Sunday, August 31, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - August

With consecutive sub .500 win percentages for the San Francisco Giants in June and July, Bruce Bochy's ball club would need to step it up in the month of August if they planned on making a true playoff push down the stretch. Backed by stellar starting pitching and a hint of explosive offense demonstrated in their three game sweep at the end of the month versus the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, the Giants did just that, posting an overall record of 16-13 to round out the month of August. With most of San Francisco's success coming on the road as of late, it was their home of AT&T Park which witnessed the G-Men close out the last full month of the MLB calendar on a strong note.

Aside from splitting a short two-game series vs the Chicago White Sox, the Giants won all three series in the city by the bay, taking two of three against the Phillies and three of four from the Rockies before completing a three game sweep of the Brew Crew to win 9 of 12 games at Home. Their time spent away from home wasn't as successful, however, as San Francisco dropped two of three in both Milwaukee and Washington while being on the receiving end of a three-game sweep at the hands of Kansas City. Splitting four games in Queens against the Mets and four on the north side of Chicago vs the Cubbies resulted in a 7-10 record on the road for the orange and black. But the Giants of the last week or so has looked a lot more like the team that jumped out to a 9 1/2 game division lead back in May with both pitching and timely hitting clicking on all cylinders. 
The Giants, who currently stand at 74-62 closed out the month of August winners of six straight and right back in the hunt for the NL West crown, only 2.5 games back of the rival Dodgers who they'll get to play six more times this season. After falling as many as 5 games back in the division, a red-hot Buster Posey at the plate and Madison Bumgarner on the mound has helped lead the Giants in climbing right back into the thick of things and close the gap while maintaining sole possession of the number one wild card spot. Collectively, the Giants starting pitching staff has been sensational as of late, boasting a 1.22 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and a 42 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio over their last five games heading into the weekend. Leading the way once again was Giants ace Madison Bumgarner who posted a league best in strikeouts for the month with 56 and 1.57 ERA while finishing 4-1 in six starts. MadBum even flirted with history when he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning. And though Bumgarner made a strong case to likely win his second NL Pitcher of the Month Award this season, he isn't the only one in a Giants uniform who's been dealing lately.

Jake Peavy who the Giants acquired near last month's trade deadline, has won 3 of his last 4 starts after logging only one win in 20 starts with Boston and has a 1.26 ERA in that span. It wasn't pure dominance for everyone, however, as arguably the Giants' most popular hurler saw a demotion to the bullpen. After appearing to have found his groove again, making several consecutive strong starts following his historic feat in June when he tossed his second career no-hitter, Tim Lincecum would be moved to the relief corps after struggling with an ERA over 9 in his last six starts. But that's not to discredit the man who was awarded Lincecum's spot in the rotation as Yusmeiro Petit who filled in at times for the injured Matt Cain, has pitched brilliantly of late, setting a Major League record by retiring 46 consecutive batters. In his latest outing, Petit retired the first eight Colorado Rockies batters he faced, surpassing the previous mark of 45 consecutive batters retired held by Mark Buehrle in 2009.
August wasn't all about pitching, though, as Bruce Bochy saw his ball club put up double-digits three times in the month, including twice over the weekend vs Milwaukee after failing to hit the double-digit mark in both June and July. The month of August also saw one of the true rarities in baseball when a game in Chicago against the Cubs was halted due to mother nature, causing a four-hour rain delay. But it's what the Wrigley Field grounds crew was unable to do that caught the attention of Giants skipper Bruce Bochy who decided to protest the game that was eventually called and ruled a 2-0 win for the Cubs after 5 1/2 innings. The Wrigley Field grounds crew mishandled the tarp when trying to save the field from getting drenched in the downpour and did little afterwards to try and make the field playable. This would result in only the second successful protest in MLB to be upheld since 1986. And though the Giants would eventually lose the game by a score of 2-1, it's an incident that won't be forgotten anytime soon for Giants fans.

