July 2011

Giants get veteran SS Cabrera for OF Neal

Saturday, July 30

CINCINNATI — Still intent on shoring up their infield, the Giants obtained 15-year veteran Orlando Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night for Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal.

Cabrera, 36, has played 83 games this season at second base for Cleveland, which has Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. But moving back to short, where he has played 1,807 games, shouldn’t be a problem for Cabrera, who’s hitting .244 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.

Neal, 23, had spent six years in the Giants organization. He was batting .295 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in 60 games for Triple-A Fresno.

Chris Haft

Who’s pitching Sunday?

Thursday, July 28

PHILADELPHIA — Some weird stuff is happening with the Giants’ starting rotation.

Sunday’s starter against the Cincinnati Reds is. … To Be Announced. Undetermined. For now, it’s not Barry Zito, whose next turn would have been Sunday.

Zito said after Thursday’s 4-1 victory over Philadelphia that he hasn’t been informed of anything by Giants officials or manager Bruce Bochy. But Zito added that he expects to throw his usual between-starts session off a bullpen mound Friday.

Zito’s 6.75 ERA in four career starts at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, where San Francisco plays  this weekend, may have influenced the Giants decision-makers.

Bochy, who rarely hides behind “no comment,” remained mum when approached on the subject of Sunday’s.starter.

Chris Haft

Sabean’s upbeat on Beltran, not on more deals

Thursday, July 28

PHILADELPHIA — Brian Sabean said Thursday that he’s continuing to pursue more offensive help as Sunday’s Trade Deadline approaches, but the Giants general manager didn’t sound optimistic about making more deals.

Asked if the market for catchers and shortstops, two positions where the club could stand some strengthening at the plate, had gained any life in recent days, Sabean replied, “Not really.”

Sabean spoke on a conference call to trumpet Wednesday’s acquisition of outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets for right-handed pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Predictably, Sabean was upbeat about obtaining Beltran, who’s expected to bolster the Giants’ sagging run production.

“He’s a legitmate third hitter probably on any team,” Sabean said of Beltran.

Snippets from the call:

– Sabean indicated that Beltran, a six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, was the player the Giants wanted most. Sabean recalled that he initiated talks with his Mets counterpart, Sandy Alderson, on July 1. “We always had one foot in the door,” said Sabean, who related that as he returned home from Monday’s White House visit, he received a phone call from Alderson that “rekindled” trade talks.

– Sabean’s confidence in Beltran to fill the void at the batting order’s third spot is virtually limitless. “Once (Buster) Posey went down, I thought we were dead in the water with being able to replace him,” Sabean said. “Carlos has a chance to do that.”

– Sabean was reluctant to part with Wheeler, San Francisco’s No. 1 draft choice in 2009. “I truly hate that we gave up a really good prospect,” Sabean said. “But we’re at an interesting place in time.” Translation: The Giants are in win-now mode, and Sabean said that the organization didn’t expect Wheeler to contribute at the Major League level for another few years. “It’s our job to find another Wheeler,” Sabean said, expressing confidence in the organization’s ability to develop pitching and in the haul of pitchers from this year’s draft.

– Sabean hopes that players appreciate the Beltran trade, which reflected the organization’s efforts to keep the Giants on top. “If I were a player, I’d applaud it,” said Sabean, who acquired second baseman Jeff Keppinger last week in an attempt to strengthen the lineup. “I always worry about how [players] react or what they think.”

– Sabean apparentlydoesn’t have to worry about what Beltran thinks. He spoke to the switch-hitter and received positive feedback. “He very much wanted to be a Giant,” Sabean said. 

Chris Haft

Wilson ponders influence on Beltran deal

Wednesday, July 27

 PHILADELPHIA — Naturally, Brian Wilson had to comment about his wishes coming true.

 Naturally, he delivered a hilarious response.

You may recall that Wilson, the Giants’ closer, urged Beltran to come to San Francisco and bolster the team’s offense. Wilson picked an intriguing time to do this: When lots of people (I don’t care what the television ratings said) were watching. He made his half-humorous, half-serious plea while announcing the National League’s starting lineup during the All-Star Game telecast a couple of weeks ago.

So, in the wake of Wednesday’s deal that brought Beltran from the New York Mets to the Giants, Wilson was asked about the fulfillment of his dream. Initially, Wilson didn’t say much. “It was just throwing positive vibes out there for a good player,” he said after recording his league-leading 32nd save in the Giants’ 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Wilson added, “I didn’t do anything.” Dramatic pause. “Or — did I?”

 That last remark prompted laughter among Wilson’s interrogators. Given the right-hander’s faith in his own powers, it was a very Wilsonian thing to say.

