Half Full 

I'll be out of town when the season reaches the midway point of the calendar, so a few days in advance we present for you El Lefty First-Half Roundup.

Going into the season, most people assumed the Giants had just enough juice to win a weak NL West and get pummeled in the playoffs. A month and a half into the season, most people assumed that Brian Sabean was an idiot, or at least his off-season moves were idiotic. Now, halfway through the season, most people say they knew all along that the Giants had just enough juice to climb back into the race and take a demonstrative if not commanding lead but that they'll still get pummeled in the playoffs.

By "most people" I really mean "me." I knew the Giants had big holes to start the season and, even while assuming that Grissom, Pierzynski and Alfonzo would perform serviceably, I grew more skeptical as March progressed. In mid-May I was a few losses away from calling for a rebuilding process. OK, I did call for it, but I did so in verse, which means I wasn't fully committed to the idea.

So what's going on?

Offensively, nearly everyone is performing as expected. Some slightly better (Durham, who's on track for one of his best years ever; Feliz, who's got more SLG than Rafael Palmeiro), some slightly worse (Alfonzo, who has gotten hot but is still basically a singles hitter who doesn't walk enough to compensate for the lack of power; Pierzynski, ditto). Despite an ungodly hot streak, much of which saved the Giants' bacon when Durham was on the DL for the second time, Michael Tucker is on pace to hit slightly better than his career averages. Granted, that's without adjusting for park factors, but it's safe to assume we're not watching the second coming of Luis Gonzalez here. Tucker's on pace for 15 HRs and a .368 OBP, which would have prompted us all to say "Praise the Lord and pass the butterbeans" if back in March we were told those would be Tucker's season totals.

So with the latest offensive spurt, the Giants have become what I originally expected: a decent offensive team that still needs a home run hitter behind Bonds to make opponents pay for all those walks.

Defensively, there are problems. Every ball hit to the painfully creaky Bonds in left has a better chance of falling than President Bush's 2004 approval ratings. Now that Deivi Cruz has thankfully taken over at shortstop (a move El Lefty promoted back in April), the range of the left side of the infield is a few years and several pounds more than we'd like. Feliz at first makes newbie mistakes, and A.J. behind the plate is less than inspiring. Not a typical Giants flashy leather squad, to be sure.

Pitching: Schmidt, Hermanson and Williams have done exactly as I expected, although J-Rome's 4.50 ERA is a bit disappointing. Tomko's been worse than expected (I was hoping against hope he would do a mini-Schmidt and get his head together at the age of 30), and Rueter's been a lot worse. Three months of ulcer-inducing inconsistency have done nothing to change my preseason assessment: the rotation is Schmidt and the Six-Inning Shower Boys, which, in the absence of Robb Nen, has led to an overworked bullpen.

The stories of the year:

1) The relative good health of Schmidt and Bonds. Yes, both have missed some time, but nothing major. Even when Barry goes homerless for long stretches, he continues to get on base, which means there's always an opportunity to score runs if the 5-6-7 guys do a decent job, and they have in recent weeks. Schmidt has basically equaled an automatic win every five days.

2) The hot streaks of Tucker and Deivi Cruz. On May 16, after the weekend sweep by Pittsburgh, Tucker's OPS was .685. On May 31, after the Giants won their 10th game in a row, it was .798. It rose to a high of .881 before he started falling back to earth in the second half of June. By then, Deivi Cruz was getting all jiggy and stuff. He's gotten huge hits, especially the 5-for-5 night Wednesday, the two-run single Thursday against the L.A. Meltdowns and the 3-run dong off Barry Zito on Friday. I'm not saying these guys have carried the Giants on their shoulders, but in a lineup that achingly needs someone other than Bonds to get on base and drive in runs, these two hot streaks have stood out during the Giants mad comeback dash.

3) Matt Herges. He's blown a few saves. He's collected some ugly numbers. He's not as good as Tim Worrell, but he's better than Arthur Rhodes. He's gotten by with one pitch: a nasty sinker that tails back over the corner. Nothing else has consistently worked for him this year. If he finds his curve and change, he'll be much better in the second half.

4) Figuring out Feliz. We know he's not a good number-five hitter. We know that he likes fastballs and hanging sliders. He's shown glimmers of learning the strike zone, but his OBP remains awful, and one could make a lot of money sitting in bars and announcing to people who don't know much baseball, "Betcha $20 this guy swings at the next pitch." The next pitch being, of course, the first one of the at-bat. But mostly what we've figured out is that Pedro is a very useful everyday player as long as he's not counted on as a main run producer or The Barry Protector. Look ahead to 2005: Feliz is the SS and Ransom is the backup and late defensive replacement. (More on this in my next post.)

