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San Francisco Giants: Aaron Rowand Making Case for Continued Starting Role

Aaron Rowand has been a certified pariah since his first season in San Francisco.

His performance at the plate has not endeared him to the fans or management, and it showed with his reduced role in the latter half of the 2010 season.

Rowand was limited to 91 at bats after the All-Star break as the Giants outfield became overloaded. Between Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Andres Torres and others, there simply was not room in the outfield.

It looked to be more of the same this season, that is, until Ross and Torres went down with injuries. An opportunity opened up, and Rowand has capitalized on it.

He is hitting .314 going into Saturday night’s game against the Diamondbacks, and an early-season start is not anything new for Rowand.

In April last season, he hit .304 before going on the disabled list after being hit in the head by the Dodgers‘ Vicente Padilla.

Rowand was not the same player after that.

If he continues to play at this pace, the question has to be raised: Does Rowand remain a starter when Torres and Ross return?

Bruce Bochy has done a masterful job of mixing and matching and, with no disrespect to the other players, Rowand has to play if he keeps up his strong play.

Pat Burrell has provided power, but has not been there otherwise. His .162 average entering Saturday is the lowest of any everyday player, but his team-leading four home runs have kept him in the lineup.

The bigger question is, who is sent to Fresno and/or designated for assignment when Ross returns?

Rowand was on the short list, but he now has value, and the Giants will not eat a large contract. Nate Schierholtz could be the unfortunate odd man out without another person hitting the disabled list.

The veteran center fielder still has much to prove, but if he does not have a significant break in playing time, Rowand could be a key piece in the Giants’ quest to repeat as champions.

Zack Farmer is a freelance sports reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and

Follow me on Twitter: @FarmboySports

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Brandon Belt’s Homer Cannot Overcome San Francisco Giants Errors in Loss

Some things went right on Friday night. Others went wrong.

The Giants were able to muster more than one run and hold a lead only to have errors and questionable pitching moves undo them in the sixth inning.

Some questions were answered, but others have been raised.


Brandon Belt has arrived

Brandon Belt hit his first career home run against Chad Billingsley. On top of that, his three-run homer gave the Giants a 3-1 lead.

He took two very good pitches from Billingsley to work the count to 2-0.

Belt has showed maturity beyond his years and, despite only being two games in, Belt looks like the real deal.


Where is the defense?

The Giants defense has handed their starting pitchers two losses in two nights. Five errors in two games is not the way any successful team should play.

This is not the type of team that can afford to give runs away.

What concerns me is whether this is becoming a trend or is just early-season jitters.


Pablo’s bat comes alive

During his first at-bat of the night, Pablo Sandoval swung at three curveballs in the dirt, resulting in a strikeout.

Sandoval finished the night 2-for-4 and had better control of his at-bats.


Jonathan Sanchez remains nasty

There were some questions about Jonathan Sanchez and how he could rebound from his final two playoff appearances.

Would he be tired? Could he keep his control both mentally and physically?

Well, Sanchez had control of all of his pitches Friday night and kept the Dodgers‘ batters off balance.

In his 5.2 innings, he struck out eight while allowing four runs—two earned. His three walks were spread throughout his start.

He seemed poised and confident in his first start of the season.


Other notes

Miguel Tejada got his first hit as a Giant, but it came as a bunt single that nobody could have predicted.

This is not a good sign. He has not had very good at-bats and it has resulted in his 1-for-8 start.

The bullpen has not been very impressive. Guillermo Mota and Santiago Casilla have allowed runs to score on their watch.

But, once again, it is still very early.


Follow me on Twitter: @FarmboySports

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MLB Overhaul: Say Bye, Bye to American, National Leagues, Interleague Play

Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2011 season and the layout of the playoffs will be among the topics discussed.

Baseball should also take a page from the NBA and the NHL and reorganize the American and National leagues into a Western and Eastern Conference.

This was something that bothered me for a while, but after mulling it over, makes sense for the sport.

Think about it.

This would involve the entire nation in the baseball playoffs rather than one region or another.

This plan would consist of 16 Western Conference teams, 14 Eastern Conference teams and three divisions per conference.

Ideally, there would be an even amount of teams in each league, but you can’t have an uneven number in both leagues due to scheduling concerns.

We would use the current playoff system with the three division winners plus one wild card team.

Quick item: no more DH. The pitchers need to hit.

