answer.Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey

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No matter how effective Lincecum is going forward, last night’s no-hitter is a testament to his incredible work ethic. It wasn’t as dominant as Matt Cain’s perfect game, but it showcased a pitcher who is fully capable of remaking himself. He entered last night’s game an athlete working meet his own exacting standards and give some hope to a ballclub that has been mired in a morale-crushing slump. The Giants would have been happy with a solid start that didn’t force them to tax the bullpen, but they ended up dominating the Padres in every aspect of the game.

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It was a game that showed how well the Giants can play when there is something big on the line. The whole team seemed to thrive as the tension mounted, making some remarkable defensive plays to keep the no-no alive. One could see flashes of the chemistry that had carried the Giants to a world championship last season. It was, for one night at least, an example of how good this team can be. It was antithetical to the problems that have beset the Giants this season; Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt broke their respective slumps with a seven hit, nine RBI night. The Giants looked dominant on the road, and were five for seven with RISP.

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Tim Lincecum is simultaneously the Giants’ most beloved and most controversial player. He has been such a crucial part of the Giants’ recent success that it would not surprise me if his no-hitter was, at long last, the turning point for this team. It was a game that will define the rest of the season for the Giants; it was exemplary of a core group of players still capable of great things. Amid one of the ugliest periods of Giants baseball, it was a game that reminded us that, like Lincecum, you should never count this team out.