Chemistry Teacher 

Anyone who cites clubhouse chemistry as a factor on a winning team should be slapped upside the head with a game program from the era of the early-1970s Oakland A's or the late-1970s New York Yankees. Both won a lot of World Series and punched each other several times in les moustaches. Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink on both squads. Coincidence?

Giants followers know that throughout the team's run of success since 1997, team chemistry has been, shall we say, Barry Barry bad. It's not all Bonds's fault: it doesn't help when your second biggest star is a sullen redneck who avoids his teammates but is always ready with a quip for the press.

Who cares if they like each other? Just win, baby, someone once said. (Please don't make me look for his picture. Ick.)

This year, the Giants clubhouse is infected with the buddy bug. Even cranky Barry admitted that he likes his teammates -- in no small part because Steve Finley came out early in spring training and told everyone that Game of Shadows was full of stilted prose and embarrassing mixed metaphors. "As a Shakespearean post-doc, I know my tragic figures and let me tell you, Barry Bonds is no Othello," Finley told Henry "The Fifth" Schulman.

To cement the jollity, Mark Sweeney organized the spring-training R&R known as "Giants Idol," made Bonds dress up in extra-large coconuts and do a couple pole dances. It was not only a bonding moment, it was hot. And Barry was happy. (Oops, those weren't coconuts, those were his pectoral muscles.)

Don't take my word for it -- listen to the man himself. He's at peace.

Unfortunately, the Giants are wallowing around .500, which is where the chemistry thing comes in. With the Giants Idol contest, Sweeney instantly became a team leader, a self-anointed release valve for a clubhouse that many years running has been politely described as "professional" or "veteran," which can mean anything from uptight to boring to tense, but definitely not fun.

So here comes Sweeney, a guy who's thrilled to make a mil a year, who'll play first and left field but is also happy pinch-hitting, and he snaps a wet verbal towel against the team's bare dragging asses after two limp losses in Florida:

"The intensity has not been there," Sweeney said. "We're gotten good pitching outings both times (here), but we haven't helped them out. You've got to give the other team credit, too, but you can deal with it if you have intensity, and right now we don't.

"We're not coming out like we did in Houston," Sweeney said, referring to a three-game sweep on the last trip in which the Giants outscored the Astros 34-5. "Look at Houston and look at here. It's totally different. Those things happen, but we can't show up and expect we'll be able to win like that.

"I'm not calling anyone out here, but I think as a whole, we're not playing the game hard enough every single night. That's got to happen on a consistent basis if you want to win every night."

So the day after he calls his teammates out -- don't be fooled by his veteran rhetoric -- he rip-starts the offense with a leadoff triple, scores the game's first run, gets another key base hit and the Giants win 6-1.

I'm not saying chemistry is important, but it never hurts to have a guy on the team who makes everyone else's focus a little sharper. Because Felipe isn't going to be making any storm-the-hill-you-dirty-dogs! speeches any time soon.


Blog note: Martin the OGC muses at length about the Giants' strategy in the upcoming draft. Sounds like the crop is weighted toward pitchers. Perhaps this plays to the Giants' advantage, seeing how they seem to scout pitchers better than position players.

Small print update: Now reading John Updike's Rabbit, Run in what will no doubt be a year-long journey through the entire Rabbit cycle. Better late than never. It's much more experimental than I expected -- the jazz/beat inflections, the obvious straining toward a poetic tint in the prose. Not to mention the sex, the tawdriness, the loucheness that bumps up against the small-town Potemkin heroism: High school hoops star, married with kid and over the hill at 25, fucks fat whore after bad Chinese dinner and professes to fall in love. At points it feels too self-conscious -- young brash writer thrusting a chin out to say, Great American novel, here I come -- but people said that about James Joyce, too.



Notes from a Long Weekend 

* The best moment of the weekend came in the ninth inning of the Giants victory Saturday. Armando Benitez did something I've never seen him do in a Giants uniform: throw splitters and sliders that actually splitted and slud. He gave up a single to a tenacious Choo ("What do you think 'Choo' is short for?" asked the fiancee as she meandered over), but overall he looked like pre-2005 Armando.

The fiancee also pointed out that it was funny to talk about a pitcher's "stuff." "Why not his 'things'?" she pondered.

I sensed a subtle agenda of subversion and mockery, so I ignored her.

* Jonathan Sanchez, welcome to the bigs. I look forward to many jokes about your dirty stuff.

* Jamey Wright, you are forgiven for throwing eight straight meatballs in the fourth inning Sunday. That's two bad outings in 10 starts. Throw out Sunday's uglyfest and a similar inning on May 1 against the Podrays, and his ERA would be in the mid-2's. Thirteen earned runs in two innings, 20 ERs in the other 65. He's pitching like a mid-rotation starter, which is only fair since the Giants' #2 guy is pitching like a #5 starter. Or maybe a #6 starter.

* Barry's 715th home run Sunday came off a belt-high fastball sorta kinda on the outside corner, but not on the black. A "cookie," as Felipe likes to say. The feel-good line goes something like, "Now the pressure is off and Barry can get back to business." I still see him as extremely pitchable. I hope I'll soon be proven wrong, but please come back soon, Moises.

* In one week Travis Ishikawa has gone 5-for-10 with four extra base hits -- love that oppo-field power stroke, Trav! Now if he can only hit this well in double-A ball...kidding aside, the Giants will have to swallow hard to send him down and reinstate Lance Niekro, but I say do it. Give Lance one last run at establishing some consistency. As last night's snoozer in Florida shows, the Giants need all the help against lefties they can rustle up. (Please come back soon, Moises.) With Ishi waiting in the wings, perhaps Niekro will sense the fuego under his culo.

