We Must Be Over the Rainbow! 

What an odd dream last night, no doubt brought on by the salty tang of the air here in West Seattle, and the wine I've been sharing late into the night with old friends starting a new life in this sleepy corner of one of my favorite cities.

Maybe I got too much sun on the ferry ride across Puget Sound yesterday, or perhaps my cerebral alpha waves were scrambled by the sound of small waves lapping a rocky shore as I napped yesterday on a Bainbridge Island beach. Could it have been the sun's glare off the shining towers of the Emerald City all day, and me, silly me, walking around without sunglasses?

Whatever the reason for my disorientation, I had the strangest dream that the Giants called up Matt Cain, got rid of Jason Christiansen, promoted Jack Taschner, and banished Brett Tomko to the bullpen once again.

In my dream, Michael Tucker was finally recognized as useless in the Giants' current context, an older tree branch sapping nutrients when younger, greener shoots are struggling to survive, and traded. Felipe Alou promised he'd give Todd Linden lots of playing time, sprouted antlers and wings, joined the Glurtic-Zendovian insurgency then morphed into that sexy lady cop who sometimes patrols the Mays Field bleachers.

I woke up thinking how the human brain is so often wildly inventive beyond what we can imagine in our waking states. How could my mind conjure up such phantasms? Perhaps it's a subconscious reflection of my past voyages, each time bringing drastic change to my beloved ballclub. In November 2003, I returned from Mexico to find the flaming paper bag of A.J. Pierszynski on my doorstep; in January '05 I came back from India to learn that exalted gurus Mathenyji and Sri Moisey would bring thousands of years of learning to our canton.

Deep in the Northwest rainforest, there must be a shaman who can pack me a bowl of dried moss, brew for me a tea made of rare mushrooms, and explain such things.



Riddle Me This 

We pause from our regularly scheduled muscular dystrophy blogathon to bring you this week's Puzzlah. Name the two pitchers below:

Pitcher A
8 games / 54.2 IP / 11 ER / 7 HR / 18 BB / 34 K / 1.81 ERA

Pitcher B
6 games / 23 IP / 34 ER / 4 HR / 19 BB / 8 K / 13.30 ERA

Both are young starters in the NL West. One is really good. One is worse than terrible. Any guesses?


Just a couple hours later....

OK, Nick Schulte spoiled it for everyone. Both pitchers are Brad Hennessey, split into his good starts and his bad starts in 2005. Like the girl with the curl on her forehead, when he's good he's good, and when he's bad he's horrid. (Hennessey, not Schulte.)

Astounding, really, how his bad days fall apart so completely and quickly. But it gives me hope that whatever infects Hennessey on those bad days can be pinpointed and controlled. Is it a mechanical problem that keeps cropping up? Is it a persistent flaw that only certain teams have scouted well? (That's hard to believe -- it means whatever the Braves and Marlins have noticed and exploited has gone undetected by the Cardinals...twice.) Could it be matchups? Hennessey's particular combo of fastball-slider-changeup happens to flummox the Cardinals' hitters? Nah.

My guess is he's inconsistent with his mechanics; I seem to remember that when he was demoted to Fresno in June, the Giants tinkered with his delivery by cutting out some wasted motion. So it's possible he hasn't committed it to muscle memory, and his bad days happen when he reverts back to his old form or gets stuck in between. It's not unusual for a young pitcher, and not unfixable. Look what Lowry has done by fixing a tiny mechanical flaw in his footwork. (I can't remember where I heard that -- perhaps on the radio -- so correct me if you've heard otherwise.)

An interesting data point in Hennessey's statistics: in several of his well-pitched games he's allowed several solo runs. Again, the Curt Schilling theory of being aggressive, not walking batters, and knowing when it's OK to make mistakes within the strike zone. He doesn't have Schilling-like stuff, but you like to see him more aggressive than nibble, nibble, nibble.

As ugly as Hennessey's overall ERA is (5.35), it's encouraging to see that he's pitched quite well in 8 of 14 starts. It's the early KO's -- 3 starts of less than 3 innings each -- that he needs to reduce, and he'll be a capable back-of-rotation guy next year.


I Am Just a New Boy, a Stranger in This Town 

With most of the Giants upper-level prospects now on the big club, the minor league reports have been thin of late. But yesterday brought a spate of farm news:

- Triple-A phenom Matt Cain spun six shutout innings with seven strikeouts. He has struggled with the walks and homers this year, while the other pitching phenom he's often mentioned with, Seattle's 19-year-old "King" Felix Hernandez, has made a successful jump to the majors.

