Giants move into 3rd place, er, make that 2nd place and 5.5 games back

That's the beauty of the last month of the season with the four main contenders for the NL West title playing each other: somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, and a team can make up a lot of ground fast if they can get hot now. And, wow, the Giants are finally make a move, led by Schmidt, Lowry, and, for now, Cain, plus the now great bullpen and our sporadic offense. And with 7 games left with the Padres, if they can go 5-2, they would be only 2.5 games back with all the other games left.

However, their path will not be easy. The Giants face LA 7 more times, Cubs 4 times (10-18 in August according to Dave Fleming from today's broadcast), SD 7 times, and 3 vs. Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. That is a little harder than the 'Dres 7 vs. Colorado, 6 vs. LA, 7 vs. SF, 3 vs. Washington and 3 vs. Arizona. The D-gers faces the Giants 7 more times, SD 6 times, 3 vs. Colorado, 6 vs. Arizona, and 4 vs. Pittsburgh. That is also a little easier than the Giants. Lastly, the D-backs play Pittsburgh 3 games, Colorado 6 games, Milwaukee 3 games, LA 6 games, SD 3 games, and SF 3 games. That is also a little easier than the Giants. So overall, it appears that the Giants have a harder schedule than the rest of the teams they are competing against, based on opponents to be played.

That means that the Giants will truly have to take matters into their own hands, like they did this weekend, and play well particularly against the rest of their NL West Division competitors if they hope to at least stay in 2nd and definitely if they hope to win the Division title still. In particularly, they have 1 more game to play than SD and LA and 3 more than AZ. It will be a tough road to travel to keep 2nd and perhaps win the division but I've seen weirder things happen, so you never know. But to reach .500, they need to go 18-7, which does not seem likely at the moment, though vaguely possible due to how well they have been pitching lately. They need a hitter or two to get white hot.

Boy, what a beautiful pair of games by Cain, including today's 7 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 4 K outing. For perspective, Tomko has NOT had a pair of games with a similar ERA (2.25) and WHIP (about 1) for any two pair of games all season, his best being his starts on May 9 and 14, where he had 15 IP, 12 hits, 5 ER, 2 W, 11 K, 3.00 ERA, about 1 WHIP. Cain for his short career has 12 IP, 6 hits, 3 ER, 5 W, 6 K, 2.25 ERA and about 1 WHIP. So he has been a little wild, but he has mainly only depended upon his fastball, he has not shown his other pitches yet and STILL is pitching well. Imagine how good he would be if he started using his plus curve (from what I've read on him).


Throwing in the towel and Caining My Memory Lane

Throwing in the Towel

Well the Giants have finally given in to certain fans' request for the Giants to forget about this year and look to next year. I guess they finally figured out that if they can't get closer with the guys they got, they may as well go with youngsters. They traded away Deivi Cruz to the Washington Nationals for an A-ball RHP, Benjamin Cox, and Christiansen to the Angels for a AAA LHP Dusty Bergman (supposedly the reason Sabean did the trade) and RHP Ronnie Ray.

From the AP report:
  • Benjamin Cox, RHP, is 23 and was 4-4, 3.00 ERA, .224 BAA, 7 saves in 41 relief outings with 52 K's in 63 IP for Class-A Savannah.
  • Dusty Bergman, LHP, is 27 and was 8-5, 3.25 ERA, 8 saves in 44 relief outings at AAA Salt Lake. Sabean noted that he will probably get a call up once the roster expands on Sept. 1st.
  • Ronnie Ray, RHP, is 21 and was 7-6, 4.40 ERA, 1 save in 39 games at two levels of Class-A ball.
In addition, the Giants called up Angel Chavez, 24, SS for High-Class-A San Jose to start the season, then promoted to AAA Fresno. He had a combined 16 HR and 83 RBI in 119 games, a surprisingly good offensive totals for someone better known for his defensive abilities and lack of offensive abilities. He even got to start because Vizquel had flu-like symptoms.

Too bad the Rangers claimed Tomko else he would probably be gone as well, damn them. I put a curse on them for that, we could have gotten a prospect for him if they didn't do that punk move, I hope all their acquisitions turn out as well as Chan Ho Park did. They aren't even competitive for a playoff spot either, what a little league move they did.

I guess we will be seeing the youngsters a lot more now, particularly Linden and Cain and the relievers, as we got a bullpen to fill next season and only Benitez and Walker are signed, Eyre will become a free agent and probably test the waters, though it sounds like he wants to return (then again David Bell told us fans not to worry in a radio interview but was lying through his teeth).