The western teams would be:

Pacific: San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland, Seattle

Southwest: Arizona, San Diego, Texas, Houston, Colorado

Midwest: St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Minnesota

The east would break down like this:

Northeast: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Boston

Central: Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Toronto

Atlantic: Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Washington

This plan keeps the traditional rivalries in tact and builds up some natural local rivalries (I.e.: Angels and Dodgers).

It would also get more than one region of the country involved in the World Series.

For the MLB executives, think about the possibility of Los Angeles and New York World Series.

Chicago and Boston. Okay, White Sox and Boston. Not like the Cubs will win anytime soon.

The competitive balance of the divisions and leagues will take care of itself. The NFL’s divisional model is a great example of teams raising their game due to the competition.

Yes, a hard salary cap helps, but that’s a different topic for a different time.

Another part of this plan is to do away with interleague play.

It has lost its special quality after 14 years and creates too many imbalanced schedules. This, in turn, will make the All-Star Game and World Series more special.

Gimmicks are fun in the short term but need to go after a while.

Baseball needs a makeover and this might be one way to so it.

Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @FarmboySports

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Opening Day 2011: San Francisco Giants Fans Musn’t Fear, 161 More Games Are Here

It’s all over. The Giants lost the first game of the season.

Wait, there are 161 more games? There is hope!

After watching the Giants’ Opening Day game against the Dodgers on Thursday night, there were a few of things that jumped out.


Tim Lincecum’s Performance

Tim Lincecum went seven innings and allowed no earned runs against a Dodgers team with a middle-of-the-road offense. Despite this, he did not pitch very well.

He left many pitches out over the plate and, at times, very hittable.

But the Dodgers also came in with a good game plan against the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

They didn’t chase his changeup as it dipped out of the zone and made Lincecum come into the strikezone.

The three walks were also uncharacteristic of him and should only improve as the season goes on.


Pablo Sandoval: New Body, Same Swing

The Panda looks trim, fit and a bunch of other adjectives that describe Sandoval’s near 40-pound weight loss.

But Thursday proved that while you can take the weight off the Panda, you can’t keep the Panda in the stirkezone.

Sandoval continues to swing at pitches in the dirt and, although it worked out once, this cannot continue if he wishes to chance the fortunes in 2011.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw knew this and continued to pound the dirt with his curve ball.

Pitchers will not stop until Sandoval stops swinging at pitches outside the zone.


Brandon Belt’s Plate Discipline

Belt got his first major league hit on Thursday in the form of an infield hit to Dodgers first baseman James Loney.

However, what was most impressive was his patience at the plate.

The 22-year-old rookie is the youngest member of the starting lineup and saw 27 pitches in his four at-bats—more than any other Giants batter.

Elsewhere, 34-year-old Aubrey Huff and 36-year-old Miguel Tejada saw eight and nine pitches respectively in their four at-bats.

This is a very good sign for Belt considering he had to face Kershaw, who is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game.


Outfield Speed Exposed

While Cody Ross is out, the Giants have to survive defensively with Huff and Pat Burrell patrolling the corners. Their lack of speed was evident on Thursday.

In two instances, Burrell and Huff pulled up in front of fly balls, both of which could have been caught by Ross or Schierholtz.

The Giants are a team that survive on pitching and timely hitting. Due to the fact that the team cannot afford to give away extra bases, however, this needs to be a concern.

What’s more, this may even become more of a problem when they return to the spacious outfield of AT&T Park.

Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @FarmboySports

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MLB Spring Training Is Over: The Game’s 10 Most Overrated Players

Everybody has their list.

They get a ton of attention and for this group, unwarranted. They’re overrated.

Which stats are the best indicators of being overrated?

OPS? WAR? Should an eye test be taken?

Potential sometimes cannot be judged on stats.

Let’s take a look at the 10 most overrated players in baseball.

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San Francisco Giants: National League West and Chances To Repeat

The San Francisco Giants have this division in the bag.

Or at least they should.

The Giants won the World Series on the strength of their pitching and timely hitting. With the players still on roster and some other additions, San Francisco should be able to reproduce most of its success from 2010.

Tim Lincecum is ready and healthy. So is Buster Posey. San Francisco has a slew of versatile players (Mark DeRosa, Travis Ishikawa, Aubrey Huff, etc.) that allow manager Bruce Bochy to mix and match the lineup.

