A Rush and a Push and the Dodgers Are Ours 

By the time fireworks light up the sky on July 4, the Giants will be exactly half way through this wretched 2005 season. A sweep of the AzBacks notwithstanding, the Giants are nine games behind the NL-West San Diego Padres. They are nine games behind the wild-card leading Atlanta Braves, with nine other teams between them. If the Giants sweep the Pods this weekend, led by the Second Coming of Kevin Correia, we may have a little action, or at least the illusion of daylight from our view at the bottom of the swimming pool.

But the real motivation for a Giants fan this summer lies with this shorter-term goal: Finish ahead of the Dodgers.

Call it the Prime Directive, the Three Drumstrokes from the Center of Our Reptilian Brain: Beat-L-A.

Only 3.5 games behind. If the Giants finish this season ahead of the D.F.'s, they will provide us with a smug glow in the off-season, knowing that College Boy DePodesta couldn't put together a team to top our own Barry-less, Benitez-less French vanilla meltdown.

Such a finish will whip the normally comatose fan base of Los Angeles into something that resembles furor, and prompt my 91-year-old Grandma Ida to call DePodesta a putz. That's bad, because she actually knows what putz means, unlike most Americans who bandy the word about to make themselves feel more Yiddish.

(Tangential note: There's nothing more embarrassing than a Gentile who pronounces the word "spiel" like "speed" or "spelunker," without the "sch" sound at the beginning. Zey shutt all geyt ein schpenkink!)

The Giants and Dodgers have many similarities: well-paid closers down for the count, slap-hitting Venezuelan Gold Glove shortstops, laconic dudes in the rotation who've never realized their potential, and an aging star who's still productive but can't do it all himself.

Of course, the clubs' biggest difference is that DePutzdesta is a saberhead and Brian Sabean is a mullethead. Many have called for Sabean's pelt to be nailed to a certain 24-foot-high brick wall because he often thumbs his nose at number-crunching, instead maneuvering by "feel" and "intuition" and "chemistry," not to mention how a guy takes a fastball to the choppers without a complaint despite spitting out a gallon of blood and three molars. (If anyone can find a link to the video that shows then-Brewer Mike Matheny's infamous hit-by-pitch in the face, let me know.)

Meanwhile, DePo trades Paul LoDuca (leadership, spunk, chemistry) for Hee Seop Choi (power, patience, very marketable in K-Town), a sabergeek move if there ever were one. He goes out and gets the talented but volatile Milton Bradley, who has thrown more objects at fans and umpires than runners out on the bases. He promised Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez $60 million for multi-year contracts.

The Dodgers' stumble below .500 has happened despite highly touted statistical minds on their side. It means either 1) DePodesta is a greatly overrated statistical mind; 2) Shit happens that statistics can't predict; 3) The season isn't half-way over and the Dodgers have time to right the ship and prove that sabers trump mullets.

I'm usually loathe to devote this much blogspace to the Dodgers, lest I break out in a rash or feel my bowels spasm, but I'm doing so for instructive purposes.

Purpose #1: Finishing ahead of the Dodgers is always good; hearing Dodger fans whine is even better. Root for the Giants with this in mind.

Purpose #2: All this venom directed at Brian Sabean (some of it by me, even) often presumes a baseline of 100% success. In other words: anything he doesn't get right we take as a sure sign of his cluelessness. We often measure him (and any GM) as if he were the only variable in a pristine environment. In other words: the inability to land superstar X (Vlad Guerrero, Carlos Beltran, Steve Finley, um, Vlad Guerrero) was simply Sabean and the Giants' fault and not the product of the player's whim, the geography, the weather, unspoken injury concerns, etc. Yes, yes, yes, the Giants should have gone after Vlad, but did Vlad really want to come to S.F.? Was the cold weather a dealkiller because of his tetchy back?

Perhaps we should evaluate a GM's decisions more along the lines of basketball jump-shooters: a success rate of 50% is something to be proud of, and anything beyond is a run of good luck, or a temporary advantage, or the limitations on others wrought by injury, market forces, and player viccisitudes.

With the smarter set -- the type of minds we all implicitly clamor for when bellyache about Brian Sabean -- now running the A's, Padres and Dodgers, perhaps from here on out we should simply measure Sabean's decisions against those made by Towers, Beane and DePodesta. If those guys consistently run SABRcircles around him, let our voices cry out as one for his head.



