Nearly two months into the 2012 season, I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of what we’ve got in this year’s Giants team. It both pains and pleases me to report that we are not yet ready to retire the label the Giants earned the past two seasons: Torture.
Yes, Torture with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Bochy…. And Brandon…. And Bad Hitting and Bungled Baseballs. Yet another season of stellar pitching is at risk of fizzling in a .500 rathole because the offense and the defense don’t adequately support the aces on the hill. The Giants’ staff is the envy of baseball, and if you doubt that, think of it this way: What manager wouldn’t want his biggest pitching problem to be – Tim Lincecum?
Plus, injuries keep threatening to sink the season before it even gets rolling, whether it’s Brian Wilson going down for his second Tommy John surgery, or Pablo Sandoval showing a new disadvantage to switch-hitting by breaking the same bone in his left hand that he broke in his right hand last year.
So while so many of my fellow fans sink into that funk of watching our version of the Mudville Nine rally only to lose again, I see the potential for another glorious 2010-type season. In fact, think of how torturous 2010 really was. For starters, 2010 was the year Duane Kuiper hung his sputtering Torture moniker on the orange-and-black after an endless supply of nail-biters.
That season’s opening day lineup included names like John Bowker, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. (Good guys, but do any fans miss them?) In 2010, the Giants trailed the Padres nearly all year (and the 2010 Pads were a better team than the 2012 Dodgers, in my opinion – much better pitching, fueled by a lights-out bullpen). Pablo Sandoval suffered not only a sophomore slump, but threatened to become the Kung Fu Hippo. And remember August? Just when you want your team to make a stretch run, the Giants’ pitching staff began to unravel. They led the league in walks. Lincecum went through the first prolonged struggle in his charmed career.
And we never really came to love Edgar Renteria until his very last game in a Giants’ uniform.
Happy endings like 2010’s enable us to forget all the struggles that comprise a baseball season. Before a game I went to last year, Giants’ coach Tim Flannery addressed a crowd of Little Leaguers, telling them that the secret to baseball success is “tricking your mind into staying positive.” In 2010, he pointed out, the world champion Giants lost 70 games.
Maybe I’m just tricking my own mind here, but I find a lot to be positive about in 2012.
- First, and foremost, Buster Posey is back and better than ever.
- To our great relief as well, Buster at last has a backup, Hector Sanchez, who can really hit. It feels fine whenever Bochy wants to give Buster a rest, or a day at first base.
- Melky Cabrera is a true major league superstar – and Pablo Sandoval is on his way there. Angel Pagan is solid, speedy, and a team leader. (I’m biased toward Angel, since I just wrote a story about him for the Giants magazine – look for it at the ballpark this summer.)
- Melky and Angel aren’t the only great additions. Gregor Blanco is a revelation. Joaquin Arias fills the utility role nicely. Ryan Theriot is a great guy to have on the bench.
- Bruce Bochy is getting comfortable trusting his young guys, and Brandons Belt and Crawford are starting to come around. (By-the-By, what is it with the Base-Ball Giants and the initials BB? From Bobby Bonds to Barry Bonds, from Bob Brenly and Brett Butler to Bruce Bochy and Brandon Belt, we love shooting BBs here in Baghdad by the Bay. Then again, Brian Bocock couldn’t carry the bat of old New York Giant Hall-of-Famer Beauty Bancroft.)
I love Giants fans, but I do find it funny that they complained so long to “Free Belt,” yet they show as little patience with the miscues of youth as they used to accuse Bochy and Brian Sabean of having. You can’t have it both ways. We are spoiled by guys like Posey and Sandoval, who hit well right from the start, but instead we ought to consider the example of Melky Cabrera, who struggled and bounced around for years until he found his stroke last year in Kansas City.
