Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hamels hammers Cubs, Twirls No-Hitter

Prior to Saturday, you'd have to go back some 7,920 games to witness the last no-hitter tossed at Chicago's historic Wrigley Field when Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas twirled one on September 2, 1972. With the Philadelphia Phillies in town, sporting the worst record in all of baseball, the Fightin's threw their best pitcher on the mound in lefty ace Cole Hamels. Granted Hamels was seeking his first win since May 23 and the Cubbies had gone a span of 49 years without being no-hit, the odds of the Philadelphia southpaw delivering a no-no were incredibly stacked against him, as if they aren't to begin with for any pitcher on any given day. And with a nine-game win-less streak under his belt entering Saturday's game, the 3-time All-Star and former World Series MVP made sure that mark would fall short of reaching double-digits.

With trade rumors all we've heard of regarding the Phillies ace over the past few months and even dating back to last season's trade deadline, Hamels' name was finally mentioned in a positive light as he made history by tossing the 13th no-hitter in franchise history and first since a combined no-hitter last season, which coincidentally, Hamels started. But instead of throwing six hit-less innings like he did in last season's combined no-no before handing it off to relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon to finish it off, Hamels was a one-man-show on Saturday. Hamels finished with 13 strikeouts on the afternoon and saw his only blemish come in the form of a pair of walks allowed in Philadelphia's 5-0 win. Though Hamels' gem was the third no-hitter thrown this season behind the Giants' Chris Heston and Washington's Max Scherzer, it's without a doubt the most impressive out of the bunch. For what it's worth, Hamels even out-hit the opposition on Saturday when he laced an 8th inning double, becoming just the fifth pitcher in Major League history with both a solo no-hitter and combined no-no on his resume.
Two individuals who are no stranger to witnessing the no-hitter is Cubs skipper Joe Maddon who has now been on the receiving end of five no-hitters while watching one of his own pitchers throw one, and Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz who has caught a few. For Ruiz, Saturday's feat was his fourth no-hitter while behind the plate (all with the Phillies) which sets a new National League record and ties Boston's Jason Varitek for the most no-hitters caught in Major League history. Before Hamels took to the mound on Saturday, the you'd have to turn the calendar all the way back to August 19, 1965 when the Cubbies were last held hit-less, a 49 year drought which is the longest in MLB history for any ball club. And with the MLB trade deadline looming and multiple teams looking to make a move to bolster their pitching staff, the question of whether or not we've seen Hamels' last outing in a Phillies uniform comes into play. If he is dealt, he would become just the third pitcher to ever be traded in the same season in which he notched a no-hitter, and what a farewell it would be to the city of Brotherly Love. 

With the Rangers and Dodgers currently leading the pack in those looking to acquire Hamels' services, the Giants, Yankees and Cubs are also rumored to be in the Cole Hamels sweepstakes. Three years removed from signing what was the second-largest contract ever by a pitcher, $144 Million over six-years, a trade involving Hamels could be the start of a Philadelphia fire sale.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Price of Winning

As we learned on Friday, for some people, money isn't everything. At least not to 13-year NBA veteran David West who elected to ditch a hefty payday for a better chance at hoisting a Larry O'Brien trophy. With a $12 Million dollar player-option to re-sign with the Indiana Pacers, West instead chose to sign with the San Antonio Spurs for the veteran minimum of $1.4 Million, leaving more than $10 Million on the table to head west. West, a former AP Player of the Year while attending Xavier University and 2-time All-Star while a member of the New Orleans Hornets where he spent the first 8 years of his career before signing with Indiana in 2011, averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds with the Pacers a season ago.

