Hey, Tim Lincecum is interesting again

Tim Lincecum Giants

Who knows what it means from a guy who looked like the best pitcher in baseball for a month-long stretch a little less than a year ago, but when Tim Lincecum pitches well, you watch. Period. Lincecum has a scoreless streak that reached 15 innings with six shutout frames during the Giants’ 6-0 win over the Marlins on Friday night, but the numbers never tell the whole story with Lincecum. There was the do-rag and the slightly tilted lid. Those were new. There was the fire, which was both familiar and very, very welcome.

Lincecum used to throw 97 mph and strike out tons of dudes, and back then he was King Skater Dude on the field and in the dugout. On the field he looked like a Little League MVP with the power to make major leaguers look silly, and in the dugout he’d bounce off the walls and curse/cheer on his teammates like a Little Leaguer who chugged a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew right before first pitch.

He’s almost 31 now, and his fastball sometimes comes in at 87, but it’s fun to watch him get so angry when he allows a line drive that gets caught by Angel Pagan, or excited when he strikes out the most fearsome slugger in the game with the bases loaded and two outs … on three breaking balls.

It’s a new Lincecum, and we can’t be sure that this version truly has it all figured out. But after a few years of looking dazed during those road starts in warm weather cities, and frustrated/confused/I-can’t-even during bad starts at AT&T while the home crowd murmured, it’s a joy to see him so into the game once again.

Did Lincecum look like a guy who was still in love with baseball over the past few years? Maybe at times, but it was sad to see the game look like a job to Lincecum throughout a good portion of those 2012-14 seasons, especially since he — more than anyone over his first five seasons — showed that a baseball player doesn’t need to sit quietly in the dugout … like an adult (ew) to be a good teammate or a solid pro.

The preparation gets short shrift when you look at it this way, but Lincecum’s Cy Young peak seemed to show us that if what you did worked when you were 11, it can work when you’re thriving in the bigs. We couldn’t expect Lincecum to maintain that youthful enthusiasm forever, but it seemed clear over the past few years that he was searching for a new version of himself that made sense, both from a pitching perspective and an image/demeanor/appearance standpoint. But it’s all about the pitching — whenever Lincecum starts getting guys out on a regular basis, the old, demonstrative TIMMY comes back.

Extra BASGs

— Casey McGehee came up with the bases loaded and one out, and he gave his new team a 4-0 lead with a grand slam to center against his old squad. Then he hit into two double plays. That’s 11 for the year (double plays, not grand slams). One has to figure the double plays will dry up — the guy hit into 10 in 2012, when he played 114 games. And his grand slam was perfect, as the Giants had scored three runs while losing two in a row and a double play in that situation would’ve kept the game scoreless.

— The Giants were expected (by me) to sign McGehee to a two-year, $25 million extension right after the game, but nothing yet. We’ll see if there’s a press conference before Saturday’s game.

— Brandon Belt is hitting the ball better than anyone on the Giants — and possibly anyone in the National League – over the last six days (12-for-22, seven extra-base hits). So of course he’s still waiting on his first home run, something Brandon Crawford (who has five homers in 2015) is undoubtedly pointing out on a daily basis. The Giants’ next Splash Hit is No. 69, and I’d put money on Belt hitting that one. Or Nori Aoki. Alright, it’ll probably be Aoki. Sorry, Belt.

— Here’s Belt’s facial expression immediately before hitting his second inning double, in case you were wondering if he’s feeling good about things.

Brandon Belt SF Giants

— Looking at Michael Morse’s early numbers and seeing how he reacted to that Brandon Belt line drive, and … is it really so bad that the Giants didn’t match or beat the two-year, $16 million deal he got from the Marlins? The Giants got the best possible outcome out of Morse — early production before he got hurt, and some key hits in the postseason as he was healing. He didn’t have an easy play on the ball that Belt hit, but it’s one he should’ve made. I get it, I get it … dingerz from a big galoot who smiled more than anyone else on the team. But I also get why the Giants let him sign with Miami.

It does look like the Giants miss him, though. Matt Cain most of all.

— Justin Maxwell had a pretty great night while Hunter Pence was playing his first rehab game in Sacramento. The Pence injury has hindered the Giants in so many ways, but it also solidified Maxwell’s spot on this team.

— Look at Yusmeiro Petit, putting everyone to sleep with a three-inning save. Honestly, I think that’s how he gets a lot of his outs, by boring hitters to tears. It’s an amazing strategy, really.

— Apparently Lincecum has a new personal catcher, and he and Buster Posey form a battery the Giants seemed dead-set on avoiding. Baseball is a funny game.

Five pleasant surprises from the Giants’ semi-surprising start

Things could be much, much worse for the San Francisco Giants.

  • Only five other teams in the majors have a lower total run differential than the Giants’ -21.
  • They’ve been without their second-best position player and starting pitcher all season.
  • The third baseman they traded for is totally in his own head and can’t do anything right, and it’s possible that he has a knee injury that’s more serious than he or the Giants are letting on.
  • They haven’t scored seven runs in a game yet.
  • They’ve allowed seven-plus runs in a quarter of their games.
  • Their pitching staff is last in the National League in strikeouts.
  • They had an eight-game losing streak and lost six of their first seven at home.

And after all that, they’re 14-14 and just 3.5 games out of first place. The rotation was once in crisis mode, and now it seems passable at the very least, and until Chris Heston’s outing yesterday it looked like they might go the rest of the season without allowing a run. Hey, you never know.

The Giants aren’t thriving, but they’re doing a great job treading water considering how poorly they played after their season-opening series in Phoenix. What — or, more accurately, who — has kept them afloat?

1. The double-play combo

Brandon Crawford is leading the team in home runs, RBIs, walks, slugging, OPS, OPS+, wRC+ and WAR (Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs), and he’s the team’s best defender. Maybe this is the year that he performs up to Brian Sabean’s expectations and makes the All-Star team.

Joe Panik has already doubled his home run total for last year (maybe that’s an answer to my question from before the season), ended two games with walk-offs, and he’s great against right-handed pitching. I believe he should be given the chance to figure out left-handers and play every day, instead of serving as the half of a platoon partnership that plays against right-handed starters, but Bochy Knows Best.

Crawford and Panik also happen to be the smoothest double-play combo the Giants have had since … Royce Clayton and Robby Thompson? That sounds about right.

2. The No. 3 hitter

Here’s a way of showing why I haven’t written as much about the Giants lately as I usually do — Angel Pagan is the Giants’ version of Andrew Bogut. The Giants’ center (fielder) is undeniably talented, grouchy at times, and injury-prone.

Even though batting average doesn’t matter anymore, it’s pretty amazing to see “.340″ next to the No. 3 spot. So maybe — also like Bogut — Pagan is trying to show that he’s tougher than people think. His finger was squirting blood all over his jersey after that Padres’ jerko stepped on it the other night (OK, OK, inadvertently), but Pagan remained in the game. He was a late scratch after batting practice on Tuesday night, but returned yesterday after his first missed game of the season. We’ll see what happens when Hunter Pence comes back, but so far Pagan has looked like he did in 2012 from a durability standpoint. Yeah, yeah, it’s early …

3. The Freaky Franchise

I didn’t get a chance to watch Tim Lincecum’s latest start until after I got home from Game 1 of the Warriors-Grizzlies series, but eight scoreless innings wasn’t what I was expecting in any of his outings this year. I know it’s sacrilege, but I figured the reconnection with his dad was just fodder for Spring Training fluff pieces. Turns out he’s had a pretty danged good first month.

His velocity is down quite a bit (actually, he’s tied with Homer Bailey for the largest year-over-year April speed drop: -2.5 mph), but he’s keeping the ball in the park. His HR/9 of 0.30 won’t last all year, but the massive regression we saw in 2012 came when he went from allowing between 0.40 and 0.76 HR/9 from 2007-11 to allowing 1.11 in 2012, 0.96 in 2013, and 1.10 in 2014. He’s also stranding over 78% of his baserunners, which puts him back to the same level he enjoyed from 2008-11. He’s a junk-baller now, and he’ll have some days when teams spit on his changeups and curveballs and he’s forced to come in with some mediocre fastballs, but so far so good.

4. The emergency No. 2 starter

Two of Chris Heston’s last three starts have been bad, but at least he went at least five innings in each one. Since he wasn’t even talked about as a potential starter as late as mid-March, the Giants can’t complain about an emergency addition who’s averaging over six innings per start (37.1 innings in six starts).

5. The guy who only looks illegal

I was tempted to include the entire bullpen, but one could’ve probably assumed before the season started that they’d be one of the team’s strengths, due to experience and depth. But this Sergio Romo situation has fooled me on two counts. First, I thought the World Series parade was the last we’d see of him. I didn’t know if he’d sign with the Dodgers, like his dad seemed to be asking for in those luxury car commercials from last year, but I didn’t think there was any way he was coming back.

Not only did he return (and say all the right things about not wanting to be anywhere else after re-signing), but Romo is striking guys out a a ridiculous rate. Try 15 strikeouts in nine innings, which by my calculations means he’s striking out 15 guys per nine innings!

Honorable mention: Nori Aoki, who I figured would be good, but not THIS good; Justin Maxwell, who held down the fort OK for a bit before coming back to earth; the entire bullpen (mentioned earlier).

Panik walks off the Angels, plus a goodbye letter from Ruthless Sports Guy

The Giants walked off their 2015 interleague debut with what turned out to be an awesome pitcher’s duel/really weird late inning pie fight with the Angels on Friday night.

Both Chris Heston and C.J. Wilson were fantastic for most of the game, and had it not been for a Nori Aoki double to lead off the bottom of the first, along with some nifty run manufacturing, this game would have been all knotted up at goose eggs come the seventh inning.

The early innings were peppered with beautiful scenes, including Heston striking out Mike Trout, and coolest name in baseball candidate Kole Calhoun completing a nuts diving catch on a bloop from Andrew Susac into shallow right-center.

But the seventh was, of course, where things began to get wonky. Calhoun, who made his presence known Friday night, got on with a base knock,  and although Heston induced the double play grounder from David Freese on the very next at bat, McGehee dropped it. More on that play later.

It unraveled for Heston from there, who had held on, very Matt Cainily, to a 1-0 lead until Matt Joyce tied it up with a seeing eye grounder. That ended Heston’s night, and put the onus on a run of Jean Machi, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla to finish it off.

It was a see-saw from there. The Giants retook the lead compliments of Andrew Susac, but things got weird again after Duffy committed an error at second and Romo gave up the single, which Erick Aybar reached third on after a strong throw from Pagan skittered past Casey McGehee. Then David Freese knocks in Aybar with a sacrifice, and we’re aaaaallll tied up again.

*Takes deep breath*

It was a relatively stress free top of the ninth for Casilla, who only had to contend with Efren Navarro after the pinch hitter rolled an infield single, and it didn’t take more than a fly ball to left to smother the threat.

*BUT* there was a way more interesting infield single in the bottom of the ninth from Buster Posey, who departed after accomplishing that momentous feat to make way for pinch runner extraordinaire Gregor Blanco. Justin Maxwell dropped a sac bunt, advancing Blanco to second, and then Joe Smith nailed the home plate umpire with a wild pitch that put runners on the corners for Brandon Belt.

Belt struck out, which Bruce Bochy said, “So, what?” to before sending in Panik to pinch hit again.

