Tag: SFGate

Hunter Pence’s Comeback Providing Big Spark in Giants’ Rebound

“Today, we’re going to pull every fiber of our beings, collectively—I’m going to challenge each and every one of you—every fiber of your being to see yourself as a World Series champion…”Hunter Pence addressing the crowd at AT&T Park after the final regular-season game of 2014.

Speeches don’t win baseball games. They can’t run, hit or catch the ball, and they can’t turn players or teams into something they’re not. But when Hunter Pence speaks, good things generally happen for the San Francisco Giants.

First, there was Pence’s impromptu clubhouse sermon in the 2012 postseason, when the Giants were facing elimination in the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds

Then there were his remarks, excerpted above, which he delivered after San Francisco slipped into October as the second wild card in 2014.

Both times, the Giants wound up winning championships.

Yes, there were other factors. The most recent run, for example, owes more to Madison Bumgarner’s left arm than to Pence’s vocal chords. And a certain catcher by the name of Gerald Dempsey “Buster” Posey III has had a little something to do with San Francisco’s dynastic run, which includes a trophy in 2010 before Pence arrived in the Bay Area.

But the fiery right fielder with the scraggly beard, jerky mechanics and GIF-ready expressions deserves his share of credit—for what he’s accomplished between the lines, of course, but also for his role as the club’s vocal leader and resident preacher. 

“Hunter’s a little different, there’s no getting around it,” manager Bruce Bochy said last October, per John Schlegel of MLB.com. “He’s inspiring, how he plays, and also in the clubhouse and when he says something, because he says it with such passion.”

This season, San Francisco opened its title defense with Pence on the disabled list. On March 5, an errant fastball thrown by Chicago Cubs prospect Corey Black fractured Pence’s forearm (and initiated one of the classier Twitter exchanges you’ll ever see). Pence wound up missing the rest of spring training and the season’s first 36 contests.

The Giants went 18-18 without him and looked frequently listless on offense. When he came back May 16, the hope was he’d provide a spark.

Instead, he’s been a shot of rocket fuel.

Since Pence rejoined the lineup, San Francisco has gone 8-2. And in this case, correlation most definitely equals causation.

After going 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored in the Giants’ 8-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Memorial Day, Pence is hitting .342 with a .390 on-base percentage and nine RBI. In his second game, he launched a laser-beam home run against the Reds.

Needless to say, any concerns about his timing or conditioning after the long layoff have evaporated.

And his torrid output has been contagious. First baseman Brandon Belt in particular has been swinging a hot bat since Pence’s return, as ESPN Stats & Info recently noted:

Just like that, the defending champs are off and running, ready to challenge the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers—whom the Pence-possessing Giants swept in a three-game set May 19-21—for supremacy in the NL West.

“I think everybody’s happy to see him back in the lineup,” Giants pitcher Tim Hudson said, per Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee. “He’s our mascot. He’s a guy that makes things work for us and keeps our mojo going in the dugout.”

A mascot who crushes baseballs, makes crazy faces and can deliver a damn good speech when you need one.


All statistics current as of May 25 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

San Francisco Giants: Biggest Storylines at the Start of the 2015 Season

The San Francisco Giants have won three of their first four games. In traditional Giants fashion, all of the games have been close, tightly contested contests.

In recent history, the Giants have excelled in these types of games. They have a quiet confidence that is perpetuated by manager Bruce Bochy.

Arguably, the most exciting development for the Giants is that Madison Bumgarner looks strong and is poised to lead the San Francisco pitching staff. In his first start since his incredible performance to close out the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, Bumgarner looked in top form.

Bumgarner threw seven strong innings, allowing six hits and a walk and striking out three batters. He allowed only one run and earned his first victory of the season.

In addition to Bumgarner’s stellar performance, there have been several other major developments already this year.

The Giants opened the season with Hunter Pence and Travis Ishikawa on the disabled list. Unfortunately, additional injury concerns have hit the club in the first few days of the year.

Let’s take a look at the biggest developments of the 2015 season, thus far.

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Casey McGehee Ready to Quietly, Cheaply Replace Pablo Sandoval

Casey McGehee isn’t Pablo Sandoval. He doesn’t have a cute animal nickname, and he’s never inspired anyone to wear a panda mask (that we know of).

Replacing Sandoval in the hearts and minds of San Francisco Giants fans is an impossible task. He was simply too big and beloved a figure in the Bay Area.