 *****

 Numbing numbers from Wednesday:

Matt Cain’s victory over the Phillies was his first in the regular season. He was 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA in five previous starts against Philadelphia.

The Giants snapped Chase Utley’s on-base-safely streak at 28 games in a row.

San Francisco’s bullpen has recorded a 0.51 ERA since the All-Star break. That’s two earned runs in 35 innings.

 — Chris Haft

Beltran-to-Giants looking imminent

Wednesday, July 27

PHILADELPHIA — At this point, it would seem surprising if the Giants didn’t acquire outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean isn’t dropping any hints, and his underlings are sworn to secrecy — unless they want their next job in baseball to feature rolling out the tarp for an independent league team. But given the national media buzz, along with Sabean’s reputation for obtaining the man (or men) he wants as the Trade Deadline approaches, Beltran might find himself spending an extra day or two in Cincinnati, where the Mets currently are playing. Conveniently, the Giants travel to Cincinnati for a weekend series beginning Friday.

Beltran would have a ripple effect through the Giants’ lineup. Depending on whether Beltran were to bat third or fourth, the hitters surrounding him in the batting order  — Jeff Keppinger, Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz — would see better pitches with him on deck or on base. As a switch-hitter, he might even enable manager Bruce Bochy to maintain some (gasp!) stability in the lineup.

Sabean doesn’t want to part with top prospects such as right-hander Zack Wheeler, outfielder Gary Brown or first baseman-outfielder Brandon Belt. That probably won’t be necessary. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Giants can seal the deal by sending the Mets three capable prospects.  According to the smart money, Double-A Richmond outfielder Francisco Peguero would be included in the package the Mets would receive. Peguero is a nice-looking hitter, but possesses relatively little power.

Speculation has fingered left-hander Dan Runzler, who has divided this season between the Giants and Triple-A Fresno, as somebody else who the Mets probably would want. That makes perfect sense. Except there’s that little matter of the $5 million club option on the 2012 contract of Jeremy Affeldt, another left-hander. Affeldt has performed well. But with pay hikes imminent for salary-arbitration-eligible players such as Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo, Nate Schierholtz and Jonathan Sanchez, among others, the Giants might elect not to pick up Affeldt’s option to save money to allocate to others. If that’s part of the Giants’ plan, they might be reluctant to part with Runzler — who would help sustain their inventory of left-handers — and would offer the Mets a different pitcher or two.

Then again, teams are forced to trade players they’d rather keep all the time.

Meanwhile, the existing Giants are continuing the day-to-day existence that has become habit for established big leaguers. Outfielder Cody Ross, whose playing time likely would decrease if Beltran arrived, insisted that he and his teammates aren’t dwelling on Sunday’s deadline.

“To be honest with you, we don’t really talk about it a whole lot,” Ross said Tuesday night. “With this particular club, we’ve been around, for the most part, for a while. I remember being a rookie, a second-year guy, and talking about trade deadlines. It was exciting. But now it’s just another day and we just go out and play. We can’t really worry about it. We have to make do with what we have and I think we have a pretty good team. We’re in first place, so, as long as we can stay there …”

Chris Haft

Bumgarner remains in control

Tuesday, July 19

SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about Madison Bumgarner and start wondering just how good he is.

Bumgarner’s excellence was somewhat obscured by Brandon Belt’s offensive fireworks Tuesday in the Giants’ 5-3 victory over the Dodgers. In case you missed it, Bumgarner pitched superbly.

He walked none, extending his streak of games in which he walked one or fewer to nine in a row.

He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced.

He worked eight innings, ridiculing the skeptics who believed that his huge increase in innings pitched last year would ultimately sap his strength or even endanger his health this season.

More than two months of the regular season must be played. That’s plenty of time for doom and gloom to befall Bumgarner. Right now, though, he looks ready to cruise into October and win another two or three postseason games.

*****

The evening might not have gone so well for the Giants without shortstop Brandon Crawford’s alert defense in the third inning.

The Dodgers had three runs in and appeared destined to score more as Juan Rivera followed Rafael Furcal’s two-run single with another single. As Furcal scooted to third base, Crawford cut off Nate Schierholtz’s strong throw from right field and noticed that Rivera had strayed a little too far from first base on his turn. Crawford threw quickly and accurately to first, retiring Rivera and dampening Los Angeles’ rally.

“That was a big-time play,” an appreciative Bumgarner said.

*****

All anybody heard about Dodgers starter Rubby De La Rosa before Tuesday was that he threw the heck out of the ball. Indeed, De La Rosa reached 100 mph on the AT&T Park velocity readings.