- In the same game as Cain, former Giant Jesse Foppert threw three shutout innings for the Mariners' triple-A squad.

- Double-A pitcher Merkin Valdez was spotted in the S.F. clubhouse carrying an envelope labeled "MRI." He told reporters that his arm "hurt a lot" and squeezed the inside of his elbow to show the sore spot. Uh oh. This could explain why the Giants have moved him back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen this year, or perhaps it's vice versa: All that yo-yo action has disrupted his rhythm, his mechanics, his whatever, and caused injury. Who knows.

A few more thoughts on the main developments in the Giants' farm system this summer:

- The Lowry-like lefty Pat Misch who seemed so promising this spring bombed in triple-A and was demoted to Norwich mid-year. He's rebounded nicely, but he's not on the fast track to the bigs anymore.

- The single-A San Jose Giants have a laundry hamper full of eager young hitters, led by Eddy Martinez-Esteve, aka EME. EME is secretly an Oakland Athletic farmhand; there's no other reason to explain why he walks more than he strikes out. It's certainly not because of the Giants' organizational philosophy, which doesn't hold high OBP in high esteem. But EME and a few others could remedy the traditional Giant dearth of minor-league offense and replenish the team in the back half of this decade. Caveats: EME isn't much of a glove man, and he has played little if at all in the field this year because of an arm injury. His best future role might be DH/1B with an American League club. Meanwhile, the rest of his teammates need to show better plate discipline before they're considered elite prospects.

- Jack Taschner, who appeared in nine games with the Giants in June and July, has continued to pitch well in Fresno. His AAA numbers for the year: 49 IP, 30 H, only 3 HR, and a strong 24/62 BB/K rate.

- Twenty-three year old second baseman and San Jose State grad Kevin Frandsen has raised eyebrows by jumping from single-A San Jose to Fresno this year, showing a decent eye and gap power (lots of doubles, not many homers). No word yet on his D, but keep his name in mind as the Giants look to replace their old middle infield in the next couple years.

- One prospect often mentioned by pundits is way down the line: speedy shortstop Marcus Sanders, who has spent the year at low-A Augusta. He gets on base a lot (.405 OBP) and steals frequently (49 of 57), but his defense seems suspect. The most encouraging thing is, he turns 20 tomorrow. A stathead rule of thumb: Patience at the plate is God-given, power and defensive skills can be learned. If you abide by such rules of thumb, Sanders is promising, indeed.

If you didn't know already, Steve Shelby now rounds up the Giants' daily farm activities with a column on McCovey Chronicles. Click over and look for it in the right-hand nav bar.



Heart Attack And Vine 

Just back from Mays Field...

On a night with fog swirling through the yard, there were some eerie happenings afoot. My dad went to get coffee in the fifth inning, about two innings earlier than usual. I kicked myself (figuratively) for not wearing long underwear. Yes, for those of you reading this in places not called San Francisco or Anchorage or Novaya Zemlya, we keep long underwear close by in August.

Just because you grow up here doesn't mean you can't underestimate how fershlugginer cold it gets on the metal benches of the 1-3-8.

The evening started with a moment of silence for the 49er who collapsed and died after the exhibition game this weekend. My dad said he heard Rick Barry interview Bill Walsh today about the tragedy; Walsh said the way football players are so big these days, it's no wonder. I'm not sure what to make of that -- wouldn't that lead to a noticeable jump in heart attacks among football players in recent years as the 300-pounder became commonplace? I haven't noticed any rash of player collapses. That Minnesota guy...anyone else?

The evening ended with us on the Muni platform outside the stadium watching the cops and paramedics clear out a train car and give a prone man emergency treatment. He collapsed from a heart attack, came the whisper through the crowd. We glanced in as we shuffled past the car, but all we could see were SFFD paramedics doing hand compression against a thick hairy chest. My dad, a doctor, said that chest compression in the field isn't a good sign.

The trains were backed up and not going anywhere, for obvious reasons. A man's life hung in the balance. To our right a middle-aged guy with two kids in tow approached a Muni worker in a day-glo vest and asked what was happening. Once informed of the situation, the dad asked, "Well, how long do you think it's going to take?"

If he didn't have two kids with him I would have stepped up and said, "Sorry for the inconvenience you're experiencing. Let me run the numbers on my handy, pocket-sized emergency-care time estimator, sir. Just one moment. You fucking shitheel."

I held my tongue, which in my old age I'm starting to realize helps in certain situations.

I did not hold back, however, when Felipe came to fetch young Noah in the top of the ninth as if he had stayed out too late and his supper was getting cold. No if's and's or but's, young man! You are not going to finish this game and let your post-game spread get cold!