And, *crack* — the Giants walk off.

Some notes, and a goodbye

— The replay official in New York must have forgotten his glasses tonight. It took him far too long to call Angel Pagan out on a close play of second that, in slow motion, wasn’t all that close. Then they go back to him again on a close play with Calhoun, who gets called out even though he was clearly safe. Baseball. An imperfect sport.

— Heston finished off his night with 6.1 innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 ER, 1 walk, 5 ks. 61 of his 97 pitches were strikes. He’s got command, he’s calm, he’s … really damn good. It’s scary to think where the Giants would be if Heston hadn’t come in and basically been exactly what they hoped Matt Cain would be this year.

— The same cannot be said for Casey McGehee tonight, who at least lifted a ball to the outfield. His defense has been atrocious, he’s an automatic out at the plate … he’s all kinds of flustered right now, and a DL stint should be in his very near future.


 

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, and sorry to get sappy. I reached out to BASG over three years ago and asked if he needed someone to cover the Sharks. Confession time: I loved the Sharks, but I didn’t really want to write about hockey all that much. I just wanted to get my foot in the door of sports writing, and hopefully end up covering the Giants and the 49ers.

After spending several months writing about all of these teams from home, I got my first shot to cover a sporting event in a press box: It was a Giants-Braves game, and Barry Zito was pitching. I remember he pitched a gem, and I was all full of piss and vinegar because I had called some sort of Zito/Alex Smith-like redemption at the beginning of the season.

(That was 2012…)

From there, I got to fulfill several life-long dreams of mine. I covered Stanford games, Cal games, Sharks games, 49ers practices and finally, 49ers games in the Candlestick Park press box. Trust me, that press box was as shabby as it gets, but walking within it was an accomplishment I had been waiting on since my elementary school days.

I got into this stuff because I was a fan first, and I love to write. What I found out was that it isn’t completely for me. I’ve struggled with the fact that, often times, the objectivity of sports journalism makes it impossible to be a fan. You overthink the game, because you have to, and soon it becomes one of two things: way too important, or just a stupid, meaningless game.

So after a couple hiatuses and some stints back in the saddle, I’m hanging up my reporter hat to pursue other career directions. This is all after having written several hundred stories, sixty-some-odd thousand tweets, covering dozens of games and meeting some really freakin’ awesome people.

I want to say thanks to everybody who read us, supported this site, and stuck with me through my growth as a writer – I hope you guys will all still follow me on Twitter, because I’ll still be jawing on there.

Thanks to all of the awesome BASG writers and contributors who made an awesome team to work with.

And of course, thank you to Steve for giving me, some rando from Twitter, a chance to write on his site, which has become such an awesome entity in Bay Area sports media. I’m proud to have been a part of its growth.

So I lied about keeping it short, and this may not be goodbye — I may still contribute guest posts, and there could be a future in journalism for me somewhere down the line — but for now, that Joe Panik walk off RBI single seems like a good place to put the pen down.

Because the next time the Giants walk a team off, I’d like to be in the stands with the rest of you.

Jon Miller is killing it on Instagram

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jon Miller?

2010 Ford C. Frick award winner, enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Longtime beloved voice of the San Francisco Giants? National broadcaster for 20 years with ESPN? Author of some of the most memorable radio and TV calls in the history of baseball? A nice, funny man who you wish was your grandpa because damn, wouldn’t it be cool if Miller was your grandpa? (Sorry, grandpa!)

How about social media? When you think of Miller do you think of his connection to social media?

No? Well, think again!

Last month, after some nudging from his kids, the 63-year-old announcer joined Instagram. If you’re unfamiliar with Instagram, it’s somewhat similar to Twitter and Facebook in that you can follow and be followed by other users, but the primary function is to post photos and short videos.

As baseball broadcasters go these days, I can confidently say without checking that 95% of them aren’t on Twitter or Instagram, and even the ones who are probably don’t use their accounts much. Lucky for us (Giants fans), we are #blessed with one of the coolest, most engaging local broadcast teams in all of sports.

One of Miller’s most valuable assets as a broadcaster has always been his willingness to adapt with the times. While I’m sure Dave Flemming wouldn’t hesitate to give Miller a great deal of credit for mentoring him as a broadcaster, it’s safe to say Miller has learned a thing or two from his younger partner as well. To Miller’s credit, he’s found a way to incorporate some of the new school tools and technology — such as PITCHF/x, Sabermetrics, and the venerable Home Run Tracker™ — with the traditional techniques and broadcasting styles he gleaned from greats of the past such as Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, with a great deal of success.

This is a man who has spent an entire career portraying baseball to the masses, and doing it in a way that is as creative, informing, and entertaining as just about anyone else who has ever done it! This is why, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Miller’s foray into the world of Instagram has been a smashing success.

So let’s take a quick trip around Jon’s Instagram account to see what he’s done so far and hopefully convince you to follow him for the rest of the baseball season and beyond.

Inside the Booth

You listen to them every night. You know they have a microphone and a scorecard, but what else is going on in that booth? Here Jon gives us a glimpse inside the world of a baseball broadcaster.

JonIG 12
Opening Day 2015 – Giants at Diamondbacks

Broadcast nerds are drooling all over this one. Here we see the tools of the trade for a broadcasting legend. New scorebook, media guide, stat sheets, binoculars, clock (probably for reminding him to tell the audience the score of the game), and handwritten notes with the defensive alignments for each team.

Nobody puts Flembone in the corner
Flembone hides under the table

This was the photo that alerted most of us Jon had joined Instagram. The KNBR pregame show ran long, so Flemming had to finish up his spiel during the National Anthem. Flem was asked about it on Twitter so much that he finally convinced Jon to post the pic to his Instagram.

He got hashtag game
He got hashtag game

After playing it straight for a few days, Jon began letting some of his humor creep in. His captions  – 4hr, 5 min, 12-inning game, Dave wisely brought provisions – are great and he even started throwing in some ridiculous hashtags, which in my humble opinion, should always be ridiculous. #propermustardapplication

At some point over the last month, Jon figured out how to take Instagram videos! This one starts with Flem calling the pitch and pans right just as Buster Posey knocks in a run against the Dodgers. Flem’s laser like focus stays on the action even as the crowd goes wild. You know Jon is just kind of messing around with his phone, but it is seriously cool to watch a pro like Flemming doing his thing.

Another video from inside the booth, as Flem calls the last out of a sweep at home against the Dodgers.

One last pic from the booth. Here is Jon’s scorecard from the same game.

#igetpaidfordoingthis!
#igetpaidfordoingthis!

Behind the Scenes

Scorecards and hot dogs are great, but Giants fans cannot survive on booth pics alone. Thankfully, Jon has already recognized social media is a great way to bring fans with him behind the scenes where only the players, coaches, and team personnel are permitted.

Here’s a note that hung over the clubhouse door during the playoffs last year.

In Bochy We Trust
In Bochy We Trust

A menu from the Giants charter flight to San Diego. I’ll have the herb crusted salmon salad and organic raw Kombucha, hold the mayo, please. Thank you.

JonIG 11

And a commemorative Tim Lincecum no-hitter cookie for the team flight. How much do those go for on Ebay?

Complimentary "Special Brownie" not pictured
Complimentary “Special Brownie” not pictured

Around the Stadium

Once again, Jon uses his all access pass to show us cool stuff around the parks. Here we see an understated memorial to Lon Simmons in the lobby of the Hodges-Simmons Broadcast Center. Before seeing this photo, I had no idea the Giants had dedicated the broadcast facilities to Russ and Lon.

Rest in peace, Lon.
Rest in peace, Lon.

Jon must have been strolling around the bowels of Dodger stadium to take this photo of the old visitor’s clubhouse. His caption says it all about the history of this room.

#marvinbenardonceshoweredhere
#marvinbenardonceshoweredhere

Another shot from Chavez Ravine. This is the tunnel Jon and the guys walk through from the visitor’s clubhouse to the broadcast booth. As Jon notes in his hashtag, all of the team medallions are lit up except for one.

Let the light from your three championship rings guide you, Jon.
Let the light from your three championship rings guide you, Jon.

I hope you enjoyed this little review of Jon’s Instagram pics. If you did, let us know in the comments section and I might try to make it a regular feature around here. I already have an idea about whose Instagram account I want to review next.

Yep. This guy…

Grab some pine, Kuip.
Grab some pine, Kuip.

 

Bumgarner is Bumgarner again: Giants’ ace outpitches Kershaw, yells at Dodger

This was one of those games where any fan who was wearing orange and black in the Dodger Stadium stands will brag about how they were in attendance for the rest of his or her days. The official score of pitchers’ duels is 2-1 (although the judges will also accept 1-0), and Madison Bumgarner was just that much better than Clayton Kershaw in a 2-1 road victory for the defending champs.

For the first time all season the Giants looked like a team defending its title on a night that wasn’t marked by gold jerseys and fancy rings. Bumgarner has gotten incrementally better in each start since tossing BP at Petco, but Tuesday night’s performance made his oft-mentioned postseason workload look a bit smaller in the rearview mirror.

He was also pissed off, and a pissed off Bumgarner isn’t just entertaining, he’s usually really damned good. He stared at Enrique Gonzalez after the rookie held onto his bat for an extra second or so on his high double to center — a fly ball that seemed to make Angel Pagan dizzy. Bumgarner got angry with himself when he couldn’t get a bunt down against Kershaw with Joaquin “The Most Unlikely Kershaw-killer Ever” Arias on first base. Then he made sure he got some quality venting in — even with Yasiel Puig on the disabled list — when Alex Guerrero thought he just missed hitting his sixth homer of the season (and second off Bumgarner) and did a slow 360 in disgust while leaving the batter’s box.

Bumgarner yelled at Guerrero as he ran down the first base line, and didn’t seem all that interested in forgiving or forgetting as Guerrero retreated to the Dodgers’ dugout. You half-expected to see the reigning World Series MVP throw down his glove and yell “LET’S GO” again. But unlike his fellow countryman Puig, Guerrero knew better than to poke the lion.

***

Update (9:15 am): Deadspin posted a GIF of this and wrote the following: 

The moment above, in which Bumgarner mouths “You’re not that fucking good, man. You’re not that fucking good,” to Dodgers third baseman Alex Guerrero is kind of hard to explain. Guerrero wasn’t showboating his way through a home-run trot, but running out a weak pop up that had elicited a frustrated little spin from him at the plate. If you watch the video, it sure doesn’t look like Guerrero is trying to do anything other than express frustration with himself. Madison Bumgarner should try to remember that a little chill never hurt anyone.

For one thing, they’ve got some amazing lip-readers over there at Deadspin. Also, I doubt Bumgarner “mouthed” those words, as he probably yelled them loudly enough for everyone in both dugouts to hear. Lastly, why are certain writers so interested in protecting Yasiel Puig’s right to flip bats after hits both great and small, while Bumgarner isn’t allowed to yell at a guy on the field? Don’t we want more colorful displays on our baseball fields, or does that only pertain to Dodgers hitters? I’m a fan of Deadspin, which does a great job keeping the national media honest, but they should save the self-righteousness for when guys throw at each other. 