* We might as well call Jason Ellison "Ralph," because this season he's been the Invisible Man. I accurately predicted his first start of the year a couple weeks ago, and with all the talk recently of Finley and Winn needing a breather, it seemed Jason's second start would come yesterday. The planets were converging: lefty on the mound, spacious outfield to patrol, Winn sucking big-time against lefties, and Finley in an ugly slump that's dropped his OPS nearly 200 points in three weeks from a season high of .950 on May 11. One of the two regulars seemed in line to get a rest, no?

No. Apparently Felipe is determined to hold The Pride of Quincy to two at-bats per week.

* Catching up on my reading: here's a fun piece about clubhouse politics, with a lot of ink devoted to the Giants' Mike Murphy.

"The only guy I was a little careful about where I put him was Matt Williams," Murphy says. "I love Matty, but he would get so p——- off and throw stuff after losses. I didn't want anyone to get hurt."



Sanchez So Soon? 

The news is out: the Giants are calling up their latest phenom, El Lefty Malito Jonathan Sanchez, who has never pitched higher than Double-A ball. For those who aren't familiar, he's 23 years old, from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and this is only his third year in the pros.

He caught the Giants' attention last year in low-A Augusta with 166 Ks and only 39 BBs in 125.2 IP as a starter. Sensing he might help the big-league bullpen, the Giants moved him to Double-A this year and converted him to relief. He's been nearly unhittable.

The last time the Giants brought up a young heralded hurler, it was Merkin Valdez, and he didn't fare well. Two games out of the bullpen, and Merkin was overmatched. Since then, he's bounced from starting to relieving and hasn't really found the groove he was in before his call-up. He wowed everyone in spring training, and there was buzz about him making the opening day roster. He didn't, and instead he is struggling as the closer in AAA Fresno.

Are the Giants repeating the same mistake? Is Sanchez being rushed? If they truly need a lefty in the pen, Jack Taschner seems to have fixed the problems that plagued him at the start of the year with the big club. He's been in Fresno since his April demotion and still giving up too many hits, but he's cut down on the walks and bumped up the Ks.

Is a raw 23-year-old who has barely cracked Double-A really a better choice than a 28-year-old who's had major-league success except for one rough patch? Taschner may not be The Future, but he's nowhere near road kill. Perhaps he's got a nagging injury that prevents him from being called up right now.

My guess: The Giants give Sanchez a chance to acclimate; if he pulls a Merkin and shows right away he's not ready, he goes to Fresno and Taschner comes up.

Are the Giants calling up Sanchez too soon? Are they mishandling him by yanking him back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen? Discuss.


More small print updates:

Ishikawa is also back up. I've added Sour Grapes (a Giants-related blog) and Cardinal Diaspora to my blog list.



Stop! Hammer Time 

Dreadful loss yesterday. Perhaps the worst of the year, only two games after the Giants notched their most satisfying win of the year. I was hoping for two of three from the mighty Cards, but alas.

Yesterday's carnage has at least one silver lining: the demotion of Scott "I Throw Sinker; It Not Work" Munter all the way down to Double-A ball. Did you know that he's made 19 appearances this year, and in only one has he not allowed a baserunner? And that was because he faced one batter, induced a hard-hit grounder right at an infielder, and escaped with a double play.

Do you know what opponents' on-base percentage is against Munter?

Whatever you're guessing, it's wrong. Higher.



I wondered why the demotion to Double-A. Three possible reasons: 1) Fresno and the Pacific Coast League is a terrible place for a pitcher to get his mind and arm straightened out. 2) Fresno doesn't have any room on its roster. 3) His sinker guru, Bob Stanley, is the pitching coach.

The third seems the best, especially if you hope the Giants want to do their darndest to get Munter's ship righted, and not just stash his warm body somewhere. A hard 92-mph sinker is no trifle. If Munter can throw it for strikes and learn another pitch or two -- a cutter, a slider, a changeup -- he'll still be useful.

Dan Ortmeier was also sent down, just one level to Fresno, where he'll continue to audition for a big-league roster spot in '07. He's looked overmatched in his brief cuppa, which may or may not be an indication of his future. My gut? He won't be ready til '08, at least. Why? I have no idea.

No word yet on who'll be called up. Could be Todd Linden, could be Double-A lefty Jonathan Sanchez (who would require clearing a 40-man roster spot). The moves aren't necessary until Friday evening, so I won't be surprised if Brian Sabean is working the phones trying to swing a deal for, say, a legitimate first-base power threat. How about Eduardo Perez? Craig Wilson?

At least one Giant fan isn't moping around every time the team backslides. It's Hammer, y'all (no, not that Hammer -- and not that one, either), blogging about his boy Barry Bonds for MLB.com: "It's so poetic that he would hit number 714 in the ball park and city that I grew up in."

For counsel of the soul, you could do worse than listen to the Hammer Pants, folks, as we watch Barry in his twilight. You might think you'll sing "U Can't Touch This" forever, but sooner or later everybody has got to pray just to make it today.



Mistakes I've Made 

Watching last night's video highlights, I'm struck once again by the capriciousness of a pitcher's mistakes. Take last night's starters as examples:

Matt Morris has to throw a 2-0 fastball to Albert Pujols in the first inning. Gulp. Matheny sets a target down and away -- it must be a perfect pitch. It is not, the ball drifts back over the middle of the plate and Pujols gives the Cards a 3-0 lead. Granted, even if the pitch were perfect, Pujols might well have lined it up the right-center field gap for a two-run double. He's just too good.

Later, Pujols and Rolen hit balls that travel much farther than Pujols' first-inning home run, but Finley tracks them down in deepest center. Defensive skill = a pitcher's good fortune. Matty Mo easily could have surrendered 8 or 9 runs in a smaller park.

In the fifth inning, Morris makes two great pitches on Edmonds and Encarnacion, who squib two infield grounders and reach base each time (error on Vizcaino; nubber under Vizquel's glove). Two key runs score.

Jason Marquis has Randy Winn down two strikes, then tries to throw a curve down and away. The pitch breaks down and in instead, and Winn golfs it into the arcade for a two-run homer. Bad pitch? Yes, in that he missed his target. No, in that it still wasn't close to the strike zone. Winn, like many lefties, likes to golf pitches down and in, but here's where capriciousness comes in: if Marquis had thrown the pitch low but over the plate, Winn likely would have hit a harmless pop-up to right-center field.

Lesson? Strikeouts may be fascist, as Crash Davis once said, but they eliminate capriciousness: No bounces, no wind, no defense, no quirky ballpark configuration.

Other observations:

* Watching Barry Bonds close-up (my seats are just beyond the left-field fence) is painful. The man looks statuesque in left field: I mean his mobility, not his physique. How long can Giant center fielders continue to cover for him? When considering how he doesn't need to hit home runs to help win ball games (see yesterday's post), it's important to remember his defense. How many balls need to fall in, or singles turn to doubles, before his offensive advantages start to erode?

* My first chance to see Brian Wilson pitch. An interesting comparison with Accardo, whom he replaced on the mound. Both throw mid-90s, but Wilson seems more polished at this point: better breaking ball, smoother mechanics, quicker delivery to the plate. Wilson has the fluid, squared-off motion reminiscent of Seaver or Ryan. Accardo has a herky-jerk kick and hand flutter. This difference may not mean anything, but the more extra motion in a delivery, the more chances for the delicate, complex mechanism to go awry, even by the slightest bit.

And if a tiny mechanical glitch can make the difference between a fastball on the outside corner at the knees and one that drifts back over the plate, well, ask Matt Morris how important that is.



The Cardinals' Number 

First of all, I'd like to say Zip-a-dee-do-dah! My oh my, what a wonderful game. In the bottom of the eighth I was jumping up and down in the kitchen with my three Giants hats stacked upon my head, sort of a Dr. Seuss-flavored rally cap ensemble that had my lovely fiancee wondering what the hell she's getting into.

My favorite moment of the game came in the bottom of the third, when Big Barry played small ball to perfection. With Omar on third after an infield single, a daring dash to second after a mini-wild pitch, and a Feliz grounder up the middle, Barry only needed a ground ball out to drive in a run. And he produced one. A home run would have been better, but he's not hitting many these days.

I appreciate him just as much when he does other things to help the Giants win -- getting on base twice a game like clockwork, for instance. Boo all you want, but lots of walks are a good thing.

There's an odd comedic meme I've seen on discussion threads. The formula works by adding two simple, perhaps even simpleton sentences back to back like this: "I like [INSERT PERSON HERE]. He [DOES A CERTAIN THING]." It must have come from some cultural touchstone -- Seinfeld, a movie, a Simpsons episode -- that I've never seen, because everyone seems to know it. With no comedy intended, here's my version:

I like Barry Bonds. He helps the Giants win baseball games.

Please note it's not "he hits lots of home runs," or "he's such an awesome superstar," or "He cooks a mean tuna casserole."

If Barry goes the rest of the season without a home run but gets on base with regularity, and the Giants win, #715 can go pound sod. If he hits 30 more to start sniffing #755 but the Giants fall from contention, I'll find the media circus excruciating (like I don't already?) and agitate for Dan Ortmeier on a semi-regular basis.

Steve Goldman, who blogs about the Yankees with flair, wit, subtlety and other words rarely associated with the Yankees, has a great piece on Bonds-Ruth in yesterday's Baseball Prospectus.

Tonight: The Giants try to make Jason Marquis look not so grand. I bring my glove to the 1-3-8 to do my best Tyler Snyder impression, except for the punk-ass hate. Look closely at that photo I just linked to, by the way -- there's a white-haired guy in a black visor sitting behind Snyder. He's also a Mays Field bleacher regular, part of the notorious "Bunny Ears" crew, I believe.



G's Up, 'Kro's Down 

After a week of waiting, Lance Niekro and his bum shoulder have gone on the disabled list, leaving the Giants with Mark Sweeney as the starting 1B and Kevin Frandsen up from Fresnoville to fill the roster spot.

Given the Giants just won five of six by a collective score of 44-8 on the road against two tough teams, it doesn't seem like Lance will be missed very much. To review his season so far:

Horrific April
Not-so-good May

Before the injury he was "heating up," though his 9-for-25 over seven games included just two extra base hits. I prefer to think of it as a gentle stovetop simmer or the microwave "defrost" setting.

Niekro may still surprise us, but anything the Giants get from him beyond the occasional useful start against a lefty will be gravy.

Short term, barring a trade, the best solution in my book is to play Frandsen at third base and Pedro Feliz at first base against lefties. But from today's press reports, Felipe seems inclined to keep Pedro at third, where undeniably he's playing excellent defense. That means Sweeney starts at 1B full-time, or the Giants continue to throw Jose Vizcaino in the lineup against lefties, where he is likely the worst-hitting 1B ever, unless somehow Neifi Perez or Mario Mendoza have spent time manning the sack.

Perhaps if Moises Alou comes back soon and hits as he was pre-injury, and Barry Bonds returns to his spry 39-year-old form, and Pedro Feliz is hypnotized into thinking he's always in Houston, and the starting rotation continues to average just over a run allowed per game, perhaps Jose Vizcaino would be a right decent option to platoon at first base. And perhaps the New York Times Co. is in negotiations to buy El Lefty Malo Productions LLC for an undisclosed but generous sum of cash and stock.

No doubt the Giants will try to hang tight until Moises returns -- sometime before mid-June, we can only pray -- and let Sweeney play against right-handed starters (.286/.325/.532 vs. RHP this year, .278/.377/.476 the past three years).

But a lineup without Alou, with Vizcaino at first base part-time, with Feliz quickly returning to Felizidades (1-for-12 in Oakland with 4 Ks), and no more visits to Houston this year is whistling past the graveyard.

The three-game set with St. Louis starting tonight should provide a much clearer reminder of how good the Giants have to be to make their last "Win One For Barry" campaign more than a glue-and-baling-wire MacGyver fantasy.

And for God's sake, don't pitch to Pujols.



The Morning After 

Sleeping six hours with a sick bedmate beside is no recipe for sound slumber. Even worse, the monkeys in my baseball mind played tricks with my dreams; yesterday's game with its hullabaloo and near-heartbreak insinuated itself deep into my synapses.

Congrats, Barry Bonds, for hitting That Home Run. Now get The Next One over with so the camera crews can go home -- well, all except the one you've agreed to let follow you around all year.

Nicest moment of the game: Bonds planting a kiss on his teenage son's cheek as he stepped on home plate. How refreshingly un-macho is that? And how many teenage boys would allow their parents to kiss them in public, let alone on national television? Maybe Nikolai is more well-adjusted than we imagine.

The not-nicest moment of the game: Armando Benitez walking in from the bullpen to play chuck-n-duck with the bottom of the A's lineup. I don't fault Alou for replacing Schmidt. I don't fault him for bringing in Benitez. But the man has no off-speed pitch. Gotta get that right, Mando.

He gave up the tying run and I still call it the luckiest performance of the year. He looked good against one batter, Nick Swisher, painting the outside corner with fastballs. Everyone else had good swings against hanging sliders or fastballs they knew were coming. The Giants won the game on pure luck -- a line drive that G_d steered into Pedro Feliz's glove.

Still, the fact Mando was throwing 93-94 MPH according to the Fox radar was encouraging, a step in the right direction from the 88-90 MPH he's been featuring since he came to the Giants. Now, if Benitez can regain his split and slider...if if if.

No wonder I dreamt last night that the Giants traded Matt Morris for Jae Seo and Kaz Matsui. I'm not sure how Sabean pulled that off; Morris went to the Mets, but my dream did not reveal whom the Mets sent to the Dodgers.

Just curious: would you actually make this trade if you could?



Gentlemen, Start Your Ellisons 

Before we get to today's main item, here's something worth about 30 seconds of amusement.

With Bonds slated to DH all three games this weekend, and lefty Brad Halsey pitching Saturday for the A's, could Jason Ellison's first start of the year be upon us?

Ellison has appeared in 34 games with only 15 at-bats, or about two per week. Still, he's managed to look pretty good at the plate the times I've seen him.

Fifth outfielder is the perfect role right now for Ellison, who had a fabulous first month in 2005 but quickly became exposed, especially against right-handed pitching. Better to let him do a few things well, like pinch-run, play a little garbage-time defense, and polish the leather on Barry's recliner.

But two at-bats per week is a little harsh. Even with his post-April nosedive, he managed to hit lefties well (.328/.375/.454). I'd love to see him spot-start every week or two against the Brad Halseys and Shawn Esteses (Estesses? Estessi?) of the league to see what happens.

Other news: famous Little League fraud Danny Almonte, now 19, is getting married to a 30-year-old hair stylist named Rosy Perdomo, who allegedly has known Almonte since he was a "12-year-old" with a moustache and a Pontiac Trans Am.

"He used to always tell me things and I was like, 'You're a minor ... we'd get in trouble,'" Perdomo told the N.Y. Daily News. "I really waited for the right person to come along, so I wasn't going to just fool around, especially not with someone younger than me."

I'm so disappointed. Where were all the hot 23-year-old hair stylists when I was in Little League?



All Out to Get You 

From Will Carroll's BP column today:

"There are whispers from some around baseball that the Barry Bonds plunking on Tuesday was premeditated and that there’s a group of pitchers and coaches determined to 'make Bonds pay' on his way towards history."

Vigilante justice, eh? Headhunting is not nice, but I admit I understand the raw emotions behind it. I've been on the mound when a prime a-hole is in the batter's box, a guy everyone loathes and who needs to be taught a lesson.

But it never really works that way. Does a jerk who's just been subjected to chin music dust himself off and realize the error of his ways? I'd reckon a guy with attitude problems will only get more ornery after getting beaned.

It certainly raises his teammates' bile. The "lesson" becomes a step in an escalation that often ends up in a stupid injury to someone other than the first target -- how many times have you seen a player emerge from a mid-field, bench-clearing scrum clutching a shoulder, elbow or other body part? And how often is it not the guy who prompted the scuffle in the first place?

The best reason to throw at a batter is to keep him from getting too comfortable. If I see someone leaning out and expecting the outside pitch, the next pitch goes right toward the belt buckle. Against lefties, a high-and-tight fastball is a great set-up pitch for a big curve. These are not messages, these are strategies meant to foil a batter's timing, balance and extension.

Seeing how the Giants just outscored the Asstoads 34-5 over three games, Houston pitchers apparently didn't upset the timing, balance or extension of many Giants hitters.

But, boy, they sure made Barry Bonds pay. If there was a message sent, it read something like, "We may lose three games against a mediocre team, and those three games may be crucial as we try to win our very competitive division, but at least we sent a message."

As Marshall McCluhan would have said if he were an Astros fan, the message is the message. Sorry, Phil Garner, your tautology does not intimidate us.

For all I care, opposing teams can keep throwing at Bonds. Their pitchers will be more set on sending messages than making good pitches, their staffs will be shorthanded from the ejections, and the Giants will have that many more baserunners.



Keep It Cool 

And fuck you, Russ Springer. What was that all about? Did your jock strap shrink a couple sizes in the wash? Go home, kick the cat, play a few violent video games, but do not throw fastballs at Barry Bonds's creaky body parts, please.

Springer's little headhunting episode in the 5th inning of last night's game was so blatant and so stubborn -- "I will hit him in or near the head, even if it takes me five pitches!" -- that the backstory must be fascinating. Too bad we don't know what it is.

All we can glean from this morning's reports is that Bonds homered off Springer many years ago, and the next time they faced each other, in 2004, Springer plunked Bonds. Perhaps when Bonds went yard, he broke out the nifty 360-degree spin move; or he winked at Springer; or while no one else was looking, he mooned the sensitive pitcher as he rounded third base. Barry had very fast reflexes back then.

Perhaps Springer is such a righteous defender of the sacred baseball flame that after Game of Shadows was released or after he had a heart-to-heart with Turk Wendell, he promised to nail Bonds as soon as possible.

Houston catcher Eric Munson spun the old "we were just pitching inside" yarn. Springer and his manager Phil Garner tried the same line. Here's what Springer told the Houston Chronicle, which was clever enough to call the guy's cell phone:

"I've always had success pitching in to Bonds. Sometimes it just gets away from you," Springer said via phone as he drove to his home in Pollack, La., to take his wife, Kelly, for scheduled surgery this morning. "The first pitch was a slider that I wanted to run in on his hands. It just got away."

Jon Miller mused that the Astros might have plunked Bonds with the hope that it would fluster Jamey Wright, or he'd get himself thrown out trying to exact revenge. ("Verrry interesting," Mike Krukow said in the post-game wrap with a fake German accent, "but verrry schtupid.")

Wright did well not to retaliate, as he did a couple weeks ago against San Diego, plunking Brian Giles and opening the flood gates for the Padres. Instead he continued his better-than-#5-starter run of success, with 3 earned runs in 7 innings. He almost makes you forget that Brett Tomko is having a career year with the Dodgers.


UPDATE: I just saw this quote from Wright, who won his first game ever against the Ass-Toes: "You remember walking in this clubhouse and never walking out with a smile on my face."

Can someone please coach professional athletes on the grammatical differences between the first person and the second person? Referring to oneself as "you" has become an American epidemic. In ten years, not only will half the country have type-2 diabetes, but we'll be saying things like, "It sure would be nice if you didn't have my foot amputated, but I went and got that type-2 diabetes, and you know what happens to you when I don't take my meds."



Fuck You Ken Lay 

I like to think the Giants' amazing success at the former Enron (i.e., Ten-Run) Field in Houston -- they're now 18-5 there since it opened -- is some sort of karmic payback for Enron's wholesale reaming of thousands of Houstonians, not to mention all the Californians cheated out of millions of dollars during the "energy crisis," but like many things we tell ourselves to make the world seem just and fair and cathartic, my karmic theory makes no sense when you stop to think about it for more than 1.5 seconds.

More likely, it's karmic payback for all the shitty baseball the city of Houston gave the world for years, in a sterile dome with a concrete floor papered over with a plastic grass that in its heyday spread faster than kudzu and no doubt shortened the careers of many a fine athlete.

Still, it's nice to imagine Pedro Feliz hitting Jeff Skilling's sweaty little head off a tee and into the mesh of the foul pole for a grand slam.


Small print update:

Now listening to Neko Case's Blacklisted, a more somber, tumbleweedy spin through her alt-country goddessheadness. I love that woman. Bow down before her at Bimbo's in June. Blacklisted is far more "Paris Texas" and Peggy Lee than the expansive, lush Furnace Room Lullaby, one of my all-time favorites. In fact, Furnace Room and Twin Cinema, by Neko and her clever rock and roll friends the New Pornographers could sustain me a long long while on a desert isle.

But I'm liking Blacklisted, too. After three listens, I imagine it as the soundtrack to Marta Becket's one-woman performance at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction.



The Baseball Prospectus minor-league guy Kevin Goldstein published today his roundup of the NL West farm systems. His quick take on the Giant minors:

1) Fred Lewis is getting on base even when slumping. He could make his big-league debut this year.

2) The promising hitters at Connecticut are in a power slump. Jonathan Sanchez is throwing smack.

3) Marcus Sanders is flailing at San Jose. USF grad and recent pitching convert Nick Pereira isn't. The rest of the low minors don't have much to recommend.


Nathanize Me 

As "Has Anybody Here Seen" Hank Schulman of the Chronicle notes this morning, seven Giants relievers pitched Saturday and Sunday, and four of them started innings by walking the leadoff man. Three of them scored.

The Dodgers' winning rally yesterday was started with a leadoff walk to Ramon Martinez.

When you look up the word "AAUUURRRGGGGHHHHH!" in the dictionary, there is a picture of Steve Kline walking Ramon Martinez to lead off an inning just after the Giants have scratched their way back to tie the game on a hit off Mike Matheny's pink bat.

I never thought that I would see /
A thing as lovely as a pink bat held by Matheny

Thanks, Steve Kline, for pooping all over our little misty-eyed Mother's Day moment. You dirtbag.

I say from now on Felipe should Nathanize any reliever who comes in and walks the leadoff guy, unless said leadoff guy is Albert Pujols. By "Nathanize," I don't mean trade him to the American League and watch his career blossom; I mean do what Felipe did in the 2003 playoffs, game three of the NLDS:

Giants-Marlins tied 2-2, Nathan enters to start the eighth and immediately walks the leadoff guy on four pitches. Zip -- out comes Felipe with the hook. It didn't hurt the Giants, as Felix pitched two scoreless with four Ks after that.

Felipe was actually doing the kid a favor; in game 2, Nathan got shelled in the sixth, allowed the Marlins to take a two-run lead, and the game was essentially over.

Felipe put him right back out the next day. No doubt Nathan was gunshy and danced around the strike zone. Felipe was absolutely right in yanking him ASAP.

Flash forward to 2006. It's time to start the practice anew -- serve notice to the bullpen that they need to throw strikes, no matter if a few of them are hit over the wall. Allowing the Ramon Martinezes of the world to start game-winning rallies with free passes is inexcusable.

And as soon as Brian Wilson is ready, Scott Munter should be Fresno-bound. Spare us the torture of watching him throw sinker after sinker out of the strike zone -- except for the ones that are smacked hard through open holes in the infield. The jig is up. Unless he learns another pitch, the guy will fondly remember his two nice months of major-league success followed by years' worth of meals at the Altoona Denny's.


Oh yes: congrats to Kenshin for guessing that Lance Niekro would be the first member of the Giants Hackxis of Evil to break the .300 OBP barrier (and fall back below it the next day).



Friday Contest: The Race to .300 

After a dreadful offensive start, the Giants as a team are starting to creep up in the league rankings. Thanks in large part to the eternal Barry Bonds Walk-a-thon and Steve Finley's blazing hot May, and strong top-of-order work from Winn and Vizquel, the Giants are middle of the pack in N.L. on-base percentage at .340, and in fact much closer to the top team (Cincinnati .356) than the bottom (Pittsburgh .304).

Amazing when you consider that upon Ray Durham's return tonight, they'll have four starting players with sub-.300 OBPs, which is sort of a sabermetric Mendoza line:

Niekro 1B .288
Matheny C .284
Feliz 3B .273
Durham 2B .246

Even Mark Sweeney, who's begun to platoon with Niekro against righties, is sub-.300.

Ready for the Lefty Malo Friday Contest?

Whoever can guess the player to first break the .300 OBP barrier (measured by OBP at the end of a game) wins a Mays Field bumper sticker courtesy of me. Tie-breaker will be the actual game and date.



Open Letter Follow-Up 

I haven't heard back from Tim Dahlberg, for some reason. We had such a beautiful thing going.

But into the breach has stepped Gwen Knapp of the Chronicle, who has written nearly the same column in today's paper. It's not as snide as Dahlberg's piece, but it's just as unsubstantiated.

A few thousand empty seats = Less hometown love for Barry.

There are seeds of interesting topics in Knapp's column, such as declining attendance and the post-Barry quandry that the Giants face.

But before you write a "Giants fans don't love Barry as much" column, the least you could do is actually find me a group of anti-Barry Giants fans -- or even one, for chrissakes -- and let us know what they think.



Open Letter 

To: tdahlberg@ap.org
(Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.)


I just read your column today about Giants fans tiring of Bonds's act. I'm a lifelong Giants fan. I'll say that upfront. But unlike many fans, I don't tie myself into pretzels trying to explain away my hometown heroes' behavior.

If I were a sportswriter trying to interview Bonds, or an opposing player, I'd probably hate him too. I certainly don't want to spend my vacation time with him.

But ascribing a general disgust with Bonds to Giants fans last night is misleading and slanted to fit your own prejudices.

First of all, at the game last night, Bonds got a loud standing ovation for his first at-bat. You failed to note that. Your remark about the "Bar-ry" chant "petering out" was simply not true. I heard it several times last night, just as I hear it at every home game he plays. Also, Juan Pierre was loudly (and playfully) booed by the fans after he made his home-run robbing catch. You'd think if the fans were tired of Bonds's act, they'd cheer Pierre.

That he's "never even tried to return [fans'] love" is a broad, sweeping, inaccurate statement. Sure, we've been hearing Bonds say dumb or controversial things for years. We've also heard him say that San Francisco is his home, he appreciates the fans, and once in a while, yes, he even bothers to wave to the crowd in left field.

And to equate the few no-shows with a disgust for Barry is patently ridiculous. Attendance has been in very slow decline for a few years, which might worry the Giants, but seven years after opening the park, attendance is still 89% of capacity, which is fourth-best in the majors this year. Not even the beloved St. Louis Cardinals can boast the same percentage -- in a brand new stadium, natch.

If you don't like Barry -- and I wouldn't blame you -- and you don't like the Giants and their garlic fries and their corporate-moniker stadium (just like most other sports facilities around the world), that's obviously well within your right. (By the way, a local grassroots effort that I'm part of is trying to have our corporate park renamed "Mays Field" -- how about that as a subject for your next column? Check out www.maysfield.org.)

But assuming S.F. fans are tired of Bonds just because you are, with little to back it up, is thin gruel. I hope you come up with something more substantiated next time.



Man-Crush Alert 

I M like SO in love w/Noah Lowry. Like I hella wuzn't b4 -- yah rite! -- but now he'z evn hotr.

[cue sounds of digital struggle, represented by frenetic beeps and clicks]

Sorry about that. A suburban teenage hack-chick must have inserted a spybot onto my PC and hijacked my keyboard, or whatever it is kids are doing these days when they're not piercing their eyebrows and downloading emo.

But I have to second what she said. Can Noah get any more Malo? ¡Creo que no! Seven innings, two runs, nine baserunners total, just when the Giants needed a big lift.

His performance tonight masked another shaky bullpen job. Jeremy Accardo looked unhittable for five batters, then showed why he may not be ready for high-stress innings: he couldn't get the final out of the game. Enter Tim Worrell, who's played a fine Jekyll and Hyde this year, with three weeks of stellar work as emergency closer followed by three weeks of batting practice. Is he injured? Is he distracted?

My guess is the early workload may have tweaked some body part, and he's fighting through it instead of going on the DL. If Benitez continues to show progress, I wouldn't be surprised if Worrell took a couple weeks off.

Jeff Fassero may take more than a couple weeks off. The Giants let him go before the game to clear a roster spot for Lowry

2 fkn hot!

Hey! Stop that.

My friend Shana sez leftys r btr in bed ;-)

Well, heh, you'll have to ask my...wait a second, how old are you? Do your parents know what you're up to? Shouldn't you be studying?

But not old 1s like Fassero. OR U!!! ICK!!! u guys are so, like, '96. BTW, u'l nvr find that spywrez. & thkz 4 tha credit card info, sucka!!!

Great. Just great. Why all the Fassero hatred, anyway? Sure, he was dreadful this year, though as I've pointed out before, two of his earlier outings -- the 3+ innings to replace an injured Lowry and the spot start in Arizona -- were statistically ugly but extremely helpful.

My complaint is that Fass-haters have amnesia about last year, in which Fassero (4.06 ERA, 91 IP, 60 K, 31 BB) was better than league average, which I think was 4.28 ERA. All for under a million bucks. At that price, why not try to catch lightning in a bottle twice? So I don't fault the Giants for re-signing him, nor do I fault them for letting him go now without too much dithering.

Mark these small print updates:

Fassero gone.
Lowry back.
Ortmeier up from AAA.

Brian Wilson is also due back soon. Even with Wilson, there's still an open spot on the 40-man roster. That gives the Giants room to call up Jonathan Sanchez, a hard-throwing lefty who's shot up the organizational ladder and recently moved to the bullpen in AA Connecticut. Another possibility is a trade that adds another bat to the roster.

Finally for today, a winner in the latest caption contest.

Barry Bonds now suffers from "RSS", or Reverse Steroid Syndrome, where the body is now 100 times larger than the head, instead of the other way around.

Congratulations, Ron. I owe you a beer. Runner-up goes to "L Krueger," who weighed in with "Brain-dead caribbean tortoises wallowing in slop nightly!" which was extremely funny but racist, speciest, and even worse, taxonomically and geographically incorrect. (It's a Hawaiian sea turtle.)



Crunch Time 

Late Sunday night, and the Giants are in a tailspin. Their best hitter is out indefinitely, their starting rotation other than Jason Schmidt is getting cuffed around, they have no sure path from middle relief to set-up to closer, and their corner infielders are swinging like punch-drunk prizefighters.

This week is crunch time for several reasons. The Giants will find out how severe Moises Alou's ankle is injured, and the prognosis should loom large in determining how to replace him. If Mo's return is in expected within a month, perhaps the Giants call up someone from Fresno and hope Finley and Winn get hot. If his return is a distant horizon, Sabean needs to decide quickly how he wants to play this season: Does he trade for offense and sacrifice some of the longer-term rebuild, or let it ride with the young'uns and perhaps surrender the season less than one-third of the way through?

Another reason to look to this week: Noah Lowry returns. Perhaps he'll stabilize the rotation. Perhaps he'll be the #2 that Matt Morris hasn't been so far. It's a lot to ask of a young guy who has thrown all of one inning that counts all year, but stranger things have happened.

His return will also force some decisions about the makeup of the pitching staff. This may be the week we see another non-performing bullpenner sent packing.

With the brutal schedule -- the team left Philly late tonight and arrives in S.F. at 5 a.m., only to turn around and play 10 games in 10 days -- Bonds is likely to sit out 3 or 4 games. Can you say, "Batting fourth, third baseman, Pedro Feliz"?

This sounds like deja vu from last year, although the big purge of '05 started in late May with the Williams-Aardsma-Hawkins trade and continued into June with the dumping of Levine, Herges, and Brower.

One key to getting through the Mo-less stretch: the return of a healthy Ray Durham. If Ray can pretend to be a decent #3 hitter for a few weeks, he may save the Giants' bacon.



Missing Bats 

Ha -- you thought this would be about the Giants offense. But it's actually about their pitching.

Giant pitchers have a current K/9 rate of 5.23. Over a full year, it would be the lowest strikeout rate in the majors since 2001, except for the 2002 and 2003 Detroit Tigers.

Can good teams survive without high K rates? Yes. Atlanta won 90 games last year with the majors' third-lowest K/9 rate. The Braves' staff was thoroughly mediocre, but the hitters made up for it by scoring 769 runs, fourth-best in the NL.

But that's good offense masking mediocre pitching. For a pitching staff to succeed without a lot of strikeouts, i.e., without "missing bats" in scout-speak, they must a) keep men off base b) have good defense behind them and c) minimize the long ball.

The Giants have not done well with the men-on-base part: 108 walks have contributed to a 1.46 WHIP. That's one and a half baserunners per inning, not including errors and hit batsmen.

The defense has been sure-handed, with one error every two games, but given how many baserunners the pitchers allow, it's no surprise that every error seems costly (Alou's outfield blunder yesterday, Frandsen's first-inning bobble in the last game of the homestand).

It's much harder to judge balls the defense should have reached but didn't, but it's safe to say that the Giants' two best hitters -- the guys they need to play as much as possible -- are also their two worst defenders. Defensive replacements are nice, but games will be decided more often in the early and middle innings than the late ones. With the aging legs of Alou and Bonds, we can easily imagine more and more balls falling in as the season progresses.

The pitchers have not minimized the long ball, either. They've allowed 31, right in the middle of the major-league pack by Toronto with the most, 45, and the Yankees the least, 19.

Assuming the rotation settles into stability when Lowry returns, the major shakeup will be in the bullpen. I see Munter as the first casualty. He has options. He's been totally ineffective and predictable. Like Felix Rodriguez, he has one pitch. Unlike Felix, he can't blow it by batters. Send him back to Fresno to learn a slider and changeup.

The team will have another roster move to make when Brian Wilson gets healthy, assuming he doesn't go back to Fresno. If Lowry's return bumps Hennessey to the long-relief role, Jeff Fassero's role will be diminished to LOOGY. I like Fassero more than a lot of you do, and his stats belie his value. He allowed 3 runs in 3+ innings on Opening Day but saved the Giants' bacon. His spot start in Arizona was excellent until Felipe sent him out for the 5th, and he got bombed.

But until the Giants learn to outslug opponents (not likely) or expand their active roster to allow full-time defensive replacements for Bonds and Alou (ha), the Giants need more pitchers who miss bats.



It's No Secret 

Let's listen as Doug Davis explains how he shut out the Giants for six innings today: "They're a free-swinging team and I just put the ball around the plate and they put the ball in play."

Not much more to say. Don't give them anything too good, and they'll get themselves out. Pedro Feliz had an at-bat today that should be buried six feet under and marked with a headstone that reads "Here Lie Your San Francisco Giants 2003-2006 R.I.P."

Alou on first, no outs, Giants down by three. Davis doesn't come close to the strike zone with four pitches, Pedro fouls one of them back, and sits on a 3-1 count. Next pitch, change-up down and away, probably not a strike, and Pedro tries to pull it, resulting in a ground ball to third base. It would have been a double play if Koskie hadn't nearly thrown the ball away. Slop hacker.

There is no reason to throw this man, or Lance Niekro for that matter, a fastball near the middle of the plate, let alone a strike.



Why Wait Til June? 

Far too often I refer to the Billy Beane homily that April and May are for evaluating what you have, June and July are for upgrades, and boom, you're in the home stretch.

For a team making one last grasp for a Barry Barry Good To Me World Series, two months may be too long an evaluation period. Can the Giants wait until June to make sure Lance Niekro's hide-and-seek talent isn't going to come out and play on a daily basis? How early is too early to press the plunger and blow up the bullpen?

First, let's look at what changes the Giants are not likely to make:

- No matter how bad he hits, Mike Matheny will be starting catcher. Sure, he may sit a bit more as the days grow hotter, but no way no how he gets benched for Todd Greene. The only other scenario I see -- sorry kids, Matheny replicating his career-year 2005 offensive stats is not an option -- is a trade, but that would be so far out of left field, not even Randy Winn could catch it.

- Pedro Feliz will not be traded or DFA'ed. Yes, someone was willing to trade a live body for Tyler Walker, but who would take on north of $2 million in salary for a bad hitter having his career-worst year? His offensive production is last in the league at third base, better only than Adrian Beltre among major leaguers. And the Giants are way too stubborn to cut him loose. The Giants currently have four #8 hitters in their lineup, and two of them are from the traditional power spots.

- Matt Morris isn't likely to be traded. It's far too early to say he's a big problem, but he certainly hasn't been a big solution, either. The Giants will sail or sink with Morris on board.

The early bullpen maneuvers are a good sign, however. Moving quickly to dump Walker, demote Taschner and promote Brian Wilson, who we hope comes back healthy and soon, shows me Sabean will keep these guys on shorter leashes and be willing to dip into the minors. Don't rule out a trade: LaTroy Hawkins was acquired in May last year. But a more likely scenario for a while is a Fresno shuttle with Merkin, Wilson, Taschner, perhaps Jeff Miller, the newly acquired Carlos Hines, and even the AA-and-rising Jonathan Sanchez, who's been converted into a reliever for Norwich. I'm confident for now that the Giants have enough good arms to fill bullpen needs internally.

I could also see Sabean pulling the plug early on the Niekro experiment. There are enough cheap RH-hitting first basemen who could platoon with Sweeney as a stopgap measure. Or if a good third-base bat becomes available, Feliz could platoon at first. These holes will not be filled internally, I'm afraid. Sabes would have to pry a Hillenbrand, Eduardo Perez or Craig Wilson free. Perhaps the Orioles will be eager to trade Melvin Mora if they can't sign him to an extension.

Believe you me, I'd love to see Feliz thrown overboard, but I just don't see it happening.

For some reason, I have the feeling -- perhaps it's because I looked it up in my gut -- that Sabes will not sit idly if the Giants are heading for an iceberg. Who knows -- this could be the year Sabean wrinkles his brow, gets out his colored markers, and jumps into one of those kinky multiplayer swaps, a la the thing that went down between Boston, Chicago and others that sent Nomar packing a couple years ago.

Fun stat of the day:

32 AB / 4 H / 1 R / 1 BB / zero XBH

Guess who?



Stupid Stupid Stupid 

The macho unwritten laws of baseball kicked the Giants in the cojones tonight. As an honored guest of the A-B in prime foul-ball territory up from the Giant dugout, I groaned when Jamie Wright plunked Brian Giles in the back to start the 4th inning.

It was just half an inning after Barry Bonds was hit in the hand by a Jake Peavy fastball -- so obviously retaliation. You hit our big boy, we hit yours.

Problem is, the Giants only had a 1-0 lead, and Giles was the leadoff hitter. And Wright has a history of suddenly losing his groove. Sure enough: groove lost. A couple walks, a couple hits, and a Pedro Feliz error later, it was turn out the lights, the party's over, especially with Peavy on the mound.

Whether Wright was ordered to bean Giles or it was his own idea, it was plain stupid. Isn't the best revenge shutting the other team down? Instead, it gave the punchless Padres a nice little ass-fire, and they started slapping the ball all over the place.

Two walks and an error didn't hurt, either. Hey, if Pedro can't contribute with the bat, at least he's playing Gold Glove def...ur...uh. Gone by June 1? Any takers?

Leave it to men to get all stupidly aggressive when they should keep their cool. Enough with the testosterone! If this were A League of Their Own, this whole retalitory beanball thing would never have happened, and the Giants would have won a clean, sportwomanlike, cooperative 2-1 pitchers' duel. And their tuschies would have been nicer to look at.

I blame Greg Anderson.

On the bright side: Don't call me Mike Mendoza!

M Matheny C 4 0 3 0 .203


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