Results tagged ‘ Buster Posey ’

Notion of Sandoval trade not far-fetched

Monday, Oct. 21

SAN FRANCISCO — Speculation regarding a possible trade involving Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval completely makes sense.

It’s logical to anticipate that Sandoval will thrive in 2014, the final year of his three-year, $17.15 million contract, to propel himself boldly into free agency. Such a projection also would be flimsy given Sandoval’s performance, which has fluctuated along with his weight. Anyone expecting the switch-hitter to use last October’s World Series Most Valuable Player distinction to launch him closer to stardom must be disappointed. Sandoval, 27, hit .278 this year, sixth among Giants with at least 300 plate appearances. He accumulated 14 home runs, fourth on the team, and 79 RBIs, his third-best career total.

This was Sandoval’s fifth full Major League season. He has gone on the disabled list in each of the last three years without establishing consistency at the plate, though he has become a competent defender. If one is to assume anything about Sandoval’s upcoming season, it’s that he’ll somehow disappoint more than deliver. Hence the buzz, started recently by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that the Giants might consider proposals featuring Sandoval. Club management is gradually losing patience with him, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated in his season-ending summary (“The sky’s still the limit. We’re still waiting for that”).

At the same time, Sandoval retains enough cachet to attract multiple suitors. The Giants might be able to include him in a package that would fetch them a serviceable starting pitcher. Any club hoping to bolster its offense would be intrigued by Sandoval, who retains 30-homer, 100-RBI talent. So why don’t the Giants keep him? Again, his production has teased the Giants more than it has satisfied them. Even if he puts together a solid season next year, whoever’s employing him must deal with his impending free agency. If the Giants were to swap Sandoval, they could lean safely on the “better to trade a player a year too early” maxim.

Without Sandoval, the Giants could move Marco Scutaro from second base to third. Scutaro’s unremarkable range wouldn’t be as much of a liability at third, where he’d be asked to cover less ground due to the nature of the position and shortstop Brandon Crawford’s excellence. Filling the vacancy at either second or third could be a challenge, however. The free-agent market at those positions basically consists of Robinson Cano (who probably would ask for the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, with Alcatraz thrown in) and a bunch of one-year stopgaps in their mid-30s. Perhaps the Giants could ask for a second baseman in any trade involving Sandoval.

Or perhaps the Giants won’t trade Sandoval at all, which many Giants fans likely would prefer. He’ll forever remain popular at AT&T Park, despite — or even because of — his foibles. He’s the Kung Fu Panda; so what if he struggles with his weight? Who doesn’t? Moreover, the promise he flashes when his line drives find gaps or fly over the fence and frustrate Justin Verlander remains tantalizing. So does the potential of an effective Sandoval forming a solid middle of the order with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt.

Sandoval will give the Giants much to ponder when they confront the decision to trade or re-sign him. Whether they endure that headache sooner or later remains to be seen.

Chris Haft

Time for Giants to lower expectations

SAN FRANCISCO — After four consecutive winning seasons and two World Series titles in the last three years, the Giants have fallen from their perch alongside the Major Leagues’ elite ballclubs.

Only a dramatic reversal will enable them to finish .500 this year. As for returning to the postseason, that’s pure fantasy.

The Giants are playing without any apparent sense of urgency, perhaps because they have virtually no hope of contending in the National League West. New additions Jeff Francoeur, who reported to Triple-A Fresno, and Kensuke Tanaka might marginally improve the club’s depth. But they probably won’t accomplish more than that. Giants general manager Brian Sabean indicated to San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami that trying to upgrade the roster with major trades is pointless, since the organization lacks the surplus of prospects necessary to engineer deals. Moreover, the team’s performance doesn’t warrant acquiring a couple of handy veterans to accelerate a push for the division title.