***

The pitching was the actual story, and Bumgarner had it all going. His fastball was consistently at 93-94, and for the first time all season he was able to elevate without getting into trouble. His slider was absolutely filthy, and the curveball wasn’t bad either. Bumgarner allowed five hits, a walk and a relatively cheap run over eight innings while striking out a season-high nine. His best K was his last, as he painted the outside corner with a fastball that left Justin Turner with no response other than to drop his bat and wait for his teammates to join him on the field for the ninth inning.

A few minutes later, CSNBA showed Bumgarner in the dugout. He held this expression for the entire time the camera was on him, at least four seconds.

Madison Bumgarner

He just came about as close as one could come to shutting down the Dodgers, who came into this game riding an eight-game home winning streak. He’s a postseason legend and he has his own Carhartt commercial running on national TV. None of that matters — Bumgarner is still ornery. He and Kershaw are the latest reminders that this rivalry will never die, even if Kershaw is like a nicer version of Ned Flanders.

Game-winning homer

Buster Posey loves swinging at the first pitch. That’s not exactly a well-kept secret. So it’s surprising that Kershaw gave him something to hit in the fourth after Posey hit a flare to right-center to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the first inning on the first pitch he saw. Maybe Kershaw figured it was as good a time as any to see if he could challenge Posey, whose home run just to the left of straightaway center field was only his fourth extra-base hit of the season, the second in his last 14 games.

Extra BASGs

— It shows just how well each pitcher was throwing that only three runs were allowed. Pagan’s first inning double came on a swing that was all upper body, yet it still landed a foot below the top of the wall in left. Pagan has really strong hands, but the ball seemed to be carrying a little better than usual.

— Arias went 3-for-3 off Kershaw yet was replaced at shortstop by Brandon Crawford in the seventh for defense. In this case it meant Bochy got everything he could’ve imagined out of Arias, whose throws are the equivalent of a 57-mph serve from a pro tennis player. Brandon Belt struck out three times against Kershaw (it’s been a rough last few days for Belt, who went from two games on the bench to starting against a guy he’s hitting below .100 against), but he made a great pick on a short-hop lob from Arias to end the fifth inning.

— Bruce Bochy had an interesting game, as he somehow saved Pagan from getting ejected after the center fielder struck out in the sixth on a pitch in the dirt. Pagan felt like Gary Cederstrom was too generous in calling Kershaw’s 0-1 curveball on the outside corner a strike, and Pagan is one of the best players in baseball at letting a home plate umpire know when he’d recommend LASIK. Bochy rushed out of the dugout (relatively speaking), and somehow Pagan was allowed to take his bat and angry expression to the dugout when in most situations he would’ve been sent to the clubhouse.

— And I’m not sure what Bochy was reacting to here, right before the pitch Guerrero hit before doing a frustrated and far less graceful version of Barry Bonds’ famous pirouette. 

Giants’ weaknesses on full display in loss to L.A.

It’s way too early to look at the Giants’ record (8-12 after Monday night’s 8-3 loss to the Dodgers) and project a .400 winning percentage throughout the entire season. Buster Posey’s slugging percentage won’t be under .350 all year, either. A 20-game sample isn’t all that telling in baseball, unless it’s the postseason. Yet if the Giants are to get back to the postseason in 2015, they’re going to have to overcome some shortcomings that were difficult to ignore on Monday night.

Shaky rotation

It took a few weeks for the league to figure out that Tim Lincecum — who went only four innings, giving up a ton of hits and four earned runs against the Dodgers — is a junk-baller these days, and the best way to attack him is to wait on his changeups and sliders. According to Brooks Baseball, the Dodgers offered at just 32.1% of Lincecum’s fastballs (they swung at 5-of-19 two-seamers and 4-of-9 four-seamers) while swinging at 65.4% (17-of-26) changeups and 66.7% (6-of-9) sliders. Four of the eight hits Lincecum allowed came on changeups, including Joc Pederson’s double.

Lincecum’s ERA is still 3.27, fairly impressive compared to his work in recent years. But he was lucky to only allow four runs, as he was helped out by a lunging catch by Buster Posey, who turned an unassisted double play in the first inning, along with a diving catch by right fielder Justin Maxwell with runners at second and third and two out in the second. If Lincecum doesn’t adjust to the Dodgers’ altered approach, which other teams will surely emulate, his ERA will soar to 2012-14 levels.

George Kontos gave up a home run to Pederson, but that was it and Kontos has been very good this season. Yusmeiro Petit was not good (again), as he had to be pulled after allowing a three-run homer to Justin Turner in the eighth. Bruce Bochy and the Giants believe that Ryan Vogelsong is only comfortable as a starter, but Petit hasn’t exactly shined as a long reliever so far.

Madison Bumgarner can make the entire staff look better with a great performance on Tuesday night against Clayton Kershaw, but the Giants need an awful lot to go right if their rotation is to keep them in contention. Maybe Matt Cain comes back like his right flexor tendon strain never happened, and Jake Peavy’s back heals, and Lincecum goes back to striking guys out and inducing weak grounders, and 2011-12 Vogelsong reemerges, and Tim Hudson gives them six decent innings per start for the next five months. Crazier things have happened to this team, but it’s likely that at least a few of those rosy scenarios will not occur.

Too much of one, not enough of the other

Brandon Belt had a rough start to the year, what with the sub-.200 slugging percentage before April 24 and the groin injury. But one would think that he’d get more than two pinch-hitting chances since Friday night, when he went 3-for-3 with a walk. In that game it appeared that Belt was ready to break out, then the Giants put him on ice because they faced a lefty starter on Saturday. Then there was the Lincecum-doesn’t-pitch-to-Posey thing on Monday, when the Giants faced another lefty, Brett Anderson.

On the other side of the infield, Casey McGehee is allowed to play through his massive slump. McGehee’s OPS is .487 and he looks completely lost as nearly every plate appearance seems to start 0-2. Posey was forced to pick a short-hopped throw on the run from McGehee to save the third baseman from collecting another error (Posey looks much improved at first base so far this season), and McGehee struck out twice and went 0-for-4. No double plays this time, although no one was on first base in any of his plate appearances.

Posey has no interest in playing third base, and the Giants aren’t going to bench McGehee and risk losing him completely this year. But Belt has a much higher ceiling and McGehee’s numbers in Miami might’ve been inflated by an abnormally hot first half and his fortunate position in the batting order, as he spent most of the year hitting between sluggers (McGehee generally hit fourth for the Marlins, after Giancarlo Stanton and before Marcell Ozuna and/or Garrett Jones). That hasn’t been — and won’t be — the case this season for McGehee, who’s probably going to hit sixth or seventh more often than not.

***

What can the Giants do? That’s why these concerns could become full-fledged problems — there are no easy answers. We knew the rotation was iffy going into this season, and while the Giants are trying to figure out a way to get Belt some time in left field (possibly as punishment for Nori Aoki for those moments when his baserunning veers from entertaining to maddening), they’re going to wait this McGehee thing out. It’s only been 20 games; the Giants have time to put together a decent rotation while getting 20+ homers and a high OBP out of Belt and a solid season out of McGehee. But they’ve looked like a .400 (winning percentage, not batting average of on-base percentage) team due to these April shortcomings, as a strong bullpen and productive top-of-the-order haven’t been enough to mask them.

Extra BASGs

— It’s not like the Giants are the only team with problems. Brandon McCarthy’s UCL tear headlines a long list of injuries to key Dodgers — including Yasiel Puig, who’s on the DL due to a hamstring problem — and the notoriously fragile Anderson hasn’t been all that good.

— Your daily reminder that the Giants are still in the most enviable of spots:

— I filmed a Vine of Greg Papa asking Duane Kuiper to show all three World Series rings one more time, and my daughter decided to make herself heard.

Casey at the bench: It’s time to move McGehee to the DL

This is a bit overdue, unfortunately. I wanted to post something on what we’re seeing from Casey McGehee last night, but I only had time for this:

By the time I got home from Comcast SportsNet HQ it was 11 pm and the dog still needed to be taken out to the backyard, so you’re getting this post on Saturday morning. Such is life.

The headline is 100% serious. I’m well aware of the Giants’ preferences when it comes to dealing with injured players, particularly veterans. If there’s any chance a guy can “work through something” (to steal one of Jim Harbaugh’s favorite phrases), the Giants are going to give that player some time to rehab, get treatment, and steel himself for a week/month/season of playing through moderate pain.

The season is still young, but McGehee hasn’t given the Giants much of anything. He hit a line drive home run that surprised everyone — including McGehee, by all appearances — in the season’s third game. The Giants won 1-0 in extra innings a day later in San Diego, despite McGehee grounding into a double play and making a throwing error. The Giants lost 1-0 a day later in a game that included another GIDP for McGehee. McGehee crumbled to the ground in his first at-bat the next day, a 10-2 loss. He missed the next four games, and walked in a pinch-hitting appearance in his first game back.

Since “recovering” from his injury, McGehee has started six of the Giants’ last seven games. The numbers aren’t pretty. Two singles in 22 at-bats, one walk, four strikeouts, and GIDPs in his last four games. McGehee killed rallies with two ground balls that led to double plays last night. There are two things at play here. First, he’s hitting ground balls an earthworm-shredding 64.7% of the time, far above his career mark of 48.2%. Second, as we saw on another OK-let’s-just-give-him-the-Gold-Glove-now play from Nolan Arenado last night, McGehee is running like Bengie Molina.

McGehee faced reporters last night, but by all accounts he could barely get his words out due to being so upset with himself. It’s been obvious all year that he’s been pressing, both defensively and at the plate where he tends to swing at just about everything with men on base. His fielding has been competent throughout his career, and the frightening lack of speed from home to first shows that he hasn’t gotten over that bone bruise in his knee. He was never that fast before, but on a team that needs to run a little bit to get over their power shortage, McGehee sticks out.

At this point the Giants should think about not just starting Matt Duffy at third base on a regular basis in the short-term, but consider getting McGehee significant rest with the disabled list option available to them. What they’re doing now isn’t working for anyone — McGehee is on pace to ground into 81 double plays if he plays in 137 of the team’s next 144 games. That’s not going to happen (neither the double plays or the 137 games part), but the Giants’ respect for vets — and they’ve had a decent amount of success keeping guys happy with this philosophy — isn’t warranted in this case.

  • McGehee has grounded into seven double plays in the last eight games in which he’s played at least eight innings.
  • He probably isn’t anywhere close to 100% with the knee.
  • He’s putting a massive amount of pressure on himself because he’s struggling on a new team (near where he grew up) in a contract year.
  • There are two capable replacements behind him in Duffy and Joaquin Arias.

Part of McGehee’s allure is his durability. He played 160 games last year, which is borderline ridiculous for a third baseman. He missed a combined 12 games in 2010-11. The Giants traded for a guy they figured they could plug in for 150-155 games who’d field dependably and hopefully drive in some runs as a gap-to-gap hitter. They knew the double plays were a possibility, as he hit into a league-leading 31 of them last year with the Marlins. But on a team without much power that needs to force the action offensively, the Giants can’t afford to keep trotting McGehee out there if he’s this slow and keeps hitting tailor-made grounders. He’s going to come out of this slump at some point, but it doesn’t look like playing him five or six days a week is helping right now.

That’s why a DL stint would be best for all involved. Will the Giants go this route? Probably not, since they’re not going to change their unwritten rules for working through injuries for McGehee, just because the guy hasn’t been around all that long. Bruce Bochy hasn’t gotten his reputation as a straight-shooter who vets love by shelving a slumping guy for longer than the player thinks is necessary. So we’ll probably see Bochy give McGehee the rest of the weekend off and start on Monday night in L.A.