Caining My Memory Lane

Cain pitched Monday, going 5 IP, only 3 hits and 2 ER, though 4 walks and 2 strikeouts, getting the loss as the Giants lost 2-1. He had a lot of good moments, as reported in the news, particularly his 14 pitch battle that he won with Todd Helton. He did a heck of a lot better than the pitcher he replaced, Brett Tomko, did, certainly, and certainly gave a lot of hope to Giants fans everywhere about his future.

That got me thinking about the debuts of past Giants phenoms. These are all top of mind, I'm not going to strain my memory thinking of every phenom that came our way. Foppert did OK in a relief appearance but nothing he did excited fans other than wondering where his vaulted velocity went (and we're still looking). Williams did nicely for a little bit before unraveling, but had a great first season. Salomon Torres was put into the frying pan immediately and ruined for about a dozen years, before he somehow resurrected himself as a good setup reliever for the Pirates (well, no pressure there...). But then we got Estes for him and he did real well for us, almost up to until he became eligible for free agency, but lucky for him he had that great season and is a lefty, else teams would not be giving him any chance at all. John Burkett came up with zero reputation, I wondered why they bothered bringing him up, but they did and he had a nice first outing and he eventually became a nice starter, lasting many years, and more importantly, netted us Rich Aurilia in a trade, snookering the Rangers out of a nice prospect for a pitcher who wasn't even in our plans anymore.

Then I kind of blank out on first outings and remember general stuff. Mark Grant never did much of anything for us and ended up becoming a nice reliever for the Padres. Mike Remlinger never did much of anything for us and ended up becoming a nice reliever for the Braves and Cubs. Terry MulHolland gave fans a rare treat, a rare play in baseball history: fielding a batted ball, can't remember if bunt or dribbler, he couldn't get the ball out of his glove so he did the next best thing, throw the glove to firstbase, which got him the out. But he ended up being a nice reliever for a string of teams as well. Dennis Cook never did much of anything for us but became a nice reliever for a long series of teams, he even got the last laugh on us, helping the Angels in 2002 before they beat us in the World Series, though he didn't make the playoff roster because the Angels cheated the system and brought up Francisco Rodriguez in September before loopholing him into a playoff roster spot. Not that I'm bitter or anything. :^(

Scott Garrelts did pitch pretty well but wasn't that hyped up coming up that I can recall but he ended up being a nice reliever for us, then a nice starter, but nothing really special, journeyman in stature though he could bring it when he was on, coming within an out of getting the Giants first no-hitter, against the Reds, since John "the Count" Montefusco no-hit the Braves. Trevor Wilson did have a lot of hype but never did much of anything for anyone; I think he became a coach for the Giants in the minors for a while. Kelly Downs also had a lot of hype and took forever to make the team but never lived up to it, he didn't become a reliever either. Bill Laskey had a nice start. He pitched a shutout, 7-0 win if I remember correctly. But it was all downhill, basically, after that, short career. Atlee Hammaker started nicely too but it was all downhill skiing after Fred Lynn Grandslammed him in the All-Star game and he faded away quickly. Mark Davis came up and did really well for us, after we got him as a throw-in in the Joe Morgan trade, but he eventually became an elite closer for the Padres before fading off into the sunset.

Then there are the ones I followed first, the ones I listened to at night while I was suppose to be sleeping but had my authentic Japanese transistor radio under my pillow (for that I thank my uncle for giving me). John "the Count" Montefusco was and is one of my favorites. I can still remember Al Michaels (yes, that Al Michaels, he was our TV announcer for one magical season) calling the game, I can still remember the first time he used that nickname for Montefusco, in his first game, calling him that after Montefusco hit a homerun in his first official AB (he got a walk in his first AB); that must be how that guy, Chris Berman of ESPN, who would devise nicknames for every player based on his name got that idea since he is a Giants fan as well. I loved following him, counting up his strikeouts, seeing his name on the league leader lists, rooting him on to strike out another guy (since the team wasn't really going anywhere). And he was a total character, I loved it when they interviewed him after games.

Ed Halicki was another youngster who came up and did well. Back then there was little news on prospects except during spring training but even then I didn't have a clue who the Giants best prospects were. So Montefusco came up and Halicki came up and I had no idea how good they were or weren't, not like today. Halicki paled in comparison with Montefusco, in exploits, in personality but he has the last Giants no-hitter at home, in Candlestick against the Mets, and he did it before Montefusco did his. It was a day game and I was outside playing while also listening but once it reached the middle of the game, I came into the garage and listened to the rest of the game with my head close to radio, as if for extra emphasis, I mean I could have just turned up the volume instead. He also struck out a lot of batters but not as much as Montefusco and did OK for his career but not as much as Montefusco. But I liked him too.