What's ahead:

The two biggest prizes on the trading block, Carlos Beltran and Freddie Garcia, are now off the block. Smart move by both the Astros and White Sox, not only in getting these rent-a-players for an extra month, but also in that if the teams fall flat, they still have time to turn around and deal their new acquisitions before July 31. (Side note: the White Sox have certainly improved their starting pitching, but no one's really noted that in giving up Miguel Olivo and handing the catching job to Sandy Alomar Jr and Ben Davis, they've also created a fairly big hole in their lineup. The good ship USS Mariner has some remarkably bubbly comments on how good the trade was for the M's.)

Neither trade bothers me too much, in that I think there are others Sabean can snag to fill their pressing needs: another outfield bat (Steve Finley, J.D. Drew, Matt Lawton, perhaps someone who can also play first base, a la Matt Stairs or Kevin Millar) and a starting pitcher. It won't be easy: the Giants have two big holes to fill, plus some cheap bullpen help to find, without giving up too many prime prospects.

All this to say, the Giants in the past six weeks have done a great job of filling in, coming through, scratching and clawing, looking sharp, and Humming a lot of Baby. But unless there's some magic in Brett Tomko's jockstrap that we don't know about and Edgardo Alfonzo decides to do his best Frank Howard impression for the next three months, it'll take a couple of snazzy trades to make us believe come October that this year, it's the Giants' turn to shock the Yankees and make George Steinbrenner's nosehairs curl.


A Giant Step for Merkin 

Wow. I opened my BAPR e-mail this morning to find that Merkin Valdez made his triple-A debut last night. That means he has jumped from low single A to AAA in the span of what, less than a month?

The outing was inauspicious: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 BB, 5 K and 4 ER. But it's a sign that the Giants want to push him hard, and if he responds to this jump, he could be the alternative to making a trade for a starter before the July 31 deadline. Or he could be the trade bait, and this is the big showcase. I'd love to see him called up in late July and become this year's Francisco Rodriguez, i.e., the phenom that turns the pennant race upside down.



How Sweep It Is 

Today was one of the best games I've attended in a long time, not for the quality of play but for the quality, nay, sheer quantity of Dodger humiliation that spoke volumes about their frustration and total Southern California lameness.

Gagne's freakout was lots of fun, but all game long Jason Werth provided ample fodder for us in the left field bleachers. As Werth's day got worse and worse ("Whassamatta with Werth-less?"), the jeers just got louder. To his credit, or maybe not, he egged us on by turning to us frequently and actually trying to *stare us down.* Unbelievable. He also rolled his eyes, flapped his glove, and at one point made a motion with his hand as if he were brushing dandruff from his shoulder. I think that meant, "I brush off your silly taunts as if dry flesh were falling from my scalp onto my polyester uniform."

Needless to say, the jeers got louder. In the top of the 8th, the Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs against Wayne Franklin. Brower came in to face Werth, who struck out. When he came out for the bottom of the 8th, the jeers got louder. I've never heard such derision, and I've never seen an opposing ballplayer get so worked up over it.

All in a day's work for El Lefty Malo y sus compadres en el 138.



Jerome If You Want To... 

Jerome around the world. The budding star Jerome showed up tonight, followed by the Wayne Franklin whom Sabean told us a few months back was coming into his own, followed by a lucky Felix, a breath of fresh Eyre, and some bulldog Herges.

Sometimes the confused youngster Jerome shows up, or sneaks into the game when the Giants have a 7-2 lead. And that's normal. Hell, if I were out there at the age of 22, I'd have some serious soilage problems.

Tonight, though, with the chance to show those Dodger cabrones a thing or two about respect in our yard, Williams pitched a strong game. Ray-Ray cleared the bases, and it was vintage Pac Bell ball. Kudos to Tiny Minor, whose walk in a close game set up a rally for the second time this series. His walk against Mota after falling behind 0-2 in the 9th inning Monday night was the key to the winning rally, in my opinion. Weird. He's not hitting like a 6'7" bruiser, with only 2 extra base hits (both doubles) in 58 at-bats, but he's showing a keen eye at the plate (.405 OBP). I assume Tiny will be sent down or released when Snow comes off the DL, but given his patience at the plate, is it possible that the power is just around the corner?

And speaking of OBP, anyone notice that Dustan Mohr, despite a .228 average, is getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time? A few more doubles instead of singles, and he'd have an OPS approaching .800.




It is absurd, as my girlfriend loves to point out, to feel good about yourself through affiliation with a winning sports team. Why is it that when the Giants win, my good cheer for the rest of the evening can be reasonably expected, but when they lose, all bets are off?