Facing the twilight of his career and having earned over $50 Million dollars in contracts, West can ill-afford another unsuccessful season at the age of 34 and has reached the point in his career where the cost of winning far outweighs the amount of dollar signs. Just two years removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers who nearly took the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat to the brink of elimination in a deciding Game 7 which Indiana went on to lose, the Pacers figured to be the next up and coming team in the east. But over the course of the next few months, the state of Indiana basketball would be altered when the team's star player Paul George suffered a freak injury in a U.S.A. Men's Basketball scrimmage which left George with a compound fracture in his right leg and the Pacers on the outside looking in on the 2014-15 playoff picture. What was once touted to be a true title contender for many years to come, was instead put on hold with George's playing career in question.
With the uncertainty regarding the future of the Pacers franchise depending on the health of its star player and a question mark hovering over whether or not the team would ever be as good as they were in 2013-14, West's decision was made a bit easier. What may come off as a head-scratcher for many, just might end up being a good decision that pays dividends given the Spurs also landed the most coveted piece in all of free-agency when 4-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to a four-year, $80 Million dollar deal with the Spurs. With San Antonio's roster aging but still very much a threat in the west prior to Aldridge's signing, the acquisition of the big man and Texas alum automatically catapults the Spurs back to the top of the Western Conference alongside the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. While money is certainly something that West left on the table, it isn't the only thing as him signing with the Spurs also means he'll have to accept a lesser role by coming off the bench and no longer starting like he's grown accustomed to throughout his NBA career. Another decision that may come off as questionable to some but could be one that benefits West and prolongs his career in the long run.

Whatever role it is that coach Greg Popovich chooses for his newest acquisition, it'll be one that best compliments his talents as West provides a much needed toughness that the Spurs have lacked.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - June

After a historic month of May for the San Francisco Giants which briefly saw the team make the jump from worst to first, the reigning World Series champions got off to a sluggish start in the month of June by getting swept at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park. With the three game sweep, the Giants would endure their second five-game losing-streak of the season before hitting the road and winning four of six versus the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets respectively, failing to complete the sweep both times in the series finale. But just as their impressive mark while on the road continued which ranked tops in the NL, their woes at home also showed no signs of slowing.

Following a three-game series versus the Arizona Diamondbacks which ended in a sweep, the Giants saw their first 8-game skid at home sine September of 1993. With a loss the following day to the visiting Seattle Mariners, the Giants' home losing skid hit nine games. It would be the franchise's first losing streak of its kind since 1940, long before they began calling San Francisco home. Thankfully, they would put an end to the dry spell the following day with a win over the Mariners to split the two-game set. The win also halted their third five-game losing streak of 2015. After splitting another pair of games on the road in Seattle, the Giants would claim three straight series victories against division rivals with the first coming in L.A. against the Dodgers and the latter two at home versus the Padres and Rockies, taking two of three in each series. 
With rookie pitcher Chris Heston hurling a no-hitter on the road against the Mets and the team paying a visit to the White House where they were congratulated for a third time during President Obama's presidency, June was without a doubt a busy month for the ball club. It wasn't all parties and celebrations in the month, however, as both Hunter Pence (wrist) and Nori Aoki (ankle) hit the disabled list with injuries, sapping the team's offensive production. While the outfield duo isn't expected to be on the shelf for much longer, they'll likely be joined on the DL by pitcher Tim Lincecum who was hit hard both figuratively and literally in his last outing against Colorado after allowing 3 earned runs in 1.2 innings and taking a line drive to the forearm which caused him to exit the game. Lincecum missing a period of time does however open the window for Matt Cain and Jake Peavy who will both be called up from Triple-A before the weekend.

Cain, who hasn't pitched since last August while dealing with a flexor tendon injury, will make his season debut Thursday on the road in Miami against Marlins ace Jose Fernandez who will also be making his 2015 debut. As for Peavy, he'll be making his first start since April 17 when he takes the mound in Washington against the red-hot Nationals who have won 9 of their last 10 games. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is hoping the duo of Cain and Peavy can both be effective enough to the point where the team can approach July's trade deadline without needing another starting pitcher. With a record of 12-14 in June, the G-Men currently stand 1.5 games behind the archrival Dodgers in the NL West at 42-36 overall, thanks in large part to the sizzling numbers put up by catcher Buster Posey as of late. The All-Star hopeful who currently leads all NL catchers in All-Star voting, tallied 28 RBI's in the month of June alone, giving him 54 on the year. He also clubbed five Home Runs in the month, including a pair of Grand Slams. With Posey swinging a hot stick at the perfect time and the team less than two weeks away from the All-Star break, the Giants could very well find themselves atop the division at the midway point.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Historical night for Giants Rookie