Nor should the Giants adopt a scorched-earth policy and gut the roster. There’s always next year, and with it a fresh opportunity to compete in the always-balanced NL West. But implementing the quick fix of free-agent signings might be complicated, because the Giants’ payroll flexibility is limited. The likely departures of impending free agent Tim Lincecum (2013 salary: $22 million) and Barry Zito ($11 million net savings, if the club declines its $18 million option on his 2014 contract and pays him a $7 million buyout) will have limited economic impact, given the raises that Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval and Sergio Romo will receive.

Moreover, the potential free-agent class isn’t oozing with talent. There probably will be few helpful performers available besides Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann and the Giants’ own Hunter Pence. The Giants might be wise to forge a deal with Pence, the intense right fielder who seems sincere about wanting to stay here.

Or they can trade him in the next few weeks, which would mark the third year in a row for Pence to switch teams before the July 31 Trade Deadline. A critical factor here, obviously, is determining Pence’s signability.

That leads to the biggest name the Giants could jettison: Lincecum. The notion of trading the charismatic right-hander sounds almost blasphemous, given his popularity and everything he has done for the franchise. But this is a business. The Giants might be able to receive a useful prospect or two in exchange for Lincecum, who has value despite his 4.61 ERA and 1.407 WHIP. At least one American League contender has expressed interest in Lincecum as a reliever, the role he filled spectacularly in last year’s postseason. It’s not known whether that team has proposed a trade to the Giants involving Lincecum. But if one club has hatched this idea, it’s likely that at least a couple of others share that thought.

The schedule offers a shred of hope. The Giants play their first nine games at AT&T Park after the All-Star break. A strong homestand could advance San Francisco to the fringes of the division race.

But the mathematics of returning to respectability — widely defined as a .500 record — are daunting. To climb to .500 by the end of the season, the Giants must finish 41-31. That’s a winning percentage of .569, a pace the Giants haven’t come close to approaching recently. Remember, San Francisco owns the Major Leagues’ worst record (17-35) since May 14.

Reaching .500 sooner would require vast improvement. The Giants would have to win 13 of their next 16 games to climb to .500 by the end of the month. Push back the deadline to Sept. 1, Game No. 136. The Giants must go 28-18 from Thursday until then to hit the .500 level.

Next, forget the arithmetic and employ common sense. The Giants have done nothing — nothing — to indicate that they’re capable of executing such a turnaround.

Their pitching staff is no longer elite. The starting rotation has become unreliable. Matt Cain, once indomitable, is decidedly vulnerable. Nobody wants to admit that Cain is injured to some degree. If he isn’t hurt, he has forgotten how to pitch. Anybody who have followed his career know that’s not the case.

Lincecum and Zito can’t win on the road. Rookie left-hander Mike Kickham has good-looking stuff but an incomplete understanding of how to use it. Only Madison Bumgarner has maintained his excellence, and he can’t do more than pitch every fifth day.

Injuries and ineffectiveness have dulled the bullpen. The Giants miss Santiago Casilla, who hasn’t quite recovered from knee surgery. Ryan Vogelsong’s fractured right hand robbed the relief corps of Chad Gaudin, who’s in the rotation. Manager Bruce Bochy thus must rely on a group that includes rookies Jake Dunning and Sandy Rosario. Both have shown flashes of competence and could turn out to be keepers. But such inexperience does nothing for a World Series title defense.

On to the offense, or lack of it. Collectively, the Giants have misplaced the situational-hitting skills that sustained them in last year’s second half. They went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, ending a 16-game stretch in which they hadn’t collected more than two hits in those instances. Overall, their .250 batting average with runners in scoring position actually places them in the top half of the NL team rankings. But it’s a sharp decrease from the .296 RISP average they compiled after last year’s All-Star break.

Individually, numerous players are is struggling to some degree. Sandoval is batting .140 (8-for-57) since returning from the disabled list. Pence is in an .098 skid (5-for-51) over his last 13 games. Gregor Blanco is in a .136 tailspin (6-for-44) spanning 12 games. Fellow outfielder Andres Torres’ past nine appearances have yielded a .154 average (4-for-26).

