After too long without a guest prognosticator, the series returns with my friend David, a native-Washingtonian living in San Francisco. Previously we talked about his San Francisco Giants as well as the 49ers whom he did not adopt. The Western division leading Giants visit D.C. this week for a series with the Washington Nationals, leading the Eastern division.
WFY: Last year you mentioned that a World Series hangover was okay. I guess they are getting over that now — they are in first place without Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum being ineffective for the most part. Are the Giants lucky/streaky or do they have a real shot at taking the division?
DS: I don’t think this team is streaky or lucky. They have a very real possibility of winning the division. Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong are going to give the team lights out performance each start. Lincecum and Zito are totally unpredictable at this point and they will likely be difference makers if the team succeeds this year. I expect Lincecum to regress to the mean and improve; I expect the same for Zito with the result being the opposite.
I actually think that Arizona represents the bigger threat than the Dodgers–although the Dodgers were playing out of their minds in April and May.
WFY: With Wilson out, how has the bullpen held together?
DS: The most dominant pitcher in the Giants dugout is Romo. He can be just electric. I love watching him throw his slider. During the 2010 season he was the 8th inning setup man consistently with Wilson coming in at the ninth. With Wilson out the team has used Santiago Castilla almost exclusively in the closer role. I was surprised by that, thinking that Romo was the clear choice. Castilla has blown two of his last three save attempts after being fairly reliable earlier this year. Now the team doesn’t have anyone in the setup role. If you see Clay Hensley or Jeremy Affeldt enter the game you should be happy. I’m still not convinced Hensley is a major leaguer. Affledt has his moments and was great down the stretch in 2010. I think that bought him goodwill that should have expired. I don’t buy his stats either. He’s the type of reliever that comes in with two men on, gives up two runs then closes out the inning without taking on an earned run. The team just brought up Brad Penny–a blast from the past. We’ll see how that goes. They’ve filled in the gaps with the likes of promoted minor leaguers. So the bullpen should be the week link, but it has not been to my happy surprise.
WFY: Lincecum pitched better in his last start, but overall he’s been a real liability. What happened to him and was it “overnight” or were there warning signs?
DS: That is the question that everyone is talking about. The two most common theories are that (i) he is underweight and that his cost him power in his legs and (ii) he is injured. I’ve watched a number of his starts. Several of his terrible 3 or 4 run inning performances have included unfortunate balls getting through. That’s just baseball. That has diminished his confidence and he hasn’t been challenging batters that he should be challenging. The loss in velocity though is a problem, given that his best asset has been his change-up. But if you go back to those bad, bad starts he was still striking guys out. I expect that he going to fare a lot better in the coming weeks. I read somewhere a quotation from Tom Seaver saying that skinny guys don’t last long (I assume he made some qualification for Randy Johnson). He suggested that Lincecum needs to bulk up. Roy Oswalt questioned Lincecum’s fitness and training work ethic last year. There may be something to that. By comparison, Bumgarner and Cain are just horses.
I think Lincecum has turned a corner but will likely struggle in DC: he is from Washington state and is accustomed to throwing in the cold to temperate San Francisco climate. He notoriously hates hot weather. That doesn’t bode well given the recent weather you’ve been having.
WFY: What was the reaction to Matt Cain’s perfect game last month?
DS: Huge story. Already a centerpiece of local media and Giants advertising. I was in a bar for pub trivia and watched the game there. The bar was focussed on the game and lost its mind when Blanco made that outrageous catch. From the 8th on people were cheering after each strike–this is people at a bar that are there for another reason. It was awesome. The pub trivia came to a halt as people called their friends and loved ones and generally hooted and hollered. The Giants have great fans.
Incidentally, the headline on Bloomberg the next day was “San Francisco pitcher throws perfect game.” Cain did make an appearance on David Letterman however.
WFY: How has the Giants offense been?
DS: I really like the offense. There isn’t much power in the line-up. That is the big weakness. But having two and a half threats in the heart of the order that are switch hitters (Cabrera, Sandoval and Pagan) gives the team tremendous flexibility. AT&T Park is a difficult park to hit in. My own theory is that Posey takes a different approach at home. Most of his power numbers come on the road. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits at least one out in DC–assuming he is in the lineup each day. The team has finally made a commitment to its young first baseman (Brandon Belt) and we’re starting to see results.
But ultimately this is a pitching and defense team. The thinking being if they score 2 or 3 they should win. That hasn’t worked of course when Lincecum or Zito give up 4 runs in one pop. So, you see a fair amount of base stealing and sacrifices, which is fine with me. I’d take that any day over watching 40 year old DHs swing for the fences without any situational awareness.
WFY: The July 4 game starts at 11:05 EDT/8:05 PDT a.m.. Are you even going to be awake before the game ends? Should the Giants be hosting a July 4 game instead of traveling or does it not matter?