So don’t get down. If the 2010 Giants could rally from 7.5 games back on July 4 – to say nothing of forbears like the 1951 team, which was 13 back on Aug. 11 –this year’s model can certainly overcome a May deficit. It may take some more Sabean midseason magic. It may take some help in getting the Dodgers to fall to earth. It may require the folks at Dignity Health (cue Renel: formerly Catholic Healthcare West, the official health care provider of your San Francisco Giants) to restore both dignity and health to a team that needs both.
Whatever it takes, though, remember this: With a second wild card this year, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. And once in the playoffs, pitching can carry you a long, long way.
The funny thing is, we thought 2010 was “Torture.”
We could laugh about Torture when the Giants managed to win the World Series. But in 2011, we became re-acquainted with our old friend Torture when the Giants suddenly stopped winning all those walk-off, one-run ballgames. It seemed they just stopped scoring runs, period, and the challenge of stringing together three hits in a row became an insurmountable obstacle.
And 2011 truly defined Torture, Giants-style, with a seemingly endless array of injuries. None hurt more than Buster Posey’s season-ending loss in that eminently avoidable crash at home plate back in May. But it was equally painful to see rock-solid Brian Wilson go down, and Pablo Sandoval’s fabulous comeback momentarily derailed. And of course it turned out Freddy Sanchez never did vacate his room in the Hotel Disabled, moving right back in on schedule. (Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, those injuries I can forgive.)
I admire the way the Giants never gave up. I like that Brian Sabean brought in Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger. (Orlando Cabrera, I was not so crazy about. I understand why Brandon Crawford couldn’t stay – you don’t want a rookie falling into a double digit batting average and thinking he will never hit big league pitching – but if you have to hire a shortstop who can’t hit, couldn’t you at least bring back Omar Vizquel?) I liked that the team stayed in the race til the final week.
Hey, I liked that the Atlanta Braves collapsed and the Diamondbacks never showed anything too dominant, enabling that race to linger.
But it sure has been Torture watching a postseason without the Giants, especially one in which the starting pitchers all seem highly inferior to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. I have to feel our guys would be giving any team in the playoffs a good run once again, if they’d only gotten there.
So now I’ve tossed this year’s Sporting Greens into the hot stove, and am ready to burnish my optimism for 2012. Re-sign Beltran. Get the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – into a big league boot camp all winter. Make Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill battle it out for first base in Spring Training. Sign Coco Crisp. (Let the A’s have San Jose in exchange for some Moneyball mojo.)
The Giants are not too far from putting together another run at the title. I cannot wait until Spring!
Under the rules of baseball, the statisticians the winning pitcher to be the guy who is in the game when the winning run scored. I would like to suggest, in this era of SABRmetrics, when the win has already been devalued (see Hernandez, Felix), that the rule be changed.
The clearest example of why this should be is last night’s San Francisco Giants game. Madison Bumgarner pitched a beauty against a devastating Detroit Tigers lineup — 7.3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 earned run. But then in the eighth and ninth, Brian Wilson — and don’t get me wrong, for all the torture, I love the guy — gets two outs and surrenders 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs.
Wilson gets the win, and goes berserk on a Gatorade cooler. What’s wrong with this picture?
I would like to see baseball’s official scorers empowered to decide who is the winning pitcher based on merit. Lord knows Brian Wilson is not looking to pad his stats with wins thanks to all the Giants’ late inning rallies. When Bumgarner – and for that matter Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants’ aces – pitch deep into games, giving up next to nothing, they deserve a win, instead of the mediocre win-loss records that they carry around with them.
(Footnote: I actually had to edit Lincecum’s Wikipedia page to show his 18-5 record in his first Cy Young season of 2008.)
I had a great conversation with Damon Bruce last Friday on his show. We talked about Giants Past and Present. It was a great interview and a great treat for fathers day. Damon said, “It is a 1st class product all the way through – a well written, well crafted book.”
I want to see a rule change. And I’m not alone.
I want to see catchers protected from home plate collisions.
Buster Posey may be out for the year, just because baseball says it’s all right that Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins came barreling down the third base line at top speed and, instead of sliding, dove at Posey like a linebacker in hopes of jarring the ball loose – a ball, it turns out, that Posey wasn’t even holding in the first place.