They don't call him Hesto Presto for nothing - So far in 2015, Giants rookie pitcher Chris Heston has been hit or miss. Tonight, he was all miss for the opposition. In only his 13th career start, the 27-year old would pitch his way into the history books with a dominant performance against the New York Mets. With injuries to pitchers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy prior to the start of the 2015 season, the Giants were left with a hole in their pitching rotation and question marks as to who would fill the void. With only 5.1 career innings pitched under his belt entering the season, the Giants went with Heston to solve their pitching woes for the time being. Heston was given the opportunity and has simply ran with it ever since.  

After a stellar month of April, Bruce Bochy and company appeared to have made the perfect decision. But an up and down month of May caused many to wonder if Heston's star had begun to fade. Prior to Tuesday's game, Heston had allowed 16 earned runs in his last 18 innings pitched as his ERA on the year spiked to 4.29. With all that in his rear-view, Heston came out guns blazing at Citi Field as the Giants looked to improve to their NL-best 17th win on the road this season. Though they would end up winning the game, 5-0, it was Heston who stole the show as he twirled the 17th no-hitter in Giants franchise history. One way to describe Heston's feat -- pure dominance. Just how on was Heston you ask? Of the 27 outs recorded, only two came through he air and left the infield as Heston threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the batters he faced and surrendered only four three-ball counts as he tallied 11 strikeouts and didn't allow a single walk. Heston's only blemish would come in the hit batsman department as he allowed only three men to reach base, all of which were hit by a pitch including back-to-back batters in the fourth inning. The last of which to leadoff the ninth.
He would follow that up by striking out the side in the ninth as all three batters were caught looking, the first time a no-hitter had ended in three consecutive strikeouts since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers did it back in the 1960's, only Koufax's were of the swinging variety. After recording the final out, catcher Buster Posey met Heston halfway and had a big hug waiting for his pitcher. Heston needed only 110-pitches in the feat and became the first rookie to toss a no-hitter since Boston's Clay Buccholtz in 2007. Of the 17 no-no's in Giants franchise history, only two others were thrown by rookies as Christy Mathewson (1901) and Jeff Tesreau (1912) accomplished the others. Heston's bid for history made it four consecutive seasons in which a Giants pitcher has threw a no-hitter with Tim Lincecum accomplishing the feat in each of the past two seasons and Matt Cain doing so back in 2012 when he completed a perfect game. The Giants join only the archrival Dodgers to have accomplished four consecutive seasons with a no-hitter as Koufax repeated the feat from 1962 to 1965. Something Heston can say he did that Koufax can't, however, is that he became the first pitcher since 1914 to have two of his first 15 career starts be complete games with at least 10 K's and no more than two hits allowed. 

Just how good of a day was it for Heston? He also helped his own cause in the batters box, collecting two hits and driving in the first two runs of his career. With the win, Heston improved to 6-4 on the year and saw his ERA dip under four as it currently sits at a respectable 3.77. While Heston's improbable journey continues, here's to hoping those ugly outings that usually follow up the good ones are a thing of the past. Congratulations, Heston & Go Giants! 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Giants Month in Review: May

With the San Francisco Giants off to a slow start in the opening month of April, the G-Men finally resembled a reigning World Series champion team in the month of May. Baseball's second calendar month saw the Giants win the first five games of the month, including a 3-game sweep of the Angels before taking 2 of 3 versus the San Diego Padres as San Francisco finally returned to and eventually surpassed the .500 mark for the first time since the team got off to their 3-1 start to the season. With the Miami Marlins in town for a four-game set at AT&T Park where they've fared well as the visiting team, boasting a record of 14-4 on the road vs SF since 2010 entering the series, the two teams would split by taking two games apiece.