I booed Felipe, I must admit -- I thought Lowry could get one more batter worth of slack, even though he had thrown 128 pitches. But I might have done the same thing in Felipe's orthotic slippers; in fact, when the inning started and I glanced at the pitch count -- 110, I believe -- I said to my dad, I'll betcha he gets pulled if one guy gets on.

Moisey hit one to Boise, but the coolest AB of the game was Lowry's in the sixth. He worked Jon Lieber to two strikes before punching a fairly deep fly ball to center for a sac fly. That at-bat got me thinking: Lowry's a very good hitter and has been super-stingy with the runs this month...

Runs Lowry has driven in: 2
Runs Lowry has allowed: 2

For the record, here's Lowry in August so far:

31.1 IP / 17 H / 2 ER / 8 BB / 27 K / 0.57 ERA

9 ABs / 3 H / 1 2B / 2 SAC / 1 SF / 2 RBI

He has allowed 1 extra-base hit, Jason Michaels' double tonight, this month. He has one more start, Sunday against the Mets if my handy, pocket-sized Giants schedule estimator is accurate. Let's see if he not only can nail down NL Pitcher of the Month but end August with more RBIs and extra-base hits than his opponents.



The Lindenator!® 

His line from the Cincy series:

17 ABs / 10 H / 2 2Bs / 1 HR / 2 RBI / 1 BB / 3 K

Get your T-shirts hastily printed and your wagons prematurely banded. Let's not wait to give Todd at least one big goofy shout-out, in case he leaves the Great American LindenDome® and promptly sinks back into obscurity and confused mouth-breathing.

If he goes on to stardom, remember that The Lindenator® may not be reproduced, reassembled, reheated, retransmitted or otherwise mentioned without expression written permission of El Lefty Malo LLC.



The Optimist Club, Local #25 of Atherton, Calif. 

There's been recent chatter hither and yon about the makeup of the 2006 Giants. With trades possible until Aug. 31 and a winter of tumult no doubt ahead, any roster construction this far in advance requires much speculation.

Which we're all happy to do, of course. But our speculation goes only as far as our assumptions, which need be spelled out. Here are mine (position players only). Caveat: these are not necessarily my wishes; just my best guesses what will transpire between now and April 1:

- The Giants will pick up the option of Randy Winn.
- Moises Alou and Ray Durham will exercise their player options.
- J.T. Snow will not be resigned.
- Sabean will manage to dump Alfonzo but not Durham.
- Linden and Ellison become the backup outfielders.
- Pedro Feliz will become the starting third baseman.

There's one assumption I'm seeing in everyone's '06 starting lineup that I find hasty:

4) Barry Bonds LF

Barry now tells us on his Web site that he may come back in September and "definitely" will be in the 2006 lineup.

Sure, Barry, but how often? Anyone willing to bet money on anything north of 120 games played? Remember, he won't have certain, ahem, supplements to help him recover as quickly from the daily grind. You, sir, with the plaid blazer -- you'd like to place a bet? While you're at it, how about 500 shares in my brother's dot-com company -- a can't miss proposition.

Let's be extremely charitable and say Barry starts 120 games. That's still a quarter of the season sans BLB. (And in those 120 games that Barry plays, how excruciating will his defense be?)

In other words, the Giants must be good enough to win regularly without him if they want to sniff the playoffs. For that reason, I'm going to sketch two Bonds-less lineups we might see next year:

vs LHP

Winn CF
Vizquel SS
Niekro 1B
Alou LF
Durham 2B
Feliz 3B
Ellison RF
Matheny C

vs RHP

Vizquel SS
Winn CF
Niekro 1B
Alou LF
Durham 2B
Feliz 3B
Linden RF
Matheny C

There are some obvious holes:

1) Unless Niekro makes a huge leap forward from his ghastly .205./244./331 line against righties (in 127 ABs), the Giants will need a left handed power-hitting first baseman to platoon. The Phils want to trade Jim Thome, but the Giants a) can't afford him and b) aren't stupid enough to take a chance with Thome's bad back. (Right?)

Chad Tracy could be the answer, but unfortunately the corresponding question is, "Who would the D-Backs never trade to a division rival?" Mike Lamb of Houston is having a worse year than J.T. Snow, which isn't easy to do. Lyle Overbay will be traded to make way for Prince Fielder, but at what cost? Plus, Overbay could be the next J.T. Snow, with SBC-induced warning-track power. What about Mark Sweeney? Hee Seop Choi? Why not take a flyer on Roberto Petagine?

2) A Linden/Ellison platoon in RF is the best option, especially if the Giants can get a big bat at first base. If Linden wins the position outright by hitting for power and playing decent defense, all the better. If Linden flails, and Bonds isn't a factor, this year's power gap would continue.

3) Durham's health is becoming a comedy routine: if this is Thursday, ladies and germs, I must have leg cramps! But when he's in there, Ray-Ray's still an offensive force. He's also going to exercise his $7 million player option next year, no fool he. With the spectre of $7 million worth of leg cramps looming, I can't imagine anyone trading for him except a rich AL team that can make him a part-time DH. Odds are he's a Giant next year, batting in an RBI spot. (Another reason the Giants are better to dump Fonzie than Durham -- they have an able replacement at 3B in Feliz; they have no one at second.)

4) The Giants are one nasty foul tip away from the Yamid Haad Era. They need a real backup catcher, preferably one who hits left-handed with a smidge of pop in his bat (Gregg Zaun, Javier Valentin, Robert Fick).

The takeaway from this Bonds-less exercise: It would behoove the Giants to assume Barry won't be around that often and to get a LH power bat or two. Ah, but the Barry Conundrum has one more wrinkle. He earns $18 mil next year and limits the Giants spending in other places. Here's the salary outlook for position players:

Bonds 18
Winn 5 (team opt.)
Alou 5 (player opt.)
Ellison min
Linden min

Niekro min
Durham 7 (player opt.)
Vizquel 4
Feliz 4.1 (incl. incentives)
bench guy
bench guy

Matheny 3.25
Haad min

That's about $48 M. Add to that at least $25 M for pitchers (assuming an unlikely rotation of Schmidt, Lowry, Hennessey, Correia and Cain), and a few mil more for the bench, and we're up to roughly $80 M. That's also assuming the Giants dump Alfonzo without having to eat any of next year's $8 M salary. Sabean has said he wants another veteran starting pitcher: unless he works a scrap-heap miracle, we're talking at least $3-5 million a year.

So how much more will they spend on a big first-base bat? If the answer from P-Mag's limited partners is "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!", the Giants will either have to

a) pray to St. Stan of Conteville that Bonds (not to mention Alou and Durham) can play a semblance of a schedule
b) hope the Giants young pitchers all find inner peace and a wicked slider and carry the team on a wave of shutouts
c) trade for someone cheap, like Choi, and hope he finally fulfills his potential or
d) trade Barry and spend the $18 M on someone, or ones, younger than 40 with a couple good knees remaining.

If you're praying for a), brothers and sisters, amen and good luck.



Have You Seen Junior's Grades? 

Last night, the remaining Jewish settlers left the Gaza strip peacefully, the Bush Administration promised it would no longer inject religious dogma and corporate spin into scientific research, Vladimir Putin got his nipples pierced, and Pedro Feliz walked three times in one game. Somewhere, Larry "Left Behind" Krueger weeps and falls to his knees.

Less miraculous but more weighted with significance, if, like me, you're straining to hear faint cries from deep within the concrete rubble of '05, is the performance last night of Kevin Correia.

His was an ugly pitching line:

5.0 IP / 6 H / 3 ER / 3 HR / 4 BB / 5 K

All in the span of 109 pitches.

But in the development curve of a young pitching dude, his outing could be more bodaciously awesome than a killer early-morning set at Huntington or a complete game shutout at Mays Field. Conditions were hot and humid, he was facing the league's top home-run team, balls were flying out of Great American Ball Yard, and he didn't have his best stuff. Could've been a disaster. Could've been the most indecent thing Cincinnati has seen in years.

But Correia only surrended three solo shots, then showed just like in his last start in Atlanta that he doesn't melt under heat of his own making.

Last night in the fifth, he walked the bases loaded to bring up Austin Kearns with two out. Kearns previously had hit one about 650 feet.

It was a battle. The bat kept slipping out of Kearns' hands into the stands, Correia's pitch count shot past the century mark, and Kearns managed to foul off several good 3-2 pitches. Instead of giving in, instead of giving up and walking him, Correia threw several excellent fastballs until Kearns popped up.

A great at-bat on both sides, but it should be a real confidence booster for Correia. Give due praise to Felipe for letting him finish the inning after walking the bases loaded. That's exactly what these final weeks of the season are for.

* More glimmers of hope from Todd Linden. He homered, always a good thing. But he also showed his speed as a weapon. His infield chop in the fifth drove in Feliz from second because Ryan Freel tried to make an all-or-nothing play, and the ball rolled under his glove. With a slower runner than Linden, perhaps Freel would have taken more time. Speed puts pressure on the defense. Linden's speed-power combo is tantalizing; we can only hope the Giants continue to play him regularly and let him get more comfortable so he can contribute in '06.



Vaya Con Dios, Woodmeister 

Stricken with toe gout is not the way most Giants fans will remember Kirk Rueter, at least not fans who have a warm organ nestled deep among their otherwise cold sabermetric bones. He was lucky, he was crafty, he was funny-looking, he invited all the guys to his big-ass backyard Shed in the St. Louis suburbs and even made hats with "Woody's Shed" on them (how cool is that?).

He thrived at times with a great sinker, but he never really recovered after umpires stopped calling the "Atlanta" strike -- the pitch three inches off the outside corner. When Sandy Alderson started enforcing the real strike zone, it was the beginning of the end for Woody.

This was his final linescore as a Giant, Jul 29 v. MIL:

4.2 IP / 7 H / 5 R / 5 ER / 1 HR / 2 BB / 1 K

But I prefer to remember this one, Sept. 30 vs FLA, game 1 of NLDS:

7 IP / 4 H / 1 R / 1 ER / 3 BB / 5 K

Word comes from the wires that Sabean thought he could trade Rueter this weekend, but nothing happened and now he's designated for assignment. The Giants have 10 days to trade him, at which point he'll be a free man.

This brings up a serious question about Sabean's ability to get any value at all for the Giants veterans. Nothing happened at the July 31 deadline except for the Winn trade. Now we're in August, and some of these guys -- Snow, Alfonzo, Tomko, Rueter, etc -- must have some kind of value to someone. Tomko was apparently claimed off waivers by the Rangers, but the teams couldn't come to terms on a deal.

What's the hang-up, Sabes? The Rangers were offering two boxes of Kleenex, and you wanted three? Did the Rangers refuse to throw in a can of shaving cream for Mike Matheny's glove?

Get something, anything.

And dammit, play Lance Niekro everyday. Let's see if he can hit the Becketts, Burnetts and Smoltzes of the world. Giving J.T. Snow starts at first base from this point on is foolish.

I've said before that if Sabean can start the rebuilding process and give us a sense that things are moving in the right direction, I'll forgive the post-2002 blunders. But the inability so far to dump some contracts and either get decent prospects in return or ease the '06 payroll is an ominous sign that this franchise is heading into dark corners with strange smells and small scuttling things just out of your field of vision.

But let's remember happier times: what's your favorite Woody performance?



Get Behind Me Satan 

Not long after the insipid Larry Krueger was revealed by Cardinal Alou to be a "messenger of Satan" not worthy of a handshake, KNBR has decided to get right with God and exorcise the One Who Carries The Diabolical Word near the stroke of midnight.

The Sports Leader also fired its program director and the producer of its morning show, which parodied Alou's Satan comment yesterday by juxtaposing it with a sound bite from South Park.

Dude. Sweet. Next week, Felipe blames Canada.

Heads were destined to roll once the Giants threw a few high hard ones. Felipe said he wouldn't do his KNBR pregame show; Brian Sabean threatened similar action. It was cold shoulder central, and KNBR probably had no choice.

Now that everyone has contributed a juicy morsel to this potluck of idiocy, the Giants front office has restored at least a modicum of sanity by releasing Alex Sanchez. (Messenger of Satan indeed -- Sanchez's game showed no inkling of intelligent design.)

Krueger will not be missed. His greatest innovation was to tell his listeners to "bang out the number" when calling into his talk show. Nyuk nyuk. Just another bloviating mouth-breather who thought that being an opinionated sports guy was as macho as actually playing sports.

Whether calling the Giants' Caribbean hitters "brain-dead" is a firing offense, I leave for others to decide. I'm still not sure his comments equal racism, per se, but since my previous post, I've come to realize that's splitting hairs. Place doesn't always equal race, but in the baseball world, "Caribbean" means "dark-skinned and Spanish-speaking."

As I mentioned before, Krueger's slur revealed the flip side of an age-old baseball stereotype -- because "you don't walk off the island," Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, etc., will swing at anything. Baseball is rife with stereotypes: kooky southpaws, for example. They're often racially tinged. How often have you heard a small white guy described as "scrappy" and "hard-nosed" and a similar black player as "blessed with ability"?

During last weekend's Hall of Fame festivities, Joe Morgan, a small, scrappy black Hall of Famer who's so blinded by preconceptions he refuses to read Moneyball, said the steroid era has de-emphasized speed and base-stealing so much that African-Americans are no longer as heavily recruited.

Huh? Is he saying black people aren't good home run hitters? Or whites and Latinos aren't fast? Or that fast black players aren't smart enough to develop into home run hitters?

Whatever he's implying, it seems based on racial stereotypes with little grounding in reality. Morgan may not be explicitly insulting, as Krueger's comments were, but he's no more correct.



'Mando Bizarro 

Will Carroll has a note on Armando Benitez in today's Under the Knife column that's notable not just for its kind words for the S.F. med staff -- in Carroll's estimation, Benitez's recovery is unprecedented -- but for the sports world's first-ever reference to an esoteric Yugoslavian landmark.

As always, I only excerpt enough to tantalize you into subscribing to Baseball Prospectus:

It’s not water to wine or Medjugorje, but the comeback of Armando Benitez might rank right up there with modern baseball miracles. Benitez tore his hamstring back in late April and appears ready to be activated within the next week. The Giants closer was on a surgeon’s table just three months ago, having two of the three muscles of his hamstring screwed back into the bone, and is now ready to take back his role of closer. As impressive as the return of Ken Griffey has been from similar surgery, seeing it happen within the season is even more astounding. Benitez is the first pitcher known to have this type of surgery so there’s nothing to judge this by. Give a ton of credit to Dr. Michael Dillingham and the Giants medical staff, as well as to Benitez himself.

Heartening news, especially if you forget that Benitez's terrible April had nothing to do with his injury, as far as we know. Let's hope April '05 was just a statistical blip and that we see a return to peak form in 2006.

Lingering naively on the sunny side of the street for a moment more: it seems that LaTroy Hawkins is rounding into his Minnesota form, when he was one of the game's dominant set-up guys. His immediate post-trade troubles were perhaps caused by an elbow flare-up that landed him on the DL. Since then, throw out the ugly late-July series in Chi-Town and Hawkins is looking nearly unhittable.

Plus, he read The Tipping Point and Kite Runner while on the DL: anytime a ballplayer actually admits to reading more than his bank statement, it's a plus. (Yeah, but does he know where Medjugorje is?)

I was an advocate of making Tyler Walker the closer in May. Overall he's been too erratic, but it was worth the experiment. With Benitez back, Walker can slot back to middle relief and refine his game under less of a spotlight. He's a good arm to have in the bullpen and now has some valuable experience under pressure.

With those three, plus Scott Eyre, whom the Giants seem intent on re-signing, and some Liebensraum on Das Pitchingschtaff for Die Munter-Taschner axis of young cheap arms, the Giants bullpen could be a real strength in '06. It better be, 'cause it's going to cost around $15 million. That's assuming Eyre gets at least a couple mil for his sterling work this year. (Knock on wood.)



On-Fire Starters 

Great series this weekend. Friday night I sat high above home plate with steak-frites and a couple martinis in my belly (thanks again, A-B); Saturday I missed all but the post-game radio show but savored every last second of audio highlight. Sunday, what fun to watch Brian "Make-a-Wish Foundation" Cooper match zeroes with El Hombre Cohete until a rare Eyre meltdown spoiled the party.

Cue the Meatloaf. (Or should I say 'Cue the Meatloaf?)

Fun stat of the weekend:

Giants starters
22 IP / 8 H / 1 ER / 8 BB / 16 K

Astros starters
21 IP / 22 H / 6 ER / 4 BB / 16 K



It's Cream of Wheat Weather, I Repeat 

For those who haven't heard, KNBR talk-show host Larry Krueger (motto: "Often wrong, seldom in doubt") went off on the Giants Wednesday night after two lackluster losses against the Rockies. He said Felipe Alou's brains had turned to Cream of Wheat, and he said the roster was full of "brain-dead Caribbean hitters" who hack at slop. He apparently had words for Giants' management, too, although I haven't seen any transcript.

Felipe is hopping mad, as are some of the Giants' Caribbean hitters whose brains are apparently alive enough to know an insult when it hits their auditory nerves.

Racism is one of the charges being leveled at Kreuger, although is calling someone from the Caribbean "brain-dead" an act of racism? Is calling someone from the United States "a moron" racism? It's certainly ignorant.

However, Krueger's only repeating in a much nastier way the old Dominican truism that "you don't walk off the island." Meaning, you swing the bat and hit el jonron. Scouts aren't impressed by a poor kid on a dirt field who sports a discerning eye at the plate. That's the stereotype, at least.

What's going to be lost in all this brouhaha over Krueger's brain-dead comments (listen to the guy a few nights, and you realize that he's certainly no brainier than your average jock) is the sliver of truth: the Giants don't particularly emphasize patience at the plate. It's not just the Hispanophone islanders Pedro Feliz and Deivi Cruz; non-Caribbeans Jason Ellison and Lance Niekro and Marquis Grissom and Mike Matheny are just as hacktastic. Omar Vizquel and Edgardo Alfonzo, two gentlemen who hail from Carib shores, are fairly discerning, Alfonzo particularly so. Moises Alou has come to Our Fair City and become Nuestro Señor de la Paciencia.

Sure, watching Feliz and Cruz set the trade winds in motion with their free-swinging ways can drive anyone to make rash on-air comments -- I just wish Krueger had been smart enough to include in his rant the entire Giants organization's failure to preach plate discipline. Perhaps he did. If anyone finds the full transcript, let's have at it.

As for his charge that Alou's head was full of Cream of Wheat, well, I grew up eating Cream of Wheat, and let me tell you something, it tastes a lot better than Felipe Alou's brains.

Calling a manager mush-brained is any sportsgeek's inalienable right. It's not nice, but it comes with the territory. The question that hasn't directly been raised, however, is whether Krueger was implying anything else.

To wit: the Cream of Wheat box features a black chef holding a steaming bowl, just one in a long line of pre-enlightenment images of happy blacks dishing up comfort food for white people. What Krueger meant by linking Felipe to Cream of Wheat is between Larry and his 50,000-watt God.

Interesting how the Giants have won three straight games since Krueger's on-air comments, and Alou isn't showing one shred of forgiveness. Sure, Krueger was insulting, stupid, and uncalled for, but I can't help but think Felipe's also pulling a motivational fast one. Krueger has lit a small fire under a few butts in the clubhouse; Alou's doing his best to fan the flames.



Wrap Your Heel in Bones of Steel 

More communication breakdown, another theme of this Giant frustration of a season: Brett Tomko is wearing an orthopedic boot on his right foot to protect a bruise he sustained two weeks ago.

Apparently the injury keeps him from running full-speed, and it became a game-deciding issue the other night when he couldn't get to first base in time and the batter reached on an infield hit.

Did Giants brass know? If not, why not? If so, why didn't Tomko skip a turn in the rotation to heal the bruise? (To make sure he was viable trade bait before the deadline, perhaps?)

Ultimately it has little import for this season. Whether Tomko or Rueter or Fassero started Tuesday night against the Rockies doesn't matter. But it got me thinking about the deeper symbolic Meaning of Tomko, something I've done far too much of this year.

Talented pitcher blessed with good health and great arm comes to Giants, shows flashes of brilliance, but in the end drives fans crazy with inability to put it all together. Where have we heard that one before?

There are differences in each case, of course, but the larger point is that Tomko is wearing out his welcome just as Estes and Hernandez did. When Tomko is not resigned this winter, no one in S.F. will be sad to see him go. The question is, will he harness his talent elsewhere, a la Livan, or will he continue his bouncy trajectory from city to city, bumping along with a 4.75 ERA and 4 measly K's per 9 innings pitched despite a 95 mile-an-hour fastball?



A Good Sign 

Kevin Correia will take Rueter's place in the rotation tomorrow, and likely for the rest of the year:

"We're going to give the kids the ball," said [Felipe] Alou, of a rotation featuring Noah Lowry, Brad Hennessey and Correia, as well as veterans Jason Schmidt and Brett Tomko. "We're going to go that way the rest of the season. We're 15 games below .500, and we gotta give the kids a better look and opportunities, play them more."

As for why these revelations are taking place the first week of August instead of the last week of July...sigh.

On second thought, maybe the kids aren't alright: Yamid Haad just allowed a man to reach base on catcher's interference, leading to a two-out run against Tyler Walker. This is the second straight game a Haad blunder has cost the Giants a key run. And two innings ago, Jason Ellison was inserted to pinch-run with one out, representing the lead run. He was caught leaning and nearly got picked off by B.K. Kim, a right-handed pitcher. Then on the next play, he did get picked off. He must be taking baserunning lessons from Moises Alou.


Wow, suddenly the Giants are saying all the right things:

A notorious free swinger, Feliz said he has been making more of an attempt to be patient. "The more aggressive you are on bad pitches, the worse off you are," said Feliz, who had three RBIs to increase his team-leading total to 66. "Sometimes you can't hold off. You swing on bad pitches when you're being overaggressive."

I think I'll start a sub-blog called "Smart Things the Giants Have Said." It shall be a wee blog.



Loose Grip 

Word from KNBR is that Marquis Grissom has been released, though I don't see it anywhere online yet. His totals with the Giants:

BA .281
OBP .315
SLG .441
OPS .755
64 BB
183 K

Those numbers were dragged down by this year's injury-marred performance. Let's hope Grip is remembered for '03 and '04, when he gave the Giants two solid, 20-homer years (and lots of first-pitch GIDPs) for the low, low price of about $4 million. Johnny Damon, Jim Edmonds, or Carlos Beltran in center field would have been better, sure, and his days as a premium defender were behind him, but on the whole Grip was an admirable Giant. Plus, he was named after a car. So long. It's been grand, Marquis.


Down The Stretch 

Barring post-deadline trades or serious injury, what we see of the Giants' 25-man roster is likely what we get for the last two months.

(By the way, according to BP's VORP ratings, Randy Winn was the 46th best ML OF in '03 and was as good a hitter as Johnny Damon; he was 28th best in '04 and better than Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. This does not include fielding, I know.)

So what do we have? To no one's surprise, not Barry. Bonds isn't likely to come back this year. Like, duh. Interesting timing, though. I wonder if the Giants would have considered themselves buyers at the deadline if Barry had made his status known last week.

I'm disappointed that not a single one from the Axis of Rueter-Tomko-Alfonzo-Durham-Feliz wasn't traded. Then again, practically no one from any of the bottom feeders was traded in the past week, so how much is Sabean's fault is hard to say.

The lack of roster turnover at the deadline simply pushed a lot of questions regarding the Giants' future into the final stretch of the season. Other than the seagulls circling the half-empty bleachers strewn with cold garlic fries, what should we keep our eyes on in August and September?

1) Signs of Brian Sabean's deteriorating mental health. He assured us he was not an idiot in late 1996, and we believed him. But he hasn't denied it recently, and his waffling over the Giants identity -- rebuild project or pennant contender? -- is an ominous sign.

Watch for: photos of Sabean and Courtney Love partying at night clubs together; reports of Sabean trying to call the Mars Rovers on his cell phone.

2) Lance Niekro improvement. He should get more and more starts against right handed pitching. If he doesn't, see #1. If he does, will he show more selectiveness at the plate? His walk rate went up slightly in July. Let's see if he can show a better eye and keep hitting the ball with power.

Watch for: Lance laying off the low inside sinker.

3) Lowry's workload. As Will Carroll notes in today's Baseball Prospectus, Lowry is one of several young pitchers heading for 200+ innings for the first time. He's struggled with control and predictability this year. Batters seem to be sitting on the changeup and hitting it larga distancia. Can Lowry work on his control and his stuff without running out of gas?

Watch for: More fastballs inside to keep hitters from looking changeup all the time.

4) Barry Bonds retirement. OK, I don't expect him to quit anytime soon. He's got $18 million coming to him next year, after all. But I want to see progress toward a full recovery; I want to see him jogging, hitting in the cage, and doing other light baseball duties in a few months. I'm starting to see people sketch 2006 lineups with Bonds in the middle. Don't count on it just yet. The Giants shouldn't, either.

Watch for: More setbacks or surgery; if the latter, all bets on his '06 return are off.

5) To Schmidt or not to Schmidt? The Giants' ace has looked better of late, even dominant for brief stretches, with the wildness and grueling pitch counts of the first two months of this season starting to fade. His last three starts: 21 IP, 23 Ks, 18 hits, 5 BBs, 1 HR. He's not throwing 95 MPH+, but he's hitting 93 or 94 on occasion, still sports a devastating changeup and is getting swing-throughs with the breaking pitches. Is he worth $10.25 million next year? The next two months aren't likely to provide certainty. When the Giants thought Robb Nen would be back in '04, they were caught without a good plan B. Will they make the same mistake by assuming that Schmidt will be ace-like in '06?

Watch for: Schmidt's ability to spot the fastball where he wants, when he wants.

6) Pitching staff consistency. I've said this before, but why not again: The handling of the pitching staff this year has been maddening. Just leave the kids in there and let them pitch, fercrissakes. Too many promising young pitchers have left the organization in recent years. Time to nurture them, no matter what the short-term pain. This also means leaving Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez on the farm the rest of the year. No need to rush them. Rags, Felipe, Sabes: we're watching you on this.

Watch for: Brad Hennessey's demotion. If the Giants don't let him finish the year pitching every fifth day for the big club, I'm going to tie Lou Seal to the portwalk, smear his fur with cold garlic fries, and let the seagulls have at him.


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