It is absurd. And nothing points this out more than last night's game. The Giants won because, essentially, Cody Ransom hit a ground ball where no one happened to be. If he had struck it harder and pulled it to second base, the inning would have ended and, with the inequities in the Giants and Dodgers' bullpens, the Dodgers might well have won the game, sending my mood swinging low for the evening. Sure, Ransom was likely told, as Kuiper said in the post-game rap, "Don't try to do too much with it, just go back up the middle," and if he indeed followed those directions, fine. But in terms of a ground ball getting through to the outfield, going back up the middle is really no different than hitting the hole between third and short, or between second and first. In fact, it's probably worse: a ball must travel farther to get past the infield up the middle. The angle to left or right field, and the shorter reaction time afforded the first and third basemen, means a better chance for a base hit. (Hitting note: "Thinking up the middle" is more a psychological tool to keep hitters from pulling their heads out and opening their hips too early in an attempt to pull everything.)

A ground ball made me happy. Luck made me happy. Cody Ransom's ability to put the ball in play was important (i.e., he didn't strike out), but really, there is no difference between a hero whose ground ball somehow trickles through the infield and a goat whose one-hop smash right at the shortstop starts a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Statheads love to talk about the luck inherent in baseball, such as the difference between a team's actual record and Pythgorean record (projected from total runs scored and allowed). In basketball, a player gets a lucky bounce once in a blue moon off the rim and back in the hoop; in football, perhaps a fumble will take a lucky bounce. But baseball...is there any sport with as huge an element of luck as baseball? How many times per game is there a disconnect between a well-executed play (a solidly struck ball, a perfect pitch) and a lack of reward for that execution (the solidly struck ball goes right to a fielder; the perfect pitch fools the batter so badly he pops it up where no one can reach it)? Five times a game? Ten? And how many times does that disconnect have a direct effect on the outcome?



My Favorite Month 

Coming soon: July.

Isn't there's an Einsteinian theory about time speeding up the older you get? Weren't we just cautiously optimistic about the A.J. Pierzynski/Joe Nathan trade back in November? Distraught over the Michael Tucker signing in December ? Six months have gone by like *that*, and once again I feel older than the resin in Willie Nelson's bong.

But July is here, my favorite baseball month. Not only are the pennant races heating up, but the trade deadline also looms. Better than the flying rumors of Sweeney, Beltran, Garcia, Benson, etc, are the trades that come out of nowhere, the smaller moves that shore up defenses and benches and bullpens and that, once in a while, end up turning a team's season around. As a Giants' fan, I can count on Sabean doing something interesting, even if "interesting" is a bloated white guy from the Caribbean who talks like Mike Myers playing "Goldmember." I'd love to see him pull off another Schmidt trade. Remember, when the Giants got him (and John Vander Wal) from the Pirates, he was considered second-tier. Not a pennant-winner, not a landscape-changer, not a staff ace. He was a big question mark. Who else like that is out there? Who will be the sleepers of July? Any thoughts?*

Not only are the big-league Giants coming around, but the farm system is more interesting than it has been in years. Cain, Valdez, Niekro, Taschner, Lewis, Trumble: if these names mean nothing to you, you're not geeking out enough on baseball. For a nice roundup of who's hot and not in the minors, check out Steve Shelby doing a guest turn at Fogball.

If the Giants take three of four against the Dodgers, they'll be up by a half-game. Go get 'em, boys.

*In his news and notes column today, Peter Gammons has this thought about a "trade that makes sense": San Francisco trades right-handed pitcher Matt Cain and infielder Lance Niekro to Detroit for closer Ugueth Urbina and starting pitcher Mike Maroth. For the Giants, the future is now. For the Tigers, two years from now to have Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Kyle Sleeth and Cain for the rotation will get them a lot closer to where they want to be rather than shooting for .500 in 2004.

Uh, Peter, I have a question: Mike Maroth? Am I missing something? The guy is Kirk Rueter North. If the Giants trade Cain, they should get back a better starter than Maroth.



The Gifts That Keep On Giving 

Whew. I'm all wrung out. The Giants just beat the Red Sox 6-4. After watching the first two games of this series, it seems both teams have gotten advice from their accountants that they haven't been giving enough to charity.

After jumping out to a big lead last night, Jerome Williams couldn't help but walk Damon to lead off the miserable 5th inning, and two ugly errors -- a dropped popup by Deivi Cruz (that Bonds should have called for) and a dropped line drive by Tucker -- that led to a 7-run inning and turned the game around.

The Giants had a two-run rally late in the game helped by Bellhorn's second error of the game (thank you, Mark), but with one out, two runs in and Bonds on deck, Grissom hit a 1-0 pitch on the ground for a double play. Alan Embree, would you like that gift-wrapped? Grip has done this before and no doubt will again, and it drives me bananas. Why not take til you get a strike in that situation? The rally was killed, the Giants remained two runs down, and the Sox blew it open in the 9th against Felix.

Fast forward to today.

Wtih a 4-1 lead in the 8th, Jim Brower pitched badly, no doubt, falling behind every batter. But the big gift was Bonds's error, a barehand attempt to pick up a single when the damage was already done. Fileding it cleanly would have kept the lead. Instead, he muffed it and the tying run scored. Thanks for shopping, as my friend Jimmy Spin in Sacramento likes to say.