The Giants had told Posey not to block home plate. They told him no run, no single game, was worth the damage he could do to himself, to his career. He got it right last year in the NLCS – as important a game as he’d ever played in to that point, applying a sweep-tag on Carlos Ruiz to nail the runner yet stay out of harm’s way. Indeed, even in the Marlins game, Buster Ballgame was in front of home plate, toward the mound, taking the throw and then trying to turn into Cousins to apply the tag.
I don’t fault Cousins. He was within the rules, written or otherwise. But baseball has rules to prevent runners from creaming middle infielders in the same fashion. Hockey has rules to protect the goaltender. Football protects the quarterback. Major sports are getting more sensitive to injuries, especially concussions.
The Giants have already lost Mike Matheny to a similar play. Joe Mauer is continually banged up in Minnesota. The tools of ignorance are hardly protection for an athlete running right at you like a freight train.
Evan Brunell summarized the situation very well over at CBS Sports, noting that Posey’s agent and his manager have also called for a rules change:
Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, said he was planning on calling Joe Torre, the new leader of on-field operations, in the hopes of changing the rules that allow runners to barrel into catchers.
“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.
“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball. I’m going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it’s just wrong.”
“It’s part of baseball. I understand that,” Bochy said in a news conference on Thursday according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Guys run into catchers. Being a catcher, I’ve been in a few of them. You’re in harm’s way there. I do think we need to consider changing the rules a little bit because the catcher’s so vulnerable — and there are so many who’ve gotten hurt, and just a little bit. I mean, they’ve had their careers or shortened. And here’s a guy that’s very popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play. Now, he’s out for a while. I’d like to see maybe something considered here where we can protect these guys a little bit more. They just don’t have the protection to take a guy coming in full speed, with that kind of force.”
Bochy said he had previously spoken to Posey about not getting out in front and blocking the plate — and to an extent, Posey tried to honor that.
“He was not completely in front of the plate. He was in a position where he could make a tag without being hit, too,” Bochy said. “He just got himself in a tough position there because [the way] his leg was situated. He was down on one knee, and ideally, you’d like to have the foot pointed that way to protect you a little bit. But, again, you’re trying to handle a throw. You don’t have time to get set up perfectly. That’s what hurt him was his leg was tucked underneath him when he got hit.”
It should have been changed years ago, when Pete Rose wrecked Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game. But just because it’s late doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Let’s do it now. Call it the Buster Posey Rule. And protect the catcher!
Oh, and when Buster does come back? Put him at third base. First base. Anywhere but behind the plate!
Today’s guest post is from Bleacher Report Contributor Simon Cherin-Gordon, a Berkeley High Senior who has been helping me on projects large and small on this site and elsewhere for the past year.
After Bruce Bochy led the Giants on a second half surge that netted them an unexpected division title, many Giants’ fans were calling for Bochy to win the Manager of the Year award. While Bochy was deserving, so were others, including Padres’ skipper Bud Black, who won 90 games with a roster that most expected to struggle all year. The award went to him, and rightfully so.
Bochy, meanwhile, went on to win the World Series, strengthening his position as one of the game’s best.
However, it is only now, two months into the 2011 season, that we are seeing Bochy’s finest work. After an uneventful offseason, the Giants looked like they’d be caught in another fierce battle with better offensive teams out west, and would need heroic career years out of guys who already delivered their heroic career years in 2010. While Pat Burrell’s resurrection and Cody Ross’ hot streak could be attributed to Bochy, that may be giving him more credit than he deserves.
In fact, the 2010 Giants may have underperformed in multiple, albeit subtle, ways. The 2010 team was 6th in the NL in total bases, batting average, and home runs, yet finished only 9th in runs scored, indicating an inefficient offense. On the defensive side, they led the league in fielding percentage as well as ERA, a seemingly fool-proof formula for allowing the fewest runs. However, Bud Black’s Padres allowed less runs than the Giants in 2010. And even when taking the end result of runs allowed and runs scored for San Francisco, their 92-70 record was slightly worse than their Pythagorean projection (a simple Bill Jamesian stat that projects W-L record based on run differential), which had them at 94-68.