But if a pitcher’s stuff is predictable or lacks movement, he’s going to get hit. Crawford, for example, whacked a 95 mph heater from De La Rosa for a second-inning single, immediately after Brandon Belt stroked a. 91-mph delivery onto the right-field arcade for his homer. One inning later, Schierholtz singled by catching up with a 97-mph fastball.

*****

I was curious about what happened the last time the Giants built a six-game winning streak against the Dodgers — July 19-Sept. 26, 1969. As usual, baseball-reference.com had all the answers.

The Giants’ future Hall of Famers played key roles in those six games. No surprise there. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry each won twice. Willie McCovey, in the midst of his Most Valuable Player season, homered twice. Willie Mays batted .389 (7-for-18).

Win No. 5 in that streak might have been the nuttiest game of the bunch. It was sealed in the 10th inning when McCovey drew an intentional walk with two outs and nobody on base. Reliever Pete Mikkelsen proceeded to walk Bobby Bonds and Ken Henderson unintentionally, loading thie bases. Jim Davenport then hit a ground ball that scooted between Maury Wills’ legs, giving San Francisco the winning run.

Chris Haft

Why Beltran makes sense for SF; more from Sunday

Sunday, July 17

SAN DIEGO — Acquiring Carlos Beltran is virtually imperative for the Giants.

Not to reach the postseason, but to play deep into October.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean wouldn’t dare speak of Beltran as primarily a postseason asset. His healthy respect for San Francisco’s National League West rivals would prevent him from assuming publicly that winning the division is a fait accompli and that Beltran’s value potentially would emerge more in the postseason than in the regular season.

But the postseason is when the Giants will need Beltran the most. Chances are good that if they win the West, they’ll again face Atlanta and/or Philadelphia, as they did en route to last year’s World Series. Then the Giants will truly need a formidable hitter like Beltran to offset the Braves’ or Phillies’ pitching, since both staffs appear to be improved from a year ago.

Pitching becomes doubly important in the postseason; that’s why the Giants proudly wear those big, fat, beautiful rings. Maybe the Giants could outpitch Atlanta or Philadelphia. But the Braves seem tougher, with Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson developing into co-aces and Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel coming out of the bullpen throwing 235 mph. And don’t forget about Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe.

Giants fans believe their team’s starting rotation is the best in the Major Leagues. That notion is ridiculed in Philadelphia, where Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels anchor the pitching staff.

The Giants struggle to score against mediocre pitching. Imagine the challenge they’ll face against the Braves or Phillies.

But if the Giants gets Beltran, they’ll have at least one hitter who the Braves and Phillies must dwell upon in their scouting reports. And San Francisco’s bench would become deeper. For example, manager Bruce Bochy would have one more respectable pinch-hitter at his disposal — anyone among Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres or Nate Schierholtz, depending who’s in or out of that night’s lineup.

Moreover, check out how Beltran has fared against some of the key Braves and Phillies pitchers.

The switch-hitting outfielder owns a remarkable .351 lifetime batting average (26-for-74) with four home runs and 17 RBIs against Hudson. Beltran also is a respectable 2-for-8 off Venters, though that’s not a representative sample size. There’s also no denying that Beltran has trouble with Lowe (.225, 9-for-40), Jurrjens (.182, 4-for-22) and Hanson (0-for-10).

Beltran has succeeded against Halladay (.333, 14-for-42, two homers, 10 RBIs) and Hamels (.278, three homers, five RBIs). Lee (.125, 1-for-8) has given him problems. But Beltran loves to face Ryan Madson, Phladelphia’s top set-up reliever (.429 9-for-21, four homers, six RBIs).

As has been reported, several other teams are in the hunt for Beltran. But the Giants might be the club he’s able to help most.

*****

In case you didn’t see the boxscore, the Giants who accounted for the San Francisco-era record-tying six stolen bases Sunday were Emmanuel Burriss and Nate Schierholtz, who had two apiece, and Eli Whiteside and Andres Torres, who each pilfered one.

“I had one of them. I’ll be damned,” said a jovial Whiteside.

The Giants improved to 11-1 when they steal at least two bases. Coincidence or correlation? I think you know the answer. Regardless, they’re more fun to watch when Bochy puts runners in motion. It doesn’t always work, but the Giants sometimes have to try to force the issue with their offense to get anywhere.

This marked the third time since moving to San Francisco in 1958 that the Giants stole six bases. It last happened on Sept. 8, 1987, in a 6-4 victory at Houston. Kevin Mitchell totaled three, Dave Henderson (a stretch-drive acquisition) had two and Chris Speier added one.

