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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

San Francisco Giants: Week In Review

There's the Giants I know and love.

I realized as soon as Aubrey Huff grounded into a first pitch double play on Thursday night that it's been nearly 6 months since any of us could say anything bad about the Giants. They've been immaculate, perfect, infallible. And I'm just not used to it. Being unable to complain about the Giants is like being a fish out of water. It's unnatural. As one writer so poetically put it, the World Series perfection was the exception. Now, we're back to the rule.

And I don't say this to be a downer. It's just the way baseball is! The greatest hitters in history failed 70% of the time. Baseball is a game of constant success and disappointment. And feeling and expressing the emotion, be it good or bad, is what being a fan is all about. Screams of "You lazy sod!" are as much the soundtrack to summer as a radio broadcaster's home run call.

Sanchez's face says it all.

So, on the heels of Eric's recap of the Oakland Athletics, we head westward to break down the San Francisco Giants' 2011 opening weekend. It's long, but it's meant to last you a week!

I decided a month ago that I wanted to visit Dodger Stadium for the first time. Tickets for the second game of the season were amazingly only $14 (this was later explained after stepping inside Dodger Stadium). I figured there's no better time to visit your arch-rival's lair than right after winning it all. So with a band of merry men, we carpooled down to the SouthLAnd to risk life and limb to see our boys out of the gate.

Being cheap and employed, we couldn't make it down for Opening Day. Instead, we drove down Thursday evening and listened to opening day on KNBR. Speeding down I-5 like the Four Huffmen of the Apocalypse, we heard the Giants narrow 2-1 loss to the Dodgers.

There was a lot to like about that Opening Day loss. Tim Lincecum pitched well, which is about as important as anything to start the season. Clayton Kershaw is as good a pitcher as there is in the NL so I can't fault the Giants too much for failing to hit him. Miguel Tejada and Buster Posey both made boneheaded defensive plays, which would become a theme for the weekend. But all things considered, a 2-1 loss in a classic pitchers duel isn't the worst thing that could happen. It's much better than seeing Tim giving up 8 runs in three innings.

We woke up Friday to news of a Giants fan being brutally beaten outside Dodger Stadium after Thursday's game. I've encountered some bad fans in my day (USC, USC and USC), but I'd never really felt physically threatened. Knowing we were a group of physically intimidating men (i.e. this), we weren't too worried. Nonetheless, it was a shocking and sickening thing to hear about hours before stepping foot in that very same parking lot.

Entering Dodger Stadium itself was like something out a movie. We found our nose-bleeds just in time to see the Southern California sun set behind the left field upper deck. It was truly a beautiful sight.

Friday's game was yet another loss (4-3) mixed with some encouraging signs. In classic Sanchez form, he let mistakes get to him, interrupt his focus and ultimately lead to his own error that lost the game. We were fortunate enough to see Brandon Belt's first career home run -- a monster shot to dead center field. The moment of the game came on Buster Posey's bases loaded at bat in the 7th inning. Down by one with the bases loaded and two outs, Buster worked a full count. The atmosphere and tension in the park was incredible. After fouling a few off, Buster swung and missed at strike 3 as his bat flew out of his hands. While it was a disappointing moment for the Giants, it's moments like that that make baseball such an incredible game.

Having shaved off my beard to form a victory mustache, it was clear that Saturday would be the day got their first W. The offense finally got going against Ted Lilly with some very nice hitting with runners in scoring position. Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand both played well in their first starts of the season. Matt Cain pitched extremely well as has come to be expected. Dodger Stadium was well less than half full on the third game of the season which only made the strong Giants contingent's "Beat LA" chants that much more noticeable.

After a late-night sprint into the Pacific Ocean, we began the trip back to San Francisco. Listening to Sunday night's game on the radio, there were more expletives dropped than miles driven.

Of all the three losses, Sundays was the most frustrating. Once again, Barry Zito pitched well enough to win after a rocky first inning, but poor defense and poorer at-bats let the Giants down. Obviously the big headline from this game was Aubrey Huff's defense in Right Field. I'll agree, his attempt to catch Marcus Thames' line drive was one of the ugliest things I've seen in a while. But it's not really Huff's fault. Bochy and Sabean know Huff's abilities and it's their job to put together a lineup they feel has the best chance for success. As long as the Giants have a first baseman in the outfield, there will be potential for disaster. I do commend the Giants for fighting back even after going down 7-3. Miguel Tejada extinguished a nearly amazing rally with a mind-numbingly bad at-bat and the Giants fell 7-5.