As anyone should have seen coming, the offense has taken a step back so far in 2011, and, to the surprise of many, the defense has gotten a whole lot worse. Mark DeRosa may eventually help some, and Aubrey Huff will likely pick his numbers up. Other than that, not many hitters are underperforming, and the lack of pop may be here to stay. The pitching staff is still excellent, but the defense has hurt them. Bochy doesn’t have the benefit of this being “the Giants’ year,” and needs to squeeze as much as he can out of this deep but flawed roster.
He’s done so miraculously, using his depth to its full capacity and, in doing so, covering up the flaws. His game management, use of certain players in certain roles, and steady presence has the Giants winning way more than they should be. Despite the league’s 3rd best ERA and 13th best defense, San Francisco is 3rd best in the league in runs allowed. And while the Pythagorean projection says the team should be 23-24, Bochy has them at 27-20, solely atop the NL West.
The toughest thing about managing the defending champs is the heightened desire around the league to defeat you, especially early in the season. Every other team out there circles the Giants on their calenders, and plays with an added intensity when they meet. Facing teams that are playing with an extra edge every single day can, and often does, prove to be too much for a defending champ. This leads to a scrambling manager, a belief in the players that they aren’t good as they were last year, and a downward spiral. Bochy and his 2011 club has been the antithesis of this. The Giants are playing more intensely than their opponents. Bochy has his player’s roles figured out and never panics when a decision backfires.
Although no team has won back-to-back World Series titles since 2000, no manager of a defending champ has done as good a job as Bruce Bochy in a long time. And regardless of what happens this October, a return to the playoffs for this team should net Bochy the Manager of the Year award in a landslide.
Read more of Simon Cherin-Gordon’s sportswriting here
The champs, continued
Here we are, a month into the season, and the question keeps coming up: How do we feel about the Giants? They are not exactly sweeping through the National League the way they swept through the playoffs last year. Should we worry?
No. And yes. The Giants are doing everything just the way we remember, if not better. Nothing came easy to them last year. Remember torture? This season opened with more of that Torture (with a capital T and that rhymes with G and that stands for Giants). Losses in L.A., blown saves against St. Louis, narrow, late inning victories (and losses) and then a sweep at home by the hated Braves brought all of those memories back.
Of course, we have many reasons to feel this year would be better. The great young pitchers have another year experience under their belt, and keep improving. The lineup, in flux all of last season, appears settled – Brian Sabean won’t have to scramble to add every warm bat he can find, as he did last year with Messrs. Burrell, Guillen and Ross. Ditto the bullpen. Buster Posey should also get better with experience, and if unloading Bengie Molina last year to make room for Posey was addition by subtraction, the Giants took the concept even farther this year, with Pablo Sandoval shedding what, 50 pounds, and going from a sure first-pitch double-play to one of the most feared hitters in the league. And Brandon Belt could be the next Posey.
Then again, we’re Giants fans. We have many reasons to feel this year will be worse, too. The pitchers never had to work as hard as they did last year – could they be burned out? Miguel Tejada looks to be a serious liability at shortstop. Injuries are rearing their ugly head, striking Brian Wilson, Barry Zito, Cody Ross, Andres Torres.
And yet, so far this year as last, the misfits keep fitting in. Down goes Torres, up comes Rowand. Wilson isn’t laid low for long. Ross’s absence makes room for Belt, and Mark DeRosa makes the most of his at-bats. Even Tejada surprises with some heroics reminiscent of his Oakland days.
It’s a long season. It’s a great ride. Go ahead, torture me. I know I can take it.
My friend Steve Steinberg, who has joined me in several book events, is the co-author of a fantastic tome, “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” along with Lyle Spatz. The book last week was awarded the Seymour Medal for the year’s best baseball history book.