But the Sox had gifts of their own. After Alfonzo's two run homer in the bottom of the 8th off Embree, who must feel that Pac Bell is cursed, Herges came back for the 9th. One out, no one on, Manny Ramirez in the on-deck circle, and David Ortiz has a great at-bat, finally grounding a fair ball past first base and down the line. No doubt to the horror of most of New England, Ortiz turned and lumbered toward second as the ball caromed straight to Dustan Mohr. He was out by 10 feet, although it looked on TV as if Ortiz might have avoided the tag.

Now the Giants have a good chance to win the rubber match with Schmidt on the mound tomorrow in a pitching matchup reversal of today: the Giants ace versus a no-name guy (Bronson Arroyo, if you need a name).

A couple notes:

* Noah Lowry pitched great today. Hats off to him. He doesn't throw hard, but if he can harness his control, especially with that change-up, he could be good. And hats off to Wayne Franklin, who struck out 3 of the 4 batters he faced.

* Matt Cain, the minor-league phenom who was just promoted to Double-A Norwich, pitched 7 innings of 3-hit ball last night. Also 1 walk and 4 Ks. On the same night, their other golden farm arm Merkin Valdez continued his single-A dominance with 6 IP, 1 H, 1 BB and 5 Ks. I was going to make a trip down to the 'Hose to check out one of them, but at this rate they'll both be in the Eastern League by July.



Now It Gets Fun 

July 5th: Mark it on your calendars. It's a national day off, which in this day and age means that the post office and banks are closed but commerce rages on as usual. You can't send a letter or get a home loan, but you can buy condoms and hair gel.

Not only will the Rite-Aid be open, but also the gates of Pac Bell Park as the Giants host the Rockies. By July 5th, the game against the Rockies will have some serious significance. Because between now and then, the Giants play 16 games against Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Oakland for a true test of this so-called comeback against the dregs of both the American and National Leagues. (I attended all three Toronto games this week -- it's good to be a "freelance writer," i.e., seriously underemployed -- and boy, are those Jays bad. Not all their fault, with so many injuries. But still P.U. Stinky.)

So after eating Cap'n Crunch for breakfast the past month, the Giants are suddenly switching to Grape Nuts. If they can handle the switch, they will benefit from increased regularity and easier digestion. If they can't handle the switch, they will be in search of the second half of an extended breakfast cereal metaphor that wasn't so great to begin with.

(Don't laugh. Ray Ratto actually gets paid for shit like this.)

During the same stretch, other than the seven against SF, the Dodgers play the Yankees three at home, and split six against Anaheim. Call the schedule difficulty a draw. Those 16 games aren't necessarily make or break, unless either the Giants or Dodgers lay down some serious whoopin' on the other. With the resurgent Giants' offense -- while Grissom's OPS has declined each month so far, Alfonzo and Feliz and Mohr and Pierzynski and Tucker have steadily improved, Durham is now (knock on wood) fully healthy and Minor, though not hitting for power, is getting on base as if he were a big, doofy Rickey Henderson -- one has to figure their home-and-home series with LA will at least be better contested than the two embarrassing April series.

After all the kicking and screaming and hair-pulling of the first two months, is it possible that Brian Sabean actually knew what he was doing? That no one, no how, no way, would pull away in the NL West, and that half a year of baseball-on-the-cheap could be just enough to keep butts in the seats and hope alive; and that spending less (if you can call half of $80 million "less") for half a year could persuade P-Mag J. Pursestrings to loosen the sphincter a little for the stretch run...

Speaking of which, El Jefe de los Azules de Westwood wants us to spread the following unsubstantiated rumor: Could the Giants be looking to trade for Mike Sweeney and Jason Grimsley of the Royals?

My personal take: Sweeney's a great hitter but his hinky back and big contract are big risks. Yes, he's been relatively healthy this year (without putting up his typical big numbers). And Pedro Feliz is doing a fine job as the right-handed first baseman, as long as he doesn't have to hit behind Bonds. Grimsley is a solid reliever who would help the bullpen, sure, but at this point, the bullpen would be equally helped by getting another starter who regularly pitches more than 6 innings.

Conclusion: it's a fun rumor to start, but I'll bet a few sheckels that Sabean goes for a starter and an outfielder and picks up bullpen help on the super-cheap.

Here's another rumor to start. What if the Sox decide to get some value for Nomah before he walks as a free agent? They can afford to lose some hitting. How about Nomah for a great pitching prospect (either Cain or Valdez), a good prospect (Lowry or Correia), and Ransom? Or Linden, who's considered major-league ready from the right side of the plate, which would let him take aim at the Green Monster in a platoon next year that replaces Trot Nixon? With Nomah on board for the stretch run, Feliz moves to first full-time, Snow becomes the late defensive replacement/occasional starter against tough right handers, and Neifi becomes the middle infield backup.