Extra BASGs

— Chris Heston isn’t as effective at Coors Field as he is at sea level. In other news, Roberto Kelly is still honing is craft in the third base coaches’ box. The last week or so has really driven one positive home, however: the bullpen is legit.

— Justin Maxwell is making things interesting, isn’t he? He hit a 447-foot home run last night that never got more than 30 feet high or so, and while his routes aren’t always the best in right field, he’s capable of making some nice-looking catches. Maxwell’s productive ways might keep Hunter Pence from returning too soon, but what happens when Pence does? Nori Aoki and Angel Pagan have been the two best hitters on the team since the season started.

Good vibrations: Giants win Bumgarner vs. Kershaw showdown with Panik’s walk-off sac fly

panik

The bottom of the ninth was so very, very Giants, the kind of walk-off win that would’ve seemed routine last April. Madison Bumgarner was good but he wasn’t perfect, San Francisco’s offense was opportunistic but hardly powerful, but it was all enough for a 3-2 win and the Giants’ first on-field celebration of the young season.

Buster Posey lined a single up the middle with one out to get things going. Dodgers reliever Chris Hatcher hit Justin Maxwell with a pitch that glanced off Maxwell’s arm and into A.J. Ellis’ hand, sending Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher out of the game with an injury and Posey out of the game for a pinch runner, Gregor Blanco.

That brought up Brandon Belt, and that’s where the fun began. Belt lined a single to left, too hard to score Blanco. Roberto Kelly, who’d already experienced his fair share of odd moments as the team’s new third base coach, ran toward third base and appeared to almost set a screen on Blanco (in basketball parlance) to keep him from trying to score.

This chain of events understandably irked Don Mattingly, who raced over and gave third base umpire Fieldin Culbreth (a perfect ump name) a piece of his mind. That didn’t work, so Mattingly took up his case with home plate umpire Clint Fagan. No dice. Then Mattingly retreated to the dugout, but within seconds he was back at the mound, motioning for Yasiel Puig to come in as an extra infielder as Joe Panik stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.

“My first reaction was, ‘Now I know what an NFL kicker feels like getting iced at the end of a game.’ I felt like I was standing at home plate for a while,” Panik said. “I was just kind of tuning everything out, making sure I was loose and relaxed, breathing.”

Panik got a first pitch sinker that he lifted high in the air to medium-deep center. The crowd could sense Joc Pederson’s desperation in the way he was forced to turn with his back to the infield and sprint several steps to make the catch. Game over.

The Giants came into this series looking like the worst team in baseball, and could’ve fallen to nine games back in the division if the red-hot Dodgers came in and got a sweep. Instead, the Giants clinched a series victory, shrunk their deficit to four games, and everything feels hunky-dory once again.

“It was a great game. Really good game. The boys played well,” said Bruce Bochy.

Indeed.

Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner look in the mirror

The best regular season pitcher alive went up against one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of the sport, and while neither ace went that deep into the game, both pitched well.

The Giants struck first against Kershaw with Small Ball Supreme:

  • Joaquin Arias (a somewhat surprising inclusion in Tuesday’s lineup) hit a single.
  • Brandon Crawford walked after Kershaw started him 0-2.
  • After fouling a bunt attempt to go to 0-2 and taking two pitches in the dirt, Bumgarner sacrificed both runners successfully.
  • Nori Aoki drove in a run by grounding out to Jimmy Rollins.
  • Matt Duffy pushed the lead to 2-0 with a bloop single to center.

Meanwhile, Bumgarner rolled along nicely. Both pitchers seemed to mimic one another — Bumgarner threw 53 of his 78 pitches for strikes through five innings, while Kershaw threw 52 of 77 pitches for strikes in the same number of frames. Kershaw went six innings, while Bumgarner went six and a third.

One can’t blame Bruce Bochy for trying to get one more inning out of Bumgarner, since six months ago that philosophy led to the team getting another set of big, gaudy rings on Saturday. Bumgarner hadn’t given up a run in his first six innings, but it took 101 pitches to accomplish the feat. Still, Bochy did what just about every manager would do in that situation. He put Bumgarner back in for the seventh, because this was Giants/Dodgers, Bumgarner/Kershaw.

But after getting Juan Uribe on a lineout to second baseman Matt Duffy to start the seventh, Ellis hit a single. That led Mattingly to take out Kershaw (93 pitches through his six innings), and pinch-hitter Alex Guerrero blasted a Bumgarner mistake into the left field bleachers.

Bumgarner spun around on the mound and sunk to a catcher’s crouch, infuriated.

Neither pitcher was at his absolute best on Tuesday night, but both were pretty damned good. Kershaw’s numbers (nine strikeouts, one walk, just three hits allowed) were better than his counterpart’s (six strikeouts, two walks, six hits). but it was Bumgarner who was able to pound six Budweisers at the same time in the clubhouse after the game. Juuuust kidding.

Extra BASGs

— “Good Vibrations” was blasting when we entered the refurbished, nightclub-like Giants clubhouse. The version by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, not the Beach Boys.

— “It was kind of weird, but at the same time I was already stopped at third. It wasn’t like (Kelly) stopped me or he told me to stop. I was slowing down,” was Blanco’s view of the controversial play, which ended up being a huge break for the Giants. “I knew with that ball that I wasn’t going to score.”

— Chris Heisey hit a ball foul down the left field line off Bumgarner that went as far as I can remember seeing one go in that area of AT&T Park during a night game, at least since drug testing started. It eventually landed in the second deck club seats right next to the ambulance area where Justin Maxwell hit his bomb the night before.

— One way things have changed since the Giants added Aoki: tonight was the first time I’ve seen someone eating edamame in the press box.

— Aoki did a phenomenal job getting back to first base when Kershaw had him picked off, too. “Nimble” is how Bochy described it. The ridiculously entertaining Aoki was like a wily serpent getting around Justin Turner’s tag, or maybe he’s a wizard who evaded Turner after throwing on his cloak of invisibility.

— More Panik on getting “iced”:

I guess I hit the field goal right away. It wasn’t really icing. (Mattingly) was just trying to get his defense set up. I was just having a little fun with (the icing comparison). Fortunately, having the extra guy in there really helped me with my game plan. Make sure you get something up in the air, not down in the zone.

— It would’ve been great if Belt came over and gave Panik the “icing a bro” treatment after his interview, but Belt wasn’t around and I doubt the Giants carry Smirnoff Ice in their trendy new clubhouse.

— “If only (Belt) would’ve squibbed it over Uribe’s head, the game would’ve been over,” Panik said. “He helped me out a little bit.”

— I asked Panik if Belt — notorious for getting in some cheap shots in those walk-off melees in the infield — got him with a punch or two.

“He had me early, but not too bad because he was right next to me. Once I saw, I started walking away from him.”

Turkey tap avoided … for now, anyway.

Thanks to Maxwell heroics and Lincecum double plays, Giants rout Dodgers 6-2

There is no such thing as a “must win” game in April, but losing Tuesday night’s game would’ve been rough. And it wasn’t the standings as much as the idea that they would’ve lost 10 of their last 11, including seven of their first eight home games, with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound the next night.

Luckily for the Giants, an old hero kept the Dodgers off balance and a new hero played his way past Gregor Blanco (at least in the short-term). And that’s how they embarrassed Los Angeles with the kind of blowout win we haven’t seen all season.

From the Giants’ postgame notes: “The Giants’ 6-2 win marked their largest margin of victory this season.

It’s only been 15 games, but that’s still pretty funny.

Obviously the Giants have been struggling, and who am I to get up on my couchbox and complain. I haven’t written about the team since they were in San Diego. More on that later, as if you care. Nobody cares about the writers, it’s all about the players. And the Giants had plenty of good ones in this game.

Player of the Game: Justin Maxwell

After seeing Maxwell’s grimace after his kneecap collided with the right field wall on a sliding catch that Yasiel Puig would later applaud from the visitors’ dugout (a striking gesture, especially since Puig hit the fly ball that Maxwell caught), it looked like the Giants’ right fielder du jour wouldn’t be around much longer. But there Maxwell was in the bottom of the inning, obliterating a 97 mph get-it-in fastball from Pedro Baez.

Maxwell looked really fast on his second inning triple, too. Besides the price being right, that’s why the Giants got him: power and speed. That he displayed both in the same game, a game that happened to be pretty important against the Dodgers, was extraordinarily fortunate for both the Giants and Maxwell.

Tim Lincecum

While I also bristle at those potshots people take at the Giants for being lucky in even-yeared postseasons, sometimes guys and teams do get … (gasp) … lucky. The third inning of Tuesday night’s game was an example, as Jimmy Rollins just missed hitting a double against Lincecum’s changeup (Maxwell caught Rollins’ drive on the warning track) and Andrew Susac’s catcher’s interference on Puig went uncalled.

However, I’m of the mind that getting guys to ground (or line) into double plays is a skill. Maybe Lincecum — whose fastball has dropped to a Zitoian velocity of 86 mph on most occasions — finally figured out how to effectively pitch to contact without allowing a bunch of extra-base hits in the process. It’s only been three starts, but so far, so good.

Brandon Crawford

His drag bunt to second to score Maxwell in the second was the kind of play that’ll show up in dads’ dreams for years. But holy crap, this double play.

Isn’t that Crawford’s second glove-flip this year? Such an attention hog, that Crawford. He just couldn’t handle Panik’s World Series glove-flip double play getting all the credit. The nerve.

Andrew Susac

What was more impressive?

1. Getting on base three times and catching Lincecum without a teary-eyed Timmy pointing at Hector Sanchez midway through the game and pleading for the team’s current Sanchy to get one more chance

2. That deep foul ball he hit into the right field arcade

If the Giants have a right-handed hitter who can realistically hit homers to right, that man should play every day.

Buster Posey

Not only did he have a nice RBI base hit in the third inning, followed by a Hall of Fame look of dismay when Casey McGehee followed up with a double play grounder about two minutes later, but he’s playing a really good first base.

And looky-here, Brandon Belt just showed up in my apartment and he’s staring me down. C’mon Belt, relax. I don’t want you to get traded. Besides, your son and my daughter are almost the same age. They could be friends and stuff. Wait, why is Belt eating all of our cheese? Don’t the Giants feed him?

Aoki and Pagan

They had two hits each, but that’s the norm for those guys. Quit showin’ off! The other guys on the team need love, too.

Javier Lopez

If he doesn’t race over to cover first on Adrian Gonzalez’s grounder, it’s 4-2 in the eighth inning with two men aboard.

Extra BASGs

— The Timmy Twins (the fun one and the judgmental one):

SF Giants Timmy Twins

— Scott Van Slyke in a Giants uniform: yes or hell yes? (He’s 28, there’s an OF logjam in Los Angeles, and unless I’m crazy or just wrong — each option is a possibility — he seems like a pretty good ballplayer. Not that the Dodgers would ever trade a talented outfielder to anyone in the NL West or anything.)

— The Dodgers are more talented than the Giants, but this Brandon McCarthy/Brett Anderson thing isn’t going to work. However, a couple of oft-injured starters who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get people to laugh on Twitter does seem like the perfect addition to any L.A. team.