Steve organized our event at the Museum of the City of New York, and is a tireless and passionate student and promoter of baseball history. I have learned much from him, and am so proud of him for winning this well-deserved honor.
The book is a great source of colorful stories, not only about the Giants’ John McGraw, but also his Yankees’ counterpart Miller Huggins, and of course Huggins’ star Babe Ruth. And look closely at the cover – one of those other Giants depicted there is none other than Casey Stengel, who not only played big for the Giants in their World Series of the 1920s, but did a fair job managing the Yankees in the Fall Classic in the 1940s and 50s as well.
I love New York!
On Thursday night, more than 100 people turned out to the Museum of the City of New York to learn about the Old Perfesser, Casey Stengel, and his long and storied life in baseball. (Need I remind readers that, long before he was a fabled manager of the Yankees or Mets, Casey Stengel was a player on John McGraw’s Giants?) I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion with a group of amazing sportswriters: Marty Appel, Jim Kaplan, Steven Goldman and Steve Steinberg. The panel was completed with the great addition of Stengel’s grand-niece, Toni Mollett, who runs the Casey Stengel Baseball Center.
Steve Steinberg, Toni Mollett and I also had the great privilege of meeting Yogi and Carmen Berra at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey the day before, along with Dave Kaplan, a sportswriter who runs the museum.
Highlights from my two days in baseball heaven:
* Yogi Berra clearly maintains a great deal of affection for his old manager. “Casey got Bill Dickey out of retirement to come and help,” Yogi said. “He taught me a lot of things.” (Yogi did not utter any Yogi-isms, like his purported, “Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences.”) “I played outfield sometimes,” Yogi said. “Casey liked guys who could play two positions. At one time we had three catchers in the field – Elston (Howard), (John) Blanchard and myself. Gil McDougal was an All-Star at second, short and third.” (UPDATE 3/17/2012: See comments below; the correct spelling is McDougald.)
* Upon hearing my connection to the San Francisco Giants, Yogi asked me to say hello to Dave Righetti. Perhaps acknowledging Stengel’s influence, Yogi recalled that, as manager of the Yankees, he turned Righetti from a starting pitcher into a closer.
* But life wasn’t all easy under Stengel. “If we were playing a double header,” Yogi recalled, “he’d say, ‘If we’re ahead, I’ll take you out,’ but he never did. One time, I said to him, ‘Here – you catch.’” Yogi said he once wanted a rest so badly, he began arguing with the umpire, trying to get thrown out. The ump said, “Yogi, if I’m gonna suffer, you’re gonna suffer with me.”
* Yogi’s museum is worth a visit for any baseball fan; it will re-open next month after an extensive remodel. I had a sneak peak and it’s going to be beautiful. In one case, there’s Yogi’s jersey and mitt worn during Don Larsen’s perfect game from the 1956 World Series; the glove is bronzed. Yogi pointed out how worn the mitt was, and told me that he used to insert “falsies” inside as padding to protect his hands.
* The panelists the next night were equally delightful. Marty Appel pointed out that “We wouldn’t be here at all if the Yankees had won the last game of the 1948 season.” Bucky Harris was managing the Yankees then, and was on the verge of a second straight pennant. Harris, however, had been hired by former GM Larry McPhail, and since McPhail was fired after a fight with owners Dan Topping and Del Webb (and replaced by George Weiss), Harris was on thin ice. As long as he won, his job was safe; when the Indians took the pennant in 1948, Harris was out, and Weiss brought in his man Stengel. Had the Yankees won that day, Harris may have stayed and ultimately won seven straight titles, and Stengel never would have had his big chance, Appel said. “Sometimes baseball comes down to one day.”