Righetti's Spaghetti 

Today's fishwrap comes to us with news of more shake-up on the Giants pitching staff. Until further notice, Brett Tomko is a member of the bullpen. He's not happy because he's so damn professional: "If you are happy about it, you should not be competing."

And if you were competing better, Brett, you would make us all happier. But let's move on to the next quote:

He also says the next time he takes the ball, be it as starter or reliever, he's going to "kick some ass on the mound." Someone else's, we assume he means.

Tomko doesn't seem the kind of pitcher who can perservere through rough patches, be they of his own creation or his teammates'. Pittsburgh first baseman Daryle Ward gave us a glimpse of how opponents see Tomko: "We never got him frustrated to where he might hang a pitch."

Now, after four straight lamentable starts, the Giants' brass feel he needs a mental break. Of all the disappointments this year, Tomko's return to, well, Tomkoness is perhaps the most frustrating. There are track records of mediocre pitchers putting it all together in their late 20s/early 30s. He seemed ready to follow suit. As we've all noted, Tomko has the tools. He has the health. What he lacks is the head for whatever that final step is, the one that took Curt Schilling and Jason Schmidt and Kevin Brown from ciphers to stars.

At the end of last year, the elusive formula seemed in his grasp. Over the winter, he vowed to make changes to his workout routine, to see a sports therapist; coming into spring, he was psyched to work with the most respected catcher in the major leagues. His charcoal pony sketches had reached a new level of refinement and sensitivity that was drawing attention from those who pay attention to art. Life was looking up.

So what happened?

He's thrown some gems this year: two against Pittsburgh, a fine outing at Shea, 8 strong innings in a blowout against L.A. But generally, he's reverted to form: one bad turn -- a cheap hit, a bad call, a bad pitch, a teammate's error -- and the wheels come off. My indelible image of Tomko is his skyward look in exasperation, as if he's asking, "Why me?"

Righetti has an apt description of this look: "It's like the world is caving in on him."

Rags knows full well the problem is Tomko's psyche, but he hasn't been able to crack the code. As Henry Schulman hinted in today's above-referenced article, Rags may be feeling some employment-related pressure. There are certainly legitimate questions: Why can't he get Tomko's head on straight? Why did the Giants give up so quickly on Jerome Williams? Why did the Giants bring up Foppert but stash him in the bullpen after only two starts? There's a certain amount of capriciousness to the Giants' pitching moves this year that feels more like spaghetti on a wall than a steady hand on the rudder.

Alou's quick hook doesn't help, but you can't blame the old coot for pulling pitchers in the fifth and sixth innings with pitch counts of 100, 110, 115. Those short rotation stints plus Benitez's injury has meant a total bullpen meltdown. Did anyone catch Jim Brower's recent quote? I can't find it now, but it was along the lines of "I'm lucky I got out of there with my health intact." (His Braves' totals so far: 2 ER in 5.1 IP.)

Let's also give some credit: Jason Schmidt seems to be back on track and open to the idea of using all his pitches. Noah Lowry hasn't been yanked up and down, even as he struggles to adjust in his sophomore year. Tyler Walker has been granted some slack in his extended closer tryout. All good moves by the brass, in my humble estimation.

Still, the questions pile up. Not all the answers lead to Righetti's culpability, or anyone's, for that matter. But it would be nice to have a little more stability. We may not have it til after the trading deadline.



Nationals Interest 

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call is reporting that certain Republican members of Congress are making veiled threats against major league baseball as it considers the various ownership groups vying for the Nationals. One group that has the GOP squirming is headed by George Soros, who has thrown considerable weight and cash behind Democrat candidates and progressive causes.

A competing group, no doubt more favored by the GOP, includes Fred Malek, a long-time Republican operative. In 1971, at President Nixon's request, Malek ran a head-count on Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He later became part of W.'s group that took over the Texas Rangers in 1988.

Roll Call is subscription only, but this blog, affiliated with the American Prospect magazine (whose mission statement includes "reviving and rebuilding liberalism") has excerpts.