— One of the more fascinating questions surrounding the Giants right now: How long is McGehee going to be the unquestioned starter over Matt Duffy?

— I guess I should explain the lack of Giants posts over the last week and a half. Actually, I probably don’t need to, but I feel like I might as well explain so it doesn’t look like I’m only planning on writing posts after Giants wins.

As you may or may not have heard, a Bay Area Sports Baby was born back in early November. We really don’t want to leave our rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco until it becomes clear that we have no choice, so we’ve been clearing out one of our two closets (mine) to create a second bedroom. That has led to hours and hours of cleaning, shoving things into boxes, renting a storage unit (which made me feel really old for some reason) and driving all of our stuff to said storage unit in Alameda (because SF storage units are as expensive as one-bedroom apartments in my hometown of Eureka).

Toss in several hours of assorted childcare duties on top of that, plus the Warriors making history and stuff, and recapping Giants losses became less of a priority than in prior years. I’m not sure if anyone missed my Giants coverage while it went missing, but it hasn’t vanished. It’s just went from Buster Posey-level dependability to Hector Sanchez, and hopefully now we can get it at least back up to an Andrew Susac kind of pace for a bit before we get back to our usual Posey standard here at BASG.

Unlucky 13: How much longer can the Giants keep an extra pitcher?

Travis Ishikawa World Series parade SF Giants

The Giants are actually 13th in Major League Baseball in batting average, which means they’re in the upper half. Hooray! Yet they’re hitting .231, and it’s a punchless .231 at that. Boo.

The worry going into this season was that their rotation would collapse under the weight of injuries, overuse and a lack of true aces other than Madison Bumgarner. The rotation has actually performed alright, by and large. But with this bloated pitching staff that includes 13 guys, the Giants don’t really have a bench.

Bruce Jenkins did a great job explaining the quandry Bruce Bochy faced last night:

Down 3-0 in the fourth inning, and immersed in a terrible scoring drought, the Giants really needed to pinch-hit for Tim Hudson with two out and two runners on against right-hander Christian Bergman. With only two real options, neither of them left-handed (it was too early for Posey), Hudson was allowed to hit and struck out to end the inning.

Hudson ended up going seven innings, which was a nice break for the bullpen. But Jenkins was right — forget the bullpen in times like these. The Giants have scored eight runs in the last six games, and not coincidentally they’ve lost their last five.

The position players can be divided into two groups.

Run producers: Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Casey McGehee, Brandon Crawford, Travis Ishikawa, Justin Maxwell

Posey is dealing with a neck injury of some sort (he grimaced noticeably last night after the swing he took before driving the ball to the warning track); Pence and Ishikawa are on the DL; Belt is playing through a groin injury; McGehee is making his way back after a bone bruise caused enough pain to send him to the dirt in San Diego; Crawford already looks tired and may have gotten HR-happy after his blast in Arizona; Maxwell is a doing about as well as could be expected (.231 average with a couple runs batted in).

Table-setters: Nori Aoki, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, Gregor Blanco

Aoki has been awesome; Pagan isn’t much for throwing to the correct base, but his offense has been there; Panik is 3-for-25 since Opening Day; Duffy is hitting .300 with a few walks; Blanco hasn’t done much of anything.

Guys who are just kind of there: Joaquin Arias, Hector Sanchez

Arias is 1-for-9 with a homer and Sanchez is 3-for-17, neither player has a walk.

***

With five guys in that first category dealing with injuries, and an already short bench, it’s no wonder that the Giants have had so much trouble scoring runs since leaving Phoenix. Awful production with guys on base hasn’t helped, either. But reinforcements could be on the way, if the Giants choose to use them. Ishikawa is 4-for-14 with a couple walks in Sacramento, and Adam Duvall is hitting .478 with two homers in six games.

Just one question (and it’s not an easy one): Which pitcher do the Giants remove from the active roster?

The idea going into this season was that George Kontos and Jean Machi were the last two pitchers on the staff. Kontos has given up at least one hit in each of his four appearances, but he hasn’t allowed a run in 5.1 innings. He isn’t going anywhere. Machi has allowed four hits, three walks and two runs in four innings, but is that enough to convince the Giants to give up on a guy who might have been their best reliever in the first half of last season?

Then there’s Ryan Vogelsong, who’s allowed 15 hits and 12 runs (11 earned) in 8.1 innings. But he looked better than his numbers in that start in Arizona, and he was the sacrificial lamb in San Diego after Bumgarner got shelled. Oh, and he’s guaranteed to make $4 million this season.

The Giants may have figured that a pitcher other than Cain would go on the DL by this point (like Jake Peavy), and that’s how they’d go about adding a much-needed bench player. That’s how they kept Erik Cordier when he was going up against Kontos and Machi this Spring. Maybe giving someone like Peavy, Vogelsong or Machi an extra two weeks of rest is how they’ll end up squeezing Ishikawa or Duvall onto the 25-man roster. The other options (DFA’ing a veteran pitcher or going with an extremely short bench) don’t seem all that great at this point, as the Giants are reminded on a daily basis that carrying 13 pitchers comes with a price.

Madison Bumgarner throws bullpen, rides horse

After all that Madison Bumgarner did last October, he deserved one more day in the sun. Before 1 pm the clouds parted at AT&T Park, and Bumgarner received the loudest ovation (two, actually — it was almost like a curtain call after Bumgarner’s name was announced by Jon Miller as the teams stood on the foul lines).

It was a day of twos for Bumgarner, who threw two bullpens. He came out and threw several pitches with Mark Gardner watching closely, went back inside for a bit, then a few minutes later came out and threw some more. After blaming his rough outing on Saturday to a mechanical flaw that caused his pitches to come in too flat, apparently a little extra work was required.

Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner SF Giants

Bumgarner looked surprise during pregame introductions that doffing his cap once wasn’t enough. When you’re included on everyone’s “best World Series pitchers of all time” lists after almost singlehandedly bringing San Francisco its third championship, polite applause and yays are replaced by stomping feet and vocal cord-torching screams.

Madison Bumgarner Giants

Then the horses came out. No way would the Giants risk letting their franchise pitcher get bucked off a horse in front of 42,000, right? But this is Bumgarner, so the normal rules of caution don’t apply. He rode the horse along the warning track (I’m assuming it wasn’t the one that needed to be calmed down by a police officer after entering the field) while country music filled the air.

Madison Bumgarner horse World Series flag

Madison Bumgarner police horse World Series flag

From Bumgarner the flag was passed to Jeremy Affeldt, who along with the other remaining three-time champs walked up the stairs to the arcade area in right-center. The scene seemed familiar, but it was a reminder of how times have changed since Brian Wilson took the flag across the outfield grass by himself in 2011.

SF Giants raise World Series flag

SF Giants world series flag 2014

San Francisco Giants World Series flag 2014

No, the flag did not feature Bumgarner blowing a snot rocket. That sure would make a nice statue outside the park, though. And now is when I’ll leave AT&T Park. The folks at CSN Bay Area were kind enough to invite me to be on Yahoo SportsTalk Live tonight, but I’ve gone three days without shaving and I’m wearing standard baseball writer clothes (translation: not a suit). Oh well, it would’ve been nice to see what the Giants did in their home opener in person, but so far they’ve left about 26 guys on base. Plus (and no offense to Chris Heston intended), Bumgarner isn’t pitching.

Giants’ rotation is what we thought it was (except not really at all)

The Giants owe a debt of gratitude to Clayton Kershaw, both for keeping their business model (“We’re the opposite of the A’s, because our shit works in the playoffs”) looking golden and calming everyone down about Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll admit it: Bumgarner’s shortest outing in years against the Padres would’ve looked a lot worse (to me, anyway), and a lot more like something that could be related to post-postseason fatigue (to me, anyway), if Kershaw wasn’t getting lit up by the D-Backs at the exact same time. It’s baseball, and slight mechanical tweaks made by the ones who understand best how to implement them can change seasons with startling immediacy. The smart money says that’s what’ll happen with Bumgarner and Kershaw.

It’s only been a week, but the performance of the Giants’ rotation was weird and unpredictable enough to leave anyone watching these games feeling like they rode the Zipper too many times at the county fair. The main bouts of queasiness come from the outings put forth by Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy, but the bright spots aren’t bankable yet either.

— Bumgarner’s delivery on Saturday came with a flaw that caused his pitches too come in on a plane that was too flat to fool big league hitters. It’s probably an easy fix, unless it’s a symptom of a far greater problem.

— Vogelsong is a creature of habit who was asked to prepare for long relief duties, then thrown into Game 2 as the starter, then asked to take his lumps as a long reliever after three days rest. Does he just need time to figure out his role, or does he even have that luxury this year?

— We all thought Peavy was headed for the DL a few days ago, then some sort of adjustment fixed the problem in his back. He looked great early, then tired out quickly. Is that something that’ll go away in a start or two, or is that the pitcher he is now — a guy who can get through the order twice and then all bets are off?

***

Just as we can’t project the rest of the season based on what we’ve seen so far from Bumgarner, Vogelsong and Peavy, the good starts guarantee just as little.

— Chris Heston was phenomenal, with a darting fastball, tight curveball and a devastating changeup he used almost as a secret weapon. But all the scouting reports in the world don’t equal real life experience, and Heston had unfamiliarity on his side. The scouting reports on Heston are going to get a lot more precise now that he’s a regular member of the rotation.

— Tim Hudson walked five and gave up five hits on Friday, but survived without allowing a run anyway. At times he brought to mind the same pitcher who made the All-Star team last year, but the Giants can’t expect consistency throughout 32 starts from a pitcher who made 457 of them before this season.

— Tim Lincecum looked really good on Saturday, and not just because he pitched seven shutout innings. Lincecum looks one of those guys who’s incapable of being even the slightest bit overweight, but he looked as physically stout yesterday as I can remember. Our worst memories of Lincecum over the past few years have come during road starts in humid cities, with the wispy hurler sweating buckets and looking exhausted by the end of the first inning. Maybe the prospect of a contract year and a tenuous spot in the rotation caused Lincecum to not just reconnect with his father, but change his workouts and lifestyle as well.

That being said, Lincecum looked dominant against the Padres, a team he could probably defeat throwing left-handed while mono-stricken. Still, it was a great first step.

***

We’re impatient — or at least I am, as I’d love to take what we saw this week and project what it means for the Giants, who started the year 3-4. All we can safely assume is that it’s going to be a struggle, and Bruce Bochy is going to have to finesse this rotation all season long. But we already knew that, right?

Extra BASGs

— Matt Cain is still available to pitch this season, which the Giants have to consider a victory after we heard about “forearm tightness” on Opening Day.

— Casey McGehee’s a Bay Area guy (I consider the Santa Cruz area as part of the greater Bay Area, because I never felt disconnected when I went to UCSC), so he’ll understand this advice.

He hella needs to chill out.

The poor guy crumbled out of the batter’s box on Saturday due to a bone bruise in his knee, an injury that apparently occurred on Opening Day. Maybe that’s why he’s been overanxious at the plate and jumpy in the field, but it sure seems like he was trying to replace Pablo Sandoval and earn a contract extension in the first week of the season. Once he relaxes — and why not, it’s not like Bruce Bochy is going to replace him with Joaquin Arias — he’ll get nightly praise from Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow and regular standing ovations in no time.