The other occasion was June 27, 1984 in a messy 14-9 win over Cincinnati. Dusty Baker stole second, third and home, all in the same inning. Bob Brenly, Johnnie LeMaster and Dan Gladden each had one.

*****

The Giants have maintained that they can survive for up to a month as long as couple of hitters get hot. This happened last year, when Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey and Torres sustained the team during its 20-8 July. And it’s happening now, though the Giants keep playing mostly low-scoring games.

Nate Schierholtz (.362 in July) and Pablo Sandoval (.322 in July) have been the month’s biggest contributors. But MIguel Tejada (.341) and Andres Torres (.317) have helped. All that’s missing is a little consistency.

Chris Haft

Sandoval awakens echoes of Mays’ greatness

Tuesday, July 5

SAN FRANCISCO — I come not to bury Pablo Sandoval, but to praise Willie Mays.

Sandoval had at least one extra-base hit in nine consecutive games until Tuesday, when San Francisco lost 5-3 to San Diego. It equaled the longest streak of that sort by a Giant since Mays also had a nine-game binge from July 28-Aug. 6., 1963.

Anybody who knows me personally or follows my writing (bless you) realizes that I am an incurable Mays-o-phile. So when it was announced that Sandoval had matched a Mays achievement, I curious to learn what the Say Hey Kid did during his streak. After all, I witnessed Sandoval’s.

Sandoval contributed heavily to one victory and shaped what should have been another win on back-to-back days. Last Thursday at Chicago, he homered in the 13th inning to put the Giants ahead 2-1. Geovany Soto’s pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the inning for the Cubs offset that. The next night in the Interleague series opener at Detroit, Sandoval hit a pair of RBI doubles in a 4-3 victory.

Nice work by Sandoval. But Mays starred in six games during his extra-base streak:

July 28 — Mays’ two-run, sixth-inning homer erases a 1-0 deficit as the Giants proceed to a 3-1 triumph over Pittsburgh.

July 29 — With Pittsburgh leading, 3-2, Mays belts a three-run homer off Vernon Law in the fifth inning. Giants win, 5-4.

July 30 — Mays contributes heavily to a 5-0 victory over Philadelphia by doubling and scoring twice.

Aug. 4 — Mays’ 10th-inning homer at Wrigley Field snaps a 1-1 tie as the Giants hold on to edge Chicago, 2-1.

Aug. 5 — Giants lose 6-5 at Houston, but it’s not Mays’ fault. His two-out homer in the ninth inning put them ahead, 5-4.

Aug. 6 — Mays triples in the fourth inning and scores the go-ahead run on Orlando Cepeda’s sacrifice fly. Final: Giants 3, Houston 1.

Mays batted .439 (18-for-41) during his streak with three doubles, two triples and six home runs. Moreover, this hard evidence supported what has been known for years: Mays ceaselessly played to win. He was at his best when it counted most.

Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot of the man’s career. He did this stuff repeatedly. Sandoval’s streak remains admirable, even if it falls short of Mays’. So what? Only a handful of ballplayers could be compared to Mays, after all.

*****

San Diego Padres broadcaster Mark Grant revealed a little-known fact the other day: He was the first Giant to wear No. 55, which Tim Lincecum has made famous.

Grant, who broke into the Majors with the Giants as a promising right-hander in 1984, is extremely trustworthy. But facts must be checked. As Grant mentioned, he wore several other numbers with the Giants, including 34, 47, 46 and 52. Grant’s Giants career ended in 1987, the year he received No. 55, when he was sent to the Padres in a seven-player trade that brought Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Kevin Mitchell to San Francisco.

But left-hander Keith Comstock also wore 55 in 1987, according to baseball-almanac.com. Moreover, he was traded to San Diego along with Grant. Try as I might, I couldn’t determine whether Grant or Comstock got 55 first. Mark, I still believe you!

The Giants’ 1984 media guide listed infielder Fran Mullins as being issued No. 55 that year in Spring Training. But according to baseball-reference.com, he wore No. 16 during his 57-game stint with the Giants.

Numbers such as 50 and higher weren’t considered fashionable before the 1980s. They had a negative connotation, since they typically were given in Spring Training to rookies and players not expected to make the team. Right-hander Dave Heaverlo, who wore No. 60 for the Giants from 1975-77, was a rare exception.

*****

Great handwritten sign seen last Sunday on the dry-erase board mounted on the door of the players’ lounge in the visitors’ clubhouse at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Instead of listing a detailed menu, the sign read simply, “BIG LEAGUE BREAKFAST.”

Chris Haft

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