I've just dug Love Battery's Dayglo out of my CD pile for its first listen in quite a while. It's the Seattle version of what my man Elbo likes to call The Majesty of Rock -- the sheer brilliant energy of guitars and screaming and jumping around that you rarely find in these prepackaged, doublethink days of media consumption. Elbo first introduced me to The Majesty of Rock one evening by popping in the DVD of the Who's The Kids Are Alright. The lads make an appearance on the Rolling Stones' ill-fated "Rock n Roll Circus" TV show with a nuclear, epic "A Quick One" that leaves instruments destroyed and Mick Jagger crying for his mommy.

Another testament to the Majesty of Rock: PJ Harvey and her trio on Rid of Me. Her drummer's falsetto harmonies still send chills up my spine.

It doesn't have to be Rock, per se: Public Enemy's "Night of the Living Baseheads" does it for me every time.

Where do you find the Majesty of Rock?



Number One in the Booth 

Peter Gammons' latest ESPN.com column examines the early summer trade market and asserts there may be far fewer players available this year. The usual patsies -- Brewers, Pirates, Tigers, etc -- are building momentum, not trying to trade it away. Funny, though, that Gammons doesn't mention the Giants at all. I worry that the G's are not only flat dreadful, but that their upcoming free-agent veterans have zero trade value. If you were a GM with a team in contention, would you give up anything for Brett Tomko and the $1-million-plus on his 2005 contract, or Rueter and his $3-million-plus, even to fill a 4th or 5th slot in your rotation? Wouldn't you rather take your chances with a guy you call up from triple-A?

We've already seen grumblings that Sabean's asking too much for Jason Schmidt. His best hope at jettisoning the aging vets might be to package them with young players whose value may be as high as it's ever going to be. In other words, Ray Durham AND Jason Ellison for practically nothing in return -- just the relief of clearing Durham's '06 salary off the books. That may not be exactly how it shakes out -- as Sabean has already poisoned Ellison's well with comments about his lack of everday stamina -- but I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one move of that sort between now and July 31.

One bright spot in Gammons's report: he mentions Kruk and Kuip as the best of a small group of local announcers who are "analytical and balanced."



Dirty Sanchez 

Weighing in from New Frickin' York, which was once more profane until Giuliani cleaned up the streets and corporate America took over the city's commerce. Walking around this visit, everything feels so much blander.

Not quieter, but blander, as if the long-time Disneyfication of Times Square has oozed inexorably into the Village, Soho, the Meatpacking District, the Lower East Side, and so forth. It's really nothing specific to New York -- America, and most likely, a good part of the globe -- has bent over for corporate branding. Adidas boutiques, ESPN restaurants, Hard Rock cafe T-shirts. The groundswell of the subversive "No-Logo" movement seems a distant pathetic gurgle. Resistance is futile, indeed.

There are trade-offs to the New New York. Cleaner subways and safer streets are a big plus.

I also spent a few days in Philly this week, where I covered the biotech industry convention for my day job. I didn't make it out to the Cit, or the Zen, or whatever they call the new ballpark, although I had the pleasure of watching part of a broadcast with Har-ry Cal-las de-scri-bing the ac-tion.

If you don't understand the reference and can't somehow tap into a Phillies' broadcast, keep listening to Jon Miller. He busts out the Callas imitation once in a while.

So I see that Brandon Puffer has joined the team, no doubt bringing his '04 World Series ring into the clubhouse for inspiration. And Alex Sanchez, too, who will bring his Benard-class defense and pharmacological naivete to Mays Field.

It's been nice to be away for a week, following the Giants mainly through the morning box scores. It's preparation for the future time when I have a kid, or a tough job, or something else that forces me to give less than three hours of attention per day to baseball. Shorter term, it gets me all rested and ready for the big stretch run. Right, folks? Right?



I Knew The Whole Time That Nathan Guy Sucked 

Nice little victoire tonight, thanks mostly to an unlikely meltdown from the Twins platinum bullpen. Joe Nathan, *this* is why we traded your ass.

Tonight's victory is also due to the fact that Brian Sabean knows how to evaluate 42-year-old left-handed pitching talent:

Their 42-year-old lefty:

2/3 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 1 K

Our 42-year-old lefty:

2.1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K

Other little tidbits I liked about this game:

* Even when Jason Ellison wasn't hitting well, he found a way to get on base twice. He was batting eighth tonight, but he's auditioning to be the Giants' leadoff hitter for years to come.