The 2011 Giants are almost identical to the 2010 Giants. And while the 2010 Giants were World Champs, they were also 41-40 on July 4. The 2010 Giants were no juggernauts, thus it's unfair to expect this team to be. There is potential for them to be a much better team than in 2010, but like most things, it will take a while to come together. The first weekend was frustrating, but not horrifying. The pitching was as expected. The hitting was as expected. The porous defense was really the only surprise and it makes sense that it was the difference between the Giants going 1-3 and 3-1.

On a personal note, experiencing Dodger Stadium for the first time was fantastic. The stadium, its sounds and its colors are truly of another era. I felt like I could have been an LA businessman watching Koufax pitch in the 1960s. The number of beach balls and constant "waves" got annoying, but I'm not about to argue that the Giants have the most "hard-core" fans in baseball. AT&T doesn't usually fill up till the 2nd or 3rd inning either. While we did receive our fair share of verbal harassment, I never really feared for my safety. That said, the parking lot after the night game did have a pretty sketchy feel especially compared to the easy going atmosphere in San Francisco. Obviously what happened on Thursday night was tragic and hope to heck they find those who are responsible. Thoughts go out to Bryan Stow, his family and a full and fast recovery.


The Good:
Freddy Sanchez: After three games, steady Freddy is 7 for 15 at the plate (.467) with a .556 on base percentage. In LA he scored 3 runs, drove in 3 runs and hit one home run. If healthy, Sanchez has the potential to hit well over .300 every year. He gets hits when you need them and plays Gold Glove defense. Crab cakes and football, that's what Freddy Sanchez does.

Starting Pitching: Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain each have an ERA of 0.00. Sanchez struck out 8 in 5.2 innings. Even Zito looked good retiring 15 batters in a row after a 3-run first inning. We've yet to see Bumgarner, but the First Four looked solid in their first turn.

The Bad:
Miguel Tejada: The Giants new shortstop did not have strong debut in Black and Orange. Amid concerns of his defense, he committed a hair-pulling error on Opening Day that directly led to the Giants' loss. At the plate, his FPOM (first pitch out made) on Sunday was the worst at bat of the weekend in a huge spot.

Outfield Defense: I'm not going to even remotely rag on Aubrey Huff. He has no business playing the outfield, especially after receiving so few reps in Spring Training. He's doing what's asked of him and trying his hardest. The Giants were put in a tough spot after Cody Ross' injury. But even after Ross returns to Right, Belt's promotion will likely force Huff to play the outfield almost all season. A team built on pitching depends on strong defense. And the Giants' outfield defense has already surrendered several unnecessary runs. Think of it this way -- 6 extra runs over the course of last year could have kept the Giants reaching the playoffs at all. Their margin for error is slim.

The Ugly:

 It didn't work out for either of us.

Play of the Week:
Brandon Belt hits his first career home run - a towering blast to dead center field off Chad Billingsly on Friday night. As Duane Kuiper neatly noted, it was only a day later than Will Clark's first. Hopefully many, many more to come:

Play of the Weak:
With two outs in the 8th and the game-tying run on first base, Miguel Tejada fouls on the first pitch from rattled reliever Matt Guerrier. Guerrier had just walked the bases loaded and then walked in a run. Huff's pirouette in Right Field was bad, but this was 10 times worse. Huff's trying his hardest out there. A pitcher has walked two batters in a row. He can't throw a strike. And you swing at junk on the first pitch? It just can't happen:

Song of the Week:
 "You Dropped the Bomb on Me" by the Gap Band

On Deck:
The Giants travel to San Diego for a rare two-game series with the Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday. With Petco Park's cavernous outfield, the Giants' shaky outfield defense will be even more of a concern. The Giants will send Madison Bumgarner against Aaron Harang and Tim Lincecum against Tim Stauffer -- both winnable games. After an off-day on Thursday, pomp and circumstance will be on display as the Giants raise their World Champion banner and receive their World Series rings during a 3 game Home Opening weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals.


  1. I threw up in my mouth when Tejada swung...and HIT!

    Why, oh why, did he even make contact with that ball! It's like his bat has a magnet for crud.

    I think my vitriol and bitterness is back to mid-season form. And to think I was worried...that didn't take long at all!

  2. My only regret is that I wasn't there to witness your reaction to that pop-out.

    Yes, the bitterness will return, but it will be mixed with joy.

    The thing about baseball is -- if you can learn to enjoy both the good and the bad, it will never let you down.