— Then there’s Nori Aoki, who might get a bobblehead day by June at this rate. (Might I recommend one with Aoki running through Roberto Kelly’s stop sign at third base?)

— Justin Maxwell made a fantastic catch against the right field wall during Sunday’s loss … with a guy that big and strong, you’re left to wonder why he was available.

— Buster Posey is 28, which means he’s ENTERING his prime as a hitter. It’s crazy to think about, since he won an MVP at age 25 and already has three World Series rings as the full-time catcher, but according to a Baseball Prospectus study in 2010, a hitter’s prime comes when he’s either 29 or 30 — 30.0 is the average age when on-base percentage skills are at their highest, with batting average peaking at 28.4 and slugging at 28.6.

What’s my point? Posey looks like he’s at the top of his game as a hitter, and it’s going to be very difficult for Bruce Bochy to take him out of the lineup … not like it’s ever easy.

680 or 1050: Lengthy Warriors playoff run could put KNBR in tough spot

warriors knbr 68

KNBR 680’s teams make a hell of a trio. As the flagship station of the San Francisco Giants, “The Sports Leader” has aired three World Series-clinching games in the last five years. The San Francisco 49ers went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games, and even in their current state of disarray they’re discussed on every show more than any other team in the region.

Then there are the Warriors, who’ve been on KNBR for 31 consecutive seasons (39 overall) but have been an afterthought for much of that time. For years, that made sense. With all due respect to Tim Roye, there are more pleasant things to listen to in one’s car than a 19-win basketball team losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves. But things are different now. KNBR has all sorts of material from the team with the NBA’s best record, and they put some time and effort into promoting the Warriors with commercials discussing the greatness of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and their announcers (Roye and Tom Tolbert), plus weekly radio shows with Draymond Green and Steve Kerr.

But now it’s April. The “slow” period of the sports year is over, as baseball is here and the NBA Playoffs are starting soon (and thank goodness for that).

The Warriors are favored to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, which would mean at least 16 playoff games. Meanwhile, the Giants are the Giants. This creates a bit of a quandry for KNBR — if the Warriors get all the way to the NBA Finals, there’s a good chance at least one of those games (all of which would be played in the evening) will coincide with a Giants game.

And we all know who’ll win that war.

If the Giants are playing a regular season baseball game, an overlapping Warriors game is relegated to KNBR 1050. There are no exceptions to this, even during the playoffs — four out of the seven first round games against the Clippers were on 1050 a year ago. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with KNBR 1050, where I appear with Ted Ramey on Wednesdays each week at 1 pm (shameless plug). But that station doesn’t have the reach of KNBR 680, commonly known as the “50,000-watt blowtorch.”

It’s actually a good problem to have; the Giants bring great ratings to KNBR 680, and the Warriors’ successful campaign gives its hosts another subject to fill airtime. On that note, there’s been a lot more Warriors talk on the local airwaves since I wrote about that subject a couple months ago.

If people are interested in listening to Warriors playoff games that happen to take place when the Giants are on, they probably know where to find hoops on the radio. However, the Warriors probably don’t find this to be an optimal arrangement. With their recent run of success, a superstar who’s the odds-on favorite to be named NBA MVP after this season, and a shiny new arena in San Francisco probably opening in 2018, one has to wonder if the Warriors will one day get fed up with the sister-station treatment.

KNBR is clearly the ratings leader among the Bay Area’s sports radio stations, its AM signal has a much larger reach than 95.7 The Game, and there’s something to be said for your fans knowing which station your games will be on year after year. For those reasons I’d predict that the Warriors will re-up with KNBR when their contract ends after the 2015-16 season. BUT … if the Warriors win their first NBA championship in 40 years and the clinching game is heard on 1050, it could lead to some interesting discussions during the two parties’ next round of negotiations.

Giants beat D-Backs, and Chris Heston can pitch

Chris Heston Hunter Pence

There would’ve been no reason to throw in the towel after the first series of the season if the Giants got routed in this game, especially since none of their injuries are of the season-ending variety at this point. But if Chris Heston came in and got rocked, or just looked like he couldn’t handle the pressure, the Giants would’ve had one more reason to worry about the long-term viability of their rotation.

Instead, Heston pitched beautifully. After hitting the first batter he faced, A.J. Pollock, and allowing Pollock to snag two more bases on a bad pickoff throw, Heston surrendered Arizona’s first gift run of the game on a ground ball. It was especially annoying since the Giants had already squandered a bases loaded, one-out opportunity in the top of the first. But Heston pitched really well from then on, and the Giants took the series with a 5-2 win.

Every pitch Heston threw seemed to move. Sinkers that rode in on righties, tight curveballs, and a wicked changeup he used a little less often but no less expertly. The other run was scored by Paul Goldschmidt, who crushed a double to right, but it’s tough to blame Heston for giving up a liner to the wall against one of the best hitters in the game. It’s easier to blame Hector Sanchez for the “wild pitch” and passed ball that allowed Goldschmidt to advance two more bases.

On the other hand, Sanchez seems to have a calming influence and Heston had to have been amped. He pitched a little bit last September with the Giants, but he was a different person and pitcher then. Now he’s on the edge of gaining a spot in a big league rotation that, if he pitches well enough, he might not relinquish for months or even years. Besides an inability to throw the ball correctly whenever he saw Pollock at the very beginning, Heston showed a Bumgarneresque ability as he allowed three hits over six innings to make everything seem surprisingly smooth and tranquil. Well, except for that moment when Heston fell off the mound, as if that particular baseball he threw was actually one of those eight-pound “shots” they use in the track and field event that’s dominated by hulking, sweaty guys.

Player of the Game: Chris Heston

The curveball he threw to end the fifth was filthy. Heston isn’t exactly Adam Wainwright, and we’re getting waaaaayyy ahead of ourselves to plot out each of his next 31 starts with the Giants over the rest of the 2015 campaign, but that’s a good curveball from a right-handed starter right there.

Extra BASGs

— Did Jean Machi need a little extra time to warm up? Or did Bruce Bochy walk out to the mound and take the ball from Heston before the bottom of the seventh started to allow the Giants fans in attendance to give Heston a standing ovation? I’m guessing it’s possible that Heston’s family was present, and on the radio broadcast I could hear at least one guy trying to start a “Let’s Go Giants” chant. D-Backs fans already know they should stay away from Chase Field this season.

— I also heard Dave Flemming mention on the radio side how all of Casey McGehee’s at-bats seemed to start with 0-2 counts. That included his ninth inning at-bat after Buster Posey hit a bloop single.

The ball got out of the park quickly enough to get the swing and almost all of Duane Kuiper’s trademark home run call on the same vine — that’s a speedy line drive, and now McGehee is a quarter of the way to his 2014 home run total.

— The Giants had 14 hits, but Posey deserved his ninth inning duck snort after hitting balls hard right at defenders on two separate occasions. Brandon Crawford hit a ball that was caught on the warning track in straightaway center. Justin Maxwell hit a smash to left that was caught at the wall.

— I had a feeling that Nori Aoki would be one of those players who looked like he was born to be a Giant, even if his 2015 numbers end up being the same as his three previous MLB seasons.

— Like Aoki, Matt Duffy is a unique ballplayer who seems to be able to hit the ball wherever he pleases. Maybe Duffy’s cue shot down the first base line was dumb luck, but it sure looked intentional.

— This game was all about calming nerves for the Giants, who were probably glancing up at every window they walked under today — just in case there was a teetering anvil, ready to drop at any time. The bullpen followed Heston’s lead with one nice inning apiece from Machi, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.

— And here’s the reality police to remind everyone that the D-Backs are a bad, bad team with awful pitching and one memorable position player.

— Andrew Baggarly gave Henry Schulman a birthday treat in the form of a churro dog with several candles lit, and Schulman enjoyed his dessert. Most of it, anyway.

Why Cody Ross is a perfect fit for the A’s (and not the Giants)

Last night Susan Slusser reported the Oakland Athletics’ interest in Cody Ross, who’s famous around here for hitting five home runs in the 2010 postseason, including two off Roy Halladay. Today it became official: Ross cleared waivers and now he’s a member of the A’s.

The A’s, looking for outfielders much of the past week since Coco Crisp’s elbow surgery, are close to landing Cody Ross, who was the NLCS MVP with the Giants in 2010.

Ross was released by Arizona over the weekend and essentially will cost nothing to take a look at — sort of a win-win situation as the A’s try to find experienced depth.

Arizona is on the hook for the bulk of his $9.5 million salary, minus the pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum of $507,500.

It’s an easy decision for Billy Beane. With Coco Crisp out two months and Josh Reddick set to return from an oblique injury this weekend, the A’s need all the outfield help they can get. And Ross, while lacking anything approaching durability since 2010, was a productive player as recently as 2013 when he found a way to amass 2.8 WAR despite playing only 94 games for Arizona.

Ross was a popular figure in San Francisco, as his postseason heroics overshadowed a disappointing 2011 season in which his defense regressed and nagging injuries held him to a .240 batting average in 121 games. He signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, then agreed to a three-year, $26 million pact with the D-Backs.

Why didn’t the Giants try harder to keep Ross around when they had a couple chances to do so?

“Simply put, with Ross, we could never get on the same page,” said Brian Sabean in December of 2011, after the Giants had already traded for Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera.

Ross expressed happiness during his first season in Boston with his new surroundings, as he wrote in his blog for ESPN:

Fenway is such a great hitters’ park. For my swing, it plays well. I’m not conscious about trying to hit home runs. You don’t have to be here. All you have to be is worried about squaring the ball up and it will go. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to have a hitter-friendly park at home. It’s nice.

After hitting 22 home runs for the Red Sox, Boston didn’t push all that hard to bring him back. Neither did the Giants.

After a solid 2012 season in Boston, Ross was a free agent again and drew what he considered lukewarm interest from the Giants.

“Early they called and just told us to keep them in mind,” he said. “I kind of figured what that meant. If they didn’t sign (Angel) Pagan there was a chance they might take a run at me. But they came to a deal and rightfully so. Angel had an amazing year and a great postseason. He deserved it. That’s for sure.”

The Giants are generally more interested in plug-and-play guys who they can count on for 145-155 games, regardless of who’s pitching. Now it appears Ross will head to Oakland, which means he’ll go back to playing his home games in a park that isn’t exactly “hitter-friendly.” Even so, the A’s may be the perfect team for Ross, given their platoon-friendly ways.

  • Ross vs. RHP (2.672 PA): .250/.308/.403, 69 HR
  • Ross vs. LHP (1,109 PA): .294/.360/.557, 63 HR

Reddick is a left-handed hitting right fielder who hits better against righties, and Ross’ presence allows Bob Melvin to play Ben Zobrist at second against lefties in lieu of Eric Sogard.

Ross may have made some sense for the Giants, but they wanted to give Justin Maxwell a shot. And who knows, maybe they grew tired of Ross by the end of that frustrating 2011 campaign. Also, they seem to shy away from players who complain about anything, be it playing time (Nate Schierholtz), the weather at AT&T Park (Carlos Beltran), or the park’s dimensions (Ross and an untold number of power-hitting veterans). However, it’s a safe bet that if Maxwell struggles and Ross seizes this opportunity with Oakland, Giants fans will wonder why Bobby Evans (who apparently is in charge of these sorts of moves now) didn’t try harder to bring “Ssory Doc” back to San Francisco.