Monday, the Giants’ pitching excelled but the offense floundered. Tuesday, the offense improved while the pitching regressed. Wednesday, nothing went right. The Giants insist that they get along great, and that’s the way it seems when reporters are allowed in the clubhouse. But they can’t coordinate their efforts on the field.

That’s a glaring sign of a poor team. At the current rate, we’ll see more in the next couple of months.

Chris Haft

If you want to be in first place; Hector’s hustle

Wednesday, June 27

SAN FRANCISCO — A month ago to this day, May 27, the Giants trailed the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by 7 1/2 games in the National League West. The Giants defeated Miami that day, and that victory launched a 19-10 binge that has tied them with Los Angeles atop the division standings.

The Giants downplayed their ascent. Constant success since 2009, including the surge to the World Series in 2010, has taught them all about season’s challenges and pitfalls. Wednesday was not a time to celebrate, despite the 3-0 victory over the Dodgers that completed a three-game sweep and rewrote, revived or revisited all kinds of shutout-related records.

Until Matt Kemp and others were sidelined with injuries, the Dodgers appeared poised to run away with the West title. Now, Giants manager Bruce Bochy expects the standings to remain bunched through the rest of the regular season.

“I’ll tell you what I expect: This is going to be a tight race,” Bochy said after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Los Angeles. The Dodgers, Bochy said are “a good ballclub. Arizona, you see how they’re playing now. This is going to be a tight race in September with these three teams. Not that I’m forgetting the other teams. It’s going to be this way the whole way. We’re all going to have our ups and downs, including us. Hopefully [the "downs" are] short ones.”

Catcher Buster Posey repeated the “There’s a lot of baseball left” bromide. Right-hander Sergio Romo used different words to say essentially the same thing.

“Standings are standings. We’re just focused on one game at a time,” Romo said. “We’re a good team. We know we’ll be in contention at the end of September.”

Dates to circle on the calendar: The Giants and Dodgers next meet July 27-29 at AT&T Park. They’ll play at Dodger Stadium Aug. 20-22. San Francisco doesn’t confront Arizona until September. At that point, the Giants will face the Diamondbacks for three series in a seven-series stretch.

*****

Hector Sanchez looked at the bruised, scraped area near his left elbow as if it were a whisker. “That’s [what happens] when you play hard,” he said.

Sanchez indeed delivered a sincere effort on Wednesday, particularly when he raced toward the backstop and dove to snare Elian Herrera’s fourth-inning popup on a bunt attempt. Sanchez was knocked dizzy as he fell to earth, but he remained in the game.

Whether Sanchez is earning more playing time remains to be seen. Obviously, he isn’t hurting his cause. Asked if he’d have trouble separating Sanchez from Tim Lincecum, who have collaborated smoothly in the right-hander’s last two starts, Bochy said, “Could be.” Bochy repeated that Posey will continue to handle most of the catching. But Sanchez has continued to remind the Giants that there’s not much of a dropoff, if any, when he’s behind the plate.

Chris Haft

Resting Posey pays dividends now, later

Monday, April 25

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey’s value to the Giants is obvious. He’s the team leader in home runs and RBIs. They ultimately sagged last year after the starting catcher sustained his season-ending left leg injuries.

Yet they’re 7-2 this year when Posey doesn’t appear in a game, including Monday’s 8-0 triumph over the Dodgers. Fans howled online via Twitter, and many others likely cursed manager Bruce Bochy offline, when Posey didn’t start San Francisco’s series opener against its archrival. Especially since Posey homered in each of the Giants’ previous two games.

But Bochy stuck to his convictions, including his belief in the Barry Zito-Hector Sanchez battery and the need to rest Posey occasionally, particularly after Saturday’s four-hour, 15-minute marathon at Oakland.

As important as Monday’s game might have seemed, it was only one of 162. Though it was the Giants’ first of nine consecutive games against division-leading teams, it wasn’t worth squeezing Posey’s energy dry.

The Giants rewarded Bochy by rapping 13 hits in defeating Los Angeles. Sanchez rapped a pair of run-scoring hits and ushered Zito through seven shutout innings. A performance like that, Bochy said, “makes it a little easier to give (Posey) a break, which he needs.”