Yes, the comments he made recently to Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller may have tarnished his reputation, but they can’t erase his indelible postseason performances or reverse the Kung Fu Panda mystique. 

So the question isn’t if McGehee can be Sandoval; it’s whether he can approximate Sandoval’s production at third base for the defending champs.

At first blush, the answer looks like an unequivocal “no.” Sandoval is a 28-year-old two-time All-Star who just inked a five-year, $95 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

McGehee is a 32-year-old journeyman who wound up playing in Japan in 2013.

Then again, McGehee signed a one-year deal in 2014 with the Miami Marlins, smacked 177 hits, second in the National League, and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Let’s just go ahead and compare McGehee and Sandoval’s 2014 lines:

McGehee: .287/.355/.357, 4 HR, 76 RBI

Sandoval: .279/.324/.415, 16 HR, 73 RBI

The power disparity jumps out, and that’s significant on a Giants team that may not hit many balls out of the park. Other than that, though, there’s remarkable symmetry. 

McGehee’s past isn’t punchless. In 2010, he hit 23 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he clubbed 28 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.

In fact, 2014 was just the second time in his MLB career that McGehee failed to post a double-digit home run total. 

What happened? Here’s how McGehee sums it up, per Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Reiter:

I didn’t go into the season saying I’m going to hit four homers or anything. [Marlins Park is] a big field. It’s a fast field. You get rewarded for hitting the ball down on a line. Part of it was by design. Looking back, there were times I should have been a bit more selective, drive the ball. I think four will probably be the outlier, I would hope.

AT&T Park, McGehee’s new home, is also a big yard and among the league’s most pitcher-friendly, according to ESPN’s Park Factors statistic. 

So his power could go missing again. At the same time, McGehee has used the spring to showcase why he can be valuable without the long ball. He hasn’t launched one in the Cactus League, but he was hitting .382 with four doubles entering play Monday.

OK, that’s the offensive side. What about the leather?

The newfangled defensive metrics give a clear edge to Sandoval, who posted a 3.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) last season, per FanGraphs, next to McGehee’s -1.6.

On the other hand, McGehee’s .979 fielding percentage paced NL third basemen, meaning he makes the plays he gets to. He’s steady, not flashy.

Really, that sums him up as a player—and highlights the biggest difference between McGehee and his gregarious predecessor. 

“I’ve got a job to do, and these guys in the clubhouse expect me to do my job,” McGehee said, per Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s not going to be the same way Panda did it, but I think I bring a lot to the table and I hold myself to a high standard.”

The projection systems aren’t so high. ZiPS foresees a .258/.322/.357 line, and Steamer is slightly more pessimistic, per FanGraphs

Squint at that spring line, though, swill a little exhibition-season Kool Aid, and imagine McGehee repeating last year’s stats with an uptick in power.

Considering he’ll make just $4.8 million in 2015 and the fact that he cost the Giants a pair of Single-A arms, he could end up being one of the offseason’s biggest bargains.

Just don’t ask him to sell any panda masks. 


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Home in Boston, Pablo Sandoval Says Leaving San Francisco ‘Not Hard at All’

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Immediately, you recognize the infectious smile from a mile away. Pure Panda. So is the laughter and the joy.

And inside the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, nothing about Panda says San Francisco anymore.

Leaving the Giants?

“Not hard at all,” Pablo Sandoval told Bleacher Report during an early-morning conversation here the other day. “If you want me around, you make the effort to push and get me back.”

The Giants did not make that effort, Sandoval said, reiterating that last spring’s aborted talks for a contract extension in San Francisco were pretty much the end of the line.

“I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave,” Sandoval said. “They didn’t respect my agent. Contract talks, everything. The way Brian Sabean (Giants general manager) talked to my agent.”

From there, Sandoval said, he did his best to soak in everything during the rest of the season, making the most out of what he knew would be his last summer in a Giants uniform.

He kept business off the field, playing in 157 games, batting .279/.324/.415 with 16 homers and 73 RBI (including posting a .308 average and .799 OPS from May 11 through season’s end) and, of course, playing the hero again in October in front of thousands of worshipping Panda masks with an MLB-record 26 postseason hits.

All of this explains, he says, why he rebuffed the Giants’ late charge to keep him in November. By then, he says, it was too late. Even with October echoes still fresh in the air.