Then I thought the Giants would have a great rotation for a long time when Pete Falcone came up and did well. He and Montefusco would seemingly duel during the summer, one would strike out a lot then the other would, though Falcone wasn't good enough to continue that. Then he was traded just like that to the Cards for Ken Reitz, and though I was sad, I liked the trade, but then we traded Reitz back to the Cards for another pitcher - I would have rather kept Falcone.

Then we brought up Bob Knepper and that got me excited about the future of the rotation. He pitched well initially but then had a couple of bad years, and I guess the team gave up on him and basically gave him away to Houston, don't remember who we got but of course Knepper was a mainstay of the Houston rotation for the next ten or so years. It was very bittersweet every time he pitched against us for Houston.

That's what I love about baseball, the history, the personal history, remembering touchpoints in the past, remembering a time when you were young and didn't have to think about grown up stuff all the time, when you could enjoy the simple joys of listening to a great game of baseball on the radio, then right afterward, listening to Jerry Gordon's Golden Age of Comedy on KSFO, which always followed every night game. I killed many a set of batteries leaving my radio on trying to finish listening to the comedy classics that played.

By the way, the Giants beat the Rockies to win a series at home again, after sputtering all season long until August, where they went 8-7 at home. They used to totally rule at home but I guess that is the advantage of having the only player in baseball who could hit extremely well at SBC, Barry Bonds. The news tonight said that he is hoping to join the team next week when they face LA - good timing, we could still pass them and the D-backs up for 2nd place in the division if we could just get a good win streak going. Which is a good thing to still strive for, they give the 2nd place team more money from some pool of money than they do 3rd place, that could get us a utility player or reliever or something.

The starting pitching has been very good for a while now (and Lowry has been great) but the offense has been sputtering for a long while now, after Winn got cold and stopped hitting like he was on fire. When they couldn't win with him hitting like that, that was not a good sign that they could get back into the race. But if the offense can get going and Cain can continue to do well, the Giants could easily take 2nd place then see what happens, the Padres have been scuffling too with injuries and stuff, so you never know.


Cain you believe it? Plus Tucker's draft pick, redux

The justice system works in mysterious ways: with one of their few remaining challenges, the defense dropped me off of the jury (and I still don't see why, there were other potential jurists left who I thought were more questionable than I was for an attempted murder, assault, and robbery trial) and freed me to catch up on all the work that I had missed while sitting around doing nothing much but contributing to the justice system - the Constitution wins! :^) So I am free to comment on a few items briefly during my lunchtime.

Cain is here, Best time of year (this year at least)

Wow, Cain has been raised (that is Matt Cain has been promoted) to the major leagues and will start for your 2005 San Francisco Giants Monday, in place of Tomko. Now we get to see our Wunderkind shortly after saying good-bye to our 2003 Wunderkind, Jesse Foppert, in the Randy Winn trade. And, I assume, perfect timing, facing the poster-child for on the road ineptitude, Colorado, almost a run A GAME behind the 2nd worse scoring team on the road, the Astros, out of 30 MLB teams. Nice way to boost your prospect's confidence, have him face the worse scoring team by a mile (though things would backfire if they actually did score on him, so it could go both ways I suppose, but at least the odds are in his favor).

Following the rotation, assuming they don't move him back a day to avoid one team or another or to allow another starter a start (Tomko takes on Ponson role and face nasties?), he will get a total of 7 starts if he started every 5th game from today's game: COL (H; 1st worse in MLB playing on road in runs scored); ARI (R; 10th worse playing at home); Cubs (H; 10th worse); SD (H; 6th best); WAS (R; 8th worse); COL (R; 5th best); ARI (H; 15th best). Not too bad overall, poor offenses on the whole plus he will be challenged by SD in SBC and COL in Colorado.

And if they slip him one game after the Cubs game, then he avoids SD in SF and instead faces LAD (H; 13th worse); WAS (R; 8th worse); SD (R; 2nd worse); ARI (H; 15th best). But then he would avoid any strong offensive test, dropping 2 best scoring offense for 2 worse scoring offenses. However, it would also avoid throwing him into Colorado for a start, where pitcher's egos get squished like bugs on a windshield. So the Giants may as well start Tomko one game during the SD series and push Cain into facing the weaker offenses instead. If he is as good as advertised, he should be able to do well against the weaker opponents, then we hope that Schmidt and Lowry can take on the better teams, at least for those of us still hoping for some good showing this season and haven't given up on the season.

I know that there are people against bringing up Cain - starts his major league time served clock, takes away an option - but I am jazzed about this. We get to see how he does, and there is some question on how he will do since he has not been sterling in his time in AAA, walking a ton, though at least also striking out more than a ton. Things change in the majors, though, better fielders, better catcher calling pitches, better coaching, so you never know. Brandon Webb did not have as good a career minor stats as Jerome Williams or Dontrelle Willis but he's probably been as good as (Willis) or better (Williams). So you never know.