* Carl Everett may not like this, but Omar Vizquel has just assured himself of the eternal homoerotic adoration of certain Giant blogboys (click and search on the page for "dreamy"). As Krukow would say, "Havva game, will ya?" (For those who didn't follow: 5-for-6, 4 rbis, 3 runs, a triple and a double.)

* Felipe Alou should say more things like this: "It's still early. We have a guy here (Matheny), the last left-hander he saw, he hit a home run off him, at home. I'm not going to change right now the way we're going to use Matheny." Then the next day put Yorvit in the starting lineup so he hits four balls on the screws and gets three hits.

* Adam Shabala didn't get his first big-league knock, but he drove in two when they counted and almost hit one out.

* With a name like Jack Taschner, how can he be anything but an undercover special counterterrorism agent?

* Moises Alou is fifth in the league in OPS behind Derrek Lee, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Delgado, and Albert Pujols.


Promotional giveaway of the year (from the Chron): "Brett Tomko has created a charcoal-and-pastel drawing of catcher Mike Matheny behind the plate, to be used on this year's Strike Out Cancer poster giveaway."

The only thing better would be a drawing of Matheny riding a pony with a long, braided mane.



Worth the Price of Admission 

This game sounds like fun. The reports of Jose Guillen getting especially riled and screaming at his former Angel mates -- then hitting a crucial homer in the eighth -- make me want to trade my season tix in the 1-3-8 for a weekend trip to RFK. BP's Will Carroll adds this bit of intrigue to the mix (from today's Under The Knife):

"Jose Guillen tipped off manager Frank Robinson about Brendan Donnelly’s use of pine tar on his glove. If I were Guillen, I’d wear a two-flap for the next couple weeks."

* A quick note on last night's Giants' loss to Minnesota: It feels a little dirty to root for guys like Durham and Feliz to do well and boost their trade value. It's also dangerous: if Feliz starts hitting the cover off the ball, Sabean will no doubt feel justified to keep him and sign him to a 5-year contract extension.

As for last night, Ray-Ray's continued dominance against Santana must have opened some eyes in A.L. front offices, with visions of having to face the Twins in the playoffs, and Santana perhaps twice in one series. Is it enough to convince an AL team to pick up a big chunk of his salary? His risible defense wouldn't be as much a factor -- an A.L. team could DH him, just as the A's did when they picked him up for the stretch run in 2002. If he's at all tradeable (and for that he'd have to prove he's once again healthy and hitting with power), I fear Sabean would either have to pay much of the contract or settle for fringe prospects. If he can get a good prospect and money off the books, he's a miracle worker.

Next week's wet dream: Mike Matheny's incredible offensive resurgence makes him irresistible to several contenders in July!



Your Fresn...Er...San Fran...Er....Grizzliants 

We can now officially ask the question: Among rookies with funny names, where do you think Shabala ranks?

I've been waiting a couple years for that one.

Todd Linden and Adam Shabala are now San Francisco Giants. Marquis Grissom and Edgardo Alfonzo are now on the shelf. Hey, what's Ben Copeland doing next week?

That brings our rookie count to six, and our nearly-rookie count to three (Foppert, Lowry, Walker).

Shades of 1996, if any of you whippersnappers were even alive back then. Check out these names: Marvin Larry Benard, Kim Batiste, Desi Wilson, Dan Peltier, Dax Jones*, Steve Bourgeois, Dan Carlson, Marcus Jensen...need I go on? View the entire mind-blowing roster here. A few fun facts about 1996:

- the last time a Giants team lost 90 games.
- Bill Mueller's rookie year, and his best OPS (.816) as a Giant.
- It was the first of Shawon Dunston's three stints with the Giants. I believe his final at-bat in a Giant uniform was his home run in game 6 of the 2002 World Series; I cannot check this as Retrosheet.org is down.
- Glenallen Hill had a darn good year: .280/.344/.499/no spiders. I still miss the big lummox.

* I love Dax Jones even more than I love Jalal Leach, Rikkert Faneyte, Dennis Littlejohn, Guy Sularz, and Mark Calvert for one simple reason: one night in college we were high as kites and found my friend Sam's pomade. Sam was a Sephardic Jew with nappy hair and used a black-hair product called Dax. I think it was pure lanolin. We couldn't resist. We all Daxed. I believe this was the same night we coined the phrase "Up all night with Lash's chicken," which referred to the meal I undercooked, not underage sex partners. Really.

