July 2010

Many wins, many heroes

Wednesday, July 28

SAN FRANCISCO — When’s the last time the Giants have been this hot?

No need to answer that by citing a specific time frame in a specific year. It’s a rhetorical question more than anything.

Rarely in recent years, though, has it seemed like the Giants win virtually every day for even a moderately extended period. Just a few weeks ago, some insiders were doubting the club’s ability to sustain the kind of streak they’re on now — 17 victories in 21 games.

Buster Posey’s emergence, Aubrey Huff’s consistency and Andres Torres’ verve are just a few of the factors that have brought the Giants to brink of first place in the National League West and positioned them to continue their drive for a postseason berth.

Asked if he and his teammates stride into the clubhouse each day expecting to win, right-hander Sergio Romo said after Wednesday’s 10-9, 10-inning victory over Florida, “Realistically, yeah. We’ve always said from the beginning, even in Spring Training, that we have a good team, we’re going to compete and can play with the better teams in the league. That mindset is paying off. We know if we get our jobs done and back each other up, good things can happen.”

The Giants still lead the National League in runs during July after scoring sporadically during the season’s previous three months (they entered Wednesday as the league’s seventh-highest scoring team). They firmly believe that this is not an aberration.

“We’re not playing above our capabilities; we’re not playing below,” Romo said. “We’re just doing what we’re able to do. We’re finding our roles and trying to stick with that.”

As manager Bruce Bochy mentioned during his postgame media gathering that “we had the right guy up there” when Juan Uribe batted with two on and two outs in the ninth, it struck me that several Giants could fit the “right guy” description these days. Not just Uribe, who has hit eight home runs that either put the Giants ahead or tied the score. But also Posey. Or Huff. Lately, Travis Ishikawa. Freddy Sanchez, too. And, of course, Torres.

“Everybody who’s going up there, we feel confident with them,” Bochy said.

Weeks ago, Bochy pleaded for more “timely hitting.” He’s getting it.

“When you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and see that the number of runs scored is close to the number of hits you got, that just means you’re stringing together hits and getting them at the right time,” said center fielder Aaron Rowand, who’s hitting .329 in his last 26 games. “You can pound out 11 hits and walk away with three or four runs. It’s not like you didn’t swing the bats well, it’s just that you didn’t get the timely hitting. It’s just about being able to string together hits with runners on base and runners in scoring position.”

Rowand noted that the Giants’ ability to cope, even thrive, against top pitchers (Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Roy Oswalt, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson, to name a few) bodes well for them if they reach the postseason.

“Our pitching staff is good,” Rowand said, necessarily stating the obvious. “So if we can scratch some runs together against a good pitcher, our chances of winning the game are pretty decent. That’s what gives this team the possibility of being dangerous in the playoffs.”

P.S. To answer that question posed at the start of this entry, two other impressive streaks do come to mind. Both helped the Giants win division titles. In 1971, they started 37-14. In 1987, they closed with a 37-17 rush. This surge is different, since it’s occurring in midseason. Let’s see how long the Giants can ride this wave.

– Chris Haft

Care & feeding of teammates; Ishikawa’s flip-flop

Monday, July 26

Eugenio Velez sat in the visitors’ clubhouse at Chase Field after the Giants’ 3-2, 10-inning victory Sunday, dressed in street clothes and wearing a serene look. He probably felt lucky to be alive after surviving the concussion he sustained Saturday when Pat Burrell’s foul line drive struck him on the left side of the head.

The rest of the Giants were minding their own business, engaging in the hustle and bustle of preparing for a getaway day flight back to San Francisco. Since the Giants had won, the clubhouse stereo was happily blaring some dreadful-sounding music.

Suddenly Matt Cain approached Velez and asked him a question. “Is that too loud?” Cain asked, referring to the music’s volume. Velez shook his head, acknowledging things were fine.

But it certainly was nice of Cain to ask, since everybody knew Velez’s head was still pounding from the concussion. And it was another of the often unseen demonstrations of the bond that teammates share.