Tuesday, a rejuvenated Posey will return to the lineup. The Giants stand two games behind the Dodgers in the National League West standings, but they’re one step ahead for keeping Posey fresh.

Chris Haft

Mea culpa in memory of ‘The Mule’

Friday, June 22

OAKLAND — Having crossed the baseball gods, I must seek forgiveness. Or, at the very least, I must acknowledge my error before moving on, hoping never to commit the same mistake again.

My All-Star voting update on Tuesday included the following paragraph:

Buster Posey continued to lead the balloting among catchers with 2,445,005 votes, staying ahead of St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (2,291,567). If Posey goes to Kansas City, he would become only the sixth All-Star catcher the Giants have had since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. He would join Bob Schmidt (1958), Ed Bailey (1961, 63), Tom Haller (1966-67), Bob Brenly (1984) and Benito Santiago (2002).

The omission is a shameful one.

I failed to include Dick Dietz (1970), affectionately nicknamed “The Mule.”

Given my background — Dietz was San Francisco’s catcher as I began to worship at the temple of Mays, McCovey and Marichal — this was akin to forgetting an immediate family member’s birthday. Heck, Dietz homered off Catfish Hunter in the ninth inning of that All-Star Game to launch the National League’s three-run rally that tied the score, forced extra innings and set up Pete Rose’s fateful home-plate collision with Ray Fosse in the 12th.

This is the same Dietz who lodged himself in my memory by blurting during a radio interview after the Giants clinched the 1971 NL West, “Dodgers can go to hell!”

Even if Dietz, who passed away in 2005, hadn’t immortalized himself in my little baseball universe, all I had to do was carefully read Page 394 of the Giants’ Media Guide, which lists the franchise’s annual All-Star selections.

This mea culpa isn’t unusual. Most of the newspapers that employed me ordered reporters to write their own correction when one was necessary. So this represents an attempt to compensate for a goof.

And appease the baseball gods.

Chris Haft

AT&T’s dimensions stifle Posey’s power

Thursday, May 17

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey took his best shot at trying to deliver the power the Giants sorely lack. And it still wasn’t enough.

In Thursday’s fifth inning, Posey connected solidly with an Adam Wainwright pitch. As Duane Kuiper might have said (and probably did), Posey hit it high and hit it deep. It looked for all the world like a home run, until one noticed St. Louis center fielder Shane Robinson settling under the ball just in front of the left-center field wall to make the catch. Just another out.

Asked if he thought he was destined to savor a home run, Posey didn’t hesitate to answer. “I did,” he said. “Yeah. I sure did. It wasn’t really even close. Kind of depressing.”

Kind of depressing. I sincerely doubt that Posey ever will launch a sustained tirade against AT&T Park’s hitter-unfriendly dimensions. Yet his candor was exceedingly refreshing.

Manager Bruce Bochy knows that expecting the long ball, at least from his Giants, is a futile exercise. They’ve homered just six times at AT&T, the lowest total among all Major League clubs at home. “Home runs right now are a luxury,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 7-5 victory.

Fortunately for Posey, he’s continuing his development into a solid all-around hitter, as his 5-for-8 effort against the Cardinals reflected. Posey credited an adjustment, which he made with hitting instructor Hensley Meulens’ assistance, for his latest surge.

“Basically it’s just trying to keep my front side down,” Posey said. “I give ‘Bam Bam’ a lot of credit for recognizing the problem. We went down just a couple of days ago and hit some off the tee. It’s just a matter of keeping that front side closed and he has a couple of drills to help that.”

Chris Haft

How Sandoval, Mays stack up

Tuesday, April 24

Pablo Sandoval tied Willie Mays but didn’t necessarily equal him.

Sandoval matched Mays’ San Francisco-era franchise record by lengthening his season-opening hitting streak to 16 games in Monday’s doubleheader sweep at New York. Given the way Sandoval’s swinging, he could erase Mays’ mark Tuesday night when the Giants open a three-game series against Cincinnati at the hitters’ paradise known as Great American Ball Park.

Yet Mays generated numbers during his streak that Sandoval and every other Major League hitter would envy.

Mays hit a ridiculous .452 (28-for-62) before he went hitless in any 1960 game, compared with Sandoval’s current .333 (22-for-66). During their respective 16-game streaks, Sandoval has Mays beat in home runs (3-1) and RBIs (13-9). But while Sandoval has recorded excellent on-base (.389) and slugging percentages (.545) for an OPS of .934, Mays eclipsed that. His corresponding numbers befit the great player he was (.528, .613 and 1.141).

Sandoval deserves his due, however. He has carried the Giants’ offense at times, assuming a heavier burden than Mays did. The 2012 Giants have scored 71 runs; Mays’ Giants amassed 88 during his streak, including 10 and 18 on back-to-back days at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Can you imagine these Giants doing that? Moreover, Mays frequently was followed in the batting order by future Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and often preceded by Jim Davenport, who hit .333 in San Francisco’s first 16 games that year. Sandoval is sandwiched by Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey, who are more than respectable. But it’s fair to say that Mays had a more potent offensive complement.

It’s intriguing to note that Mays homered only once during his streak. He and the Giants played their first seven games of the season at brand-new Candlestick Park, where the initial outfield dimensions frustrated power hitters. The center field fence stood 420 feet from home plate and the power alleys were 397 feet deep. Sensibly, the barriers were soon moved in. Mays somehow finished that year with 29 homers. He also collected 190 hits, the lone year he topped the National League in that category.

The Giants would be ecstatic if Sandoval finishes this season with similar statistics. There’s no reason he can’t.

Chris Haft

Pujols like Mays; Wilson simplifies; fly-catchers excel

Monday, Sept. 20

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Some people will do anything to squeeze a workout into their schedule.

Baseball’s best player apparently is one of these healthy fanatics.

Monday night at a local health club, a trainer shifted my focus from the free weights to a weighty presence performing
cardiovascular exercise in the corner of the room. “That’s Albert Pujols,” the trainer said.

Maybe the Angels, who train in neighboring Tempe, don’t have the fitness machines Pujols likes at their facility.  Maybe he simply felt compelled to hit the gym. Regardless, the man obviously is dedicated.

Seeing Pujols work out among common folks reminded me of something I was told by one of his predecessors as baseball’s best.

A few years ago I asked Willie Mays, “How did you stay in such great shape?” Mays straightened up in his chair, puffed
out his chest ever so slightly and proudly replied, “I never got out of shape.” It was a sphinx-like answer. And it made perfect sense.

*****

Brian Wilson was all business as he spoke with reporters. No dry humor. No clever one-liners. Simply straight talk
about his arm, elbow and pitching.

“I’m just going to put the analogies in the back pocket for today,” Wilson said.

*****

The Arizona sky late Monday morning was dotted with clouds and relatively windless — luckily for the Giants catchers.

Bullpen catcher Bill Hayes, who drills the catchers in big league camp on various skills necessary to master their
position, conducted pop-up practice. It’s an ever-entertaining sight. Hayes feeds balls into a pitching machine aimed
skyward; Buster Posey and his counterparts track the towering pop-ups. What’s remarkable is how rarely these guys drop or misjudge a ball.

The task was mildly simplified by the clouds, eliminating the “high sky” that can blind players at any position to
pop-ups; the still air, which straightened each fly’s path; and the decision to stage the drill in the outfield on one
of the auxiliary diamonds, rather than at Scottsdale Stadium. There, Hayes explained, players might risk tripping down
the dugout stairs. Exposing any player to this danger, particularly Posey, would have been unwise.

The best part of this drill is the grand finale, when Hayes produces a second pop-up while a player is in the middle of settling under the first. Again, you’d marvel at how often the catchers make both grabs.

Chris Haft

KNBR catches Posey’s thoughts

Wednesday, Feb. 1

SAN FRANCISCO — Virtually everything Buster Posey does during the next few months will make news. That includes his radio appearance Wednesday on KNBR, the Giants’ flagship station.

Posey said nothing outlandish or overly revealing during his 15-minute question-and-answer session with adept morning hosts Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey. But Giants fans are hungry for anything involving Posey, the gifted catcher whose 2011 season ended in a collision resulting from a wayward slide near home plate by Florida’s Scott Cousins. Posey painfully emerged with a fracture and torn ligaments in his left leg.

Posey, the National League Rookie of the Year during the Giants’ charmed 2010 season, is poised to return behind the plate. He and San Francisco’s medical staff aren’t sure how his ankle will handle the rigors of catching, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said that Posey might spend ample time at first base to keep his bat in the lineup and avoid the inevitable physical erosion of his primary position.

Here’s what’s certain right now: Posey, who became a father of twins while sidelined, is eager for any and all challenges. That became clear in his chat on the Murph & Mac show. You can hear the interview in its entirety on KNBR’s website, or you can read the following excerpts:

(Posey will encounter plenty of adoration and love at Saturday’s FanFest at AT&T Park. Does he find it overwhelming?) “I don’t know if it’s overwhelming. It’s a blast. I know it’s something we all look forward to. As much as it is to get the fans fired up, it gets us fired up as well. And we enjoy every bit of it.”

(On fatherhood) “It’s great, it really is. I was just telling my wife the other day that it’s going to be quite an adjustment for me once the season gets going and I’m away a lot and traveling because I’ve been with them a lot these first six months. I’ve enjoyed it; I definitely have.”

(Was that the silver lining to your injury?) “Oh, there’s no question. It’s funny how things work out. Obviously, if I could have avoided the injury, there’s no doubt I would have. But the timing of it, for where we were in our life, really worked out well. Because looking back on it, the team was in Miami when my wife gave birth, so there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time. So I felt really fortunate to be there and to have as much time (with the children) as I’ve had these first six months.”

(How much recovery time has he spent in a catcher’s crouch) “I’ve done as much as I think I can without getting in there and playing some games. I think that’s the next step, and fortunately that’s not too far away with Spring Training right around the corner. So I’m very, very happy and pleased with where I am. Obviously, the game situation’s going to be a little bit different, but I’m optimistic and positive that it’s going to be great, just like the rest of this recovery process has been.”

(What were the targets head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and his staff set for you? Are you 100 percent healthy?) “The 100 percent question, it’s tough to say without … To me, you can tell if you’re 100 percent if you can catch 10 games in a row. That’s still to be determined and I’m not sure if that’s realistic or not, but I’m going to do everything I can to be out there as much as I can. But to answer your question about hitting the targets, I think we’ve done that throughout the whole process for the past whatever it’s been — eight months, nine months. Whatever Dave’s laid out there, I feel like we’ve met that and exceeded it at times.”

(Have you been able to block pitches in the dirt?) “Yeah, actually, when I was finishing up my rehab in Arizona in October, I did a little bit of blocking, just straightforward blocking. To be honest with you, I was pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t think I was going to be that far along at that point. I was hoping just to be taking some BP on the field and running. For my ankle to respond that well, at that point I was happy. Again, I’m positive, but at the same time I want to make sure I keep in my mind that there might be some bumps. Once the games start going, there might be some soreness or whatnot. But I just have to keep that positive attitude and continue pushing forward.”

(If you can’t catch 10 games in a row, are you comfortable with playing first base?) “Yeah, definitely. I think that when I got called up in 2010 and played whatever it was, 30 or 40 games over there at first, just having that in my back pocket will be nice for this year, knowing that I do have a little bit of experience over there.”

(Mike Krukow said you take pride in catching the pitching staff. Would it be difficult to give up those reins? Is it a challenge mentally, more than you’d like, to give it up?) “I don’t know if it’ll be a challenge, because I think that I have to do whatever’s going to be best for the team and what’s best for myself in the long haul of the season. We know it’s a long year. But you’re exactly right. That’s the part about catching I enjoy the most — the thinking, working with the staff and how lucky I am to work with these guys, the caliber of arms that we have. I think you could ask any catcher in the league and the part about catching they enjoy is that, kind of being in control and working through tough situations. Nobody really likes taking a foul tip off the shoulder or anything, but that’s part of it sometimes.”

(So the number of times you catch is something you and Bruce Bochy will discuss. Are you going to fight him or try to argue with him about some things, kind of like you did with your mom and dad to stay up late?) “Oh, I never argued with my mom and dad.”

(Or does what the skipper says, goes?) “I really do think it’s hard to answer that question just because so much is still to be determined. It’s just going to be a matter of how my ankle responds. Like I said before, I want to be behind the plate as much as I can. But I have to be smart about it at the same time.”

(How do you anticipate Spring Training will be different for you?) “… I think the biggest difference will be that there is going to be a schedule, I guess, or more so of a game plan of how much I’m going to catch, when I’m going to catch, because ultimately the most important thing is being ready to go on Opening Day in Arizona. Whatever we have to do in Spring Training to get to that point, that’s what we’re going to do.”

(Do you think last year’s team was on its way to the postseason? Was the late-season collapse frustrating to watch? Did you observe something?) “I think sometimes you just can’t explain why things happen. That’s the beauty of this game. It’s a crazy game. It’s hard to explain sometimes. I do know that I was in the clubhouse and I saw how bad the guys wanted it and how hard they were preparing before games and what they were doing after games, watching video and stuff. It was tough. It was tough on everybody. But it’s a new year now and we’re excited to get back to work and hopefully win as many games as we can this season and get back to the playoffs.”

(On the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan) “I haven’t had a chance to play against Melky, but playing against Pagan a little bit, he’s a tough out. He’s a guy who’s going to grind out at-bats. He’s not somebody I really enjoyed seeing coming to the plate, because I felt like if you get him down to two strikes, he’s going to chip away, he’s going to slap the ball the other way, he’s going to do what he can to get on base. I’m excited for him to be there. And then if you’re a baseball fan, you saw what kind of year Melky had last year. He had a great year. I think with our ballpark, they’re going to be good fits. At the same time, I know I’m going to miss (Andres) Torres. It’s just part of it, but he was a great guy to have around. Same with Ramon (Ramirez). They’ll be missed. But we’re excited to have Pagan and Cabrera coming to the team.”

(Did you observe anything about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain from the sidelines that gave you a different perspective on them?) “I don’t know. I’ve always felt like to learn, you have to be in the middle of it. There are certain things you can sit back and watch, I guess, but I don’t think there’s any replacement for getting out there and being in the middle of it. Those two guys, they’re such workhorses. You look at the number of innings they throw every year and you talk about their stats and strikeouts and ERA. But to me the impressive part is they’re out there every fifth day. We’ve got that in Madison Bumgarner, too. We’re pretty fortunate to have guys who are such competitors and want to go out there and win each time.”

(Bumgarner: The sky’s the limit for that kid, right? Didn’t you see him grow last year?) “Yeah … I guess that one rough outing with, was it Minnesota, I think, after that — to me, that was a defining moment because it’d be easy to — I guess he gave up eight runs in one-third of an inning or two-thirds of an inning … and then the next time out came out and just dealt. That just shows you what kind of character this guy has. It’s exciting. It’s fun to work with those type of pitchers.”

(How at peace are you with dealing with that night against Marlins? How have you psychologically dealt with that night against the Marlins and how are you psychologically compartmentalizing it in your career?) “It’s done. It’s over with. I feel fortunate that I feel the way I do today. I’m excited to be able to compete and get out and play again. If anything, I think it’ll make me appreciate the game even more, make me appreciate being healthy and able to play. Fortunately, I hadn’t been hurt before that. Something like that really lets you know how quickly the game can be taken away from you. I’m going to enjoy every bit of it and just go with it.”

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

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