“The Giants made a good offer, but I didn’t want to take it,” he said. “I got five years (and $95 million) from Boston. I left money on the table in San Francisco.

“It is not about money. It is about how you treat the player.”

The San Diego Padres made a hard run at Sandoval early in his free agency, but he never seriously considered them, he said. For that, the Padres have only one thing to blame, and it was out of their control: geography.

“I wanted to get out of the NL West,” Sandoval said. “If I had gone to San Diego, it would have been crazy when we played San Francisco.”

Given that the Giants and Padres play 19 times annually, that was going to be too much crazy for the Panda.

The AL East is a world away from the NL West, both geographically and philosophically. Given Sandoval’s lifetime battle with weight, many in the industry pegged Boston as a perfect landing spot because he can play third base for a time in Fenway Park and then move into the designated hitter role when David Ortiz retires.

Not so fast, Sandoval said.

“I want to play third base all five years,” he said. “I don’t like DH. I love to be involved in the game.”

He’s acting like it, too.

“He’s already talked to a couple of starting pitchers about how they like to pitch so he knows how to position himself, whether it’s near the line or away from it,” Clay Buchholz said. “I reached out to Jake Peavy when we signed him. I think a lot of Jake Peavy’s opinion, and he said he compares him with David Ortiz in the playoffs.

“I knew when he said that, we were going to like Pablo.”

In his early days with the Red Sox, Sandoval has been involved in just about everything. Early-morning card games. Impromptu clubhouse dance sessions. Even, ahem, afternoon fishing expeditions. There is a man-made lake in one of the housing complexes nearby, and Sandoval says he, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Hanley Ramirez go fishing.

“I love it,” he said. “We talk. We have fun.”

They also throw the fish back. Well, the others do. Sandoval, asked if he handles the worms and baits the hook himself, acknowledged that he doesn’t actually fish, he just likes to go along and watch the others.

“Everybody loves Panda,” said Ramirez, who spent the past two-and-a-half seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers as Panda’s NL West rival. “He’s a great guy, and he’s got a great heart.

“He gives everything he has every day.”

New Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis knew to expect that after having winter conversations with Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens.

“He told me you might have to get him out of the cage sometimes because he likes to work,” Davis said. “He’s a good guy. He’s going to be something to watch.

“They’re going to miss him.”

In all likelihood, far more than the Panda is going to miss San Francisco.

“Only Bochy,” Sandoval said of Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “I love Boch. He’s like my dad. He’s the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys.

“But now, I feel like I’m home.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

San Francisco Giants: What Sets Them Apart from the Other Teams in Baseball?

The San Francisco Giants have won three world championships in five years. In today’s era of free agency, that level of success qualifies as a modern-day dynasty.

So, how have the Giants been able to accomplish this, even though, on paper, their talent level has often been regarded as weaker than their opponent in a given series? 

What is it that sets the Giants apart from all the rest?

The answer can be found in just one word: continuity.

On the field, the Giants’ core group of players has stayed together, and several have been members of all three World Series-winning teams. These players include Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. 

To have four key relief pitchers—Casilla, Romo, Affeldt and Lopez—on all three championship teams is unheard of. 

In addition, Pablo Sandoval, who recently departed to Boston in the free-agent market, also played on all three victorious teams.

Even more Giants have played a role in the past two World Series teams in 2012 and 2014. These include Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias and Ryan Vogelsong.

Travis Ishikawa was also on two of the championship clubs, although not consecutively. He played on the 2010 and 2014 teams.

Outside of Sandoval, 16 players that have at least two World Series rings are still in San Francisco.

This means that 64 percent of the projected 25-man roster is made up of players with at least two World Series rings with the Giants. That continuity and experience is extremely valuable during the high-stress situations that occur in any postseason.

The continuity is even greater on the management end of things. Larry Baer, who is the president and CEO of the Giants, joined the organization in 1992. An interesting bio on Baer and his ascension up the ranks in San Francisco can be found on sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com.

The baseball management, player development staff and coaches have also remained remarkably stable.

General manager Brian Sabean has held the job since 1996 and is the longest-tenured GM in the game. Sabean deserves a lot of the credit for building a roster that fits together well and being able to make critical midseason deals to bolster the team.

Looking back over the Giants’ past three world championship teams, Sabean acquired the likes of Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Lopez, Chris Ray and Ramon Ramirez in 2010. All of these players helped the Giants make it to the postseason and win it all.