* Another little-known factor in Stengel’s development as a Hall of Fame manager: the disarray of the 1930s’ Brooklyn Dodgers, a situation that resembled, well, the disarray of their most likely descendants: this year’s Los Angeles Dodgers (with the team’s owners fighting in divorce court) and this year’s New York Mets, mired in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Author Steven Goldman said the death of Charles Ebbetts in 1925 plunged the team into chaos (with colorful stories, such as Ebbetts’ elaborate coffin not fitting in the grave, and in the time it took to widen the hole on that frigid April morning, one of his surviving co-owners caught pneumonia and died). Unable to bring in top-notch talent, the Bums resigned themselves to losing, and figuring, “Losing would be more fun with a fun guy,” hired Stengel, a famed baseball clown, to lead them. While Stengel played it for laughs, he also began experimenting with the platooning that made him so successful at Yankee Stadium. “While that’s considered an innovation of his Yankees’ years, the R&D for it happened in Brooklyn,” Goldman said.
* Most poignantly, Toni Mollett recalled coming to New York as a teen from Glendale, Calif., and going to Mets games to see her Uncle Casey. Stengel lived at the Essex House on Central Park South, and after the games, when the family would return, Casey would take his young niece for a walk around the block. “Come on,” he told her. “We have more work to do.” On that walk, many New Yorkers recognized the beloved and legendary manager. “They’d want autographs. They’d want a little Stengelese,” Mollett said. “Casey was such a well-loved character.” And he recognized his responsibility as an ambassador for the game, and within a few years the Mets were out-drawing his old employers, the Yankees.
* You can help Mollett keep Stengel’s vision alive, and bring the team concept to up-and-coming baseball players, by joining the Casey Stengel Baseball Center. I am.
* The day after the event, Marty Appel emailed fellow panelists: “I guess as the ultimate tribute to Casey, while we were sitting, the Mets were losing a doubleheader.” (And the Yankees won.)
If there’s any doubt that going to a baseball game can be a near-religious experience, the Giants removed it this weekend.
It felt like the Church of Baseball when we had a moment of silence at the home opener for the Giants who died in the past year, from Gino Cimoli (first batter on the West Coast) to Duke Snider (“Yes, Duke Snider was a Giant, although only briefly,” said Jon Miller, reverentially). It felt like it, too, when we had another moment for Brian Stowe, our fellow fan who lies comatose in a hospital after his beating at the hand of Dodger fans.
And there were plenty of rapturous, euphoric moments, as the team was announced one by one on Opening Day, and the championship flag went up, and again the following day, as the players received their rings. The best line, of course, went to Duane Kuiper: “The rings, the tuxes – no, Mike (Krukow) and I are not here to renew our vows.”
I have to say, the Giants did everything right in those ceremonies. I was not immune to the occasional lump in the throat. For some reason, it especially hits me each time Tim Lincecum is announced. He always gets the loudest cheers, and I guess it’s emotional because he is so small, yet so gutsy, and carries the whole team on his back at such critical times. I was at his 14-strikeout gem against the Braves in the NLDS, which gives me what I feel is an intimate connection to his greatness, and then the way he outpitched Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the World Series in Texas last year just elevated him to another plane. Freak, indeed.
And then, of course, no planned or contrived moments of wonder and awe could compete with the Giants on the field themselves. Of course Brian Wilson blew the save, reminding us all of the Torture we endured in 2010. We joke about it now, but it is painful! And then, of course, the gutty gritty Giants never gave up, no matter how many rallies were squelched, ultimately prevailing, because they are not going to lose their first game at AT&T Park since the World Series, the game in which Wilson dramatically ran that championship flag across the field, through the stands, and up the pole.
Nor were they going to lose the game after the ring ceremony. I’m reading “The Hobbit” with my son right now, and the Giants’ rings – won by magic – seem as mystical as the ring that Bilbo Baggins uses to get out of so many jams in that book. And so, just when it looked like Matt Cain was going to fall victim to a lack of run support again, of course the Giants came back and won, but only when down to their last strike.
And how sweet was it that the newest Giants did it – that Miguel Tejada got the clutch hit, and Brandon Belt scored the winning run. That was their baptism into baseball, Giants’ style – castoffs, yes, but winning Dirty Dozen style nonetheless.
Bring on the rest of the season.
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