*****

This might be the season’s most hilarious statistic so far. Travis Ishikawa, who hit .349 at home and .162 on the road last year, has undergone a complete reversal. Ishikawa’s currently hitting .368 on the road and .267 at home.

“Well, now they’re going to ask me why can’t I hit at home,” Ishikawa jokingly said.

He added, “You have a lot better chance to hit on the road. AT&T Park, no matter how you look at it, is not a hitter’s park.”

– Chris Haft

Posey approaches legends with hitting streak

Wednesday, July 21

LOS ANGELES — Next up for Buster Posey: The Hall of Famers.

Posey extended his hitting streak to 15 games Wednesday night with a sixth-inning single as the Giants fell 2-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He tied Chili Davis (1982), Tom O’Malley (1982) and Dan Gladden (1984) for the third-longest hitting streak by a rookie since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958.

The only longer hitting streaks by Giants rookies belong to Orlando Cepeda (1958), who had a 17-gamer, and Willie McCovey (1959), who sustained a 22-game Stretch (pun fully intended).

Predictably, Posey said that he’s not trying to think too much about his streak, but admitted that the notion of catching or passing McCovey intrigued him.

“It’d be cool,” Posey said. He rapped on a wooden portion of his locker stall as he added to a reporter, “Hopefully you didn’t just jinx me, right?”

– Chris Haft

Thoughts on Cuzzi, some notes

Associate reporter Cash Kruth here, once again filling in
for Chris, who will be back with the Giants on Monday in L.A.

 

There’s no way around it: Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s
blown call in the bottom of the ninth was awful. Sometimes with plays, I like
to look at the TV replay before making a decision on whether or not a call was
bad (umpiring is clearly not in my future), but that one was
obvious from the start. It wasn’t Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce bad, but I
thought it was pretty cut and dry.

 

The most telling quotes came from Mets catcher Henry
Blanco:

 

"I was surprised when he called him out."
"He was safe all the way. Good for us."
"I was getting ready to go to the dugout."

 

But the most eye-popping was this gem: "He missed a
lot of pitches, not only for us, for them too," Blanco said. "It was bad all
game long, so I'm happy we got the win."

 

A lot has been made this season on the umpiring in
Major League Baseball. Personally, I've always believed that umpires have made mistakes since the dawn of baseball, it's just that the microscope on these guys is sharper because of advanced
technology and more replay. But this season - and stemming back to last year's
playoffs, really - has me just constantly shaking my head.

 

It'll be interesting to see what changes will be made
in the offseason. Although, for teams like the Giants who will probably be in a
close race throughout, it'll be tough to swallow those changes should they miss
out on the division title by one game or less.

 

A couple other notes from today’s game:

 

I thought Jonathan Sanchez threw wonderfully today, and it was good to see him come back after his previous rough outing. Plus, that ninth-inning comeback kept him from getting saddled with the loss. Despite
the Angel Pagan’s ground-rule double and David Wright’s home run, Sanchez kept
pretty even Santana throughout the game. Between the four Giants starters and the Mets’ R.A.
Dickey on Thursday and Jonathan Niese on Friday, I thought this was the strongest
series of pitching I’ve seen in two summers of covering MLB. (Granted, last
year I was in Milwaukee,
so take that as a grain of salt.)

 

*Buster Posey extended his hitting streak to 12 games.
Ho-hum. … David Wright’s homer was his 15th of the season and 155th
of his career, putting him fourth on the Mets’ all-time home run list. Remember
when Citi Field messed with his swing last year and people were worried his
power might be gone? So much for that theory.

Stunning reports in Darren Ford case

Wednesday, July 7

MILWAUKEE — Darren Ford could face big trouble.

According to published reports, the Giants’ center-field prospect was charged in his hometown of Vineland, N.J., with making false reports and a form of theft in connection with his claim in Nov. 2009 that he was robbed of a bank deposit bag belonging to his employer.

The 24-year-old Vineland native turned himself in at police headquarters on the afternoon of July 2. Ford was charged with making false reports to law enforcement, obstruction of the administration of law, conspiracy and theft by failure to make proper disposition of property received.