Following a successful 10-game home stand in which the Giants went 7-3, Bruce Bochy's ball club took to the road where they met with the hottest team in the American League -- the Houston Astros. In town for only two games, the Giants and 'Stros would split the series as San Francisco took the series opener by a Final of 8-1 behind rookie hurler Chris Heston. Heston, who was without a doubt the highlight of April for the orange and black, had a more pedestrian month of May, but still performed well in a number of starts, including a gem versus Houston in which he allowed only 1 run on 2 hits and no walks while going the distance. Heston became just one of two Giants rookies since 1900 to pitch a complete-game while striking out 10 and allowing two or fewer base runners. Though Heston's ERA ballooned from 2.77 in the month of April to 4.58 in May, translating to a respectable 3.82 ERA overall, he did improve his record to 5-3 after logging 3 wins and 1 loss. For the month of May, it was pitcher Ryan Vogelsong who shined brightest as he compiled 4 wins in the month while logging a minuscule 1.14 ERA. 
The road trip would conclude with a 4-game stop in Cincinnati where the bats would awaken just in time for the arrival of Hunter Pence. After dropping the series-opener, the Giants would account for their first double-digit performance of the season with a 10-2 shellacking in Game 2. The Giants would then put up double-digit runs in consecutive games for the first time since 2012 with an 11-run outburst the following day, tagging Reds starter Mike Leake for a career-high 9 earned runs in route to an 11-2 victory. The series finale would be a much closer ballgame but still ended with a familiar result as the Giants came away with the 9-8 win to take 3 of 4 at the site of this year's MLB All-Star Game. It would be a memorable series for two Giants in particular as both Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence were most likely sad to leave the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark when it was time to head home. With Hunter Pence making his season debut in Game 3 of the series, recording a single, double and a walk while scoring three runs, he fared just as well at the plate in the series finale by going 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs and logging his first home run of the season. As for Brandon Belt, the Giants first baseman saw his batting average jump from .271 to .321 by collecting 9 hits, 8 runs, 7 RBI and homering in three consecutive games after entering the series without a single homer on the year.

With San Francisco returning Home for a brief three-game series with the Dodgers, the Giants were given an opportunity to chip away at their archrivals grasp on the division lead. And with a three-game sweep for the second time in as many series' at Home this season vs. L.A., the Giants were able to do just that, with all three wins coming in shutout fashion. Despite the many meetings between both clubs throughout their storied history, it would mark only the second time in franchise history that the G-Men swept a series versus their bitter rivals without allowing a single run. The other occurrence was in June 25-27 of 2012. The series finale would feature a match up between two of the game's best pitchers as Madison Bumgarner squared off against Clayton Kershaw for a second time this season with Kershaw being outdueled both times. The second time around, however, Bumgarner would help his own cause, launching a solo homer to left. It would be the first home run allowed by Kershaw to an opposing pitcher in his career.
After hitting the road to play four games in Colorado which included a makeup game that was rained out on April 26, the Giants took Games 1 and 2 to improve their season-best winning-streak to 8 games. They would go on to lose the next two games, however, splitting the series and snapping their win streak before paying the Milwaukee Brewers a visit whom they swept in a three-game set to cap off their road trip. With a chance to finish the month strong at Home, the G-Men welcomed the visiting Atlanta Braves for a four game set. With a 7-0 victory in the series opener, the Giants pitched their fourth straight shutout at AT&T Park and improved their consecutive Home scoreless innings streak to 37 innings. Though the streak would come to an end in the 3rd inning of Game 2, the Giants were able to tally 39 consecutive scoreless innings at Home which matched a franchise record. And though they would go on to take the first two games against the Braves before falling in Game 3, they would head into the 9th inning of the series finale with a 5-3 lead and a chance to take three of four from visiting Atlanta. Prior to Sunday, in the 25 games the Giants entered the 9th inning while holding a lead, they came out victorious in all 25 meetings. But on this day, they wouldn't be so lucky.