Giants lose another player, lose 7-6 to D-Backs

groinbelt

The good news is that the soul of this team hasn’t vanished. This is the same group of fiery, talented players that we remember from October, and they gave Arizona a scare after falling behind 7-4. The bad news is a lot of these players have already gotten injured, and the questions about their starting rotation weren’t answered (in a good way, at least) on Tuesday night.

The Giants will not finish this season undefeated. Ryan Vogelsong fought and fought and the results showed nothing but struggle. He gave up seven earned and two three-run homers, a wholly disappointing night considering how well he looked in its early stages.

But at least Vogelsong left due to fatigue and dingers instead of injury. The Giants lost Brandon Belt to a groin strain of some sort; he went back to chase a foul pop and came up lame after two steps. He told the beat writers that he could jog if needed, but the evil groin fairy “grabbed me pretty good.” But hey, at least there are ways to keep Belt on a jogging-only plan … as long as no one hits the ball in his direction when he’s playing first base, and he hits nothing but home runs, infield flies and grounders to the pitcher when he’s at the plate.

The Giants have dealt with several boo-boos over the last few weeks, but only one of these injuries should’ve taken anyone by surprise. Matt Cain had elbow surgery eight months ago and tossed over 1,500 big league innings before turning 28. Jake Peavy pitched 218.2 innings (including four postseason starts) at age 33 last year, and he will almost certainly follow Cain to the DL. Belt is in the midst of a 12-month period where weird things keep happening to him, so we should probably just expect them at this point. Hunter Pence’s fractured arm was probably the one example of truly bad luck, since he’s Mr. Perfect Attendance.

Player of the Game: Buster Posey

He got caught napping off first base by Arizona catcher Tuffy Gosewich. No one’s perfect, but Posey came pretty close throughout the rest of this game, going 3-for-3 with a walk after finishing 0-for-4 on Monday night. He hit the team’s first home run of the season, a two-run shot to left in the first inning. He made a nice throw to third base to get the lead runner on Rubby De La Rosa’s bunt, too.

Extra BASGs

— The palpable anger is part of Vogelsong’s charm. However, the body language he showed tonight after those home runs might have been a little over the top — especially the one by Jake Lamb that knocked him out of the game. It’s not often you see a pitcher fling his glove several feet in the air.

And hey, I finally got a Vine account today! Here’s my first Vine:

It’s a totally understandable display, knowing how much Vogelsong cares and the high hopes he must have had for this start, and it won’t matter at all if Vogelsong pitches well in his next turn. But regardless of how accurate a home plate umpire’s strike zone might be that evening, the glove toss is just a bad look. Sort of like a golfer tossing his nine iron into the lake. Letting the world know you’re at your wit’s end is a strange message to send during the second game of the season.

— Bochy told the beat guys that the Giants will need to look at bringing up a position player fairly quickly, seeing as they were already dealing with a short bench caused by their 13-man pitching staff. So with Belt hurt, it seems likely that we’ll see plenty of Andrew Susac behind the plate and Buster Posey at first base in the coming days.

— With all the gloom and doom, it’s worth noting that the offense has been fairly awesome so far. The Giants made mincemeat of both D-Backs starters — not that Arizona has great pitchers or plays in a pitching-friendly park, but it’s a start.

  • Brandon Crawford is hitting balls hard all over the place and hit an impressive home run to left-center off De La Rosa.
  • Belt hit an absolute seed to left to drive in a run (that’s what’s so maddening about these injuries, Belt could be one of the National League’s best hitters if he could stay on the damned field).
  • Angel Pagan took strike three to end the game, but when he’s on and healthy — like he appears to be currently — he’s one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league.

— Nori Aoki, Joe Panik and Casey McGehee didn’t do much of anything on Tuesday, but they were fantastic the night before. The offense should be good enough to keep the Giants afloat, and as Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow lamented after the game, four runs is usually enough for this team. Six runs, even in a desert bandbox like Chase Field, should get the Giants a victory eight out of ten times. The problem isn’t how to hold down the fort until Pence comes back, it’s keeping the bullpen from being completely exhausted by mid-April.

Bumgarner and new look offense lead Giants to Opening Night win

bumgarner
Photo shamelessly stolen from @LOLKNBR

So far, so good … once the game started. The Giants released a worrisome Matt Cain update before the game, along with the expected announcement that Ryan Vogelsong would start in place of Jake Peavy.

The Giants looked lively in the first, but Joe Panik and Angel Pagan were stranded after reaching base with one out. But Madison Bumgarner lulled the D-Backs to sleep with his slider, the hitters wearing gray kept slapping the ball all over Chase Field where Arizona fielders weren’t, and the Giants started the season with a 5-4 victory.

It wasn’t easy. They rarely are. Bumgarner didn’t look as sharp as usual early on, plunking two guys and allowing a deep run-scoring triple to Mark Trumbo in the third inning on a fastball. That’s how spoiled we’ve gotten with Bumgarner that we can nitpick the early innings of a seven-inning, one-run outing.

Bumgarner left with a 5-1 lead after throwing 93 pitches — a prudent Opening Night decision regardless of Bumgarner’s 2014 workload. Bruce Bochy went with Javier Lopez, who gave up a single to Ender Inciarte. That led to Jean Machi, who had a pretty decent Spring (3.21 ERA). Machi wild-pitched Inciarte to second on his way to a walk to Paul Goldschmidt, and gave up a one-out single to Aaron Hill. In came a guy who looked like one of the Giants’ best at the end of Spring Training, Sergio Romo (2.16 ERA). Jake Lamb saw a juicy fastball from Romo and sent a drive to the center field wall to clear the bases. Romo struck out Tuffy Gosewich and walked Cliff Pennington, and Jeremy Affeldt (5.40 ERA during an exhibition season where Bruce Bochy called him out for not pitching smart enough) got David Peralta swinging on a curveball.

Santiago Casilla came in and notched a clean save, despite throwing a hanging curve to Goldschmidt with two outs that would’ve been crushed 480 feet if Tim Lincecum had thrown it. Instead Goldschmidt fouled it back and ended the game with a strikeout on the next pitch.

Player of the game: Angel Pagan

Pagan looked like a No. 3 hitter, with three hits (including two doubles), two runs batted in and a walk. He also seems to have added a “two finger guns in the pretend holsters” gesture to his trademark salute, unless he used to do that before and I either didn’t notice or forgot. Which is certainly possible. Anyway, Pagan looked pretty good after starting out 3-for-23 or whatever in the Cactus League.

He also did a good job preventing Hill’s single from getting by him after it took a tough hop. It ended up not mattering with Lamb’s double, but it was still a decent play. This play was better.

Extra BASGs

— In case what I’ve written up to this point isn’t clear, Spring Training stats have the predictive value of horoscopes.

— Maybe the news on Cain isn’t so bad after all:

— The offense was a flurry of jabs that knocked Collmenter out before he could get through five innings. Nori Aoki had two hits after a sharp lineout in his first at-bat of the season. Panik had three hits in his first three plate appearances. Casey McGehee went 2-for-3 with a walk and Brandon Crawford went 2-for-4 and knocked in two on a double that scooted by Trumbo. Matt Duffy had a pinch-hit single on a chopper to right. And that’s how the Giants scored five runs despite no hits from Buster Posey or Brandon Belt.

— The Giants were 5-for-13 when they hit the ball to the opposite field. That has to please Hensley Meulens, since this is not a team that’s going to get very far if they get too pull-happy.

— This is might cause an unwanted visual for some readers, considering the guy’s mustache, but D-Backs reliever Andrew Chafin should put an apostrophe after the “N” on his jersey.

— I wrote a big ol’ season preview earlier today that contains a bunch of silly predictions.

— If every game goes like this one, the Giants will be in good shape. They just need to go back to their one-Bumgarner rotation and get multi-hit games from five players and they’ll be just fine.

— A lot of people brought up the return of “snotrockets in flight,” but I’ll remember the tantrum Bumgarner threw after striking out with two on and two out in the fourth (angry at himself, not the umpire). We don’t get to see it too often because things generally go so well for Bumgarner, but his temper is legendary.

Cain had MRI (forearm tightness), Giants skipping Peavy’s start tomorrow

Matt Cain Batkid and Batman first pitch AT&T Park SF Giants

The above photo shows Matt Cain before last year’s home opener. He was scheduled to start next Monday’s home opener against the Rockies, but that is very much in doubt after today’s bad news. Cain reportedly suffered forearm tightness after his last Spring Training start, and today the Giants announced that Cain underwent an MRI and his first start on Wednesday is in question.

And that’s not all! Ryan Vogelsong will start in place of Jake Peavy tomorrow in Phoenix, as Peavy is dealing with a sore back and recently dealt (or may still be dealing) with a case of “dead arm,” which Peavy and the Giants hope will come back to life soon.

As a result, the Giants’ 2015 season was in the balance before Josh Collmenter threw his first pitch to Nori Aoki. Forearm tightness is often the precursor to Tommy John surgery, although we should be clear that no decisions have been made (publicly). Maybe it’s just a different kind of elbow iffiness from what he experienced earlier in Spring Training, but it’s just pain from his previous elbow surgery and not a problem with his ulnar collateral ligament. Hey, if hoping that his UCL is completely healthy makes you feel better on Opening Day, go for it.

Perhaps he just has a small tear to his UCL, and he can pitch through it. That’s what Masahiro Tanaka is doing, and … wait, just a sec while I check today’s boxscores … yeah, everyone reading this should probably go ahead and ignore Tanaka’s performance against the Blue Jays. Just trust me.

If the Giants’ remarkable run of Tommy John surgery avoidance is about to end relatively soon, what are they going to do? They don’t want to use Yusmeiro Petit as a starter, probably because they need a dependable “long man” pretty badly with this motley crew — Tim Lincecum averaged 5.6 innings per start last season and Tim Hudson is coming off his second ankle surgery in two years. Besides Petit, who else can fill such a vital and unpredictable spot in a bullpen? The Giants don’t want to go the Juan Gutierrez route again if they can help it.

Since it’s natural to wonder if Cain’s season is over before it had a chance to get started, and the smart move is to avoid rushing Peavy in April (given his age and the fact that he’s under contract for next season), the “10 predictions” section of this morning’s 2015 San Francisco Giants preview is already incomplete. Although now I’m almost certain that prediction No. 8 is going to come true.

Since all we can do at this point is speculate while watching tonight’s game, I’ve whipped up a few more predictions.

1. We’re going to see a lot of Heston, a 26-year-old who had a 2.40 ERA in 15 Cactus League innings.

2. Bruce Bochy is going to use George Kontos 85 times before the All-Star Break.

3. People will make jokes about Barry Zito coming back. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s already happening. (Phony prediction, scrap that one.)

3. People will call for the Giants to send Andrew Susac and whatever else it’ll take to the Phillies for Cole Hamels. That’ll probably happen by 9:07 am tomorrow. (And feel free to replace “Phillies” with “Reds” and “Cole Hamels” with “Johnny Cueto.”)

2015 San Francisco Giants preview

AT&T Park rally towels 2014 NLDS Game 4

Now that we know what the 25-man roster looks like (for a week or two, anyway), we can let you know exactly how this season is going to go. First, here’s the roster.

