The Giants know more than any other club that the big thing is just making it to October. When they reached the postseason in 2010 and 2012, the Giants weren’t even close to be considered favorites but went on to win the World Series each year. The Giants were able to navigate through three post-season rounds because of their strong starting pitching. It gave them the edge over teams with better lineups, especially in short series with days off that allowed manager Bruce Bochy to set up his rotation in the most optimal way.
However, it looks like the Giants are going to have a difficult time defending their World Series title. In fact, getting to the postseason—even in the two-wild card era—is going to be a struggle, though Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report gives the Giants a 1-in-3 chance.
“We’re a little different club than everyone has gotten used to seeing,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants have not been the pitching-dominant team of recent seasons. They are giving up 4.52 runs a game, which ranks 12 among the 15 NL clubs and 20th in the major leagues. However, the good news is the top four starters are all poised to have their luck change, as they have a better FIP than ERA—Madison Bumgarner (3.58 ERA/3.20 FIP), Barry Zito (4.06/3.88), Tim Lincecum (4.70/3.72), and Matt Cain (5.09/4.37).
“We’re going to have to pitch better in the long run if we want to get to where we want to go,” Bochy said. “I think we will. We have a lot of talented pitchers who have been very successful in their careers. We’re going through a rough stretch with the pitching this year, and that’s caused us to try to outslug people. We’ve been able to do that enough to keep our heads above water.”
The Giants are 33-31 and their 4.27 runs scored a game ranks sixth in the NL and 15th in MLB. However, they still have a negative run differential of -0.25 per game.
“Eventually, our pitching has to come through,” Bochy said. “We’re not to built to outscore teams over the long haul. Pitching wins championships. Pitching wins in October.”
Bochy has two World Series rings of recent vintage to prove his point.
Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole made his major-league debut Tuesday night and was outstanding in beating the Giants. He carried a shutout into the seventh inning and wound up allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings. He also hit a two-run single in his first plate appearance off Lincecum to open the scoring.
Pirates fans haven’t enjoyed a playoff berth or even a winning season since 1992. Thus, they were understandably excited to see Cole perform so well, and some are even calling him the Stephen Strasburg of the Pittsburgh. The comparisons with the Nationals right-hander are understandable, as both Strasburg and Cole were the first overall pick in amateur drafts (Strasburg in 2009, Cole in 2011), both are from Southern California (Strasburg from the San Diego suburbs, Cole from Orange County), and both were college stars (Strasburg at San Diego State, Cole at UCLA).
One scout who has seen both pitchers believes it is unfair to compare Cole to Strasburg, at least on an ability level. However, the scout does think Cole does rate one edge over Strasburg.
“Strasburg is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He has everything you’d want in a starting pitcher from a physical standpoint,” the scout said. “It might be decades before someone comes along with as much natural talent, and he is also a smart kid who really knows how to pitch. The one thing I will say about Cole, though, is I think he’s a battler. He’s going to be one of those guys who will dig down deep when the situation calls for it. I’m not so sure about Strasburg. He might have it in, too, but I think Cole does, for sure.”
The debate continues around baseball as to whether the Nationals should ask right fielder Bryce Harper to tone down his play in light of him going on the disabled list with knee bursitis. However, one person in baseball who knows Harper well says asking the 20-year-old to change may not be as easy as it seems.
“Bryce only knows how to play at one speed, and that’s not because he’s stubborn or doesn’t know any better,” said the friend. “He is a blue-collar kid. He grew up in a blue-collar household. His dad is an ironworker who makes his living doing physical labor. It’s hard to ask someone from that background to suddenly drop down to second gear. Playing hard is in his genes, his DNA. I don’t know if it’s something he can change.”
The best part of the brawl at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night was Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson versus Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire. In an era when everyone in baseball seems to be friends, it was good to see two old-school baseball guys go at it.
And that leads to the question of what would have happened if Gibson and McGwire had gone beyond grabbing at each other’s jersey? Who would win if they had a real throw down?