And had it not been for an error by Brandon Crawford with 1-out in the 9th on a routine play that we've seen him make a thousand times with a chance to seal the win with an inning-ending double play ball, the Giants would be sitting atop the division in first place at the start of June. Instead, the Braves tagged closer Santiago Casilla for four runs in the frame (3 earned), taking a 7-5 lead which they would go on to win by. But that's nothing to scoff at considering Crawford leads the team in RBI's with 37, seven more than the next closest player in Buster Posey and is a key reason in the Giants' resurgence. He also has 7 home runs which only trails Posey's 8. Despite the disappointing loss, the Giants finished the month of May by going 21-9 to improve their overall record to 30-22 as they currently sit a 1/2 game behind the Dodgers. The Giants' 21-9 record in May marks the franchise's best month since a 21-10 finish in August of 1968. With Hunter Pence healthy once again and Brandon Belt contributing at the plate, things have finally begun to click for a Giants team that hopes to continue their winning ways into the month of June. The reigning World Series champs will be tested early on in the new month as they get set to host the hottest team in the National League when the (26-24) Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of 8 of their last 10 games, stop in for a three game series. 

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Niners' Cowboy rides off into Retirement

If there's one thing we've learned about 49er players retiring, it's that they do so in droves. At least this year they have. After the sudden retirement of linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, it was learned on Monday afternoon that the team would be without 5-time Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith who informed the team of his decision to retire as the Niners prepare for the 2015 season without yet another key cog on defense. Unlike the retirements of Willis and Borland which caught many by surprise considering Willis just recently celebrated his 30th birthday and Borland had only one season under his belt coming off his rookie campaign, there has been speculation regarding Smith possibly stepping away from the game of football since the start of the offseason. Smith, a former first round pick selected fourth overall out of the University of Missouri in 2001, even gave the team a date which he would announce his decision by. The front-office allowed the 35-year old Smith to take as much time as he needed and while it wasn't the answer they were hoping to hear, it was one they had anticipated. 

That proof lies in the team's draft habits which saw the 49ers select 10 defensive linemen in the draft since 2011, including 2015 first round pick Arik Armstead out of Oregon. Not to mention the signing of free-agent Darnell Dockett this offseason. Though it was an injury which ultimately led to Smith's decision to hang 'em up, describing his left shoulder as unresponsive, Smith brought his lunch pail and tools to the yard every day and came ready to play while missing only three games throughout a 14 year career split between the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. Like Willis, Smith was a defensive leader for the 49er defense which has ranked among the top defenses in the league over the past several seasons. First year head coach Jim Tomsula who built quite the relationship with Smith while serving as the team's defensive line coach for all of Smith's seven seasons with the team, hopes the rebuilding process will be a swift one now that a number of the team's key contributors on defense from the past few years are gone. Something that may be worth keeping an eye on with Smith now out the door, is how his absence will effect Aldon Smith. 
When on the field playing side by side, the tandem of Aldon and Justin who were often referred to as "the Smith brothers" were a dominant force in San Francisco's D-Line. Their productivity often depended on one another and with the elder Smith no longer in the picture, it'll be interesting to see if there's any drop off in Aldon's numbers. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini who's in his first year at the helm of the defense, surely hopes that won't be the case. Smith joins the ever-expanding list of players from last year's 49er defense which won't be back with the team in 2015. Among those players are -- Perrish Cox, Ray McDonald, Chris Culliver, Dan Skuta, the aforementioned Chris Borland and Patrick Willis and now the one they call "Cowboy." And like any cowboy, this one will ride off into the sunset, bidding a farewell to the game he loved and the game we all enjoyed watching him play, even if his helmet and pads were two sizes too small.

Smith was a 5-time Pro Bowler who totaled 880 tackles and 87 career sacks while being named an All-Pro three times over an impressive 14-year career. Whether or not he'll garner enough votes to be enshrined into the Football Hall of Fame is a crapshoot at this point, but I won't be surprised in the least bit if the 49ers honor him this upcoming season, albeit a banner or plaque with his name and number on it to hang at the team's shiny new home of Levi's Stadium.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Red Birds red-hot despite key Injury

Since the 2010 MLB Postseason, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have flip flopped representing the National League in the World Series with the Giants making their appearance in each of the past three even numbered years and St. Louis going during the odd numbered years. Though the 2015 season is still very young, the Cardinals are off to an amazing start as they look to continue that pattern. The formula took a major hit just two weeks ago, however, when it was learned that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright would miss the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles tendon, suffered during an at-bat on April 25.  