DS: I guess I’ll catch the last two or three innings on the radio. I like when the Giants play in other ball parks at higher profile times. For people on the East, the NL West games start at 10:05 and ESPN typically doesn’t provide much coverage during Sportscenter because it requires live editing when they already have enough material for their hour. Consequently, I don’t think a lot of sports fans know that much about this team other than fantasy people. (I suspect the same is true for the Mariners, Angels, As, Padres and, to a lesser extent, the Dodgers).
Actually, does ESPN still broadcast two games on Wednesday nights? I don’t think they even do that.
As a continuation of our East Coast bias email conversation, I was surprised that Sports Illustrated didn’t run a story about Cain. This week’s edition was almost entirely basketball coverage. The only baseball story of note was a profile on Giancarlo Stanton. Last week the baseball story was Andrew McCutchen. Both are great players, but I would have thought Cain would have gotten more than a glossy photograph with a caption that said nothing more than he pitched a perfect game. In the 80s a perfect game would have been a cover story. Now it isn’t even covered.
WFY: Does a team really need two road uniforms? Do you like the new “headspoon” piping on the SAN FRANCISCO jersey? What about the fauxback SF one?
DS: I’m afraid I don’t know what headspoon piping is. To be honest, most of the Giants coverage is on cable. So I follow mostly on the radio. I make a point to watch when the games are on local TV, but those are almost always home games, and head to the corner bar to watch other games probably once a week. But I haven’t focused much on the road jerseys. I have noticed on a few occasions going with the SF logo the chest rather than “San Francisco”. I like the nod to the Will Clark, Robby Thompson, Kevin Mitchell days. But I like that jersey as exactly that–a throwback. So, I would like to see it used sparingly with the classic uni worn on most days. I hope they stay away from the cursive late 1970s early 1980s home jersey.
No team needs two road uniforms. Every team needs marketing opportunities.
I heard on the radio that the As will be having a 1950s throwback night. That will probably represent the only chance I ever have of seeing anyone wear a Kansas City Athletics jersey. Be on the look out.
WFY: Who is more popular, the 49ers or Giants? Has that changed during your time in San Francisco?
DS: When I moved to California the 49ers were at the end of the Mooch era and were about to embark upon a long road of bones and tears that included both Norv Turner and Mike Nolan. I sympathized with the fans as they were experiencing what Redskins fans had been going through since 1992. It definitely felt like this was a Giants town and people adored (and later apologized for) Barry. But I probably see this through skewed lens as I adopted the Giants within a relatively short time, but still don’t consider myself a 49er fan. (Incidently, in a fit of Youtube boredom recently I listened to a Vin Scully call of the 9th inning of a Koufax perfect game. It was great. I followed a link to “The Catch” drive and was pleasantly surprised to find that Vin Scully called that game. I don’t remember him calling NFL games when we were kids. He must have done NFC West games, which weren’t televised in the DC area as our afternoon games were always AFC West. Or maybe I was so accustomed to hearing him call baseball games that I never even noticed.)
But after 2010 the Giants’ popularity has blown up. When I listen to road games on the radio I can here the “Lets Go Giants!” chant. When they play in San Diego, Giants fans outnumber Padre fans. They recently played up in Seattle and Giants fans took over the place. That’s a phenomena that seems wholly uncommon in the NFL other than maybe when NFC East teams play in Washington.
That said, the town got really energized by Harbaugh and the 49ers became a hot story throughout last season. And then that game against the Saints will go down in the annals of NFL Films as another amazing fourth quarter even without the scandals of Gregg Williams. One interesting angle is that the 49ers have moved to Santa Clara. That can only distance themselves from the city. Whereas on game days, commuters high five people headed to the Giants games and there is black and orange all over downtown.
WFY: Fist pump cam?
DS: I think it has hung around because there is an old lady that is a season ticket holder that loves it and the fans go crazy for her when she’s on the screen. This is emblematic of the current stadium experience. I recognize that the club sees its job as providing entertainment and overcoming the reputation of baseball as slow and boring. But I happen to like the pace of baseball and I would enjoy the experience more if there was less blaring of advertisements or excuses to put fans up on the jumbotron. There is now a ritual after each inning–a kiss cam, the fist pump thing, singing Don’t Stop Believing, a stupid animated race between cable cars, kids announcing the batting lineup, fans answering trivia questions, etc. I guess I’m in the minority that the game, a beer and a hot dog are enough for me. Another thing is that I go to between 3 and 5 games a year. The fist pump cam made me chuckle the first time I saw it last year. Now I’m ready for it to find a quiet place in the pasture.
WFY: Who takes the series this week and the overall season series?
DS: I’m a little overoptimistic here, but I think the Giants win 2 of 3. If the Giants take this series, then I think they take the season.