Let me tell you something
: whether you are a 2005 San Francisco Giant or a 1989 College Stoner, at some point in life, you are Dax. We are all Dax.



Out With the Old 

Word is Jim Brower was just released and Jesse Foppert called up, as his "promotion" to San Jose indicated earlier this week. Foppert will start Tuesday against Minnesota. Welcome back, Jesse. Let's hope the Giants give you the breathing room to make mistakes and prove yourself rotation-worthy for years to come.

With Brower's release, three veteran bullpenners have been tossed over the side in recent days: Matt Herges, Al Levine and Brower. Despite the trade to the D-Backs, the Giants will still pay about $500,000 of Herges's salary, according to the Oak Trib. A similar arrangement is unlikely for Brower, who dissolved from reliable, stone-chinned reliever in '03-'04 to flummoxed, stone-chinned reliever in '05.

No matter: the Giants would rather pay him $750,000 not to pitch in orange and french vanilla anymore. How much more are they willing to write off?

The roster is quickly morphing into a youth movement: the pitching staff now has five rookies or near-rookies: Foppert, Lowry, Munter, Taschner, and Walker. Ellison and Niekro have won most of the starting assignments in centerfield and at first base, respectively. They are also candidates for Rookie of the Year, as I noted in my last post. So tiny, cautious kudos to the Giants brass for realizing this spring those two deserved a shot at the roster and for giving them a burgeoning amount of playing time.

I also applaud the moves to give Munter and Taschner bullpen jobs, and to see if Walker can close. I also liked seeing Accardo and Hennessey go for a spin or two. Accardo may be back up in '06, and Hennessey showed he can pitch well although not yet consistently at the big league level. Lowry's success of last year may never return, but it makes sense to let him work through his problems every five days with the Giants, not Fresno.

With all these fuzzy-faced kids, The Oldest Lineup In The World (Ha-Ha-Ha) stories of spring training seem a faint notion. With a little more historical perspective, this season will become chronicled as Sabean's Grand Gambit. He and his front-office cohorts went for broke with this team, like a pack of old bank robbers scheming to get together for one last audacious heist. When the fates and the screenwriters are kindly, such jobs can come off with hilarity, dicey moments and ultimately, a montage of grinning old goats with suitcases of cash boarding planes destined for tropical climes.

Sabean's Gambit, alas, was no such light comedy. The bank repossessed their only getaway car, the safecracker broke his wrist trying to open his bedroom window, and the brilliant but nutso tools guy refused to leave his dank Bronx basement apartment. It didn't matter: the bank they planned all winter to knock over in Sheboygan closed four months before the heist date.

I was at the game this afternoon, basking in glorious bleacher'd sunshine and re-wiring my brain for the rebuild. It's been a long time -- since 1996 -- that I've had to endure a bad Giants' team, but I grew up assuming the worst (1976-77, 1979-1985, 1990-1992) and savoring the bright spots such as Reggie Smith's last hurrah, Vida Blue's "Vida" jersey, Mike Ivie's brief moments of pinch-hitting glory, and a whole lotta Chili Davis.

Today, I cheered Ellison's leadoff walk, Niekro's opposite-field sacrifice fly, Rueter's perfect fielding position to force a runner on a bunt, a well-executed rundown, and Jeff Fassero's crafty Maloness. I told my brother to enjoy these last few months of Woody while he still can.

In fact, when you go out to the yard the rest of this year, give the Giants who've given us some great moments a kind hand. Rueter won far more games than he had any right to. J.T. Snow could make a 12-year-old girl shriek like no other ballplayer, and he hit a really cool home run in 2000. Schmidt had a three-year run of dominance that I felt privileged to witness. Remember it's just a game, still, and one bad season is no reason to sit thoroughly sour (being dominated by Runelvys Hernandez and Jason Davis, however, is).

Appreciate the little things and root for the young guys who are making anxious audition for the rest of their careers. Baseball is a hard game; they need all the encouragement they can get.

If Sabean has any magic left in his cell phone, at least a couple of the veterans will be gone by July 31. Moving Durham and Fonzie will require miracles, but getting at least one of their contracts off the books in '06 is imperative. Trading Pedro Feliz would be nice, too.