The additions they made were not blockbuster deals but filled needs.

Miguel Tejada will produce as much as Juan Uribe and be more consistent. DeRosa is healthy, and this could be a huge bounce-back year for Pablo Sandoval.

For any other team to have a chance, some of these things need to happen:

1. Giants sustain a significant injury

A significant injury would be someone like Huff, Posey, Lincecum or the ever-entertaining Brian Wilson.

Wilson is an obvious concern right now due to his lingering oblique injury. If it extends well into the regular season, it could spell bad news for the Giants. His replacement would be either Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota or Ramon Ramirez.

None of these guys exude confidence from fans in the ninth inning.

Staying healthy is key.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez wins 20-plus games

The Colorado Rockies made a run toward the end of last season but could not get over the hump.

Jimenez was a big part of that success.

He is the only pitcher in franchise history to have two seasons of 15 or more wins. Because of that, it is a tall order to think a pitcher in Colorado could have the success he had in a third straight year.

The rest of the Rockies’ rotation is inconsistent and they must also rely on the health of key players (Troy Tulowitzki and Huston Street).

3. Matt Kemp plays to his potential

The Dodgers were in disarray last season but now have a new focus.

The Boys in Blue will hope that focus has reached Kemp.

He can affect the game in so many ways, and some of that vanished last season. His stolen base numbers in 2010 were atrocious compared to his 2009 numbers.

The stability of their rotation is huge, but Kemp is a bigger deal.

The Giants will have the target on their backs, and at the start of a long season, there are many factors that could make or break the team’s chance to repeat as NL West champions.

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Zack Greinke Traded To Brewers: How Milwaukee Went From Pretender To Contender

Move over Cliff Lee, because this move will make more of an impact than Lee going back to Philadelphia. Zack Greinke was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday morning and this shifts the entire outlook of the National League.

The Brewers finished third in the National League Central last year, 14 games back of the Cincinnati Reds. Milwaukee was not light in hitting, but struggled mightily on the mound. They finished 12th in runs scored, but were 26th in ERA.

The ERA number should change drastically.

This move was made with the plan of revamping the starting rotation. Going into next season, the Brewers had Yovanni Gallardo (3.84 ERA, 200 Ks in 2010), Randy Wolf (4.17 ERA in 215 innings) and recently acquired Shaun Marcum (3.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in Toronto).

This makes them an immediate player in the NL Central and the National League as a whole. If you take a look at the divisions and really break down the rosters, there were only a few teams who could have competed.

In the West, it is San Francisco’s division to lose.

The Dodgers are picking up scraps from other teams and are in total dysfunction. Colorado cannot stay healthy and have to hope for another stellar season from Carlos Gonzalez to stay close.

The Diamondbacks and Padres have already mailed it in for 2011.

There is no legitimate contender for Philadelphia in the East.

The Mets are still trying to figure out their offense and have no stand out pitcher except for Johan Santana. Jason Bay needs to stay healthy.

Florida has a solid core of young players, but without Dan Uggla in the middle of the lineup, they are no match for anybody.

I wonder how much Bobby Cox retiring will affect the Braves. The more pressing issue is what they do for a closer.

Billy Wagner is retired and they may need a bullpen by committee at the beginning to figure that part out.

Atlanta’s offense is questionable as well. Sure, they have Brian McCann and Jason Heyward but after that, who?

Chipper Jones is a shell of himself. Matt Diaz is gone. Alex Gonzalez and Troy Glaus are another year older.

The Washington Nationals are not at this stage yet. They have a great deal of young talent, but they are not ready to make the leap yet, especially without Steven Strasburg.

This leaves the Central, which is now wide open.

It looks to be a three team race between the Brewers, Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The young Reds team received their first taste of postseason baseball, only to be swept away by the Phillies. The Cardinals did not have enough gas in the tank to make a September run.

For the Reds, youth is on their side. Their young pitchers, Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez, have another year of experience under their belts and for Volquez, hopefully a healthy season.

Joey Votto is one of the premier players in baseball.

The Cardinals have the best player on the planet in Albert Pujols and one of the best one-two punches in baseball (Carpenter and Wainwright) when healthy.

The Brewers now have front of the line pitchers to be able to matchup with the others in the division.

This is also a more complete team than the one with CC Sabathia in 2008. The rotation is deeper, the lineup is more mature and they have a solid guy at the end of the bullpen with John Axford (24 saves in 27 chances).