Tales of Ordinary Madness 

Commenting last night on the umpire's warning after he threw a pitch at Michael Tucker's ankles, Toronto pitcher and man of letters Miguel Batista said, "It was stupid. I'm not trying to hit a guy with a changeup in the ankle. If I wanted to hit a guy I would hit him in the head."

Charles Bukowski would be proud.

By the way, I was taught in high school that if you really want to hit a guy, you aim not for the head but for the middle of the body. The ass is the perfect target. It's much harder for the batter to get out of the way, and impact is less likely to cause serious injury. In my first year in the local men's league, a batter got on base against me and announced that he was going to steal. With a ten-run lead. (This was the same guy who decided during a pitching change to drop trou and piss against the center field wall.) I proceeded to pick him off first, but our inept first baseman threw the ball in the dirt. Safe at second. On the next pitch, the runner took off for third. On the next pitch, the batter got a fastball in the behind, from which there was no escape. He wasn't happy about paying for his teammate's sins, but it didn't hurt that much, and he still reminds me of it with a laugh whenever we face each other.

Other notes:

* Jason Schmidt said something last night that gives me a bit of pause: "I felt really good starting out, the best I've felt all year, but I slowly ran out of gas," he said. "I just haven't felt quite as strong. It'll come back."

Jason's choice of verb tense is disconcerting; "I just haven't felt quite as strong." He didn't say, "I just didn't feel quite as strong," making me think that this is a condition that's been bothering him for more than just last night. We can only hope that it's a matter of bad grammar, not bad elbow.

* After pummeling low-A ball pitching, Giants' prospect Nate Schierholtz has been promoted to high-A San Jose. Schierholtz hit 15 home runs and 22 doubles in 233 at bats at Hagerstown for a SLG% of .584. He didn't walk much -- only 18 times -- and struck out 52 times, so better pitchers might be able to make him expand the strike zone. In his San Jose debut he went 0 for 3 with two Ks and a sac fly. (Thanks to Kevin Goldstein's Baseball America Prospect Report.) That makes three top prospects at San Jose: Schierholtz, Matt Cain, who continues to roll, and Merkin Valdez, who has made three starts, struck out 19 and only walked one. UPDATE: Make that two prospects. Cain has just been promoted to double-A.

* Marty at Across the Seams has a nice analysis of a recent, rather fluffy Merc piece on attendance at Pac Bell Park. His blog, if I may say so, is one of the rare few on any topic with daily commentary that isn't just links, game rehash, or brain-dead reaction. Marty always adds thought, analysis, humor, or all three, to the subject at hand without getting mind-numbingly Gleeman-length.



When Fresnovians Attack 

As we head into the meat of the schedule, there are so many factors that make us shake our head and wonder how the Giants are 1.5 games out of first. The non-Schmidt starters. The non-Bonds-Grissom-and-lately-Tucker hitters. The lack of Bonds protection. The ragged bullpen.

Add to that list the commuter jet that makes short hops between Fresno and S.F. Soul Plane, 'tis not! By and large, the baseball players disembarking from that gloomy bird have displayed an extreme lack of fo' shizzle. Other than this kid Durham who's gone 8 for 14 the past week with a triple and a homer -- word is he may be called up for tonight's game -- here are the collective stats of the call-ups (Messrs. Minor, Ransom, Torcato, Linden, Dallimore):

135 ABs
32 Hits
6 2Bs
1 HR
19 RBIs
21 BBs
31 Ks

Or, if you prefer...

.237 avg/.276 obp/.304 slg

which is shockingly similar to...

.232/.268/.305, a.k.a., Guess Who?

And the pitching call-ups? Other than Tyler Walker (take away his two ugly Coors Field outings and his ERA is 2.07), you really don't want to know.



Wiley Gone 

One of my favorite sportswriters, Ralph Wiley, has just died of a heart attack at the age of 52.

Author of one of the best pieces on Barry Bonds I've ever read, Wiley was one of my favorites because he wrote frankly and with humor and grace about race, which in this era of political correctness and beyond has become nearly taboo. And, as evidenced in the Bonds article, he loved to break the formulas of sports writing, looking to theater and poetry and other arts for inspiration. He could come off as pretentious when it didn't work (some passages of the aforementioned Bonds article make me cringe), but even when I didn't love what he was doing I loved what he was trying to do.



Glove, Rain O'er Me 

Funny how the Giants have gotten rained out on the last two road trips just when they've needed it most. In San Juan, they had just won three in a row, yes, but they were at the end of a hot, humid road trip, Barry's back was cranky and likely to keep him on the bench, and Jason Schmidt, whose turn in the rotation was up, had just thrown 144 pitches. The Caribbean deluge gave Schmidt a couple extra days rest and spared the Bonds-less Giants the embarrassment of being no-hit by Zach Day.

