Angel Pagan

Barry Zito, Gregor Blanco help Giants pick up where they left off in Miami

The San Francisco Giants didn’t play the exact same game on Memorial Day that they did on Sunday, but from a distance it looked that way. Solid performances by the starting pitchers, an offensive spark caused predominantly from the outfielders, and a low-scoring game resulting in a win.

Dig a little deeper and surprising things appear. Barry Zito actually pitched better than Matt Cain did yesterday, allowing only one run in innings 2-4, even though two Arizona D-Backs reached base in the 2nd and 3rd innings and Zito walked Paul Goldschmidt to lead off the 4th. The defense was even better on Monday than it was the day before, simply because Angel Pagan let that ball get through his legs in Miami.

(Hold on, still chuckling to myself … okay, done. Hey it’s Memorial Day, not Maturity Day.)

Giants blessed with Blanco

Sunday was all about Melky Cabrera and the bullpen. Cabrera got 4 hits for the third time in 15 games, scored all 3 of the Giants’ runs and hit his second home run in three days after hitting 2 homers in his first 45 games. On Monday, the offensive MVP was Gregor Blanco (Melky went 1-for-3 today and his average went down to .368). With the possible exception of Joaquin Arias, Blanco’s the only non-starter at the beginning of the season to take advantage of the Giants’ dreadful offensive production during the latter half of April and the beginning of May and earn a full-time role.

With all due respect to Andres Torres, Blanco’s more of a pest. Torres would often fall in love with his home run swing, which had the same effect on his game as a pile of nails on a running lawnmower. Blanco’s all about taking extra bases, faking the bunt with a 3-0 or 3-1 count, walking fairly often (although not today) and stealing bases.

That brings us to the first run of Monday’s game — Angel Pagan’s steal of second enticing Miguel Montero into a throw he shouldn’t have made, allowing Blanco to scamper home. Is there anything other than a well-executed steal of home that makes the distance between third base and the plate look incredibly short? Fast guys like Blanco make it look so easy.

(Side note: If you were an elite baseball player, would you rather be blessed with the ability to run faster than 99.99% of all humans or the power to hit a baseball 450 feet? Power hitters are the ones who get paid, but if money weren’t an issue I’d probably choose speed over power. Power hitters’ best moments are pretty great, but relatively rare. Even during mediocre games a speedster can affect the outcome a few times with his athletic gift.)

Back to Zito…

Because he deserves it, and not just because Memorial Day and Zito’s charitable efforts are so closely linked. Only one walk for Zito over 7 strong innings, after not just the Milwaukee disaster (which wasn’t as bad as his stat line looked, because the defense was terrible and the home plate umpiring was even worse), but an entire May’s worth of fifth starter-y outings:

  • Seven walks at home vs. the Marlins
  • 12 baserunners in 6 innings in the 9-1 loss in L.A.
  • Wins at Arizona and at home against Oakland which were helpful but hardly impressive

The easy angle here is that Zito and Tim Lincecum have switched roles, and it’s true: Zito has been better than Lincecum this season. More innings, fewer hits and walks allowed, a much better ERA. It’s something none of us saw coming, this scary new world in which watching the first 5 innings of a Zito start is much easier on the ol’ blood pressure than living and dying with Lincecum’s mixture of occasional brilliance and frustratingly terrible command.

A positive angle one might be able to mine from all this: if Zito could turn whatever the hell he was doing last year into a respectable 2012 season where, so far, he has produced beyond what could be expected from most fifth starters, maybe Lincecum can also figure it out.

Belted

I don’t know enough about hitting mechanics to predict whether the adjustments to Brandon Belt’s stance will lead to bigger and better things, but the sound that was produced when he hit that triple … wow. Makes that called third strike he took in the 9th inning on Sunday seem cute and charming.

Rest for Buster

There’s no way Buster Posey should play more than 135 games this year. Every time the Giants win without him bodes well for his health in August, September, and possibly…

Mandatory note on Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was everywhere today: outside the clubhouse talking to reporters, in broadcast booths talking ball, in the stands signing autographs. It’s a new, svelte Bonds, who now has the body of a cyclist (I’m not going to make that joke, although cyclists do often go on PED cycles of their own … ah, forget it).

While I think the chances of Bonds taking a full-time role with the team in a coaching capacity are remote, I think he’ll become a roving instructor at some point once all the legal stuff blows over. Sort of like Will Clark, where he isn’t expected to travel with the team and spend 40 hours per week working, but due to overall gravitas has a strong enough voice that every player listens.

I heard Bonds said he’s been training like a triathlete lately, which makes me extremely happy. Why? Because even though I try to avoid listening to Eric Byrnes too much, it seems like every time I do listen he’s bragging about Wildflower and Ironmans and such. If it’s possible to humble Byrnes, losing to another ex-ballplayer in a triathlon might do it. And if Bonds and Byrnes ever face off in a bout of swim-bike-run, my money’s on Barry Lamar.

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