While an injury of this magnitude to a player as significant to his team as Waino is would normally crumble a franchise for the season moving forward, it's almost as if the injury inspired the ball club. Since the injury to their ace occurred, the Cardinals have gone 9-3 and are coming off their first nine-win homestand since 2002, helping them jump out to a 6 1/2 game lead in the NL Central standings. After posting a record of 19-6 which set a mark for the best start in franchise history through the first 25 games of the season, the Red Birds now stand at a league-best record of 21-7 following Thursday's 5-1 win over the archrival Chicago Cubs. Since 2009, Wainwright has been one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball, placing in the top three of NL Cy Young voting four times in his career. And through his first four starts of 2015, Wainwright was off to another stellar start to the season, boasting a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 1.44.
With the game of baseball now without one of its best pitchers for the remainder of the season, it's that time of year to bring up the annual discussion of, "should the National League adopt the designated-hitter rule" like their American League counterpart. Any time a pitcher gets injured either at the plate or on the base paths by way of a freak injury as was the case with Wainwright, you can bet your bottom dollar those in favor of the DH will come out of the woodwork with lit torches and pitchforks in hand in support of the National League adopting the designated-hitter. While most teams are afraid to lose their multi-million dollar pitching investment to an injury while at the plate which doesn't quite pertain to what they were initially signed for, the small-ball strategy which goes into the National League's game is the last remaining component separating the two leagues. 

But in the meantime, NL pitcher's continue to hit and the Cardinals continue to win. Prior to Wainwright's injury, St. Louis was struggling on offense as runs were at a minimum. But since then, the Cardinals have averaged nearly six runs per game as the bats have awoken, backed by some stout pitching from veteran pitcher John Lackey who has registered several gems this season as well as a bullpen which has been nails during their most recent homestand which saw a combined ERA of 1.01 over 44 1/3 innings. If there's one team in all of baseball who can overcome the absence of a 3-time All-Star like Wainwright and still contend for a title as we've learned over the years, it's the Red Birds. After all, this isn't their first go-around without their workhorse as the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series with Wainwright sidelined for the entire season. The only surprise this time around would be if St. Louis can continue at their current pace all season long in an NL Central division which features two teams that are young and hungry in the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, both of whom weren't even a blip on the radar in 2011.

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Giants Month in Review: April

With baseball season officially in full swing as the San Francisco Giants kiss the opening month of April goodbye, the reigning World Series champs haven't quite resembled a team that had just won it all several months prior. Last year the Giants got off to one of the hottest starts in franchise history through the first two months when they won 32 of their first 50 games. And while the G-Men still have another month to go to determine whether or not they can match last year's blazing start, duplicating or surpassing that mark is unlikely given the slow start they got off to in April.

Following a 3-1 start to the season after taking two of three in Arizona and the first of four games in San Diego, the Giants ran into a brick wall, dropping 8 straight including a three game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies in San Francisco's home opening series. They wouldn't fair much better in their second series at AT&T as the D-Backs came in to take three of four in the city by the bay. The Giants would finally see their 8-game skid come to an end as the team celebrated their 2014 Championship run with a victory on the night in which the team was awarded their championship bling prior the team's Ring Ceremony game, only to lose the following day. The homestand wasn't all negative, however, as the Giants benefited from a much needed day off with a three-game sweep of the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers at Home which included walk-off wins in games two and three.
The Giants then took to the road where they split two games in Denver before the series finale at Coors Field was postponed due to inclement weather. A three game set at Dodger Stadium would witness one of the classic pitchers duels between the two hated rivals when World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner out-dueled 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw in a 2-1 victory. However, the Dodgers would wind up winning the series finale the following day to take the series win, two games to one. The highlight of the month, though, has to be the surprising contribution of rookie pitcher Chris Heston who has done everything and then some since being asked to fill in for the injured Matt Cain. Called up from Triple-A Sacramento prior to his start on April 8, to fill the void of Cain who was placed on the DL with a flexor tendon strain in his right forearm, Heston dazzled in his season debut, pitching six innings in which he gave up 2 runs (both unearned), while allowing three hits, walking a pair and striking out five to earn the win. Aside from a minor bump in the road at the hitter-friendly Coors Field in Denver in which he was tagged for 11 hits and 6 earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched, Heston hasn't skipped a beat, allowing 1 or 0 runs in each of his other four starts.