Tonight, they're coming off two horrific ass-dragging losses to the Devil Rays and Barry was doing his best Nancy Reagan impression. You know, 24 hours, two cross-country flights, one funeral.

(Speaking of which, what the hell is going on with all this Reagan ass-licking? The Soviet Union was going to collapse anyway, so all we're left with is "charm," jelly beans, and Iran-Contra. Oh, I forgot. He made it cool to shit on poor people and blame them for the mess.)

Unfortunately, the Giants will still have to start Noah Lowry on Sunday, when he should be in Fresno getting more...seasoning! Work with me, folks.



No Nen, and Other Obvious Gaping Chasms 

This isn't a big surprise, but the Giants have finally admitted that Robb Nen isn't likely to return this year.

Now they need to admit that Pedro Feliz isn't likely to take an off-speed pitch out of the strike zone when the bases are loaded.

Conventional baseball wisdom holds that April and May are for evaluation, June and July are for fine-tuning the roster, and in August and September, you make your big rush to the finish line. That wisdom's a bit outdated, given that teams have figured out how to keep trading, cutting and adding players well beyond the July 31 trade "deadline." (The Giants added Eric Young last year in late August; in 2002, the Angels added Francisco Rodriguez to their roster in September and, because of a loophole, were allowed to use him in the post-season, where he was quite possibly the difference in the World Series.)

So June is one-third finished, and the Giants have learned several things about this year's club:

- Jerome Williams and Kirk Rueter are not #2 starters. The very talented Williams may soon be, but he's young and inconsistent. Rueter is Rueter, but this year a lot less so. Dustin Hermanson is a solid pitcher when healthy.

- Everyone knows that other than Bonds, the Giants will swing at distant rumors of strikes even when there's no need to do so. Jayson Stark's most recent column quotes a scout who says the Giants will "swing at a can if you toss it up there." The Giants lead the National League (7th overall in MLB) in on-base percentage, but when you remove Barry Bonds, they drop from .351 to .318, which would drop them to third-worst in the majors.

(A side note: the Cleveland Indians have the majors' best OBP, at .361, with more than half their position players over .350. They have young hitting. The Giants have young pitching. How's about a trade?)

- The Giants are terrible clutch hitters. In the last two games, they are a combined 0 for 7 with a sac fly, two strikeouts and three double plays when they have a man on third and less than two out. Small sample size, true, but check out these numbers:

Wtih two outs and a runner in scoring position, the Giants are hitting
Opponents are hitting

With men in scoring position, the Giants are hitting

Remember, the Giants' OBP in these situations is heavily skewed by Barry Bonds, who has more walks (37) than official at-bats (24).

The worst offender with men in scoring position?

Pedro Feliz: .222/.230/.264. In real-world terms, that's 72 at-bats, 13 singles, three doubles, and 13 Ks. (OK, Jeffrey Hammonds was slightly worse, but in only 26 at-bats.) With runners on, no matter the base, no matter the outs, Feliz is hitting


When no one is on base, he's hitting


Guess who leads the major leagues in at-bats with the bases loaded? Yep. 4 for 17, with one extra base hit (a double), no walks and seemingly thousands of double plays.

He's like a musician who plays great when no one is listening, then freezes as soon as the spotlight warms the stage.

- The Giants will need bullpen help. Rodriguez, Brower and Herges are all on pace to throw in 85-95 games.

So, more bats, more bullpen help, another starter or two. If Sabean can pull all that out of a hat, he should be executive of the year in the same way that a closer who walks the bases loaded then gets the final out on a fly ball to the fence in center field should get the save.



This Giant is a Mental Midget 

Not only is Neifi Perez by most measures the worst hitter in the major leagues, he is perhaps the daftest.

I'm listening to the Giants' afternoon game in Colorado. The weather is scorching, and balls are flying out of Coors Field more easily than usual. In fact, last inning, Jeromy Burnitz hit what everyone thought was a pop-up to center field: Michael Tucker acted as if he had it lined up; Burnitz tossed his bat in disgust; Dave Fleming had the reassuring "it's staying in the park" tone of voice.

It went out for a two-run homer to tie the game.

So, next inning, Shawn Estes walks leadoff hitter Tucker on four pitches. Showing that he was paying absolutely no attention in the on-deck circle, Neifi Perez swings at the first pitch he sees and dribbles it to third; Tucker is forced at second. Feliz is next and reaches on an error that should have been a double play grounder: the Rockies are practically begging the Giants to have another 6-run inning.

First and second, one out, Alfonzo at the plate with his .500 lifetime average against Estes. Mere pop-ups are leaving the yard. Estes is approaching 100 pitches. Neifi tries to steal third. The fans wait for another patented Estes meltdown; Alfonzo looks...