As the losses pile up, no doubt the calls for Sabean's head will rumble from the blogosphere into the mainstream media. But he's proven himself adept at sustaining quality year after year, putting the Giants where they need to be nearly every September since 1997. Some will scoff and give credit to Dusty Baker and Barry Bonds; they'll say that anyone could build a winning team around the best player in baseball. Sorry, not true: witness Texas with A-Rod and Cincinnati with Junior. Injuries and incompetence happen.

Now comes the more interesting test for Brian Sabean, at least in the eyes of those of us who can accept the warps and woofs of a favorite team across the years. How can he rebuid this team? How will he evaluate Scott Munter, Jesse Foppert, Jack Taschner et al as they gain experience in the show? What will he learn from the free agent contracts doled out to Durham, Benitez and Alfonzo? If it's obvious by, say, end of 2006 that rebuilding is not his thing, Magowan should move quickly to find his replacement. Note that I did not write "the Next Billy Beane." There's no guarantee that all those Next Billy Beanes -- Epstein, Riccardi, DePodesta -- know how to handle a rebuild just because they trained at Beane's knee.

Finally the Giants have a nice long stretch to see what the young guys can do. It's small consolation, but I'm a silver lining kind of guy.



Le ROY, C'est Moi 

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus, I had a nice little lift this morning. The stat of the day in this morning's newsletter is top NL rookies ranked by VORP, or value over replacement player.

Third on the list but nearly tied for second is Jason Ellison. He and Ryan Church of Washington have produced nearly 14 runs of VORP, well behind the top rookie Clint Barmes of the Colorado Venisons.

But now Clint is in hospital, as they say across the pond, with a few months off to work on his vocal range ("Doe, a deer, a female deer"), while J-El continues to play like he's a plastic toy wound a little too tightly. I half expect him to bounce across the playing surface with his teeth chattering up and down. I can't argue with the results, but Ellison is one of the most spastic-looking players I've ever seen.

And he isn't likely to be benched soon. As our old friend Rickey Watters once mused, "For who? For what?" Not for Marquis Grissom, that's for sure.

So J-El of Planet Spazzatron has a legit shot at N.L. Rookie of the Year.

So does Lance Niekro. He's sixth on the list, just a couple vorp-sprinkles behind the Mets' Victor Diaz and Braves' Wilson Betemit. Perhaps even more than Ellison, whose brain cramps and defensive bobbles are aggravating, Niekro has done all he can to win himself more playing time. His defense is fine, he's looking more selective at the plate, and he's hitting for plenty of power.

The Giants last ROY was...any guesses? No peeking. Bonus question: Who was the last Giant to place in the top 5 in ROY voting?



The Goat, or Who Is Pedro? 

Please choose which of the following is the better symbol of the Giants hitting bottom:

1) An ad during tonight's radio broadcast that featured Gary Coleman shilling for an online loan site. The pathetic former child star Coleman said he used the service to get a loan right from his own apartment. Good God, what a depressing image. Empty pizza boxes, a framed "Diff'rent Strokes" cast photo in the kitchen, a dial-up Internet connection, the noise from the parking lot of the all-night 7-11 next door seeping through his thin walls, the glow of Coleman's laptop on his 40-year-old cherbuic cheeks as he agrees to an interest rate higher than his blood pressure and tries not to cry...


2) Bottom of the ninth, Giants down 4-1, Pedro Feliz with a 3-1 count. A walk would give the Giants a glimmer of hope of mounting a comeback. The next pitch was a slider a foot outside: Pedro swung wildly and nubbed it foul. The next pitch was the same pitch -- a slider a foot outside -- and he swung and missed for strike three. Absolutely, positively the worst at-bat of the year.

What you talkin' about, Pedro?

Justice Stewart Potter wasn't able to define obscenity, but he would know it if he saw that at-bat. Not even Allard Baird will trade for Feliz now. If Sabean can get a box of reduced-sodium sunflower seeds for him, nominate Sabes for executive of the year.


Hope Half Way 

Instead of adding to the gloom of today's constant rain, I'm curious how many teams of the past ten years have made the playoffs after looking mediocre or worse about half way through.