Despite the lone shaky outing, the 27-year old has been a glowing bright spot for the Giants in the early going, boasting an ERA of 2.51 in 5 starts and a record of 2-2. With Matt Cain and Jake Peavy serving time on the disabled-list, manager Bruce Bochy is going to have a difficult decision to make regarding his pitching rotation if Heston's success continues. With little help from the injury bug in April as Brandon Belt, Casey McGehee and the aforementioned Matt Cain and Jake Peavy all saw time missed, the month of May figures to be bit brighter for the Giants as their offense looks to get a boost from 2014 All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence. The Giants' lanky outfielder suffered a left forearm fracture during Spring Training which has caused him to watch from the dugout. With Pence absent from the lineup, it's been shortstop Brandon Crawford who's led the team in home runs (5) and RBI's (14) thus far, two categories Pence will surely help out in when he makes his return later this month following a Minor League rehab assignment. 
With a 9-13 record in the month of April, things are already looking up for the Giants in the month of May as they flipped the page on their calendar with a three game sweep of the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over the weekend to improve to 12-13 on the year, inching closer to the .500 mark. San Francisco completed the sweep thanks to a superb outing from hurler Tim Lincecum who registered his best performance of the season by scattering three hits (all singles) over 8 scoreless frames as the Giants awarded him with the 5-0 victory. The home team wasted no time to back their starting pitcher with some run support as Nori Aoki and Joe Panik led the game off with back-to-back home runs in the first inning, something the Giants haven't done since 1964. Next up, the Giants will host the San Diego Padres for a three game set before closing out their 10-game home stand with a four-game series versus Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins. 

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Homecoming for Hamilton

During the 2012 Winter Meetings, baseball saw the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim land the most coveted player on the free agent market for the second consecutive year. One year after signing Albert Pujols to the second wealthiest contract in MLB history, the Halos inked a 5-year, $125 Million deal with outfielder Josh Hamilton which on paper gave the Angels one of the most formidable lineups in all of baseball and was thought to be a World Series contender. In the five seasons Hamilton spent with the Texas Rangers before becoming a free-agent, he was named to the American League All-Star team all five years and won the AL batting title while being awarded AL MVP in 2010. The man who was once touted among the best prospects in all of baseball before injuries and drug abuse threatened his career, had finally developed into the player scouts knew he was destined to be. After earning the recognition of one of the game's best players, Hamilton helped lead the Rangers to back-to-back World Series appearances including the first in franchise history in 2010. So it came as no surprise that Hamilton garnered a hefty payday when he hit the free-agent market just two seasons later.

However, since signing with the Halos, Hamilton has been a shadow of his former self while spending numerous stints on the disabled-list and producing nowhere near the numbers he did while with the Rangers. And then came his relapse with cocaine and alcohol in February which he admitted to. After news broke of Hamilton's relapse, Angels owner Arte Moreno ordered all of Hamilton's merchandise to be removed from the shelves at the team store inside Angels Stadium. Moreno and company was well aware of the risk that came with the now 33-year old slugger the moment they signed him and after the league chose not to suspend Hamilton following his most recent relapse which Moreno was hoping for, the front-office began searching for a team interested in his services. And on Monday, the Angels brought that proposal to fruition by agreeing to trade the highly paid, struggling star to the Rangers. The deal which will end the rocky relationship between Hamilton and the Angels is an expensive one for Anaheim as they will now pay all but around $7 Million of the $83 Million Hamilton is still owed, while shipping him to a division rival and getting nearly nothing in return aside from cleaning their hands of the problematic outfielder.
Although the Rangers will be getting a bargain considering how much Hamilton is owed and how little of the portion they'll have to pay him while hoping to find a solution to their struggling outfield, it won't all be bouquets and hugs for Hamilton when he makes his return to the field for the Rangers. Hamilton will have to regain some of the respect and admiration fans in Arlington once had for their beloved MVP. Upon leaving the franchise he resurrected his baseball career with, Hamilton called Dallas a football town on his way out which although true, rubbed some fans the wrong way. Currently on the disabled-list while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Hamilton is expected to be ready to join the team come mid-May following a Minor League stint according to Rangers GM  Jon Daniels. Hamilton who was no stranger to the Angels organization before he signed with them having faced them multiple times a year while a member of the Rangers, will once again be on the opposing side and my guess is he won't be getting a standing ovation from Halo fans when he's introduced in the batters box. 

