That was a weird weekend for the Washington Nationals. After taking the first two of a four game series at the San Diego Padres, the Nats lost a tight one on Saturday evening. They didn’t hit (recurring theme) and when they did they ran the bases poorly. Jordan Zimmerman got a hard luck loss — 8 inning complete game (85 pitches) with the winning run coming after he threw a pick-off away. Sunday, Dan Haren put them in a 3-0 hole early and it just got worse, a 13-4 loss and series split.
Now, the Nats are finishing up their California trip with a 3-game series in San Francisco. Mercifully, the last two 10:00 or later starts are over after tomorrow. They face the defending World Champion Giants and as always, I’ve invited my friend David to talk about them like he did in 2011 and 2012. I’ve included some notes he shared with me late last week before asking some questions:
The Giants are a baffling team at the moment. The pitchers keep getting rocked with long balls that always seem to come in clusters. Cain gave up two bombs in one inning last night and then another one inning later. I think much of baseball is randomness and deviation or reversion to the mean. Cain for many years had a spectacular ratio of fly balls to home runs. It appears that is working its way to the league average in a terrible hurry.
What has been so fun about this team is they are actually starting to hit consistently. They are putting up over 5 runs on the board with regularity. That never happened in the 2010 season and happened in 2012 only from the All-Star Break onward. It has allowed for many exciting comebacks and a few terrific walk offs. Last night was no exception: down 6-0 after two or three innings and they managed to win the game.
I had a nice moment on (last) Wednesday. I went to this delightful diner/shack on the Embarcadero for a burger and a coffee for lunch. When I left I started to walk down the Embarcadero back to my office. Brian Sabean, the Giants GM, was walking the other way to the ball park. I gave him a thumbs up and he responded with a head nod. It was a pleasant little exchange. Then a few hours later the Giants gave up 11 runs to the Blue Jays.
Now, on with the questions:
WFY: Looking at the standings, I see the Giants are in the third place with a 24-20 record (better than the Nats) and a 4-6 skid (just like the Nats). The whole team wore high-cuffed pants as a slump-buster yesterday and it didn’t work. Is there a bit of concern about the overall team?
WFY: I know there is concern about Tim Lincecum — what’s going on with him? Bad mechanics, too skinny, other issues (Editor’s note: not an endorsement, just a link)? How long is he signed for?
DFS: I believe this is the second of Lincecum’s two arbitration years. After this season he will be a free agent. Lincecum has no command. Batters know to take pitches and draw walks. Then he pitches out of the stretch and his 89 mph fastball gets killed. The loss of velocity has hurt him badly. His reliable out pitch used to be the changeup, but that’s not terribly deceiving when there is little difference between the changeup and the fastball. An interesting stat on Lincecum is looking at balls in play. He gets batters out exclusively with strike outs. If the ball is in play, it is a hit. I felt for a while that that was just randomness and would self correct. Now I’m not so sure. I’ve stopped wondering or caring about what Lincecum’s problem is. The most creative excuse is that he has stopped smoking dope during the winters, due to more regular drug testing, with the result of him putting less weight on during the offseason. In any event, he is not the pitcher he once was nor do I have any notion that he will be again. The fans love him for nostalgic reasons, but he is a liability on the staff.
WFY: How is Barry Zito doing this year? Does anybody still care that he has a big contract that he hasn’t lived up to?
DFS: Zito started out very strong. After the first few rotations, he and Bumgarner were the only two starters that seemed to have a chance to go 6 innings. He has reverted to the mean and had a few poor outings recently. There is next to no ill will towards Zito from the fan base over his contract. Of course, he has been grossly overpaid, but over the past few seasons the Giants haven’t been in a situation where they lost bidding wars to keep other great players. For instance, they recently shelled out ton of money to Cain and Posey. Also, Zito was electric in the playoffs last year. The win in Cincinnati and Game 1 against the Tigers had Giants fans chanting “Barry!” His RBI in the World Series had to one of the great moments of collective joy that I experienced during the Series. He also handled being left off the 2010 playoff roster with dignity. As crazy as it sounds, the Giants could very well sign him again at the end of the contract.
WFY: I haven’t kept up, but what’s the situation with closer (former closer?) Brian Wilson?
DFS: Wilson is not on the team. He pitched in one game in 2012. He had a second Tommy John surgery and evidently there hasn’t been much interest in him league-wide. The team clearly committed to sticking with Sergio Romo as its closer during the off season and hasn’t looked back. During the Wilson Era, Romo played the role as set up man and/or right-hander specialist. I enjoyed Wilson’s flamboyant personality and his antics, but he was a Mitch Williams-style, take you to the brink and walk the bases loaded, strike out the side type. My aging heart can’t take much more of that. I would have thought he would be popping up locally in lots of ads, radio spots, TV bits a la a recently departed Theismann or Riggins, but he hasn’t.
WFY: What’s the best way to get to whatever phone company the ballpark is named after this week? How is the beer and food at the ballpark? Are craft brews hard to find like they are a lot of parks? What’s the signature foodstuff? Are the hot dogs any good?
DFS: I like to walk to the park. I work in the Financial District. It is a pleasant walk to the ball park from the office. Public transportation options are good as designed on maps, but the practical reality is the ride to the ballpark is sweaty nuts-to-sweaty butts. On the 100 level, craft brews are probably easier to find than macrobrews. In the view reserve, there are fewer beer options, but there’s no problem finding the San Francisco standbys like Sierra Nevada.
The signature food is probably garlic fries. I tend to limit eating at the ball park to hot dogs. The food generally is decent. I tend to just stick with beverage. I think I’ve written to you about this before, but AT&T Park could be a little jarring at first for an East Coast sports fan back in 2003, accustomed to the Spartan offerings of RFK, Veterans or Shea Stadium. Bread bowls and sushi at the ball park felt hopelessly out of place and indicative of a stadium experience for non-fan sports fans. But, in fact, the offerings merely reflect what Californians and San Franciscans like to eat and, more importantly, people’s willingness to not restrict themselves to the limited choice that traditionalists allow.
WFY: Is San Francisco a Giants town or a 49ers town? With both teams playing for the title last year, either way it has to be a good time to be a San Francisco sports fan.
DFS: Tough question. Particularly tough for a transplant who has been here for only 10 years. Before Jim Harbaugh took over, I would have said that San Francisco is a Giants town. You see more Giants hats, sweatshirts, colors every day than you do Niners gear. I think a big part of that has to do with the fact that the Giants play every day. Living and working in the city you see people going to the games. In the morning, you’ll see people with their gear because they are going to the game that night. The Niners play 8 home games a year and they play in a place that everyone drives to.
WFY: Are you enjoying Bay Lights (LED display on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge)? Have you seen them from the ballpark while attending a game?
DFS: I can see the Bay Bridge from where I live. So, it has already become wallpaper for me. I loved the white lights on the Bay Bridge. The dancing lights seem like a logical, natural extension of that. I’ve been to three games this season thus far. But from where I was sitting I didn’t see the Bridge. AT&T Park has a nice democratizing dynamic in that that the cheapest seats have the best view of the Bay.
WFY: Is there any excitement for the Nats coming to town? I mean Zach Duke, yes, ZACH DUKE, is starting for the Nats tonight…
DFS: I don’t think so. The Giants just finished a road trip in which they went 1 and 5. I think people would be excited if they had a three game set against a cream puff. This team really needs to win a series. The Nationals are a good team and my recollection is that the Nationals have gotten the better of the Giants in the past few seasons.
WFY: Your prediction for this series and the season series?
DFS: Nats win this series and the season series.