They will make a run at the playoffs and, if they get in, could be very dangerous.

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Cliff Lee To the Phillies: Road To World Series Still Through San Francisco

Cliff Lee has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies one year after they traded him to the Seattle Mariners. The Phillies are the favorite to win the National League and World Series, right?


After the 2009 World Series, the Phillies set their sights on fixing their holes and begin prepared for the 2010 World Series. Philadelphia fell short, dropping the NLCS in six games to the San Francisco Giants, despite adding Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

The earlier-than-expected exit from the postseason had many Phillies fans questioning where they would go from there.

Jimmy Rollins was entering his option year. It was also a foregone conclusion Jayson Werth set to make big time money elsewhere.

Then, on Monday night, they net the biggest pitching fish on the market in Lee.

It seemed the Phillies push all their chips in last year and, now, the Lee deal looks more out of desperation. Come the winter of 2011, Oswalt, Hamels, Rollins, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson are all free agents.

Keep this in mind: The defending World Series champion Giants defeated Lee twice in the Fall Classic. Not to mention, they defeated Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt in the NLCS.

Their biggest concern going into this season should have been replacing Jayson Werth. As of right now, his replacement is Dominic Brown.

The predominantly left-handed lineup of the Phillies will have a much more difficult time balancing the scorecard. This could spell bad news when they play teams with strong left-handed pitching (i.e.: Braves, Giants, Cardinals).

The Phillies lineup will look like this: Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Rollins, Brown, Carlos Ruiz. The bench is also very thin. If the injuries of last year recur, it could be a long season for the Philadelphia offense.

Their biggest challenge will, once again, be the Giants.

San Francisco still has the best young staff in baseball and they should only get better. Tim Lincecum (26), Matt Cain (26), Jonathan Sanchez (28) and Madison Bumgarner (21) all return for 2011.

As this group proved, no lineup is a match for this fearsome foursome. They carried a 2.47 ERA while limiting opponents to a .196 batting average in the postseason.

The Giants key loss of the offseason was Juan Uribe, whom the Giants replaced with Miguel Tejada. Tejada has always been a better overall hitter than Uribe.

Pablo Sandoval’s weight concerns are being hashed out this winter.

San Francisco won it all with their pitching and timely hitting. Most of the said hitters return and their defense looks to have improved from a year ago.

The Giants are also awaiting the Major League arrival of top prospect Brandon Belt. He is a more polished hitter and defender at this point than reigning NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey was.

Belt, 22, has given Giants management much confidence for the future.

The health of versatile Mark DeRosa will give the Giants more options with their lineup.

To hand the National League Championship trophy to the Phillies would be premature. I mean, didn’t everyone do that last season?

Yankees and Phillies in the World Series, remember? Oh, wait, never mind.

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World Series Repeat: San Francisco Giants Retooling Coming From Within

The dust has settled, the champagne has gone the way of our livers and free agency has started. Yeah, that quickly. We now look to how the Giants are going to retool as the defending World Series Champions.

That’s still pretty cool to say.

The team’s strength is obvious: pitching. But that isn’t to say there are not tweaks to be made.

For instance, the likes of Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Chris Ray and Santiago Casilla are arbitration eligible. Guillermo Mota is a free agent. Whom do you bring back?

The obvious one is Javier Lopez after his great months of September and October. After that, it’s all up in the air.

Mota was used sparingly down the stretch and in October. Ramon Ramirez was inconsistent at best in the postseason. Chris Ray was hurt for the stretch run and—when healthy—was not used much.

Santiago Casilla is a key to the bullpen. Throwing 95-98 MPH puts him on another level, and with him it’s all about locating his pitches. If he can continue to improve his control, he could be the set-up man for Brian Wilson.

The next part of the equation is the starting staff. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner are all under contract. Jonathan Sanchez is arbitration eligible.

This is an easy call: bring Sanchez back.

The more difficult situation is Zito’s contract. His contract is not something other teams have an interest in picking up—at least not the entire thing. There is a possibility in convincing a team to split the remainder of his contract, but options are limited.

Although, having Zito as a fifth starter (if it wasn’t for the contract) makes the rotation look really good.

Giants GM Brian Sabean has said he would like to keep all the arbitration eligible players on the roster.

The Giants are keying in on one aspect of the team: offense.