As usual this time of year in baseball, the month of September is sure to be a treat with teams making call-ups and the down to the wire pennant races that are sure to unfold. With a pair of series on the road against the Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers respectively to kick off the month of September, the Giants will return home to face the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers. A nine-game road trip within the division versus the D-Backs, Padres and Dodgers will round out the last of the Giants' regular season games away from San Francisco before finishing the season at home against San Diego. All in all, the upcoming month is a favorable one for the Giants and could help propel them back into the top spot out west in preparation for the Postseason.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - July

With the San Francisco Giants struggling to maintain the dominance they opened the season with for the first time in June, the month of July saw much of the same. Though they would finish the dog days of July by going 12-14, winning two more games than they did the previous month, manager Bruce Bochy would witness his ball club boast a sub .500 record for a second consecutive month. However, the team would continue their winning ways on the road where the Giants have clearly been more productive at the plate, winning 7 of 12 games. As for the friendly confines of AT&T Park, the Giants' home would be anything but friendly to the orange and black as they finished with 5-wins and 9-losses.

After stumbling into the All-Star break with series losses against the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A's and wins against two of their mediocre division rivals in San Diego and Arizona, the Giants bounced back by highlighting a successful road trip out east with two wins in three games in Miami and by taking three of four in Philly. But the G-Men would fail to bring that magic back home with them as they were swept at AT&T against the archrival Dodgers in a three-game series before avoiding nearly being swept by Pittsburgh. The sluggish home stand resulted in the Giants falling as many as three games behind L.A. in the NL West. And with injuries to Matt Cain and Joe Panik as well as the uncertainty revolving veteran second baseman Marco Scutaro, Giants general manager Brian Sabean was forced to make a move.
Hoping one team's trash would be another team's treasure, Sabean signed second baseman Dan Uggla to a Minor League deal. But Uggla, who was released earlier this year by the Atlanta Braves, would be called up much earlier than anticipated as Panik went down with an injury. The acquisition would prove to be a short lived experiment as Uggla failed to log a single hit in his 11 at-bats while also committing a handful of errors. With Matt Cain likely to undergo surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow which would sideline him for the remainder of the season, Sabean went out and acquired Jake Peavy from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Minor League pitchers Heath Hembree and Edwin Escobar. Having spent the better half of his eight seasons with the San Diego Padres under Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, few pitchers in the game today know the NL West as well as Peavy where he won the NL Cy Young Award in 2007 as a Triple Crown winner.

Peavy, a victim of little to no run support this season (received two runs or fewer in support in each of his last 8 starts) while with the Red Sox, went 1-9 with the defending World Series champs this year while posting a 4.72 ERA. But returning to pitch in the division he grew up in and had plenty of success, could result in a second half rebound. The 33-year old Peavy is a 3-time All-Star that plays with his emotions on his sleeve and will supply a fiery mentality while providing stability to the rotation. Perhaps the most important note of all is that he's been known as a Dodger killer throughout his career with a record of 14-2 and an ERA of 2.21 against L.A. That wouldn't be the case in his Giants debut, however, as the Dodgers tagged him for three runs in six innings in a losing effort.
Many thought San Francisco would be a bit more active at this year's July 31st trade deadline but instead the Giants braintrust decided to stay put following the acquisition for Peavy while adding that, "Bad deals were to be made." And while Sabean has been known as somewhat of a genius for making key deals at or near the deadline, only time will tell whether or not the same could be said regarding his latest transaction. Perhaps the highlight of the month just because of its rarity would belong to Tim Lincecum who stole the spotlight as the Giants' headline for the month of June as well. After continuing his brilliance with a stellar first half of July, the Freak treated fans to a bizarre sighting they aren't used to seeing as Timmy recorded his first career save, becoming only the 9th pitcher since 1969 with a no-hitter and a save in the same season. With ugly outings in each of his last two starts, Timmy and the rest of his pitching mates will be counted on to pick it up the rest of the way if the Giants plan to fend off the rival Dodgers for the top spot in the West. The Giants' bullpen, meanwhile, was lights out in the month of July, boasting the best ERA and opponent average against in the NL.