In a recent discussion of the Giants' chances to turn this season around, I made reference to last year's Houston Astros, who were four games under (56-60) on August 14. I was chided in the comment box for citing the exception to the rule. So, a disclaimer: I make no claim of any similarity between this year's Giants, eight games below .500 on June 8, and the teams in the following list.

'04 ATL 6/29 36-40 96-66, Div champs
'03 CHC 7/18 47-48 88-74, Div champs
'03 FLA 6/18 34-39 91-71, WS champs
'03 MIN 7/17 45-49 90-72, Div champs
'01 STL 7/13 43-45 93-69, Div champs
'01 OAK 6/26 35-40 102-60, Wild card
'97 HOU 7/5 42-45 84-78, Div champs
'96 STL 6/14 31-34 88-74, Div champs

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.



Jason Schmidt: The Arm, the Ego, and the Option 

The big takeaway from the weekend series with the Mets: there's something wrong with Jason Schmidt. Somewhere between Kris Benson's leadoff double in the third inning and Kris Benson's bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning, Mike Krukow stopped jimmy-jackin' around and pronounced what we've all been thinking about Schmidt since early April: "He's not right."

He couldn't put anyone away. He was missing his target by a foot or more. He refused to throw off-speed pitches.

In this morning's papers, Schmidt says he's finally come to terms with not throwing 95; that he needs to mix it up more; that despite the drop in velocity he feels fine. Well, he said he felt fine before going on the DL in May. And his pitching hasn't improved since his return. This feels to me like the run-up to an official Giants press release along these lines: Whoops, further tests have revealed (i.e., despite all our earlier protestations to the contrary), it looks like there is in fact some damage/tears/strain/fraying of the labrum/elbow/rotator cuff/etc, and that Schmidt needs to go under the knife.

It would puncture a final hole in the sagging balloon of 2005, but it would also be a relief. No more dissembling to the media, no more trying to get him back on the mound to salvage the season. Clear a space, give Matt Cain or Brad Hennessey the turn, and start thinking about Schmidt's option for 2006. (More on this in a second.)

However, the situation may not be so clear-cut. The human arm has only so many pitches in it unless it's attached to Nolan Ryan. The line for a pitcher between loss of stuff and discernable, repairable injury is often blurry.

Would an arthroscope, a scalpel and that magic Ting touch get Schmidt back to his dominant self in 2006 or 2007? Or has his body simply reached a point of no return: sorry, bubba, no more 96 MPH fastballs.

If the latter, then Schmidt has taken a tiny but important step. He admitted after yesterday's debacle he needs to become more of a pitcher:

"I'm trying to pitch with the style I've used the last three or four years," he said. "I'm trying to do the whole power-pitcher mentality. I just have to mix it up more and change things up. That's probably what I've got to do, resort to other pitches instead of being stubborn out there and walking into things. That's part of pitching. Just stop being stubborn and go ahead and do it, and wait until the other stuff comes."

It's not like he's out there naked; he still throws 90-92 MPH and has a great change-up. Those are tools most major-league pitchers would kill to have.

Now that he acknowledges he may never return to the halcyon days of blowing 95 at the letters past the likes of Jose Reyes, he can get on with the rest of his career -- if indeed there's no yet-to-be-revealed injury.

But if his problems are mostly mental, not physical, I'm optimistic. Schmidt's a nice guy with, it seems, minimal ego. He should be able to embrace this new image of himself hitting the corners at 91; he's already taken the first step by making these public statements. Putting health aside for a moment, the question centers on his breaking pitches. His slider and curveball are afterthoughts to his fastball and change-up. They are often lazy and hittable. Can he improve them? Because for the first time in his career, he's really going to need them.

Ah, and what of the contract? The Giants have an option to pay him $10.25 million in '06. If they decline, they owe him a $3.25 M buyout and he walks away a free agent. Whether his struggles this year are injury-related or not, it seems highly unlikely they'll pick up the option.

But they're going to pay him $3.25 M anyway -- they may as well work out some sort of deal to build on it. Say, a base of $3.5 M with lots of incentives and a team option for '07 with a minimal buyout. If it turns out he's injured and can't pitch in '06, they pay only what they would have paid in declining the option. If he's not hurt and needs to spend the rest of '05 figuring out his new approach (call it The Schmidt Second Act), then becomes a darn good pitcher in '06 -- think Pedro Martinez in his final Red Sox year -- the the Giants get only what they pay for. Or pay for only what they get.