Wait a second. Did that just say, "Neifi tries to steal third"? No, it couldn't be. No way. No one's that stupid. Not with Charles Johnson, one of the best-throwing catchers in the game, behind the plate.

Greg Papa could only say: "Well, it's a good play if you make it." Neifi did not make it. (Alfonzo grounded out, inning over.)

If I ever meet Neifi Perez on the street, there's a good chance that I'll slap him upside the head and run really fast in the other direction.



DNB Update 

Last night's 11-2 loss to Colorado was perhaps the nadir of the Giants' 5-hole experiment. Bonds got on base four times in front of Pedro Feliz, three via intentional or semi-intentional walks. All four times Feliz made the last out of the inning. For good measure, Pe-Fe also made the last out of the game with Dustan Mohr and Michael Tucker on base.

So, our Ducks Named Bonds numbers (the stats of the batter who hits right after Bonds reaches base in any fashion, except a home run) are down to .255 /.298 /.316, for a .614 OPS in 110 plate appearances. Extrapolate that to a full season, and it would be the 7th worst OPS in the major leagues.

Think about that: when Bonds gets on base, the batter immediately following (mostly Pedro Feliz) is roughly the 7th worst hitter in the majors. Unadjusted OPS is a rough guide, of course, but I think we all get the picture.

Would the Giants willingly go out and hire, say, Pokey Reese (.627 OPS) or Randy Winn (.629 OPS) to hit behind Barry? Because that's what they're doing playing Feliz behind Bonds day after day.

(In case you were wondering: as of today, the ML leader in worst OPS is Neifi Perez, lapping the field at .563).

The good news, if you can call it that, is Felipe Alou acknowledged today that he needs to try someone else behind Bonds. The bad news is the Giants don't have anyone remotely qualified.



Adios, Hambone 

Jeffrey Hammonds has received his walking papers, and Todd Linden has been called up from Fresno to be the fifth outfielder.

Brian Sabean hinted in Chicago just before the Giants began their win streak that veterans on the roster should watch their backs. Funny how he cut Hammonds, who was making a million and despite a low batting average (.210) getting on base a decent amount, instead of Dustan Mohr, who's making close to the major-league minimum and hitting .145.

As I noted earlier, Linden has posted an empty .286 average at Fresno. Empty because he's not hitting for much power: only 13 extra base hits in 199 at-bats, and this in a vaunted hitter's league (four words for you: Brian Dallimore, batting champ). Sure, Linden might turn on the power in the bigs--last year he hit one of the longest home runs ever at Dodger Stadium--but instead of playing every day and working on his game, he'll be pinch-hitting and getting an occasional spot start against lefties. It's not a great environment for potential talent to blossom.



Coors to Be Kind? 

You know, I started to write the sentence, "Not if past history is any indication." Then I decided to check said past history. The last five years, the Giants are 17-24 at Coors. That's not good, but I expected worse, to be honest. And most of that badness comes from one year, 2000, when they went 1-6 a mile high. (For the record: last year they went 3-6. In 2002, they went an incredible 6-4 at Coors, with a 4-game sweep in August. In 2001, 4-5. In 2000, 1-6. In 1999, 3-3.)

Even if the Giants sweep the season series at Coors this year, I will always and forever maintain the place should be dismantled and buried inside Yucca Mountain.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. The Rockies have in fact given up more runs than they've scored this year at Coors and are a game under .500 there.

But the Giants have set themselves up like chumps. They did exactly what they should not have, rolling into Coors with a three-game losing streak and two games in a row with lots of bullpen work. It's not a good time for the relievers to hit a slump. Suck it up, boys, and hope Neifi has an acid flashback to his glory days.



Merkin Ahoy! 

The Baseball America Prospect Report (which you should subscribe to if you don't already) tells us this morning that Merkin Valdez has made his 2004 debut at single-A San Jose, so it's as good a time as any to wander amongst the Giants' farm statistics and muse a while upon them.

With 5 1/3 innings, 6 Ks, no walks and only two hits, Valdez last night showed why everyone has been eager for his return, and why the Giants were extra-careful when he contracted "tendonitis" (whatever that means) this spring. Valdez joins Matt Cain, the Giants' other top pitching prospect, in San Jose, for what should be a nasty one-two punch. Cain's numbers:

1.94 ERA / 55.2 IP / 47 H / 16 BB / 62 K / 4 HRs

[[THURS 6/3 UPDATE: Cain pitched last night; 2 hits, 1 walk and 14 strikeouts in 7 innings.]]

If all goes well, both should be in double-A Norwich by year's end. This is a welcome sign, as the Giants' AAA starting pitchers in the post-Foppert/Williams/Ainsworth era seems to have hit a wall. The top two, Kevin Correia and Noah Lowry, are posting mediocre numbers and Ryan Jensen still looks terrible. (In relief, David Aardsma after a couple stints in the bigs in which he looked not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, is posting similar numbers at Fresno: low ERA, but so-so peripherals that indicate he needs more time. With his stuff he should be blowing guys away. But he walks too many, especially for someone tagged as a future closer.)