He was processed and released on a summons.

Last Nov. 18, Ford told police that a black or Hispanic male pointed a double barrel shotgun at him and demanded his belongings at a Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Ford was carrying a deposit bag to a bank for his employer, RK Chevrolet.

He told police he’d given the robber the deposit bag, his cell phone and $300 in cash.

Ford, 24, impressed the Giants with his speed, hustle and diligence during Spring Training, earning himself the Harry S. Jordan Award as the most outstanding first-year invitee to camp. He has spent this season playing at Double-A Ricmond.

Ford’s not guilty of anything yet, but he joins dubious company. Would-be slugger Angel Villalona remains in the Dominican Republic awaiting trail after being charged with murder last November in a barroom shooting.

Whiteside-for-Posey move confounds many

Monday, July 5

MILWAUKEE — The Giants’  4-3 loss Sunday could be remembered for its sheer duration (15 innings spanning five hours and 24 minutes), its novelty (the back-to-back homers by Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres, with the latter being inside-the-park — the first such tandem of homers by Giants since Mays/McCovey in 1966) or its agony (the Giants’ 10th defeat in 12 games).

Judging from the reaction back home and wherever Giants fans reside, none of this matters to the public. You — and your opinion counts, because you buy tickets and drive TV/radio ratings — are incensed over manager Bruce Bochy’s use of Eli Whiteside to pinch run for Buster Posey in the eighth inning.

Bochy explained after the game that he wanted Whiteside on the basepaths instead of Posey, who had just singled Pablo Sandoval to third. “On a ball in the gap, he [Whiteside] is going to score,” Bochy said. “He runs well. Which almost happened.” That last remark was a reference to Travis Ishikawa’s two-out single, which sent home Sandoval and moved Whiteside to third. But Edgar Renteria grounded out, the score remained tied 3-3 and you know the rest.

You’re disturbed because Whiteside went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, including a 13th-inning whiff with Aubrey Huff on third base and one out and a popup to end the 15th with Huff on second base. You’re annoyed because Whiteside was charged with a throwing error in the 14th that put Seth Smith on third base with nobody out (though Guillermo Mota, the eventual losing pitcher, admirably escaped that jam). You’re confounded because you’re wondering whether Whiteside really is that much faster than Posey.

From my vantage point, he isn’t. But I will never pretend to know half as much about baseball as Bochy or any of his coaches. At the same time, y’all are UPSET. It just adds to the rising tide of discontent surrounding the Giants that probably won’t ebb right away, unless they go on a nice little 12-game winning streak.

Today’s game is about four hours away as I write this. Can’t wait, can you? My best guess is that Whiteside won’t be running for Posey today — mainly because Huff, who did virtually everything he could to try to win Sunday’s game, will be worn out and in need of a rest. So Posey probably will play first while Whiteside catches.

After Sunday, what else can befall the Giants?

– Chris Haft

All-Star chance for Huff; praise for McCovey

Sunday, July 4

DENVER — The Giants just might send a third representative to the All-Star Game. But don’t count on it.

Manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday that Aubrey Huff is being considered as a replacement in case an existing National League All-Star is sidelined by injury.

Huff possesses decent statistics, including a .286 batting average to go with a team-high 15 home runs and 47 RBIs.

Huff demonstrated his value Sunday even while going 0-for-3. After drawing a one-out walk in the eighth inning — granted, he should have been out on a foul popup, but Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta and third baseman Melvin Mora let the ball drop — he further prolonged the inning with a takeout slide that prevented second baseman Jonathan Herrera from making a double-play relay to first.

Huff truly enhances his value defensively, however. He can play first base and either of the outfield corners. He would come in handy during the later innings of the All-Star Game after numerous players have been removed.

“That’s what would help,” acknowledged Bochy, whose remarks on the subject indicated that he has discussed it with Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel, the NL All-Star manager. It all makes perfect sense, since Bochy is one of Manuel’s All-Star coaches.