In 2012, it was the acquisition of Marco Scutaro prior to the trade deadline that pushed the Giants over the top. Amazingly, both Ross in 2010 and Scutaro in 2012 were NLCS MVPs.

In 2014, prior to the trade deadline, Sabean acquired Jake Peavy, who stepped in for the injured Cain. Had it not been for Peavy, the Giants never would have even made the playoffs, let alone won the title.

The continuity at the executive level does not end with Sabean. Assistant GM Bobby Evans has been with the Giants for 21 years. Shane Turner, the director of player development, has been with the Giants for 19 years. 

On the field, manager Bruce Bochy is entering his ninth season with the Giants. His coaching staff has also been very stable.

The only departure is third base coach Tim Flannery, who is also a close friend of Bochy. Flannery has retired and will be sorely missed.

Flannery decided he had accomplished everything he wanted in the game of baseball and had other things he still wanted to do. Reddit.com has Tim Flannery‘s complete letter to the Giants and their fans. 

Dave Righetti is the longest-tenured pitching coach in the major leagues, having started his coaching career in San Francisco 15 years ago. 

Mark Gardner, the bullpen coach, acts as a second pitching coach for the Giants. He began his coaching career in San Francisco in 2003. Gardner actually pitched for the Giants from 1996-2001, winning 58 games and losing 45, per baseball-reference.com.

Roberto Kelly will move from first base to third base, replacing Flannery. Kelly also works with the outfielders and coaches base running. He is entering his eighth year as a coach in San Francisco.

Ron Wotus is the bench coach and is also responsible for the defensive alignments. The Giants do a lot of shifting in the infield, and that’s Wotus‘ call. Wotus has been in the Giants organization for 26 years and a coach in San Francisco for the past 16 seasons. More on Wotus can be found on sfgiants.com

Giants management has also made a concerted effort to keep their past stars in the fold. Former greats like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal are frequent visitors to AT&T Park.

Barry Bonds, Will Clark and J.T. Snow have also come out to spring training to work with players and have even been seen during the season helping when they can.

From the top down, the Giants organization is a model of continuity. This is different than any organization in baseball and a big reason the for the success of the team. In addition, the continuity enables the fans to connect with the players in a way that helps the players stay motivated and on top of their game.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

San Francisco Giants: Biggest Missed Opportunities of the Offseason

The San Francisco Giants are basking in the glow of their third world championship in five years. In today’s era of free agency and player movement, this is indeed a dynasty.

However, the Giants did not make a major splash in the free-agent market this winter, and one must wonder if general manager Brian Sabean has done enough to keep the Giants in contention in 2015.

Somehow, the acquisitions of Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki do not carry the same flair as the San Diego Padres getting Matt Kemp, James Shields, Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Derek Norris.

Nor do the Giants’ acquisitions measure up with the Los Angeles Dodgers picking up Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy.

Nevertheless, Sabean deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his proven track record. However, it is tough to see the Dodgers and Padres acquiring a ton of new talent and the Giants not.

The Giants lost Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse to free agency. They also missed out on some of the other key players they were after. The two biggest players the Giants could not sign were Jon Lester and Yasmany Tomas.

According to John Shea of SFGate.com, Lester had the Giants on his short list of teams that he was considering. Ultimately, Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs on a six-year, $155 million deal. 

In 2014, Lester split the season between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A’s. In 219.2 total innings, he allowed only 194 hits and 48 walks while striking out 220. Lester fashioned an ERA of 2.46 and a WHIP of 1.102. At the age of 31, Lester looks like he still has a lot of mileage left.

Although these kinds of long-term deals for pitchers often do not work out, one can only imagine if the Giants could’ve paired Lester with Madison Bumgarner. That would’ve made up a formidable one-two punch on par with any pair in baseball.

The second player who would have looked great in a Giants uniform is Yasmany Tomas. The Cuban national signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, although he can opt out after four years.

On FoxSports.com, Jeff Sullivan provides a detailed scouting report on Tomas.

Tomas will probably have some growing pains as he adjusts to the major leagues. Even fellow Cuban and Dodgers’ star outfielder Yasiel Puig has had his ups and downs making the adjustment.

The overall talent and athleticism that Tomas possesses makes him an excellent bet for stardom. In addition, his contract is relatively inexpensive, and Tomas will be a bargain if he indeed becomes a star player.

Had the Giants been able to land Tomas, he would likely have been their left fielder for years to come.