Meanwhile at Norwich, two starting pitchers that have gotten little to no ink are quietly having good seasons.

- Lefty Pat Mitsch in 60 innings has struck out 45, allowed 51 hits and only 12 walks. That's damn good. A few more K's and he'd be close to elite status.
- Brad Hennessey, a former first-round draft pick who missed a lot of time because of a tumor in his back, is, um, back. In nearly 60 innings, he's struck out 33, with 54 hits and 19 walks. Those aren't great peripheral numbers, but it seems he's been getting stronger as the season progresses, so check back in a couple months.

It's most likely that if the Giants make a big trade soon, Cain or Valdez would be bait. I"m sure Sabean would prefer to trade Mitsch or Hennessey or one of the AAA guys (except Aardsma), but with all the ink Cain and Valdez have recently received, their trade value is probably as high as a single-A guy's value could be.

On the position side, Tony Torcato and Todd Linden are looking more and more like punch-and-judys, .300 hitters with some to little plate discipline and little to no power. Interesting how Lance Niekro has jumped from single-A to triple-A and started crushing the ball, even while missing the first few weeks with the ankle injury he suffered in spring training. If he keeps on like he's doing for a full year at Fresno (.333/.375/.689 in 45 at-bats, a very small sample size), he could compete for the first-base job next year.

Damon Minor, who's had some great, patient at-bats but not much success since returning to the Giants, isn't the only veteran farmhand who had a resurgence at Fresno this year. Cody Ransom made the Giants out of spring training and went 1 for 12 with 4 Ks. It seemed his last chance; he was sent down, no one else wanted him and he cleared waivers. Lifetime .250 minor league hitter (if I remember correctly), lots of Ks... he goes back down and starts lighting up the Pacific Coast League.

He's hitting .328/.411/.641, with a Bondsian 10 homers in 128 at-bats. He's also shown a keen eye for the first time in his career: 17 BBs and only 28 Ks. Still, I'm not too excited. It doesn't jibe with his track record, and every lifetime AAA guy has a long hot streak or two. But ever the optimist, I'm thinking maybe Cody's finally put it together. Even if he can be a 10-HR, .330 OBP/.400 SLG guy in the bigs, that'll be plenty, and certainly an improvement over Neifi Perez. Of course, Sabean will soon announce a two-year contract extension for Perez at $3 mil per year plus an $4.2 M option that kicks in when Neifi pops up his 40th bunt attempt in 2005. Hoping for a Ransom Revival is moot.

Speaking of minor league hot streaks: low single-A third baseman Nate Schierholtz bats lefty and is raking the ball: 14 homers and a .637 SLG in 190 ABs. The only caution flag is a low walk rate, 15 so far, which means his plate discipline may be exploitable by better pitchers. But he's also very young, so keep your fingers crossed. He may be the best positional prospect the Giants have had since the late 1980s.



Tomorrow night, the Giants will start another ten-game win streak with their secret anti-Unit weapon...Neifi Perez.

Lifetime, the Neifster is all over Randy Johnson: .310 avg/.310 obp/.655 slg. That's 9 for 29 with a double and three home runs. (Hmm, I wonder where he hit them?) Alfonzo and Durham have hit Johnson well, too, but not as well as, duh, Barry Bonds:

.316 avg/.447 obp/.632 slg

That's 12 for 38 with three doubles, three homers and a ridiculous 9-to-6 BB/K rate. (By comparison, Marquis Grissom has struck out 20 times in 43 ABs against the B.U., with no walks.)

Grissom seemed to injure himself diving for a liner in the middle of today's game. He stayed in, but given his horrible track record against Johnson, I wouldn't be surprised to see him sit tomorrow.

Let's see if I can guess Alou's lineup:

2b Perez
3b Alfonzo
cf Hammonds
lf Bonds
1b Feliz
rf Mohr
c Torrealba
ss Cruz
p Tomko



Accentuate the Positron 

OK, OK, just to prove that I am not always a curmudgeon, here are some things I like about the Giants:

- Felipe Alou's moustache
- Barry Bonds's lack of moustache
- Matt Herges's two-seam fastball
- Damon Minor getting a second chance
- Jason Schmidt, one of the best pitchers in the game and only using two pitches
- Felix Rodriguez throwing a decent slider and pitching inside
- Yorvit Torrealba's defense
- Kirk Rueter's ears
- One Flap Down
- Dustin Hermanson's splitter
- The chalk all over Marquis Grissom's bare hands when he hits

I also just received an e-mail that El Lefty Malo is part of the World Series of Baseball Blogs. El Lefty Malo has voted for himself, como no, and encourages you to do so, too.


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