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Zack Greinke Injury Proves One Thing: LA Dodgers Are True Media Darlings

Matt Kemp’s sluggish start is suddenly the least of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ concerns.

That’s because Zack Greinke fractured his collarbone in a donnybrook that was triggered when Carlos Quentin charged the mound after being plunked in the shoulder by a fastball. You might’ve heard, as the incident’s getting a bit of media coverage.

Whether the injury occurred in the initial collision between the two or at the bottom of the pile of humanity that formed on top of them is immaterial. Even a shameless Dodger basher must admit the San Diego Padres‘ slugger owns the blame for both and rightfully so. 

But the larger media reaction—more or less summarized by this gem—has been incredible from one angle and predictable from another.

It’s been incredible because there seems to be a groundswell behind the idea that Quentin deserved a longer suspension than the eight games he got and is appealing (a similar suspension to those received by MLB‘s recent hard chargers).

That would make sense if Carlos did something totally unreasonable like charging the mound when there was obviously no intent (say, if he were hit with a curve ball) or knocked Greinke to the ground then stomped him out.

In those scenarios, the Stanford alum would’ve actually crossed a line by baseball standards.

In this case, though, I don’t see it.

That’s not to say the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter was definitely throwing at Quentin. It’s to say that nothing rules out the possibility.

Many people keep pointing to the game context as proof that Greinke couldn’t have been targeting a guy he’d already hit twice in his career. LA was up by one run and the count was 3-2 on the Padres’ No. 3 hitter who was leading off the sixth inning…

That’s it.

For some reason, nobody would ever throw at a batter in that situation.

Forget the history between the two players.

As Jayson Stark points out, Greinke‘s hit Quentin about once every 10 times the two have faced each other since 2008. In that same span, he’s hit a batter not named Carlos Quentin once every 225 plate appearances.

Forget that it’s April and there are still over 150 games to play. Yes, an April win counts as much as a September win, but let’s not be naive.

Forget that Zack Greinke is a player who’s gone on record implying that winning isn’t the most important thing to him. Forget that the Friars’ lineup falls off a cliff after Quentin so you wouldn’t be throwing a strike to the opposition’s most dangerous hitter when he’s sitting in full count in a one-run game. Which means if Greinke doesn’t think the hitter would go fishing and has a beef with him, dousing him might be an entirely attractive option.

Forget that Greinke is one of the premier arms in the game. One who probably wouldn’t be too concerned about pitching through a leadoff baserunner regardless of what was waiting in the wings. Infinitely less so when those hitters are Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Nick Hundley.

Forget all of that because nobody would throw at the leadoff hitter in the sixth inning of a one-run game. Ever.

That seems like a foolish argument to me.

Again, that’s not to say the right-hander was clearly throwing at Quentin or even that Carlos behaved reasonably.

To be honest, that pitch looked like Greinke pulled his fastball too much and it tailed back on him. Happens all the time.

Furthermore, the Padre is notorious for hanging over the plate and lunging into pitches, then not trying to avoid the HBP when the offering bores inside. When you get pegged as often as he does (check the second subheading here), you probably shouldn’t be headed to the mound except under the most explicit of circumstances.

And given the game context, it is unlikely that there was intent behind the fastball.

Not out of the question for the reasons stated, but unless the righty sincerely and viscerally dislikes Quentin, it would be a strange spot to throw at someone.

However, melees over misunderstandings aren’t exactly rare.

Plus you have to consider that (A) batters aren’t thrilled about getting pelted around the shoulders even when it’s purely accidental and (B) Greinke wasn’t exactly contrite afterwards. So let’s not pretend this is an obscene loss of composure.

As for the injury itself, that’s just bad luck. It’s not like Carlos body-slammed his prey or jump kicked him or anything else that would be considered excessive in a baseball brawl. He crashed into Greinke and they went to the ground.

Pretty standard.

Of course, Greinke‘s contract and the aura surrounding the Bums this season are very much nonstandard.

The hurler inked the largest contract ever given to a right-hander over the offseason in one of a flurry of flashy moves made by Los Doyers. Then there’s the matter of the mega-deal for broadcasting rights the franchise signed with Time Warner.

Consequently, it’s yawn-inducing that Magic Johnson’s colleague at ESPN (Stark) would write something like: “The Dodgers’ beautiful…2013 season can’t ever be the same.” It is likewise predictable that so many are parroting John Paul Morosi’s sentiment (via FOX Sports): “It was obvious to everyone else that Greinke‘s pitch wasn’t on purpose.”

Or that so many seem to be advocating harsher punishment because of the result—a serious injury to an excellent player and a headline generator.

When you combine a new ownership group with a lovable front man (who’s also employed by the industry’s 800-pound gorilla), a $7 billion infusion of capital, a roster of all-star names and a major media market, well, it’s no surprise that you get most-favored-franchise status.

Granted, “unsurprising” and “foolish” are not mutually exclusive adjectives.

Carlos Quentin got precisely what he deserved. He got a stiff-but-reasonable penalty that was in keeping with precedent because what he did wasn’t extraordinary, even if the cost of the incident was.

That doesn’t make for a sensational story, but the truth can be uncooperative.

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San Francisco Giants’ 2nd World Series Ring in 3 Years Completes Surreal Journey

The San Francisco Giants‘ improbable run to, and sweep through, the 2012 World Series has already been chewed up, merchandised and spit out as the 24-hour news cycle continues to churn.

In certain circles, however, the memory of the organization’s seventh world championship and the road traveled to win it will linger for a bit longer. Understand that what looked surreal from the outside was downright unreal for those who’ve suffered with the team for years.

That’s because the San Francisco Giants haven’t been the apple of the baseball gods’ collective eye since before I was born. Probably since the franchise moved West.

Baseball lore is rife with stories of Willie McCovey’s World Series-ending line drive that was a breath away from winning the 1962 Fall Classic, which instead found Bobby Richardson’s leather to seal those Giants’ fate and crown the New York Yankees champion. Likewise, you can read all about the doldrums which followed between that hard-luck loss on baseball’s grandest stage and the next one, but it was the ’89 World Series that really started the misery in earnest.

The Bay Bridge Series gave the carnage of the Loma Prieta earthquake an immediate national stage.

Consequently—and justifiably—nobody talks about what happened on the diamond. Even San Francisco’s most faithful were too numb from the loss of life and shocking damage to care about the insult added to grievous injury.

But it was added nonetheless in the form of a sweep at the hands of the Oakland Athletics.

A sweep expedited by the fact that Oakland was able to pitch ace Dave Stewart and No. 2 Mike Moore a total of four times in four games. Those were the Bash Brother A’s, and they were the favorites anyway, but the Gents’ chances went from slim to none when the back ends of the rotation were removed from the equation.

Again, though, the real-life tragedy unfolding around the Series reduced the baseball to a mere footnote.

So how about the 1993 season.

That’s when the Giants, fueled by the offseason acquisition of an accomplished left fielder, blasted out to a commanding 10-game lead in the National League West. Then, the Atlanta Braves traded for Fred McGriff, Fulton County Stadium literally burst into flame, and the Braves came storming back.

Atlanta ultimately took the NL West pennant on the last day of the season, when the hated Los Angeles Dodgers destroyed both the Giants’ postseason hopes and the promising future of Salomon Torres (as a starter) in one fell, 12-run swoop.

In the so-called Last Pure Pennant Race, San Francisco was the bitterest of losers, and the trend was just getting started.

In 1997, the NL West-champion Giants were unceremoniously dumped from the postseason by the best team money could buy, and it wasn’t even the Yankees. The Florida Marlins were big spenders for the first and only time in their history and were dismantled and sold for spare parts immediately thereafter, but the spree lasted long enough to sweep away Los Gigantes and capture the ’97 World Series.

In 1998, the Giants lost a one-game playoff to Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs. Granted, the franchise that enjoyed the fruits of Barry Bonds’ labor for so long can’t really throw any chemically-enhanced stones, so let’s move on.

In 2000, the Gents authored baseball’s best record in the inaugural season at AT&T Park (nee Pac Bell), took Game 1 of the NL Division Series, and came back to tie Game 2 on a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth by J.T. Snow. Of course, they would lose Game 2, and Games 3 and 4 as the New York Mets advanced.

Seriously. The Mets.

The 2002 World Series can be found in the well-read “Cruel and Unusual” chapter of Major League Baseball’s annals, so no need to revisit the Game 6 meltdown and Game 7 fait accompli.

It was those damn Marlins again in the 2003 NLDS, bouncing the good guys in four games despite Jason Schmidt tossing a complete game in the opener and the offense stoking Sidney freakinPonson to a three-run lead in Game 2. The Gents spent every single day of the ’03 season in first place, won 100 games and were done before the champagne from the regular-season celebration had gone flat.

Bonds started to deteriorate in 2004 and the fortunes of the club built around him followed suit. The Barry Zito contract was another massive step in the wrong direction, but then the narrative began to change.

Matt Cain turned into the horse everyone expected. Tim Lincecum didn’t break down as so many baseball insiders predicted but instead won two Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons. The front office grabbed Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey in back-to-back drafts, and the planets aligned to deliver the 2010 World Series.

However, as tortuous as the ’10 season was at times, there was an inevitable air to the City’s first World Series title.

Those Giants weren’t expected to compete in that Fall Classic, much less win it, but the notion didn’t seem outrageous to those who had been following the team closely.

San Francisco had been rolling in September and the team’s most dominating asset, its pitching, was one that historically paid big postseason dividends. Sure enough, the pitchers led the charge, and, though the team got some help along the way—here’s to you, Brooks Conrad—the entire postseason seemed almost too easy.

The Giants grabbed the lead in each series by winning all three openers, didn’t face an elimination game and never even faced a series deficit (in terms of games). They lost four contests in the entire postseason, needing only four games to finish off the Braves, stopping the Philadelphia Phillies in six NL Championship Series games and polishing off the Texas Rangers in five for the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Given that historical context, you’ll have to forgive Giants fans if they’re still sleepwalking through a surreal fog.

Because the Giants are not the team that rides the improbable to glory.

They are not the team that gets a season-saving error from a Hall of Fame-caliber defender on arguably his signature play. Or that gets a thrice-hit, bend-it-like-Beckham double in the biggest game of the year. Or that gets a critical double courtesy of the third-base bag.

They are not the team that sees a hurler who wasn’t good enough to make its postseason roster two years ago save the season and outduel Justin Verlander. Or that sees its much-maligned third baseman join Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only men to hit three home runs in a single World Series game (fun fact: that was only the second time in the history of AT&T Park that a single player had hit three taters in one game). Or that sees a journeyman retread morph into the most dominant pitcher of the postseason.

They are not the team that emerges from a winner-take-all Game 7 (that had never happened in the history of the Giants franchise). Or that rattles off six straight games facing elimination then sweeps its way through the team with the best pitcher and hitter on the planet.

Except, now the Giants are all of those things.

The Giants of my youth were swept out of the World Series on my birthday; these Giants did the World Series sweeping 23 years later to the day.

If that’s not the stuff of dreams, I don’t know what is.

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Buster Posey vs. Ryan Braun: The Absurd Hypocrisy of the NL MVP Debate

The pressure of Major League Baseball’s stretch run has boiled the race for the National League Most Valuable Player award down to two realistic options. With all due respect to Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina and—if you want to get sabermetric-happy—David Wright, Buster Posey and Ryan Braun are the only horses in this race.

On one side, you have the cherubic golden boy who seems to embody the James Earl Jones version of America’s pastime. On the other, you have the disgraced-oh-wait-no-he’s-not-on-a-technicality defending 2011 NL MVP.

The latter’s surge is laying the national baseball media bare for all to see who care to look.

Although Posey seems to have the inside track at the moment, Braun has been charging hard at the San Francisco Giants’ catcher for the last couple of months.

A hot August gave way to a scalding September, and though the Brewers have fallen out of contention in the last week, that they even resurfaced in the discussion is a tribute to the feats of their premier slugger. This is a team that was 12 games under .500 on Aug. 19 and will now finish with at least 82 wins.

Braun has been mashing, no doubt about it.

To understand the hypocrisy of the groundswell behind Ryan, you have to understand how much more valuable Buster’s been.

If you look at the raw numbers, it’s a relatively close call.

The wins above replacement (WAR) is separated by tenths of a point, but Braun has Posey smoked in the counting stats and slugging percentage, while Gerald Dempsey Posey III has Ryan licked in batting average, on-base percentage, walks and strikeout rate. So Braun’s been more productive and Posey’s been more efficient.

But consider the context.

Posey calls AT&T Park home, while Braun wears his whites at Miller Park. If counting stats were a growing boy, AT&T would be cigarette smoke, while Miller would be milk and vegetables.

Then take a gander at the WAR leaderboard again.

You’ll see Braun is joined by teammates Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart and Norichika Aoki in the top 40. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez actually have a better WAR than Hart and Aoki, but don’t have enough plate appearances to qualify. Either way, the Brew Crew has six position players with WAR of 3.0 or better.

For all the fuss made about the departure of Prince Fielder, Milwaukee’s cupboard isn’t exactly bare.

By comparison, San Francisco has three position players in the top 40 and one of those hasn’t played a game since mid-August.

Also consider that Posey has done his damage despite seeing the vast majority of his innings from behind the plate and after coming back from a hellacious injury, one that clearly demonstrated Buster’s import to the Giants as much of the same personnel that limped to the finish line in 2011 has been thriving in 2012.

In what has been a surprisingly strong offensive year for backstops, Posey’s been the best and he’s been no slouch on defense, either.

Finally, as good as Braun has been since the All-Star break, nobody in baseball has been hotter than the Giants’ catcher.

Posey leads all of baseball in batting average (hitting close to .400), on-base percentage, is second to Miguel Cabrera—who’s on his way to a Triple Crown—in slugging percentage and ranks in the Top Five for RBI. His inhuman play since the Midsummer Classic has propelled the Giants to a comfortable division title and the man, himself, to the cusp of an NL batting crown.

Either team suffers massively if its star disappears, but the Giants are a playoff team with Posey, whereas Milwaukee isn’t going to the postseason even with Braun. It’s obviously not the defending MVP’s fault, but that doesn’t change the value proposition: The difference in value between playoffs and no playoffs is tremendous, whereas the difference in value between X wins and Y wins is largely nominal when neither total would’ve qualified for the postseason.

Braun has a good argument on its face, but Posey’s is significantly better. Case closed.

Which brings us to the hypocrisy of the thing.

In a normal year, this MVP debate would be a typical one based on the merits of both players.

Of course, due to the aforementioned performance-enhanced scandal surrounding Braun and the game itself, this is not a normal year.

Instead, it’s been a banner one for sanctimonious hand-wringing and figurative crucifixion in the media.

When Melky Cabrera got popped for using in August, many in the press were so outraged you’d think these grown men had never been lied to before or heard of synthetic testosterone.

Meanwhile, the looming specter of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa becoming Hall of Fame eligible gave those with the holier-than-thou gene a chance to flaunt it when decrying any and each of the trio’s chances.

Part of the fiction that is the post-steroid era is the media’s overly dramatic and hard-line stance on anyone who gets caught up in the maelstrom. It’s like the press is trying to make up for all those years when only blind eyes saw the PED telltales and it doubled down on that effort in ’12.

For the record, I don’t care much about the use of performance-enhancers in professional baseball, but that’s a matter for a different day.

What does irritate me is that the same group that treats PED use like a communicable disease in most settings is going out of its way to French kiss it in this one.

Given the media’s general attitude toward those touched by the PED scandal and the nip-tuck nature of the two studs’ seasons, Braun shouldn’t be anywhere near the discussion. He should be noted and dismissed by those same voting members who find PED use so abhorrent in its other contexts.

Yeah, yeah, the Hall of Fame ballot instructs voters that character should be a consideration, while there is no such directive on the MVP ballot.

Equally compelling is the fact that Braun’s PED suspension was waived because the sample was stored too long.

Look, if you believe character matters, then it always matters, whether you’ve been explicitly told to consider it or not. It’s not like the MVP ballot demands that the voter ignore character.

As for the technical loophole Braun squeezed his MVP trophy through, does Ryan’s urine turn into testosterone and/or “prohibited substances” gradually over time? If so, is the medical community aware of this? Because I’m thinking there could be some beneficial applications of that little talent.

So why the special rules when it comes to Mr. Braun?

Who knows?

Maybe it’s because he’s the anti-Bonds: a likable otherworldly talent. Maybe it’s because the Braun-shouldn’t-win angle is too obvious and rational to ever start a firestorm. Maybe those members of the press sincerely believe the dude is innocent.

After all, somebody falls for those African prince emails, too, right?

I won’t speculate as to the why of it, but one thing is certain: All players are not created (or chemically enhanced) equally in the eyes of the national media.

The NL MVP race is proving it.

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San Francisco Giants Largely Unfazed by Dodgers’ Blockbuster and Rightfully So

As far as baseball weekends go, the San Francisco Giants and their faithful have had better than the one that unfolded on Aug. 25 and 26.

Not only did their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, pull off one of the more mind-numbing trades in recent memory, but the Gents also dropped their last two contests to the visiting Atlanta Braves. On national television, no less.

Not a good look for San Francisco.

The view gets considerably worse when you consider Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum got knocked around in back-to-back starts, with both games (Friday and Saturday) taking on the feel of blowouts.

No, definitely not a good look for SF.

The news was not all bad, however.

The home team took the first two of the four-game series behind Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, hurlers who are considered back-of-the-rotation starters. On most weekends, splitting a four-gamer with one of the best teams in baseball would’ve been counted as a success and left the club thinking happy thoughts.

Except it was not a normal weekend thanks to this coup de grace (via ESPN).

The Dodgers’ trade with the Boston Red Sox became official on Saturday. The swap sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and $11 million to Chavez Ravine in exchange for James Loney, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus, Jr.

Incidentally, outstanding work by Beantown, just outstanding.

If you can’t move the needle in your own pennant race with all that talent, might as well use it to muck one up across the country.

Who would’ve thought the Sox to be that cellar-dwelling fantasy owner who dumps all his/her talent in a dynasty league for picks in next year’s draft, securing pennies on the dollar for top-tier talent while screwing up the competitive balance for the season’s most critical stretch?

But I digress…

Adding Gonzalez to a lineup that already features Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier is obvious cause for concern. What’s more, the insertion of Beckett into that rickety rotation could be the bigger groin strike.

Say what you want about the Dodgers’ sputtering offense, but it’s the Los Angeles starting pitching that has the potential to derail this nine-figure train.

Clayton Kershaw is a super freak, but the confidence level drops precipitously once you move past the 2011 National League Cy Young. Chad Billingsley (just placed on the DL), Chris Capuano (starting to fade), Aaron Harang (still Aaron Harang) and Joe Blanton (a poor man’s Harang) are all in some state of disrepair. Meanwhile, Ted Lilly is still struggling to get healthy.

You can see the dilemma—just like his non-insular cousin, no man is a rotation, either.

If Beckett can turn back the clock in a new environment and pitch like some semblance of his 2007 self, the Bums would have a formidable two-man front and enough firepower to survive the shaky back end.

If the new right-hander continues his messy slide into obscurity as he did in his Dodger debut? It’s more likely that L.A. just spent a skyscraping pile of money to finish second in the West and watch the playoffs from the couch.

Whether it proves to be so in reality, the trade is a game-changer on paper and that makes it a significant shot to absorb for the moment.

On the heels of the Melky Cabrera suspension, it has all the makings of a soul-crusher, that elusive stroke of genius that finally puts los Doyers over the top in the NL West.

Except that’s not how it’s playing in the Giants’ clubhouse.

Bruce Bochy was the first to give verbal yawn in reaction to the impending trade (via the AP’s Janie McCauley):


Boch wasn’t done there, telling the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea, “They made a blockbuster deal. They’re a better club. At the same time, it’s not something we need to worry about.”

Taking a cue from his manager, Buster Posey echoed the tactfully ho-hum sentiment by telling ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball crew that the trade was exciting and “good for West Coast baseball.”

No panic, no the-sky-is-falling calls for an immediate answer, no woe-is-me appeal for sympathy in the face of Evil Empire-deep pockets.

Just a confident compliment before going about the daily routine.

To a degree, the stoic front was predictable.

What is the manager of a big-league club and its best player going to do? Break into tears and wring their hands while conducting a search for their blankies? No, probably not. Even if such were their natural impulses.

But there is reason to believe the lack of angst was and is sincere. More than one, actually.

There is the aforementioned frailty of the Dodgers’ starting rotation and the fact that Beckett is not the relatively sure thing that Gonzalez is.

Adrian will hit, that we all know, but how a 32-year-old fallen idol will fare on the mound is open to considerable debate.

Sure, Beckett is trading the AL East for the NL West and that means goodbye to the Rogers Centre, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and the designated hitter. Instead, Josh gets to say hello to Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park, PETCO Park and pitchers who must swing a bat.

Each element should ease his transition and make life easier.

Of course, the Red Sox should have made the playoffs last year, and the St. Louis Cardinals had no business winning the 2011 World Series.

There is many a slip twixt what should happen and what does happen in Major League Baseball. Logic often loses out to Lady Luck and the baseball gods.

The Giants have a few things on their side, too.

They know what they have in their ballclub. They aren’t trying to assimilate talented-but-foreign parts on the fly. The roles have been defined, they’re playing good baseball and they’ve got continuity in their favor.

Continuity along with plenty of excellent ballplayers.

Angel Pagan is hot. Buster Posey has been hot since the All-Star break. Brandon Belt is having a nice month of August. Marco Scutaro has been a revelation. Pablo Sandoval is rounding (thank you) into shape. Role players are making key contributions and Hunter Pence is showing signs of life.

They’ve still got two of the best pitchers in baseball in Bumgarner and Matt Cain, plus a third with two Cy Youngs. Timmy’s been better in the second half, Vogelsong pitched well against the Bravos after a jagged stretch and even Zito’s had his moments.

Plus there’s a silver lining to the blockbuster—the Giants no longer have the target on their collective back despite being in first place.

When you add talent worth a quarter of a billion dollars, you also add the burden of expectation and that means the bull’s eye is firmly rooted on the Dodgers.

They’ve made no secret about their intentions to win now and they’ve got no excuses. Not with Gonzalez, Beckett and Punto added to a roster of deadline acquisitions that already included Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, Joe Blanton and Randy Choate.

And you know what that means: The Dodgers should win the NL West…


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Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper and the Beauty of Major League Baseball

I hate Matt Kemp.

As a diehard San Francisco Giants fan, I’m contractually obligated to hate the best player on the Los Angeles Dodgers and that is, most definitely, Kemp. Right now, the 27-year-old is the best player in Major League Baseball and the competition ain’t particularly close. So, with all due respect to Clayton Kershaw, Kemp is the finest specimen the Bums have to offer and has been for several years now.

For most of those years, it was easy to despise Rihanna’s ex.

But as the man said, no good thing lasts forever.

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Giants vs. Mets: Tim Lincecum Gets 1st Win, but Still Searching for His Form

It took Tim Lincecum four tries, but the diminutive right-hander mercifully registered his first win of the 2012 season. He went five innings against New York’s junior varsity squad, whiffing eight Mets, surrendering four hits and suffering just a single earned run.

This is where the good news starts to turn, though.

The outing “lowered” Linececum’s ERA to 8.20 and did the same for his WHIP, now an unsightly 1.88. That last bit is the really ugly stunner because Lincecum coughed up five walks for a not-so-grand total of nine baserunners in five frames.

Giants fans—indeed, observers of Major League Baseball in general—are not accustomed to seeing Lincecum place almost two ducks on the pond per inning and have it help his numbers.

In truth, the story was even gorier than the sheer numbers.

The Freak’s command was largely nonexistent. It looked like he had zero idea where the ball was going once it left his hand, which explains why he averaged more than 20 pitches per inning on his way to 108 tosses total.

What’s more, he needed plays ranging from spectacular to above-average from several defenders to labor through the outing.

Emmanuel Burriss made a fantastic diving grab to get the first out of the game, Melky Cabrera made a nice running catch on a sinking line drive to keep runs off the board and then there was the game-saver. Had it not been for a jaw-dropping, get-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer double play turned by Burriss and Brandon Crawford—one that featured a back-handed glove flip from Burriss and a bare-handed turn by Crawford—Lincecum’s final numbers would’ve been more gruesome, and they probably wouldn’t include that first W.

Lack of command, messy pitch totals and reliance on defense are not Tim Lincecum’s calling cards.

There’s also the nagging, made-for-columnists drama of his decreased velocity, which has finally produced the inevitable injury speculation.

The hand-wringing over the drop in velocity continues to be much ado about nothing—the dude did strike out eight professional hitters (or close approximations thereto). If the lack of zip on the Franchise’s heater was a sincere problem, you wouldn’t see that gaudy strikeout total—not even against a team as offensively suspect as this year’s Mets.

The lack of command is the real cause for concern, and his latest outing didn’t help put anyone at ease, least of all Lincecum.

The fan favorite might’ve put on the proverbial brave face after the game, but reading between the lines, it sure doesn’t sound like he’s found himself yet. After settling down against the Philadelphia Phillies in start No. 3, the Franchise seemed on that track, but his latest trip to the bump seems to have knocked him back off it.

The rhythm and ease with which Lincecum coasted from the second through the sixth inning against the Phils were gone, replaced with a forced, uneven motion from first pitch to last against the Mets. That’s usually evidence of a pitcher who is searching for himself and thinking too much.

And both are bad signs as the calendar turns to May.

Even so, the faithful need not panic.

It’s definitely getting closer to that time, but for now, the glass case can remain unbroken and the red button un-pushed.

As strange as it may seem, Giant fans should take comfort in the fact that we’ve seen Lincecum scuffle like this in seasons’ past. As I’ve previously noted, Timmy’s familiar with these valleys and arguably even deeper, darker ones. It follows that the pitcher is also familiar with how to climb out of them or at least how to stay sane while making the ascent.

We’ve seen the ace struggle in four straight starts before, so we’re still in charted territory.

Additionally, Lincecum has been making progress since he hit rock bottom in Colorado. He looked better in the Philly start (after the first inning), but the results were better against New York. If he can sync up the fluidity he found against the Phightins while avoiding the big inning like he did in New York, he should be right as rain in no time.

That’s easier said than done, but a confidence boost and a little relaxation should go a long way toward achieving that end. And nothing inspires confidence or relaxes a pitcher like a win.

Lincecum just got his first of the year ,so don’t be surprised if more are in his immediate future.

Of course, if his struggles stretch into the new month and uncharted territory, you should be prepared for something else.

Because if that happens, there will be a panic in the Bay Area the likes of which we haven’t seen recently.

And for good reason.

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Tim Lincecum vs. Barry Zito: What to Make of SF Giants’ Uncharacteristic Starts

The 2012 Major League Baseball season has gotten off to an odd start for the San Francisco Giants—the offense has come streaking out of the gates while the pitching has stumbled.

Even more bizarre, Tim Lincecum, the ace in a rotation of guys who could put up a good tussle for that mantle, has been the most prone to flame. Meanwhile, Barry Zito, the much-maligned $126 million man and the only pure spectator in the aforementioned tussle, has been damn near unhittable.

Sure, not even 10 percent of the season is in the books, but the more superstitious Bay Area baseball fans are beginning to eye that Mayan calendar with serious concern. And really, can you blame them?

The bats have been averaging 4.5 runs a game in the early going as the club’s perennial Achilles’ heel has been a strength. On the other hand, the pitchers—the orange and black backbone—have surrendered almost as many earned runs per contest (4.1). The starters have been particularly ragged. Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain all got knocked around in their first trips to the mound, while Ryan Vogelsong began the year on the shelf.

Only Zito has remained above the fray.

Toss in some shoddy defense—a major-league worst 15 errors have produced seven unearned runs on the season—and the Gents’ 4-6 record makes sense. But try selling it as logical to San Francisco fans, whose baseball world is on tilt at the moment.

MadBum and Cain righted their ships in their subsequent starts, and Vogelsong turned in a fine performance once he came off the disabled list, but Lincecum’s scuffles and Barry’s brilliance have continued.

The Freak has been such only in the circus-sideshow sense of the word—if you exclude the Giants who’ve yet to pitch four innings, Timmy’s 10.54 ERA in three starts is almost twice as high as anyone else’s. He’s allowed 26 base-runners in 13.2 innings, he’s already suffered more first-inning runs in ’12 than he did in all of 2011, his command has been off and his velocity was a muted 91-92 MPH in his latest start (Monday versus Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies).

Yes, two of those three starts came in the hitter havens of Chase and Coors Fields. But the Colorado Rockies are not the offensive juggernaut they’ve been in recent years, even at home, and there’s no sugar-coating a loss to the Phillies since they were down Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and a useful Placido Polanco.

So, it’s a mild understatement to say times are not so good for the Franchise.

Just as it’s a mild understatement to say times are rosy for Mr. Zito.

The Giants’ other former Cy Young has more innings pitched (16) in two starts than Timmy has in three. He’s got the best earned run average (1.13) of any San Francisco hurler with at least four innings pitched, his WHIP (0.69) is second only to Matt Cain’s sparkling 0.60 and he’s posted eight strikeouts against only a single walk. His shutout of the Rockies on only four hits and no walks in Denver’s ERA-bloating air is already the stuff of San Francisco legend.

Ah, times are good in the Zito household.

Of course, we’ve been here before, in both cases.

Big-Time Timmy Jim labored through an ugly, four-game stretch to kick off June in ’11. In 2010, a season that carries a touch of significance in The City, Lincecum endured unsightly jags in both May and August. Even his second Cy Young campaign in 2009 got off to a slow start, as the right-hander slogged through his first two starts.

As for Baked Zito, the lefty has threatened to shake off the doldrums as recently as the championship season of ’10. That year, he boasted a sub-3.00 ERA as late as June 1 and put together another fine string of starts to finish up the month of July. In ’09, Barry pitched to a 1.93 ERA for the entire month of August. Even his inaugural season with los Gigantes, a mostly terrible 2007, saw him cobble together a sub-3.00 ERA in (you guessed it) August.

Against that backdrop, you know the question before it’s asked: Is the early-season performance of each pitcher an aberration or a sign of things to come?

Should Giants fans panic about Lincecum? Should they reserve a seat on the Zito bandwagon?

In the Franchise’s case, the answer is simple: Not yet.

To some degree, Lincecum’s a victim of his own success. When you give the faithful two Cy Young Awards and a World Series ring in your first three full seasons, expectations become unrealistic. The 27-year-old is not going to be suffocating in every start, and he was never going to throw in the mid-90s for his entire career. Consequently, the diminished velocity was never as troubling as his lack of command.

After all, command without velocity can get you to the Hall of Fame (see: Maddux, Greg), whereas velocity without command gets you a seat on the couch and a remote control.

Lincecum’s command hasn’t been terrible. He’s made too many mistakes inside the strike zone, producing too much loud contact, but he’s only walked four batters all year. Furthermore, he’s whiffing more than a batter an inning and seemed to find his rhythm against Philly after a brutal first inning.

When you consider the Freak’s body of work, that the answer to his command issues always seemed to be a tweak rather than an overhaul and the way he settled in against the Phils, I expect the filthy ace we all know and love to be back on the hill in his next start.

The question is, is Zito’s case more complicated?

There are reasons to believe his mini-resurgence is genuine and here to stay. The 33-year-old spent time with pitching guru Tom House this summer and overhauled his delivery. While the complete reconstruction didn’t hold, Zito stayed with some of the tinkering, and the early results are encouraging. Most compelling, he’s already demonstrated more resiliency than we’ve seen at any point during his Giant tenure—the Zito to which San Francisco has become accustomed would’ve melted down after spotting the Pirates two runs in the first inning of his last outing.

Or after a two-out triple in the fourth. Or after the three errors the Gents committed in the fifth and sixth.

This time, however, the lanky lefty settled in after the first, stranded that two-out triple and pitched through the errors to keep San Francisco in the game. That speaks to confidence, which is as important as anything in Barry’s arsenal.

Put another way, there are real and significant reasons for optimism.

Alas, there is a flip side to this particular coin.

Such as the tales we heard about how the theory that a quieter, more focused offseason explained his hot start in ’10 and held the promise of an equally strong finish. Another popular chestnut offered to explain his torrid April and May in ’10 was the increased use of his slider.

The point being that, as long as Barry Zito has struggled in a Giants uniform, the faithful have heard and/or read stories promising that some basic change would banish those struggles and deliver us all—Zito included—from a now-five-year nightmare.

And just as consistently, the theories have proven false, the promises empty.

Is this the year the pattern crumbles or just its latest iteration? Who knows?

The Giant faithful have been burned too many times to be hopping on the wagon with both feet, but this “new” Zito looks different and better than the previous “new” Zitos, so mark me down as cautiously optimistic.

Which is a welcome change.

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B/R Exclusive: San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey Talks 2011 Season and Beyond

Buster Posey was a force of nature around the Bay Area even before he became a fixture in the San Francisco Giants‘ clubhouse.

The former Florida State Seminole was selected by the Giants with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball draft after he was done ruining psyches in college baseball. I’d make a “Sherman through the South” reference here, but Posey’s a good ol’ Georgia boy so it might be a sensitive subject.

Nevertheless, scorched earth is appropriate imagery when speaking of Buster’s collegiate exploits.

He was a Louisville Slugger All-American as a shortstop in his freshman year before switching to catcher for his sophomore year and finishing as the runner-up for the Johnny Bench Award (goes to the top catcher in college baseball).

Then he had a junior year that can stand on its own as a career-worth of accolades—he hit .463 with 26 home runs, won the Johnny Bench award, was the 2008 Collegiate Player of the Year and won the Golden Spikes award which is given to the best amateur baseball player in the country.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that Gerald Demp III was touted as the best catcher in the draft, handed the largest signing bonus in the draft’s history at the time ($6.2 million) and engendered the sort of hype San Francisco rarely sees over a baseball player not named Barry Lamar Bonds.

Nope, the surprise came when Posey not only delivered on all that hype but when he even managed to outpace it en route to the ‘Gents 2010 World Series Championship.

And he continues to see expectations in his rear-view mirror as the 2011 season rolls on.

On Thursday, the franchise catcher sat down with Bleacher Report for an exclusive look at that magical ’10 ride as well as the current campaign and what the future may hold.


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MLB Preview 2011: Handicapping the San Francisco Giants’ Left-Field Battle

Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is already underway and that means it’s officially time for the World Champion San Francisco Giants to put away the champagne (or Bud Lite), confetti and late-night talk show laurels.

The thong can stay, though (Aubrey’s, not the Machine’s).

Down in Arizona, the first PFP drills have been run so you know two things.

First, someone has already embarrassed himself.

Most pitchers aren’t Tim Lincecum-type athletes anyway, so asking them to field their position is a dicey proposition. Then you toss in set-up men and specialty relievers? Look out, here comes the circus. Although in truth, the Gents have a pretty athletic stable from top to bottom so maybe it’s a muted show.

Second, and more importantly, our long nightmare is over and BASEBALL is right around the corner.

With all due respect, the NFL is slowly becoming a 20-week episode of Hard Knocks so part of me is rooting for a work stoppage simply for the peace and quiet. At least the League’s tug-o’-war over the fan’s last dollar is easy to process and tune out.

Forget both sides in that nonsense—we all know it will end with each pampered posse getting richer while the fans foot the bill so who really cares? Let the greedy S.O.B.’s shoot themselves in the feet until they realize it hurts.

Like baseball did.

As for the NBA, well, it’s heading into the stretch run and teams are starting to play hard every night so I’ve got no beef with the Association at the moment. Nevertheless, all the coasting up to this point still leaves a sour note in the air.

C’mon, I can’t get 82 games at full throttle for $4 mil a year?

Consequently, it’s the pearl to the rescue.

Before that can happen, however, the exhibition season must play out and each team must answer a few lingering questions. In the Giants’ neck of the woods, there’s only one major unknown and it looms over left field.

And it’s a pretty big one; as in, who will play there?

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Adrian Beltre or Victor Martinez: Who Was the Bigger Loss for Boston Red Sox?

The Boston Red Sox and their fans have had a pretty rough go of it lately.

Not only did the squad fail to qualify for the postseason in 2010, but the franchise also lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez over the winter.

Beantown’s had to watch a different team hoist the World Series trophy for three consecutive years, a run that includes a crown for their revolting rivals to the south, the New York Yankees.

Now it’s down two key contributors from an underachieving ’10 roster.

Of course, you could point to the bigger picture.

You know, the one that includes the monumental World Series win in 2004, another in 2007 via sweep and the club’s status as a perennial contender. Actually, “contender” is putting it too mildly; the squad is an annual juggernaut and on the short list of favorites to win the Fall Classic every April.

The Sawks have gone to the postseason six times in the last eight years and haven’t finished lower than third in the rugged American League East since 1997 (almost a decade and a half).

So there’s that.

There is also the little matter of the 2010-11 offseason that saw the BoSox grab two of the premier players in Major League Baseball.

Adrian Gonzalez most certainly wears that title with distinction, and I’d also put Carl Crawford in there without much debate. The guy swipes an average of 54 bases while putting up a respectable slash line and just won a Gold Glove playing left field; say what you want about the merits of that award (and they are shaky), but he can clearly flash some leather.

Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for continuity in all sports, especially in baseball. So the losses of Beltre and V-Mart will be felt—the question is how much?

Furthermore, whose absence will be harder to absorb?

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