Three years removed from clubbing a career-high 43 home runs in his last season with the Rangers, 12 more than he hit in his two seasons combined with the Angels, Hamilton is hoping a change of scenery to a very familiar franchise will help him reclaim the star power he once possessed. With his story and struggles with drugs and alcohol well documented, you can't help but root for the guy and hope he turns it around. And when he makes his return to Arlington, I'll be doing just that.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tebow Time in Philly

If there's one thing we've learned about the Philadelphia Eagles, it's that coach Chip Kelly has an interesting way of doing things. See his busy and unpredictable offseason for example. The offensive mastermind has raised quite a few eyebrows on his way to making the Eagles the talk of the offseason after dealing 3-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for former Oregon Duck -- Kiko Alonso, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Kelly then looked to fill the void left by McCoy with the acquisition of Frank Gore who after agreeing to terms with Philadelphia, chose to sign with the Indianapolis Colts instead. Kelly didn't panic, however, and instead countered by finding his man in the much younger DeMarco Murray who he managed to snag from the rival Cowboys with the help of a college teammate. However, the biggest head-scratcher is what Kelly has done with the Eagles' quarterback position. 

Two days after re-signing Mark Sanchez who won over the Eagles' starting QB job following an injury to Nick Foles midway through the season, Philly shipped Foles to the St. Louis Rams in return for the often injured Sam Bradford. Murray and Bradford spent three seasons together at the University of Oklahoma which played a role in Murray jumping ship in Dallas to sign with the Eagles. Not to mention the 5-year, $42 Million contract offer that Philadelphia proposed to the league's top rusher in 2014 which had to have made the decision a bit easier. But just when you thought Kelly's madness had come to an end, he makes yet another questionable decision. The latest reports have the Eagles expected to sign 27-year old QB Tim Tebow to a deal just in time for the start of the team's offseason program which begins on Monday. The former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida is more than two years removed from appearing in his last regular season game with the New York Jets after spending a brief and unsuccessful stint with the New England Patriots who cut him after the 2013 preseason. After being asked by coach Kelly to workout for the team in March, Tebow will now join a crowded QB roster which includes Matt Barkley as well as the aforementioned Bradford and Sanchez. 
For Tebow, who is still in search of the respect of an NFL quarterback with a playoff win under his belt while a member of the Denver Broncos, teaming up with an offensive genius in Kelly could very well benefit him and help revive his career in the same way it did for his former Jets teammate Mark Sanchez a season ago. That's assuming Tebow can make the squad of course, something his deal does not guarantee. The signing of Tebow is one of low risk and high reward as Kelly hopes to groom one of college's most decorated QB's into a more well-rounded player at the professional level. But after speculation began to swirl regarding the Eagles reportedly being interested in moving up in this month's NFL Draft to land another former Duck, could Kelly's latest move be an indication that he's throwing in the towel on trying to acquire the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota whom he recruited at the University of Oregon? While it doesn't exactly shoot down the possibility, it has to at least put a dent in those chances.

The signing of Tebow would give the Eagles two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks and three QBs taken in the first round. Unfortunately, it would also give them three of the five worst QBs in the league over the last five years from a Quarterback Rating standpoint with a minimum of 30 games at the position. Lets see if Chip Kelly can work his magic with this new batch of Quarterbacks as the Eagles look to rebound from a disappointing season in which they failed to make the playoffs after a 7-2 start before ultimately finishing the year with a record of 10-6.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest