Tag Archive | "San Francisco Giants"

Tis The Time For Bold Predictions Continued

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Tis The Time For Bold Predictions Continued

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

How are those brackets holding up? Have they made it to the trash can yet? On the bright side, we are days away from Opening Day! Last week, the prediction jinx was placed on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to represent the American League in October’s Fall Classic. This week will be the National League 2013 preview.

TroyTulowitzki

There figures to be compelling season long races in both the National League East and West. The west features the defending World Series Champions, San Francisco Giants and also the new version of “Showtime”, the Los Angles Dodgers. While in the east, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves both had very busy off seasons in the hopes of playing deep into October.

Starting out west, the rival Giants and Dodgers are expected to be in a season long two team race for the division championship. The Colorado Rockies are rebuilding and potentially experimenting with a new pitching model. Aside from Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies will have struggles and finish fifth with the campaign. The San Diego Padres will always compete with a solid bullpen and pitcher friendly park. However, in the end, the offense is not quite there to compete. They will finish just behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs, after making one of the impactful trades of the season will be a hard team to forecast. Ian Kennedy will have a nice season on the bump and Paul Goldschmidt is an emerging first baseman. Much like the Padres, they just do not have enough talent to compete.

The Giants and Dodgers have two very different philosophies. The Giants are a team first collective effort franchise. The sum of the parts is greater than one individual. Buster Posey is the offensive leader on the club and the pitching staff is one of the best in the league. On the other hand, the Dodgers brought in deep pockets to re-buy a new club. With one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball it will not quite be enough to overtake the champs in the divisional race. The Giants will be one, the Dodgers runners up.

For the first time in awhile, the Central Division has five teams competing. The division figures to be a one playoff team group with the Cincinnati Reds the favorites. The Reds have a balanced attack offensively and on the mound. How will Aroldis Chapman be utilized is the big question. The Pittsburgh Pirates have improved over the last two seasons. Led by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates will continue to improve but fall short of the post season again.

With the remaining three teams in the Midwest, all will have very intriguing summers. The St. Louis Cardinals will compete. The offense under the arch has some pop. The club has two major downfalls however. The loss of Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse will have the starting rotation rely on young arms. Along with that, up the middle appears to be a weak spot and prevent a trip to the postseason. The Chicago Cubs have more questions then answers. The current outfield on the North side is not exactly Cooperstown bound but the Cubs however do have potential. They will be toward the bottom of the league in home runs, but quality of at bats will be a category they will be vastly improved in. The Milwaukee Brewers a week ago was a team that seemed to be viewed as an also ran. However, the surprise signing of Kyle Lohse makes the rotation much more improved. Can Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez carry the offense enough?

The National League East also figures to be a two team race as well between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. The Miami Marlins cleaned house again and figure to have fifth place locked up. The New York Mets have young arms that could keep them relevant but sadly, David Wright will not quite have the same protection he did during the World Baseball Classic. A very under the radar team, The Philadelphia Phillies could wedge themselves into the division race, and also compete for a Wild Card spot as well. Health will be the key for the Phillies. Can Ryan Howard and Chase Utley play 140 plus games? Can Roy Hallady and Cliff Lee get back to CY Young numbers?

The popular pick in the National League is the Nationals. Loaded with talent, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez will lead the club all year. However, I expect even bigger things from the Braves. Chipper Jones is gone, but the law firm of Upton, Upton, and Heyward will be the “Big Three” in the ATL. The Braves lineup on paper is one of the best 1-7. The bullpen is top tier and the rotation will keep them in ball games. The Braves, not the Nationals win the East.

Once October hits the Wild Card match up will be east versus west as the Nationals will defeat the Dodgers and advance. Because of the weaker division, look for the Reds to be the team welcoming that wild card winner. However, the season will end there for the Reds as the Nationals will advance to the National League Championship. The other Divisional match up will pit the Braves versus the Giants. In an entertaining five games, the Braves will move on setting up an all east coast series.

With the two teams evenly matched in all categories, I am high on the Braves making a return trip to the Fall Classic to battle the Angels. An Angels versus Braves match up will be very entertaining to watch. The future of the game will be on display for both teams. In six games, I am giving the edge to the Angels to defeat the Braves in the World Series and make a short drive over to Disneyland to celebrate. Rally Monkeys welcomed.

When awards season hits, the East will be the landing spot for all of the major awards. Look for the Rookie of the Year to be in New York with pitcher Zack Wheeler. The CY Young winner will be in D.C. No it is not Stephen Strasburg, but Gio Gonzalez who has found a home in the National League and is the award winner. Both the Manager of the Year and MVP will be found on the same team. Once again, Atlanta could have a magical season after difficult ends to the previous two seasons. Manager Fredie Gonzalez and newcomer Justin Upton will bring home hardware. In a new uniform Justin Upton is the pick to click in the National League.

Soon it will be time to Play Ball and in October these will be lead pipe locks!

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Pass the Cannoli! Italy is here to play some Baseball!

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Pass the Cannoli! Italy is here to play some Baseball!

Posted on 11 March 2013 by Trish Vignola

I write this article as Italy is prepared to go up 2-0.

TeamItaly

Che?

They beat the spaghetti out of Mexico and are about to beat the manicotti out of Canada.

Chi poteva aspettarselo? (Who saw that coming?)

The Italian contingency is feeling pretty good. They did not advance past the first round in the first two World Baseball Classics. However, this time around is different. They scored an early upset this year by rallying for two runs in the ninth inning Thursday to defeat Mexico, 6-5, in their WBC opener at Chase Field in Phoenix. Now, they invaded Canada.

Is it ironic that their uniform is Dodger blue? A franchise whose origin is beset in Italian-American lore (i.e. Brooklyn)? A couple of Dodgers — and another with a Dodger connection — were right in the middle of the action of Italia’s 2013 WBC journey.

Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto ignited Italy’s rally with a one-out double against Mexico (and San Francisco Giants’) closer Sergio Romo. However, even in the loss, Mexico (and Dodgers) first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had a big game. He reaching base in all five plate appearances with two hits, a pair of walks and by getting hit with a pitch. Gonzalez’s older brother, Edgar, didn’t fare as well. Playing left field, he got a poor jump on Punto’s double, which should have been caught. Anthony Rizzo‘s game-winning, two-run double also should have been caught, going off Gonzalez’s glove.

Mexico Manager Rick Renteria lamented to the Associate Press afterward that both plays “would have just been typically fly-ball outs.” Edgar Gonzalez had a hit in four at-bats, but also struck out three times. He wasn’t the only one to blame. Mexico (and Dodgers) third baseman Luis Cruz was 1 for 4 with a walk hitting third, in front of Adrian Gonzalez.

Italy wasn’t that much better for most of the game. Punto was 1 for 5 batting lead-off for Italy, which has former Dodgers slugger Mike Piazza as its hitting coach. However, they still eeked out the win. This afternoon, Italy played Canada at Chase Field. (Mexico will try to seek redemption against the United States later on today.) Nevertheless, Italy came out swinging even stronger. With folks like Pat Venditte, born in the beautiful Italian Villa of Omaha, Nebraska, Canada (Italy’s opponent) was looking straight into the barrel of a mercy rule. Let’s face it. Even with the controversial home run turned ground-rule double call, it was still a certainty.

I wonder if Russell Martin is sitting in Pirates’ camp somewhere, pretty excited…excited he missed out on this mess.

Somewhere, even Joe DiMaggio is pretty excited. My family lineage is finally in the news for something more than the lack of Pope or “Big Ang” from Mob Wives.

Seriously, Italy deserves credit. It wasn’t like they were knocking off Team France. (Sorry, they didn’t make the preliminary round. If any country is rife to be made fun of, it’s France.) Team Canada isn’t a bunch of stiffs. This might not be hockey but Canada is pretty good at our national past time. Canada features strong major-league talent, including the Reds’ Joey Votto, Justin Morneau of the Twins, and pitchers John Axford, Philippe Aumont and Shawn Hill. However, this time around, Italy was just a little better.

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BarryZito3

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The Reinvention of Barry Zito

Posted on 11 February 2013 by Trish Vignola

When Barry Zito signed with the Giants in 2007, it was a coup. Why shouldn’t it be? He was a Cy Young award winner with a curve ball that looked like it was falling off the dinning room table. Zito was in the prime of his career. Big named markets, including New York, courted him. Barry Zito couldn’t be beat. San Francisco had a bright future on its hands.

BarryZito3

That future became a nightmare quite quickly. In six years with the San Francisco Giants, his ERA ballooned an entire run. From 2007 to 2011, he posted a loosing record for the first time in his career. He was riddled with injuries, loss of speed and rumors that batters had begun to pick up his once unhittable curve ball. 9 years out of a Cy Young award winning season, Barry Zito was getting booed out of town.

He came to a crossroad. Reinvent him self or find room next to Mark Mulder on “Baseball Tonight”. Once a part of the “Tres Aces” of Oakland, the once promising trio (Zito, Mulder and Tim Hudson) were split up and looking at the distinct possibility that only one of them (Tim Hudson) would last a decade in the game.

Barry Zito, power curve ball pitcher, became a finesse pitcher with location. “Pitchers that stay in shape, especially left-handers, seem to have ways to reinvent themselves,” Brian Sabean (Giants General Manager) said to MLB.com. With Zito’s reversal in 2012, he finished 15-8. More miraculously, he did something he never could do in his Oakland A’s “hey-day.” He was a relevant contributor to their post season run. He added two more victories in the postseason, basically saving San Francisco and allowing them to go on the run they did. Two years earlier, he wasn’t even on the team’s postseason roster.

I am a self-proclaimed “Zito-phile” with an Oakland jersey I no longer have to wear ironically. I must admit that even I was shocked, when in October, Barry Zito actually created the possibility that the Giants might want him to stick around longer. With Zito’s contract coming to an end this year, Barry Zito and the Giants could be involved in an activity that would have been unimaginable in 2011 – retaining him. The door is now wide open, and why shouldn’t it be, for the left-hander to be kept on for an additional season, or to even negotiate an extension.

Zito and the Giants have reached the seventh and final year of his $126 million contract, which culminates this season with a $20 million salary. Zito’s performance this season will determine whether the Giants pick up an $18 million option on his services for 2014. They also can buy him out for $7 million. Even Sabean now acknowledges that keeping Zito beyond this year is within the realm of possibility.

Said Zito to MLB.com, “This is where I want to be. I would love to play baseball in San Francisco until I’m happy riding off into the sunset.” If Zito can prove that last year was not an anomaly, than he can prove a priceless member of the pitching staff. Although no longer an ace on a staff of aces, Zito can be that veteran leadership and presence to younger talent, such as Tim Lincecum. Strong veteran presence is at a premium today, ask the Blue Jays and RA Dickey. It’s worthy investment, especially when that veteran still has some pop on the ball and hasn’t turned 35 yet.

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A New Kind Of California Gold Rush

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A New Kind Of California Gold Rush

Posted on 08 February 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

Many say that the Super Bowl is the greatest game of them all. It is a great game. It is a game that also means that the day after our attention turns to the best game ever invented. Pitchers and catchers begin to report to Spring Training soon to begin the 2013 season!

CountriesOfBaseball

One of the big off-season topics as always is the Free Agent class choosing their fate. This year’s class was headlined by outfielder Josh Hamilton and starting pitcher Zack Greinke. The common denominator between the two was that they both chose teams that play in the state of California. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim respectively were the benefactors of the two players.

These two signings were just the latest of high price all star talent heading to the Golden State. At the start of the 2012 season, the Angels won the Albert Pujols award along with the surprise signing of pitcher C.J. Wilson. Just a few weeks into the season they struck it rich with eventual Rookie of the Year and near MVP Mike Trout. The Angels started to become loaded with talent and major contenders in the American League.

Across town in LA were the Dodgers. For much of the year they were contending for a division championship. But then, the “Magic” came and so did the money. Hall of Fame basketball player Magic Johnson among others became the new ownership group of the storied ball club. One of the first digs they made was a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox bringing over All Star talent with show me the money contracts in the form of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford.

The 2012 season ended with neither Los Angeles team making the post season. Instead, the post season show was highlighted by the eventual champions, the San Francisco Giants. For the geography majors, San Francisco is also located in the state of California. The Giants won their second World Series title in three seasons.

This type of success and big money moves sound all too familiar. These types of moves, trades, and titles are typically reserved for the east coast teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. In the last four seasons those three teams have been in at least the top seven team payrolls in baseball. World Series success has also followed as each team has won at least one title in the 2000’s. Fans in other markets hated the east coast tilt of the game. It was perceived that monopolies were forming out east and Evil Empires casted large shadows on the small markets. California was just a vacation spot. However, it appears that the tide is turning and the rush is heading west.

It was January 24th, 1848 when the California Gold Rush began. Travelers and miners migrated to the state in the hopes of finding gold and the effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Fast forward to 2012, 2013 and the trend seems to now be for All Star ball players migrating west for big money and the ultimate gold ring.

Why is there a growing trend of moving west? Is it the weather, the lifestyle, or is it simply just the money? For the last decade there has been countless discussions about playing on the east coast adds a different element of pressure, that the Yankee pinstripes or Fenway fanatics demand greatness and nothing else. If you do not bring home a championship to the Bronx or Yawkey Way then the season was a failure. Many big name free agents have not quite lived up to the pressure of east coast baseball.

Perhaps that could be the cause for the move. Players are going west for a less stressful environment. It does not quite seem so scary when crowds arrive late, leave early, and the rest of the country is sleeping. Even if a few more championships do land in California, the hatred that fans have for the Yankees and others may never arise for the Angels and Dodgers. After a long day on the beach, it is hard to hate. As long as there is still east coast baseball, attention will be directed that way first and foremost. California may be just fine with that. They will continue to do their own thing in their own time zone.

The Giants have been the first to strike it rich with two championships. However, the surprise Oakland A’s are reigning division champs and the two teams in Los Angeles do not seem to have a bottom to their bank accounts. They are banking on the gold nugget signings this year of Hamilton and Greinke to get them to the mountain top. The true baseball beauty is that each organization is doing it a different way. California is providing many philosophies, and a nice tan. Before our eyes, the west may be overtaking the east. Only time will tell if this rush is as substantial as the one in 1848.

Could the east be left in the cold and not just weather wise? The Golden State has the trophy, the money, and the players are following.

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Barry Zito …. the pitcher du jour

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Barry Zito …. the pitcher du jour

Posted on 24 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Barry Zito, the suddenly now relevant lefty, will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants tomorrow night. Manager Bruce Bochy opted with Zito, who turned that abysmal contract and in turn his career around this year. Alex Rodriguez should take note.

Zito’s outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the NL championship series at Busch Stadium was down right stellar. He helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. His fastball may have lost speed, but it was Zito’s crafty performance that allowed the Giants to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again. He just started forgetting the bad starts and moving on to the next. Whatever he did to change his mental approach, it has certainly paid off. Zito is the pitcher du jour.

It doesn’t hurt he now has four pitches to baffle batters, aside from just his nasty curveball that defined his career back in the early days of the Big Three. “It’s hard to sum it up in one answer,” Zito said to the Associated Press (AP) after beating the Cardinals. “It’s just a plethora of things that I’ve done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I’ve got.”

The Giants have won Zito’s last 13 starts. Psychologically, if you have to go up against the best pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander), you would put Zito up first as well. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.

“He’s been through a lot, obviously. He took the beatings,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said in the AP of Zito. “He’s always been a stand-up guy, he’s never stopped working. In his own way he’s never stopped believing and he’s made changes. He’s made changes when he had to. I actually don’t think other than when he first came here that he was supposed to be the lead dog in the staff as it turned out the young guys were so good so fast. You look back in Oakland he was just one of the group. I don’t think the money ever bothered him.”

“In this game sometimes we forget at times what we’re all capable of, and I think those are the times when we struggle a little bit,” Zito said. Zito won his last five regular-season starts and seven decisions of the regular season since a loss Aug. 2 to the Mets.

He has tweaked his delivery, added a cut fastball and learned to make adjustments right away when things go wrong. “I think Barry really deserves most of the credit along with Dave Righetti, with them working together,” Bochy said to the AP. “Sometimes in this game you’ve got to make changes, adjustments, that’s what the game is about. And Barry’s done that. He’s a little different than what he was when he won the Cy Young. Maybe he doesn’t have that same velocity. So he’s had to I think change his style of pitching a little bit. And he’s come up with the cutter. And I think he’s pitching down more than he used to.”

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