Results tagged ‘ Giants ’

Pagan likely to rest in L.A. finale

Tuesday, May 8

LOS ANGELES — Center fielder Angel Pagan was removed from the Giants’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night after sustaining a cramp in his left hamstring and likely will not start Wednesday’s series finale, manager Bruce Bochy said.

Pagan felt uncomfortable after beating out a slow roller toward third base in the eighth inning. Gregor Blanco immediately replaced him.

Wednesday’s outfield could be composed of Blanco, Melky Cabrera and Nate Schierholtz, who has hit safely in his last three games and is batting .421 (8-for-19) lifetime against right-hander Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles’ starting pitcher for the series finale.

Chris Haft

Settling in at leadoff helps Pagan

Sunday, April 29

SAN FRANCISCO — A little stability can be a wonderful thing. Just as Angel Pagan.

Pagan extended his career-high hitting streak to 14 games in the Giants’ 4-1 victory Sunday over the San Diego Padres. He acknowledged that remaining almost exclusively in one position in the batting order — leadoff, in his case — has helped him focus.

Pagan has started 20 of the Giants’ 22 games, batting leadoff in 19 of them. This contrasts sharply with Pagan’s experience with the New York Mets, his previous employer. He batted .290 in 2010 despite appearing in every position in the batting order and starting at least one game in each except fourth and ninth. Last year was even more unwieldy for Pagan, who started in all spots in the batting order but ninth.

“It’s good to have the opportunity to be in the lineup, but it’s tough because you have to make adjustments from one day to another,” Pagan said, trying to remain diplomatic about his Mets tenure.

Pagan, who’s batting .308 (20-for-65) during his streak — the longest in the Major Leagues, matching Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold — said that life as a Giant is “much better.” He added, “I’ve been fighting very hard to get on base at least one time (each game). I don’t want to say get one hit. I really believe that as I go, we go. If I get on base, Melky (Cabrera, the Giants’ No. 2 hitter) will get his fastballs and drive them to the outfield.”

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

For whatever reason, Cain’s primed for big year

Saturday,  Feb. 18

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Cain would feel determined to perform well under any circumstances. As we know by now, that’s the type of competitor he is.

Yet Cain dropped hints Saturday, as Giants pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, that he’s especially
motivated to excel this year.

Go ahead and say that Cain’s gearing up for free agency. Imagine that Cain is following the example of others who either adjust their training routine or broaden the repertoire of their skills to bring something fresh to the new season. Whether it’s one factor or the other, or both, Cain appears bent on improving upon his 2011 season, which happened to be the finest of his career in many respects.

“Every year, as an athlete or player, I want to find ways to keep getting better,” said Cain, the longest-tenured Giant who’s entering his seventh full season with the club.

Cain, 27, took steps toward accomplishing that by intensifying his physical conditioning — specifically, his weight
training. By November, Cain was hitting the gym hard. And he didn’t let up.

“I definitely tried to get in a better routine earlier and make sure I was taking care of everything I needed to take care of,” said Cain, who finished 12-11 last year with lifetime bests in ERA (2.88), WHIP (1.083) and home runs allowed per nine innings (a microscopic 0.4).  “… In years past I think I might have been a little more relaxed about staying on that schedule.”

Cain, who said that talks are ongoing between his agents and the Giants, sounded a trifle more intent than he did two weeks ago at FanFest about negotiating a contract extension before the April 6 regular-season opener — or, if a deal can’t be made, plunging into free agency. Negotiating during the season didn’t sound too appealing to him.

“I think we’d all like to have something resolved by the end of Spring Training,” Cain said. “I don’t think either side wants that to linger into the season. I think once the season starts, we all want to be worrying about playing well.”

Cain might have subtly learned a thing or two about focus last weekend while golfing in a foursome with 49ers coach
Jim Harbaugh at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

“I thought I was intense. That guy is intense,” Cain said. “But he’s great. We just talked about little things here and there. We didn’t really go into any of the football stuff. It was fun just being able to walk three rounds with him and talk about whatever. Just to be able to get to know someone in another sport is pretty cool.”

Chris Haft

Giants might be eyeing OF Ludwick, or vice-versa

Monday, Dec. 5

DALLAS — Add Ryan Ludwick to the list of free-agent outfielders who might intrigue the Giants.

The Giants were believed to have scheduled a meeting Monday with Ludwick’s agent, Dan Horwits. Ludwick earned $6.775 million last season but might be more affordable than that this winter, even on the open market.

A right-handed batter, Ludwick thrived in 2008-09, when he hit .283 with 59 home runs and 210 RBIs for St. Louis. When the Cardinals sent him to San Diego at the 2010 Trade Deadline, Ludwick remained productive, as he was batting .281 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games at the time.

Since that deal, however, Ludwick has hit .229 with 19 homers and 101 RBIs in 198 games for San Diego and Pittsburgh. He batted .237 with 13 homers and 75 RBIs overall last season. The 33-year-old’s on-base percentage has dwindled each year since 2008, from .375 to .329 to .325 to .310. His slugging percentage also has declined annually, from .591 in 2008 to .447 to .418 to .363.

Ludwick has performed adequately at AT&T Park, where he owns a .265 batting average (22-for-83) in 23 games. His total of five home runs in 83 at-bats by the bay indicates that, unlike many hitters, the ballpark’s dimensions don’t intimidate him.

Other free-agent outfielders to whom the Giants have been linked include Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham. They also were thought to be interested in David DeJesus before the A’s traded him to the Cubs, and in Grady Sizemore before he re-signed with Cleveland.

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

Just so you know: Romo’s OK

Wednesday, June 22

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants right-hander Sergio Romo insisted that he wasn’t seriously hurt Wednesday night against the Minnesota Twins, despite the discomfort he displayed when he hobbled off the mound after striking out Michael Cuddyer to end the eighth inning.

Romo hyperextended his left knee, a chronic irritant. “This is like No. 8,” said Romo, who has grown accustomed to feeling his leg slide out from under him.

Romo went so far as to say that he could pitch in Thursday’s series finale againstair@m.com

In ’71, winning the NL West seemed special

Thursday, June 16

SAN FRANCISCO — I recently performed some mental arithmetic and realized that 40 years had passed since the Giants won the National League West in 1971.

Forty years? No way it happened that long ago. I can still hear Dick Dietz blurting, “The Dodgers can go to hell” amid the euphoria in the Giants’ clubhouse during KSFO’s postgame radio broadcast.

One way or another, we eventually realize how rapidly the decades disappear.

“It’s just gone by so quickly,” said Ken Henderson, the left fielder on that ’71 team. “When you retire from playing and begin a new career and raise a family and you get to the point where you get your kids in school and then you have grandkids, you just say, ‘Wow. Where did the years go?’ “

In the wake of last year’s World Series-winning experience, younger Giants fans are entitled to scoff, “So what?”

However, the Giants’ 1971 club will bear enduring significance.

It was the first San Francisco team to win the West since division play began in 1969. Some fans thought it might be the last. The Giants didn’t capture the division title again until 1987.

Moreover, 1971 marked the last full season that the franchise’s core of superstars — Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry — spent together. Perry was traded to Cleveland for left-hander Sam McDowell in the offseason, Mays was shipped to the New York Mets in May 1972, and Marichal and McCovey departed for Boston and San Diego in separate trades during the 1973-74 offseason.

Forty years later, the season remains memorable for those who experienced it, and frustrating.

San Francisco bolted to a 37-14 start and built a 10 1/2-game lead in the West. Mays turned 40 but remained capable of greatness. He homered in each of the season’s first four games before tiring as the year progressed. He batted .336 through May and only .225 afterward. But, proving he could find other ways to help the team win, Mays drew a league-high 112 walks. That swelled his on-base percentage to .425, another NL best. He also stole 23 bases in 26 attempts.

Bobby Bonds (.288, 33 homers, 102 RBIs) had one of his best years. Rookie shortstop Chris Speier and second baseman Tito Fuentes formed a dynamic double-play combination. Marichal (18-11, 2.94 ERA) and Perry (16-12, 2.76) were dual aces.

The Dodgers gradually trimmed the Giants’ huge lead to one game by September. To remain in front of Los Angeles, the Giants were forced to start Marichal in the regular-season finale at San Diego. He pitched a five-hitter as the Giants clinched the division with a 5-1 decision. But Pittsburgh triumphed, three games to one, in the best-of-five NL playoffs, which hadn’t yet been renamed the League Championship Series.

Having won nine of 12 games against Pittsburgh during the regular season, the Giants felt confident that they would advance to the World Series. “We really owned the Pirates that year,” said Henderson, who has rejoined the organization as a premium seat sales manager. “I get asked about
1971 an awful lot. I talk about it with a lot of fond memories but it was obviously very disappointing for us.”

Had the Giants clinched the division earlier, they could have started Marichal and Perry in the first two playoff games at Candlestick Park. “I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost the series, but I think we would have had a definite advantage, having Juan in that first game,” Henderson said.

Perry won Game 1, 5-4, but Bob Robertson homered three times for the Pirates in a 9-4 Game 2 rout. The Giants had to wait until Game 3 to use Marichal, who was edged by Bob Johnson, 2-1. Pittsburgh won Game 4, 9-5, and ultimately defeated Baltimore in the World Series.

Losing to the Pirates didn’t faze Speier. “I thought it was going to be that way every year,” said Speier, now the Cincinnati Reds’ bench coach. After all, the Giants had the likes of Gary Matthews, Garry Maddox, Ed Goodson and Dave Kingman poised to become regulars. “We still thought
we could be pretty good,” said Speier, an All-Star with the Giants from 1972-74. “It was like the passing of the baton.”

The baton was dropped, in numerous ways and for numerous reasons. In the next nine seasons, the Giants finished above .500 twice.

Still, Speier acknowledged that the ’71 crew was a special one.

“It was just a great experience for a kid to come up and be taught how to play major league baseball by those guys — Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Bonds, Henderson,” Speier said. “It’s something I hold very, very dear to my heart.”

Chris Haft

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