San Francisco was a much better team this year than in 2009. They ranked in the middle of the pack in home runs, RBIs and batting average this season.

The free agents are Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Juan Uribe. Mike Fontenot, Andres Torres and Cody Ross are arbitration eligible.

The no-brainers are Torres, Ross, Huff and Uribe. It’s a matter of how much and how long for Huff and Uribe. Huff has made it a point to say he wants to be in San Francisco, which is obviously a good sign.

Where do the Giants go from here with the offense? It’s easier to say when you think about what you already have. Catcher, second base, centerfield and right field are taken care of. Assuming Uribe and Huff re-sign, that takes care of shortstop/third base and first base/left field.

Keep in mind, Pablo Sandoval will be in the mix, as well as Mark DeRosa.

There is speculation the Giants may not need to go through free agency to fill one of these spots. First baseman Brandon Belt was at AA-Richmond and A-San Jose this season and absolutely lit them up.

He hit .364 between the two minor league affiliates, with 19 home runs, 102 RBIs and an OPS of 1.088. Many in the Giants organization feel he is close to ready.

If so, this fills the first base position, leaving shortstop and third base. There are not a lot of big name free agents, so the big, sexy move may not come this offseason. They will have to rely on the production of Pablo Sandoval, Mark DeRosa or another small free agent pick up. Jorge Cantu, perhaps?

The most productive move this offseason could be dumping the Aaron Rowand contract. Because it is a smaller contract, the Giants may be able to unload it if they bite the bullet and pay half of the $12 million he is owed annually.

There is also another young infielder lighting up the Arizona Fall League wearing Giants colors. Charlie Culberson is batting .424, which ranks second in the AFL. Culberson also batted .290 with 16 home runs, 75 RBIs and 25 steals for A-San Jose.

The Giants minor league system may soon provide all the offense this pitching needs.

San Francisco proved the old formula to winning baseball still works: pitching and defense. They sprinkled in some offense and it worked. The cast of characters should be back and for a full season this time.

Maturation and patience has worked for the Giants. Let it continue.

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Unbelievable Ride: San Francisco Giants Erase Pains of Past

It is still unbelievable. Leading up to the parade on Wednesday I was not entirely sure I was not dreaming.

Did the San Francisco Giants, my San Francisco Giants, really win the World Series? Did they just exorcise all the demons from playoffs past?

They did and did it in dominating fashion.

No more are the Giants in the same conversation with the Indians and Cubs. No more are the Giants a team that can never seal the deal. All the blunders and torture that have occurred throughout the storied history of the San Francisco Giants have been alleviated.

The 2002 World Series? Forgiven. Winning 103 games in 1993 only to be left out of the playoffs? Never happened.

The 1989 Series? Forgotten.

This team has brought more unequivocal joy to the San Francisco Bay Area; the only word for it has to be ecstasy. In no way is this article to rub dirt in any Texas wounds. It is to express the unbridled joy felt by a fanbase that has waited 52 years for this.

No more are people asking for Bruce Bochy’s enormous head. No more are Brian Sabean’s moves crazy and stupid. They are geniuses and we did not even realize. Baseball people who know what they are doing?


We now know how the Red Sox fans felt. We now know what long-suffering White Sox fans went through.

The past 10 World Series have taken the proverbial monkey off the backs of many baseball cities. The Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox twice, White Sox, Cardinals, Phillies, Yankees and Giants have all been champion in the past decade.

Let’s take a deeper look at this.

The Angels and Diamondbacks had never won a championship. The White Sox and Red Sox waited for more than 80 years for another.

The Phillies had not won a championship since 1980. Cardinals? Not since 1982.

San Francisco had never won a baseball championship. The Giants franchise had not won since 1954.

And they won it the way every baseball person knows is the formula: pitching and defense. They embraced the “team” mentality. Every player pulling for each other, doing what is best for the team.

Think about how long it had been for Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. They both had never been in the playoffs. Neither had played for a winning team before joining the Giants.

It meant so much to Huff that he dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over in Game 5. Huff had not laid down a sacrifice bunt ever in his 10-year Major League career but he did it in the World Series.

The Giants players checked their egos at the door and did what they had to do.

Aaron Rowand could have made a big deal about his playing time. He didn’t. Barry Zito could have complained about being left off the playoff roster but didn’t.

Every person played their part and now they celebrate together as world champions.

The Giants are World Series Champions. Maybe now it can set in.

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