The Giants will kick off a 10-game road trip to begin the month of August with a trip to New York to face the Mets and stops at Milwaukee and Kansas City as the NL Central division leading Brewers and playoff hopeful Royals look to make a push for the postseason. A homestand vs the White Sox and Phillies will take place before the G-Men hit the road again to meet with the Cubs and Nationals before returning home and rounding out the month of August with a series vs the Rockies and Brewers at AT&T Park.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

USA Men's Basketball takes a Blow

What was supposed to be a showcasing of some of the best talent the world has to offer on Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, soon turned into an event in a state of shock as one of the game's best young stars was hauled out onto a stretcher. During the fourth quarter of the USA Men's Basketball Team's Blue vs White scrimmage, fans and players witnessed one of the most horrific sports injuries in recent memory when Paul George of the Indiana Pacers tried making a play on a fastbreak layup by Houston's James Harden. With all of his momentum on his right leg, George came down hard at an angle as his foot met with the stanchion near the bottom of the basket, leaving his leg nowhere to go but down as footage of the gruesome injury showed. Footage of the injury left us turning our heads and looking elsewhere, reminiscent of those suffered by such athletes as Joe Theismann, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Ware and more recently Anderson Silva of the UFC.

George suffered a compound fracture to the tibia and fibula in his right leg and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Being in the building to watch the game and witnessing the injury firsthand gave a different picture opposed to what fans may have seen watching the game on television. With my seats being in the upper deck and everything happening all at once, it was hard to immediately make out exactly what had happened and to who. But the immediate reaction from the fans sitting courtside and the players on the bench, many of which were hiding their faces in towels, gave you an idea that it was something serious. With the game being delayed for several minutes as members of the coaching staff and medical personnel rushed to the scene, any hopes we had of a player just being shaken up were erased once the stretcher came rolling out. As a majority of the arena was left still wondering who had gotten hurt, I began questioning why an instant replay of the incident had not been shown on the jumbotron and after later seeing the footage in slow-motion, I now know why. And in case you've yet to see the footage, I suggest you do so with caution if you're easily squeamish.
With chants of "U.S.A" being poured onto the court by fans showing their support, it wasn't long before players and coaches from both benches met near mid-court for prayer which coach Mike Krzyzewski then followed by addressing the fans that the exhibition game had come to an end despite the 9 minutes and 33 seconds remaining on the game clock. It would be a classy move by Coach K and one that all of the fans that I came in contact with fully understood which was ultimately the right decision in respect for George and his family. With players and fans all taking to Twitter after the incident to express their sympathy and wish him a speedy recovery, George himself took to the social media site a few hours later just before undergoing surgery to thank all those that have wished him well and said he'd be back and better than ever.

Rapid Reaction - While the injury to Paul George is very unfortunate, there's no denying that it'll change the way players look at competing at the international level and even more so in exhibition games like the one that took place tonight. Not to mention the team owners and general managers who cringe at the thought of these exhibition games players decide to play in after being signed to multi-Million dollar contracts. Could this be the beginning of the end for USA Basketball and the NBA's brightest stars that choose to play or is the privilege of playing for their country a big enough honor to keep the game's biggest names interested? 
Though there's no denying the injury is a freak accident, it's obvious how unsafe the base of the basket is at Thomas & Mack where the UNLV Basketball team calls home. With the stanchion of the basket being several feet closer to the baseline than those that players in the NBA are used to, how it passed inspection and was cleared for use is beyond me. What's sad is that it takes something like this to occur before we can question whether or not the base of the basket is safe. In other words, it was an accident waiting to happen and it just so happened to take place on one of the biggest stages.