If you were Brian Sabean, how would you deal with Schmidt's option? Would you pick it up? Would you negotiate a lower-cost, good-faith deal for '06 that shows appreciation for all he's done for the Giants? Or would you cut him loose after this year?



DeVore I Miss, Demeanor I Get 

Speaking of badly butchered punch lines, the Matt Herges era has ended. The Giants shipped him to the Diamondbacks, which is mildly surprising for two reasons:

1) They are a division rival.
2) They couldn't wait until he cleared waivers. (However, I think the Giants sent some cash to help pay the rest of his salary.)
2a) That Arizona was willing to trade for him meant they were afraid another team would get him. This means other teams actually feel Herges is of use, a feeling the Giants and most of their fans obviously don't share.

By the way, nobody guessed or even mentioned in passing Matt Herges during El Lefty Malo's Keith Moon Memorial "Who's Next" Contest. So, as per Jefferson's question, the contest is still open' Herges doesn't count because he was designated for assignment first. It's sort of like entering a persistive vegetative state; sorry, but you're no longer eligible in the dead pool. (Or it seems to me you shouldn't be -- I don't quite understand how these things work.)

About this Matt Herges Era: it began stupendously, with Herges throwing excellent ball down the stretch in 2003 and laughing about the Giants fans calling him "Herpes" when he was with the Dodgers. And who can forget that no-out, bases-loaded jam he escaped against the Marlins in the playoffs?

It all went sour when, ever the team guy, Herges agreed to be the closer coming out of spring training last year. I thought he'd recover from that disaster with a comfortable return in 2005 to middle relief, but it wasn't in the stars. Be it something in his arm or in his head, he's not the same guy the Giants picked out of the Padres' pocket in mid-2003.

Now he's a D-Back and will no doubt haunt the Giants the rest of the year, as my link in yesterday's post subconciously indicated.

But there's a silver lining. The Giants needed a left-handed bat, right? Herges has netted them one. Enter...hey, what happened to that drum roll? Doug DeVore, ladies and gentlemen. When I first glimpsed the headline, I thought I saw "Dellucci." Which would make no sense at all.

I vaguely remember DeVore from last year, when he spent much of the season with the D-Backs. In fact, he hit two of his three home runs against the Giants: one off Wayne Franklin, the other off Jim Brower to win a game. He's reporting to Fresno, so we can only hope he is not the left-handed hitting addition Sabean said recently he wants to make.



No Sprinkles 

As Moises Alou channels Candy Maldonado with his sliding non-catches, as LaTroy Hawkins unzips his mask to reveal the tortured spectral face of Matt Herges, as Felipe Alou trips over his catheter on his way to argue with the umpires, I can only take refuge in psuedo-Peanuts homilies.

Happiness is a warm bratwurst. The grass is always greener in the first inning. Baseball is like ice cream: Sometimes you get the mocha almond fudge, sometimes you get the haddock.

I don't really believe this, but I had to think of a way to link to that ice cream story.

I do believe in looking for small reasons to stay optimistic in lieu of going completely batshit. Tonight's reason: Brad Hennessey's true grit. Can he be the stopper of a six-game losing streak in one of the best hitters' parks in the majors? Can he make the Giant bullpen as irrelevant as possible? I'll be watching with my hands partially covering my eyes the way I used to watch horror films.

In fact, I still watch them that way.

All right, I don't actually watch horror films. At least not the scary ones.

OK, I won't even watch Gremlins 2.

Tomorrow's reason to stay optimistic: the Giants don't seem in any hurry to remove Marquis Grissom from the DL.


UPDATE: Fogball's Tom Gorman, now a BP contributor, has a blurb on the Hawkins trade in today's Prospectus Notebook. Uh-oh: the payroll figures aren't as favorable to the Giants as we first thought.



Who's Next 

Amid fears that Brian Sabean is about to trade the crown jewels of the Giant farm system for Doyle Alexander, Larry Andersen and Glenn Davis, I submit to thee this question: who's next to be traded? Will it be a major leaguer? Minor leaguer? Care to submit a multiple-player answer for double bonus points? Don't just name names, say why you think so.

Winners will get a free beer from me. I promise. (Non-alcoholic beverage substitutions are acceptable.)


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