Pitchers (13)

Jeremy Affeldt LHP
Madison Bumgarner LHP
Matt Cain RHP
Santiago Casilla RHP
Tim Hudson RHP
George Kontos RHP
Tim Lincecum RHP
Javier Lopez LHP
Jean Machi RHP
Jake Peavy RHP
Yusmeiro Petit RHP
Sergio Romo RHP
Ryan Vogelsong RHP

Catchers (2)

Buster Posey
Hector Sanchez

Infielders (6)

Joaquin Arias
Brandon Belt
Brandon Crawford
Matt Duffy
Casey McGehee
Joe Panik

Outfielders (4)

Nori Aoki
Gregor Blanco
Justin Maxwell
Angel Pagan

Before we start previewin’, an admission of sorts: I have no idea what I’m doing. My hunch is that the Giants will finish somewhere between 85 and 89 wins and compete for a Wild Card spot. But predicting baseball wins is next to impossible, because we don’t know how often a team will pitch, hit and field reasonably well enough at the same time to score more runs than its opponent. This preview is more about how it’s going to feel to watch this team defend its third title in five years than a definitive look at whether or not they’ll make the playoffs. None of us — fans, writers, pundits, scouts, execs — have any idea what’ll happen on that front.

The Giants are not a sexy team, which is why the experts aren’t picking them to do much of anything this season other than get in the way of the Dodgers and Padres, the two teams that everyone is excited to see. Many casual baseball fans probably don’t even remember who won the 2014 World Series. (“Red Sox, right?”)

That’s partly because the only people who are excited by San Francisco’s players are followers of the Giants. Other than Hunter Pence, none of their stars have played anywhere else, and who’s staying up until 1 am on the East Coast to watch Buster Posey face Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning? Also, it’s a fairly safe bet that no one on the Giants will lead the National League in any of the main statistical categories. Their model is to wiggle their way through the postseason gate before it shuts, and once inside they feast on opponents’ mistakes with a roster full of players who get better when the lights shine brighter.

Position players: what they’ve lost

Two players who fit the description in the last sentence of the previous paragraph: Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. The Giants may miss their powers of concentration more than their power numbers. Sandoval and Morse have big personalities, and both carry a presence to the plate in big moments.

Position players: what they’ve gained

In Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, the two players who are ostensibly replacing Sandoval and Morse, the Giants traded in two finicky sports coupes for a Toyota Camry and a Honda Accord. Gone are the worries about whether Sandoval will arrive in shape or stay that way, or which muscle Morse pulled the night before. The Giants know what they can expect from McGehee and Aoki, and sometimes predictability is a manager’s (and general manager’s) best friend.

Pitchers: what they’ve lost

Nothing, surprisingly. They re-signed Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo, and after a dalliance with the Houston Astros, Ryan Vogelsong returned as well. Vogelsong will start tomorrow to give Peavy’s dead arm a break, which is interesting since Vogelsong’s base salary is about one-third what Peavy will make this season.

Pitchers: what they’ve gained

A healthy Matt Cain? Time will tell.

Team strengths

— The Giants should be an above-average defensive team, especially when Pence returns and Gregor Blanco plays center in place of Angel Pagan.

— The bullpen has two solid closers, proven left-handers, and guys in the minors they can plug in when guys are injured/ineffective.

— Outfield speed.

— Buster Posey’s understated brilliance.

— The physical and mental strength of Madison Bumgarner.

— Hunter Pence’s optimism and hustle.

— The promise of Brandon Belt.

— One of the better all-around shortstops in the league.

— A Hall of Fame-caliber manager.

— A history of never selling and always competing; some front offices seem to believe that fear of failure (and the team getting dismantled) can work in a club’s favor, and the Giants know that the opposite is true. Baseball plus instability makes for a rancid cocktail.

— Championship blood (swagger), mixed with the hunger that comes from no one thinking they’re going to be all that good, could combine to break through the post-WS malaise.

Team weaknesses

— Rotation uncertainty, which is exacerbated by frighteningly poor depth in the high-minors.

— OK, that’s probably underselling the team’s main concern. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get strong seasons from anyone in the rotation besides Bumgarner, and he’s coming off a season where he had a pre-2000s era workload.

— Of the seven guys who can start, Bumgarner is the only one who’s under 30.

— A lineup where five of their regulars (if we include Blanco) are probably better off if they focus on putting the ball in play rather than swinging for the fences. The others: McGehee, Aoki, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford.

— In other words: this team’s home run total could be its lowest in several seasons.

— The 2014 season was long and exhausting.

— Their Opening Night No. 3 hitter (Pagan) could tweak something, miss 12 straight games, go on the disabled list, then go under the knife a month later at any time (this process could start tonight).

What it’ll be like to watch this team

If you’re like me and you DVR every game, make sure you add an extra hour when you set up the season pass. Even with MLB’s focus on the pace of games, Giants games are going to be looooonnnng.

They’re carrying 13 hurlers, so we’ll see pitching changes aplenty (for those who know what it’s like to watch Bruce Bochy wear out a path to the mound in September, this should be a familiar sight).

The lineup is full of guys who’ll spend some time at the plate. In Pence (3.97), Posey (3.84), Crawford (3.81) and McGehee (3.68), the Giants have four players who were in the top 50 among qualified NL hitters in pitches per plate appearance last year. Norichika Aoki (3.80) was 42nd in the AL last year. Among those who didn’t have enough PAs to qualify, Belt saw 3.98 pitches per plate appearance last year, Blanco saw 3.91, and Panik saw 3.83. The Giants don’t have mashers, but they don’t have hackers either. Besides Hacktor, anyway.

The competition

Who knows? The Dodgers won 94 games and gakked against the Cardinals, so they got a new front office, remade their middle infield and handed Matt Kemp to a division acquaintance (the Padres have been too boring for years to have actual “rivals”).

The Padres won’t be boring this year, but will they be any good? They’ve got a pitching staff that excites scouts, but Andrew Cashner is injury-prone and James Shields has thrown a ton of pitches over the last decade. They should be able to hit, but defense is going to be a problem and Bud Black is on the hot seat.

The D-Backs should be bad but quirky. The Rockies should be even worse, but still able to beat the Giants a majority of times they meet at Coors Field, just because.

Key players

— Casey McGehee … He could play his way to a $25 million contract with the Giants if he plays 150+ games and hits .280.

— Nori Aoki … Seems extremely well-suited for this team and AT&T Park.

— Brandon Belt … Could hit 30 home runs if he stays healthy, blah blah blah (there really isn’t much new to say here, but the Giants’ offensive hopes rest on his slumpy shoulders).

— Joe Panik … Second baseman of the future, or Matt Duffy’s platoon partner?

— Angel Pagan … Will he play through pain in a non-contract year?

— Matt Cain … His contract starts to look Zito-esque if he has an elbow-related setback.

— Tim Lincecum … Much like Zito, the only thing the Giants can depend on is that his arm will be healthy. Will all the work with his dad make him a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, or will he be out of baseball by 2016?

— Ryan Vogelsong … He seems even angrier than usual (maybe it’s the drifter beard), which could be a good thing.

— Andrew Susac … With Buster Posey supremely uninterested in playing third base, it appears that there are two long-term spots available for three players: Posey, Susac and Belt. And Posey isn’t going anywhere.

10 Predictions

  1. The Giants will play surprisingly well for stretches.
  2. They’ll look like the worst team in baseball for weeks at a time.
  3. They’ll win games thanks to silly occurrences like balks, wild pitches, passed balls, and guys getting walked with the bases loaded.
  4. They’ll be involved in several July trade rumors before ending up with a guy who doesn’t excite anyone but somehow becomes a valuable contributor.
  5. Several photos/GIFs/Vines of interactions between Pence and Aoki will go viral.
  6. Giants fans will gloat a little too loudly after Pablo Sandoval hits the DL for the first of several times as a member of the Red Sox.
  7. The Giants will end up with more All-Stars than most people think they deserve.
  8. Vogelsong will start 20 games.
  9. We’ll all get tired of that radio commercial where that man and woman argue about the Brandons (this has already happened to me).
  10. Bumgarner will shout at Yasiel Puig during a game, and after that game he will tell reporters with a half-smile that he either doesn’t remember yelling, was yelling at himself, or was wishing Puig good luck.

Lon Simmons had one outstanding trait that’s a requirement around here

Lon Simmons passed away over the weekend at the age of 91, which means he lived a long and full life, but the news was still jarring in a way. While his most famous calls — Jim Marshall running the wrong way, Steve Young’s epic touchdown run, Joe Montana to John Taylor in the Super Bowl, Willie Mays’ 600th home run — are immortal, we’re reminded that even the greatest announcers whose voices filled our cars and living rooms don’t live forever.

I didn’t hear any of Simmons’ most replayed calls when they actually occurred. I’m too young to have heard his first two stints with the Giants, and I watched Super Bowl XXIII and Young’s scamper on television. But as a child I remember how my mom, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Peninsula, vouched for Simmons as a great broadcaster who was funny.

When you’re a kid and all you want to do is gain your parents’ approval, your ear is finely tuned to these sorts of instances when they let you know how to impress them. This, of course, is before junior high school — when your peers teach you that anything and everything parents do is dumb and embarrassing.

But my mother’s appreciation for Simmons stuck with me. (And her mother’s as well, as my Nana has watched or listened to just about every Giants game since they moved to San Francisco and will undoubtedly watch Opening Night tonight.) And in 1996, the Giants brought Simmons back to announce games on a part-time basis. By this point he was in his mid-70s, but the booming baritone voice was still there. So was the humor.

One thing I can’t help but notice when traveling to other areas or catching other broadcasters — either local or national — is how many regions accept humorless announcers. How is this possible, especially in baseball, a sport that is literally a way for Americans to pass time? While other regions’ announcers fill time between pitches by reading batting averages and ERAs from game notes, we’ve been blessed with personalities who paint word pictures with a wink. It’s almost like they’re in on this little joke we all share: When you think about it, isn’t it kind of ridiculous that we all worry so much about what these players, coaches and managers do on stretches of green grass when there’s a real world out there with real problems?

It’s not that the Bay Area has a monopoly on sports-related humor, and there are a lot of serious journalists and broadcasters around here. However, there’s a reluctance to take sports too seriously here that not many places can match. It’s evident in our broadcasts, our newspapers, and even our silly regional blogs, and a lot of that can be traced to Simmons.

His wit was drier than California over the last few years, and you had to listen closely to catch all of the jokes. There were many. It didn’t matter if the Giants were winning by one or losing by six, Simmons was going to toss in a zinger or two. If I’m sad about anything, it’s that I didn’t take the time to write down some of Simmons’ funnier quips. It’s not quite the same lament that Tim Kawakami shared so eloquently yesterday, but each person who has a connection to Simmons is left with a different feeling this week, depending on his or her age and the teams he or she follows. He described the action elegantly and accurately, and his voice brought a natural authority that his personality wouldn’t let him promote. Beyond the technical skills, it was Simmons’ personality that truly shined throughout his six decades calling Giants, A’s and 49ers games.

Simmons was larger than life, yet self-deprecating. He was far from a homer, but he captured the best moments of the 49ers, Giants and A’s with thunderous excitement. He was a Hall of Fame broadcaster and a part-time comedian, and that lives on in the Giants broadcasts of today. Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming spend several hours each year laughing on the air — and right there with all of those famous calls, that’s Lon’s legacy.