The game was also supposed to serve as somewhat of a welcome back party for Bulls star point guard Derrick Rose who's endured a number of injuries of his own over the last several seasons and is expected to be at full strength this year. And had it not been for the injury to George, the story of the game at least in my eyes was D.Rose. Rose made a number of turnovers during a stretche where it appeared he was trying to do too much at times, but overall he looked good and displayed the explosiveness that we've all grown to love and expect from the 2011 league MVP when he made a dazzling layup on one play before slamming home a dunk on another. And though it was just a small sample size of what we saw from D.Rose in the limited action he saw on the court, it was enough to convince me that the Chicago Bulls will be serious contenders to win the Eastern Conference this year assuming he stays healthy. It may be a bold statement but with Paul George most likely out for the season in Indiana, the Knicks still being in a mess, the Cavs adjusting to life with LeBron again and Miami now without their best player of the last four seasons, the Bulls can very much contend for a title if D.Rose resembles anything like the 3-time All-Star that dominated his first three seasons in the league from 2010-12.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lakers find their man in Byron Scott

After finishing dead last in the Pacific division out west and posting their worst record in franchise history at 27-55 under coach Mike D'Antoni last season, the team has announced their newest hire. With D'Antoni resigning back on April 30, the Lakers have finally put an end to their head coaching vacancy nearly three months to the day with the announcement of a four-year, $17 Million contract agreement with Byron Scott. With both free agency and the NBA Draft the top priorities during the early stages of the NBA offseason for the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak decided to hold off on hiring a head coach until the dust settled as the game's top free agents found homes. And with the Lakers failing to land either LeBron James or Carmello Anthony, both of whom they were willing to cater to and allow their voice to be heard in the hiring process for the next head coach, the team went on to offer the job to the man we knew they'd hire all along.

Though there were other interviewees which included George Karl, Kurt Rambis, Mike Dunleavy, Alvin Gentry and Lionel Hollins, the job was pretty much Scott's to lose from the get go. That became even more apparent as the interview process went on as Byron Scott returned for a second and third interview as most of the other candidates began signing elsewhere. With defense being a weak point for the team that failed to make the playoffs last season, the disciplinarian that Scott is known throughout the league to be should be a good fit for this Laker team. Scott also knows everything that needs to be known when under the bright lights of Hollywood. Not only does he know a thing or two about the franchise having played 10 seasons in L.A. and winning three titles with the "Showtime" Lakers, he's also quite familiar with the team he'll now be drawing up plays for as he served as an analyst on the Lakers' home station -- Time Warner Cable Sportsnet this past season. 
But what might have been the decided factor overall is his relationship with Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Having once upon a time called Byron Scott a teammate of his during his rookie season with the Lakers in 1996, Kobe has credited his new coach as being a mentor of his and someone he's always had a great deal of respect for and has expressed his interest in playing under Scott if the opportunity presented itself. With the organization expecting success only to be left disappointed each of the last few seasons with both Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni at the helm, fans weren't hesitant to let their frustration be known. But being one of their own, Byron Scott will get somewhat of a free pass from Laker fans during this rebuilding stage and won't be chased out of the door right away if say the Lakers fail to make the playoffs again. But that's not to say coach Scott is expecting anything short of success from the purple and gold this year. 

Along with the new coaching staff, Laker fans will be seeing some new faces this season as well as some old ones. With Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly all re-signing to join Kobe, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre as returning players this year, the Lakers also made a few new acquisitions. After watching Pau Gasol walk via free agency and sign with the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers claimed former All-Star Carlos Boozer off amnesty waivers while also signing power forward Ed Davis. In need of some depth at the point guard position, the Lakers landed Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets along with a first and second round pick in next year's Draft. And last but not least is PF Julius Randle who the Lakers took with the seventh overall pick out of Kentucky in last month's Draft and second round pick Jordan Clarkson (Missouri, point guard) who L.A. acquired on draft night from the Washington Wizards.
Byron Scott's coaching resume includes two trips to the NBA Finals while with the then New Jersey Nets and a Coach of the Year Award (2008) with the then New Orleans Hornets. After taking over a Cleveland Cavaliers team that would end up losing LeBron James via free agency to the Miami Heat just days after his arrival, Scott would be fired from the Cavs in 2013. Scott also joins a long list of former Laker players who later went on to coach the team which includes: Pat Riley, Jerry West, Jim Pollard, George Mikan, Kurt Rambis and Magic Johnson. 