And for Tomko, who don't quite understand why he was dropped from the rotation, here's some numbers: 5.14 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 11 strikeouts in 21.0 IP in the last month. Pitchers who are doing that poorly, especially when they are suppose to be ramping it up in the second half of the season, are key candidates for getting dropped from the rotation, whether a team driving for the playoffs or a team with a bad record. Too bad Texas had to screw up our waiver for Tomko by claiming him, the Giants should screw around with their waivers as payback for that. Else we could have traded Tomko for an nice prospect.

Too bad the Giants didn't do it before the deadline - I was all for trading Tomko for a prospect, to get some value for him before he goes free agent on us and demands $7M/year (like Ponson and Benson got).

Tucker Draft Pick Controversy Revisited

Now that Tucker has been traded, his signing and loss of a draft pick has been transformed a little. The player we got, Kelvin Pichardo (are the Giants now the only team with Kelvin's? I recall that we have another player with that first name and I find that name to be rare), is now part of the equation. Now the Giants have used the $1M+ bonus for their 2004 1st round draft pick to have Tucker for about a little over a year and a half, where he performed about as expected, except that his OBP was higher than expected in 2004, when he was playing regularly, plus we now have a pitching prospect, Kelvin Pichardo.

He is a 19 year old RHP (soon to turn 20 after the season ends), in his second season in the Gulf Coast League (rookie league). He had a good first season, going 5-5, 2.79 ERA in 58.0 IP, only 41 hits and 15 walks with 62 strikeouts and 5 homers, for a WHIP of 0.97 and K rate over 9 per 9 IP in 12 games/11 starts. He fell back a little this season, going 3-2, 4.17 ERA in 54.0 IP, 59 hits and 3 (only!) walks with 37 strikeouts and 4 homers, WHIP of 1.15 and K/9 rate of 6.2 in 10 games/9 starts.

From reading from a few sites, he seems to have a power arm but is blessed with the maturity and ability to throw strikes and not walk very many batters, as well as not give up many homers or hits. And he's been able to keep the hitters off balance enough to not give up a lot of hits, though he did a better job of it last season than this, but at least his increase in hits was nearly matched by his decrease in walks. You can't teach a pitcher to not walk batters (see Erick Threets) so I am very encouraged by his ability to do this at such a young age.

I know that the conventional wisdom is that "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect," but he is no throw away either - with development he could turn out to be a good reliever or perhaps even a middle of the rotation guy (given his K-shortage this season, else I would think the possibility of being a top of the rotation guy).

So that begs the question, was it better to sign Tucker and end up with Pichardo as your prospect or would it have been better to keep the draft pick. Based on the draft picks right after the Royals pick (including their pick), most are still in the minors, most are in A-ball, high-A ball, or AA-ball, as would be expected of college ballplayers, which many of them were. Two players are not playing this year, not sure if injury or what. One player of the 10 following picks have made the majors, JP Howell but it was for the Royals (ironically enough, the pitcher they picked using the Giants pick is still in A-ball) and another made AAA - they were both college students though so should be expected to be at higher levels.

Of the players who were in high school, and therefore most comparable to Pichardo, one is in A-ball short season, one is in A-ball, and two are in high-A, so all of them are above Pichardo at the moment. Obviously most did better at lower levels before advancing to their current level, but they were also arguably doing better at their current higher level than Pichardo did at a much lower level, rookie ball.

But, as noted, no sucha thing as a pitching prospect, so for now Pichardo is comparable to the other players immediately drafted after the Giants draft pick, though obviously behind. The other players, even of a similar age, are more advanced than he is right now. But his command is so strong that I don't think we can say yet whether the other players were better picks in terms of major league usability, especially since he is only 20 years old and still has many more years to develop into something useful.

Meanwhile, Tucker was very handy last season, especially after Jeffrey Hammonds imploded again, and played better than expected for the team, especially to those who pointed at his road stats and pronounced him unfit for major league hitting. As I explained in an article for SFDugout.com, that was mainly because of the pitching oriented stadiums in the Central Division, particularly the Tigers, that did his road numbers in. And he was a nice backup this year as well, not great but for how the team was doing, he was doing alright. Plus now we get a nice prospect, with some hint of ability that could be developed (his low HR rate and low walk rate).

Of course, if you really want to feel the pain, Huston Street was picked by the A's 11 picks after the Giants pick. But even the A's didn't see him as such a sure thing, they picked two other players before they picked Street, Landon Powell 24th and Danny Putnam 36th, so there were 15 picks in-between Powell and Street that a team could have selected Street but did not. Lucky for the A's, nobody did.