Wednesday, May 7, 2014

San Francisco Giants: Six Game Road Trip Oddness

The first six games of the San Francisco Giants 17-consecutive-game stretch (their longest of the season) certainly deserve a recap. While the Giants don't have a day off, they wrapped up the series in Pittsburgh around 12:30 pm Pacific time on Wednesday, and don't play again until Thursday night in L.A. So they really have a full day off, quite similar to how I like to run five days a week and get four days off. When I'm in a groove I'll run Sunday and Monday mornings, and then not again until Wednesday night- which means I have more than 48 hours between runs. Then, I'll run Thursday morning, and not again until Saturday morning- which is slightly less than a 48 hour stretch. Add that up, and I run five days a week and get four days off.

Sergio Romo and Gregor Blanco in Sea Lions throwbacks
Back to baseball... all road trips have their quirks, but man, this one has had enough moments for three road trips. First of all, the Giants, who normally have a terrible time in Atlanta (at least in the regular season), swept the Braves. And not only did they sweep them, they became the first team in more than 40 years to sweep a series and never plate a run with a guy in scoring position. Plenty of teams don't knock in runners in scoring position and get swept- they're called the Chicago Cubs- but this is the exact opposite. The Giants went 0-for-13 with guys at second or third base and still won all three games. It's called lots of solo home runs. Not only that, but Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants 4th and 5th starters, both pitched very well. Not long ago I was calling for Vogey's head, now it appears he has gotten a stay of execution. Unlike what appears will happen to Tyrion Lannister.

The Giants happened to make this Atlanta road trip when the Braves were celebrating Negro Leagues Heritage Night, so while the Braves wore Atlanta Black Crackers throwbacks (which is a cringe-worthy name in many respects), the Giants wore San Francisco Sea Lions uniforms (which have bears on them... which is an interesting story in itself). I had never heard of the San Francisco Sea Lions. Doing a little research, apparently there was a one-year black minor league right after World War Two called the West Coast Negro Baseball League. They had six teams in several of the major Pacific Coast League cities- San Fran, Oakland, L.A., San Diego, Seattle, and Portland. The issue for the league, apparently, was that the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson that same year, and even the Negro Major Leagues were starting to see the beginning of the end. So a black minor league far away from the major franchises, while a worthy idea, was in bad shape from the start- so it only lasted one season, 1946. And that's why I'd never heard of them.

Then it was up to Pittsburgh. I don't even know where to start with this Pittsburgh series. I suppose the best way to start is with some praise.... for me! You may recall that Matt Cain sliced his finger while making a sandwich in the hours before his scheduled start during the homestand, and Yusmeiro Petit got the spot-start, and also got the win. During that game, Giants color broadcaster Mike Krukow, a former 20-game winner in the show, said that there was no way Cain would make his next start, scheduled for the first game of the Pittsburgh series. Yet the next day, manager Bruce Bochy said that Cain would make that start. In my review of that week, I stated that I agreed with Krukow, that Cain would not make that start. Well, on Monday, the Giants put Cain on the disabled list, had Petit make another start, and called up a guy from Triple-A to take Cain's place on the roster (albeit temporarily- the was the DL works, Cain was “retroactively” put on it ten days ago, meaning he could make his next scheduled start on Saturday in L.A.). As always, believe the former pitcher and not the club.

Lincecum got goofy on throwback night
That was the game that went 13 innings that the Giants should have lost at least a dozen times. After scoring the first two runs of the contest, the Pirates scored eight straight. So it was 8-2 and there goes the good vibe from Atlanta. But without benefit of a home run, the Giants scraped together enough runs to make it to extras. And then, none other than relief pitcher Jean Machi put down of the best bunts of the year to bring home the winning run in the 13th. This is why the National League is more fun. When it goes to extra innings in the AL, managers need not worry about pitchers batting. They can change guys on the mound whenever they feel like it. In the NL, managers have to occasionally have to ask relievers to bat in crucial situations. Then there's the double-switch to try and sneak an extra inning out of a guy. A lot more strategy, which is why the inevitable adding of the DH to the National League within the next decade will be a death blow to the chess match feel of late innings in the Senior Circuit.

Nevertheless, the Giants won that one, the second time they've won a game this season while allowing at least ten runs, extending their season-long win streak to six games. That changed on Tuesday, when the streak ended on a bit of history... the first time replay has ever decided a walk-off win. The game was a strike away from going to bonus baseball for the second consecutive game, and Tim Hudson had thrown just over 100 pitches, a real spectacular game and much needed after that 13-inning marathon. The Giants claimed that the bullpen was ready to go, but if that's the case, why not lift Hudson in a 1-1 game after seven or eight innings? Would you rather have a 38 year old starter pitch the 9th in a tie game or a 27 year old reliever? I thought so.

Anyway, with a one-two count, Starling Marte of the Pirates knocked one off the right field wall, and when the relay to third skipped wide, Marte headed home. The throw there beat him and the home plate umpire called him out, but the replay showed that while Buster Posey tagged him on the chest, Marte's right hand had just touched the plate. The call was overturned, and the Giants became the first team to lose a game on a walk-off replay.

Belt belts in ATL in Sea Lions throwback
Wednesday, there was hope that Tim Lincecum would pick up where the other Timmy left off, but that didn't happen, and SF dropped their third road series of the year (it's this one, San Diego, and Colorado). I would rant about Linecum, but he's really a coin flip at this point. You know he's going to struggle early, the question is only if he gets out of it or allows three runs. And most of the time that depends on one pitch, which is not the ultimate way you want games and seasons and careers decided. But it happens more often than not. We can only hope that Timmy figures out the early inning issues by, oh, August.

As a positive, Brandon Belt did drive in all three Giants runs on the day, including his 9th home run of the year, which means that Belt has homered in every park the Giants have played in this year. I didn't figure that one out, but it's a pretty cool stat. It's certainly not Hank Aaron homering in 45 different parks or whatever the record is. It seems to just show the hot-and-coldness of Belt's season. He'll mash one, and then he won't do anything else for the rest of the series. He started out so well, like four homers in five games (remember the talk about him hitting 75 taters?), and since then he's hit five more. It's a combination of pitchers realizing his weak spots and Belt pushing because he knows he's struggling. Let's not even get into the ditch that Pablo Sandoval has dug himself into.

Anyway, six games down and another 11 to go before an official day off. Four more road games, these will be in Dodger Stadium. Vogelsong the start on Thursday, Bumgarner on Friday and then we'll see if Cain returns on Saturday before Huddy closes it out on Sunday afternoon. The Dodgers got Clayton Kershaw back in the rotation, he'll throw one of those games for sure. This is a dangerous series. As well as the Giants have started (21-13, still one of the top records in baseball), don't forget how poorly LA started off last year (remember when Don Mattingly's firing was inevitable?), and then they just motored past everyone without a problem to win the division. A split in LA for the four games is acceptable, because then at least it's evened out. A sweep or just one win for Ess Eff and that boosts El Ay's spirits as much as it deflates the fellows in the orange and black.

Then it's back to the Bay, where the Bravos will want nothing better to return the sweep favor, and four against Miami, who entered Wednesday tied for first in the NL East with Atlanta. Then it'll be May 19th, and San Fran's first off-day since the first. And maybe Matt Cain will have a win by then. I know I’ll have taken at least 48 hours off from running.

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