Huff, who has never made an All-Star team in nine previous Major League seasons, received a hearty endorsement from teammate Brian Wilson, the closer who was chosen for his second Midsummer Classic along with Tim Lincecum, now a three-time All-Star.

“I think a guy who we all know should be going with us is Aubrey Huff,” Wilson said. “I can’t explain what the guy has done for us in our lineup. … The guy is more deserving than me, I feel.”

But since any of the NL’s five Final Vote candidates (San Diego right-hander Heath Bell, Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, Cincinnati first baseman Joey Vottto, Atlanta left-hiander Billy Wagner and Washington third baseman Ryan ZimmermanI) is likely to be considered as a late addition before Huff, don’t bet on seeing him in Anaheim on July 13.

*****

Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction, received his props during TBS’ MLB All-Star Selection Show.

While commenting on the potential unavailability of Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward due to injury, former pitcher David Wells said, “Let’s just hope he does go. This guy is a stud. He’s done everything. He’s got the arm; he’s got the hits. He’s got that Willie McCovey-type swing.”

Wells respectfully added, for the benefit of younger viewers nationwide, “For those who don’t know Willie McCovey, he was a stud, too.”

– Chris Haft

Molina move necessary for Giants

Thursday, July 1

SAN JOSE (from the airport terminal, about to leave for Denver) — Bengie Molina’s tenure with the Giants should be remembered for the two Willie Mac awards he won, the admirable hitting he provided from the cleanup spot despite being miscast for the role and for the respect he commanded and received from his teammates and coaches.

That said, his departure from the Giants will accelerate whatever progress they make this season — and, boy, do they need some progress right away.

Moving Buster Posey behind the plate to replace Molina will help manager Bruce Bochy establish a semblance of a regular lineup. Without that, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated Tuesday night, San Francisco’s hopes of winning the National League West — which, if you examine the standings, can be revived by even a half-decent winning streak — are gone.

Establishing Posey as the everyday catcher should have a positive ripple effect. I initially wrote “will” instead of “should” in that previous sentence, but everything depends on which shape the Giants’ lineup takes.

If Aubrey Huff returns to first base, the Giants can add defense and a little bit of dash to their lineup by reinstalling Nate Schierholtz in right field, moving Andres Torres to left and reinstating Aaron Rowand in center field. I’ll await readers’ criticism and abuse at the mere mention of Rowand. But if he’s playing moderately well, he improves the Giants’ chances of winning, particularly when flanked by two capable all-around outfielders.

Or the Giants can continue to play Pat Burrell in left field while deciding whether to have (1) Rowand in center and Torres in right; (2) Torres in center and Schierholtz in right; (3) Torres in center and Huff in right. Option 3 doesn’t do much for the Giants if they want to re-emphasize pitching and defense. Even if Burrell goes to the bench, he’ll likely continue to start intermittently as Bochy looks for opportunities to capitalize on his bat.

If Huff remains in the outfield, that obviously affects the infield. We’d continue to see the contingent of third baseman Juan Uribe, shortstop Edgar Renteria, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and first baseman Pablo Sandoval. Since this foursome has begun appearing regularly, the Giants have gone from breathing down San Diego’s neck to fourth place in the division. Bochy might want to consider employing the infield that was in place when the Giants were thriving, featuring Huff at first, Sanchez at second, Uribe at shortstop and Sandoval at third. If it’s important to continue finding playing time for Renteria, Bochy can accomplish that by occasionally resting Uribe, Sanchez or even an outfielder (with Huff moving to one of the outfield corners).

Posey faces the challenge of learning how to handle the Giants’ pitching staff, a facet in which Molina excelled. But Posey’s intelligent as well as talented. It won’t take him long to establish working relationships with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain (Eli Whiteside probably will keep catching Jonathan Sanchez, and Posey already has a rapport with No. 5 starter Madison Bumgarner). We may see some instances of poor pitch selection in the coming weeks. But those will become less frequent as the season’s second half evolves.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers are getting a catcher and a leader who could help them fend off the Angels in the AL West. Good luck, Bengie.

– Chris Haft  

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