Although the Giants missed on both Lester and Tomas, the team is still strong, and it has the wherewithal to add pieces prior to the trade deadline, if necessary. The outlook is positive, and if the Giants can stay healthy, they will be in the thick of the playoff race again.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Stating the Case for Each Top 2014 MLB MVP Candidate

MLB award talk is heating up here with just a few weeks remaining in the 2014 regular season, and this year’s crop of MVP candidates in both leagues should bring about some good debate.

In the American League, the storyline is Mike Trout once again, as he looks to finally take home some hardware after finishing second to Miguel Cabrera the past two years.

Over in the National League, it’s a wide-open race once again. The past two NL MVP winners Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey are both viable candidates, but everyone may be chasing the game’s best pitcher Clayton Kershaw at this point as he has put together a season for the ages.

What follows is a look at the case for each of the top MVP candidates to take home the award this season. Only players with a legitimate shot at receiving first-place votes were considered “top candidates,” and included is also a look at players who just missed the cut and why.

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San Francisco Giants’ Biggest Winners and Losers for the Month of April

April has been good for the San Francisco Giants. They finished the month with a record of 17-11, in first place in the NL West.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies are hot on the Giants’ heels as they trail by only a half game and one game, respectively.

The Giants head out on the road for a tough 10-game road trip that will take them to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. When they return home, they immediately face the Braves again, then the Miami Marlins.

In total, the Giants will play 17 straight games with no days off or travel days. It was important for the Giants to get off to a good start in April and they have. May will be a much tougher month.

The Giants had several excellent contributions and a few disappointments over their first 28 games. Let’s take a closer look at who were the biggest winners and losers for the month of April.


Note: All individual player stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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San Francisco Giants: Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training

As spring progresses and players settle into their roles on the baseball diamond, the San Francisco Giants have already learned a lot about their team’s potential.  The starting pitching, including newcomer Tim Hudson, has been solid, and several players are stepping up their game in hopes of either solidifying their starting spot or earning a roster spot altogether.

On the mound, right-hander Tim Lincecum is silencing critics who say his best years are behind him.  In just over nine innings pitched, Lincecum has posted a solid 1.93 ERA and a 1-0 record.  Right-hander Matt Cain, last season’s Opening Day starter, also appears to have returned to form, not allowing a run and surrendering only one hit in eight innings pitched.

After struggling in his first few starts, right-hander Ryan Vogelsong rebounded for an excellent start Thursday against the Texas Rangers, only allowing one run in five innings.

With the projected five-man rotation performing well, up-and-comers are also making a name for themselves.  In a matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw, 21-year-old Edwin Escobar pitched well against the perennial Cy Young candidate.

Catcher Buster Posey is having a banner spring training.  Currently, the slugger is batting .450 with a home run and six RBI.  Utility infielder Joaquin Arias has also enjoyed success at the plate, cementing his role as the go-to infielder off the bench.  Arias is batting .391 in nine games thus far.

In the outfield, new addition Mike Morse has displayed his power already, though it has not been reflected in his numbers.  Morse was robbed of not one, but two home runs in a February game against the Oakland Athletics by outfielder Josh Reddick.

Shortstop Ehire Adrianza is turning heads as well.  He has already smashed two home runs, a double and a triple, making a case for himself as a second utility infielder for the Giants.

However, he has competition from shortstop Brandon Hicks, who is on a hot streak at the plate.  In a contest against the Dodgers, Hicks slammed a two-run home run off Clayton Kershaw.  After a slow start, Hicks has now recorded five doubles along with a home run to complement a .318 average.

As the spring months chug along, the Giants will keep their eyes on their higher performers.  There’s more action to come in the upcoming weeks before Opening Day.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

The 3 Biggest Winners and Losers from the San Francisco Giants’ Offseason

The San Francisco Giants have upgraded their roster and the happiest man on the team may be manager Bruce Bochy.

In 2013, the Giants were hit hard by injuries and struggled to a 76-86 record. Bochy, who is a master at getting the most out of his roster, was short-handed in virtually every area.

General manager Brian Sabean was very aggressive this winter and retained Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong. In addition, Sabean signed free-agent pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse.

Whether Sabean did enough with these moves to get the Giants back into the postseason remains to be seen.

Let’s take a closer look at the Giants’ three biggest winners and losers this offseason.


All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. All contract data courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com.


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