Since we don’t have a scale handy or the means to bring both men together for a weigh-in, we’ll have to go by Baseball-Reference.com for the combatants’ height and weight. McGwire is listed at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, which had to be pre-PEDs, while Gibson is listed at 6-3, 215. In a highly unscientific dirty survey of five baseball people, four said Gibson would win despite the size disadvantage.
“No doubt that it would be Gibby,” said someone who played against both McGwire and Gibson. “Mac is a big dude, but Gibby was the most intense player I ever played against. Mac has a soft side, but Gibby is the ultimate hard ass. Gibby is (56), but I’d still be scared to death of him.”
News that Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy suffered a seizure last week while out to dinner with his wife in a Phoenix restaurant has piqued the curiosity of a lot of people in baseball. McCarthy underwent two hours of brain surgery and his life was in danger last September after he was hit in the head by a line drive while pitching for the Athletics.
McCarthy said he has been told he is not specifically at a higher risk for seizures than anyone else who has suffered a head injury and has started anti-seizure medication. Nevertheless, medical personnel within the game plan to closely watch what happens with McCarthy.
“Everyone talks football and concussions and rightfully so, but there is still so much we don’t know about concussions in baseball,” a head athletic trainer for one MLB club said. “You don’t see as many concussions in our game, but you wonder what the long-term ramifications are for the players who suffer them. The Brandon McCarthy situation was horrible, but some good may come of it if it helps us understand head injuries in baseball a little better.”
Astros right-hander Bud Norris: “I say buyer beware for any team that trades for him. He’s a good mid-rotation starter, but he gets nervous in big situations. I wouldn’t trust him to take the ball and run with it in a pennant race, that’s for sure. I’ve told my GM to look elsewhere if we need to add a starting pitcher.”
Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha: “You gotta love him. He has good stuff, good mound presence, and he’s not afraid of big-league hitters. He’s going to have a very successful career.”
Nationals right-hander Dan Haren: “His stuff just isn’t what it used to be. Is it an arm problem? I don’t know. He had the back issue last year, but that doesn’t seem to bothering him. He still pounds the strike zone, but his pitches have become a lot more hittable.”
Dodgers right-handed reliever Brandon League: “I want to qualify this by saying this is not a second-guess, but it made no sense to me why Ned Colletti gave this guy a three-year contact and named him the closer over the winter. He’s never been a top-flight closer, and I knew the pressure of closing for a team with big expectations would be too much for him.”
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval: “The bottom line is he is going to have to commit to losing weight. I’m no doctor, but I think it’s pretty obvious he is injury-prone because he’s heavy. It’s a shame. He is a helluva hitter, but he’s going to eat his way right out of the league.”
Tigers closer Jose Valverde: “Give the guy credit: He’s getting people out, but he’s walking a tightrope every time he is on the mound. I wouldn’t trust him in the postseason, and the Tigers better go get a bona fide closer if they want to take that last step and win the World Series.”
Blue Jays right-hander Josh Johnson: “These last 3 ½ months of the season might be important to this guy as any pitcher. The free-agent market is going to be thin this winter, and if he can stay healthy and show that he is at least a shadow of what he was with the Marlins, then he will be setting himself up for a big payday.”
Braves right-hander Kris Medlen: “I’m afraid his versatility is always going to work against him as long as he is with the Braves. He was so good as a reliever that it’s the path of least resistance to move him to the bullpen when Brandon Beachy comes off the disabled list. I wouldn’t move Medlen, though. For me, he’s really good, and I’d rather have him pitching seven innings every fifth day than in one-inning and two-inning spurts.”
Rays right-hander Chris Archer: “He’s still inconsistent and tends to get a little rattled, but I still think he’s going to be a helluva big-league pitcher. He’s got a great arm and a pretty good idea of what he’s doing for a young kid.”
Mets second baseman Jordany Valdespin: “I think it’s a good idea by the Mets to play this guy at his natural position and see if he can become a major-league regular or if he is strictly a utility guy. I’m not a big fan of his antics—he’s a little too over the top for me—but he does have some talent and some pop in his bat. The Mets have nothing to lose by taking a look.”