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

LeBron James: There's No Place like Home

Four years ago, fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers burned their LeBron James jerseys after the kid who grew up just a stones throw away in Akron, Ohio, ditched the state he was born and raised in for the sandy shores of South Beach. Now, those same fans will be racing to the nearest sporting goods store in hopes of purchasing a new one as all seems to be forgotten now that King James is heading back home. After exercising the option on the final year of his contract with the Miami Heat, LeBron made the decision to return home to play for the Cavs and restore his image and relationship with the city of Cleveland where he played his first seven seasons and won 2 of his 4 MVP Awards. And doing so in a much more appropriate manner than he did in July of 2010 when he announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach on live television. This time, King James did the complete opposite, sparring us from having to sit in front of a TV screen by revealing his decision in an essay released by Sports Illustrated. 

In his essay, one line best describes LeBron's decision to return home: "My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now." With LeBron receiving major criticism for having ESPN make a 30-minute spectacle out of his infamous "The Decision" special, his choice of announcing his return via letter has received praise and in some ways erases his shameful past. And though a return to the Cavs at some time during his career was inevitable, if anything stood in the way of LeBron returning, it was the rocky relationship between he and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert, who took numerous shots at his former star player for his departure to Miami and was arguably the most heartbroken regarding James' decision four years ago by calling him a "coward", went as far as saying the Cavs would win a ring before LeBron ever did and accused him of quitting on the team during the 2010 NBA Finals. Boy was he ever wrong.
Prior to being informed that he was once again the winner of the LeBron James sweepstakes, Gilbert apologized to James face-to-face for his mistakes and said the two, "had seven great years together and one terrible night." And as any smart owner would do if given the opportunity to acquire the best player in the world, Gilbert helped bridge the gap between he and LeBron and expressed his excitement via Twitter by welcoming James back home. This undoubtedly has to be the happiest Gilbert's been in years given the Cavs have missed the playoffs in each of the last four years and haven't had a winning season since LeBron's departure. But the luckiest man of all just might be the Cavaliers' newly hired head coach David Blatt who's job just got a lot easier, having inherited a team with not only the best player on the planet, but also a star point-guard in Kyrie Irving and the most coveted player in the 2014 NBA Draft in number one overall pick -- Andrew Wiggins. Not bad for a guy who will be making his NBA coaching debut.

Shortly after word got out that LeBron was returning to Ohio, Cavs fans poured out onto the streets to celebrate as if they just won an NBA title. Something they've never experienced in the 40+ year history of their franchise and hope this time around that their savior can deliver on. But don't go rocking out to the theme song of the Drew Carey show "Cleveland rocks" just yet. Unlike James' speech which helped fire up the Miami fan base when he was first introduced alongside Heat big three front mates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh where he went on to say the team would win, "...not five, not six, not seven..." James wrote in his letter that he wasn't promising a championship to the people of Cleveland, adding that it won't be easy. But that didn't stop Cavs season tickets from flying off the shelves and selling out just hours after LeBron's return was announced, nor did it prevent several Las Vegas casinos from making the Cavs the favorites to win it all next season, where as the Miami Heat's odds have now plummeted despite both Bosh and Wade eyeing a return to South Beach.
For LeBron who has matured greatly since 2010, the return to Cleveland gives him a chance to recover the legacy many believe he tarnished by leaving his home behind to chase a ring and join forces with Bosh and Wade. After turning the page on that chapter of his career, James will be embarking on a new chapter which will feature him playing the role of mentor for the first time as he looks to take a bright young talent in Andrew Wiggins under his wing. That's unless Wiggins is dealt as rumors have now begun to swirl involving a possible trade for Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love who has been "intrigued" by the thoughts of joining LeBron in Cleveland and has said he'd commit to a long-term deal with the team. But it won't be easy to accomplish as the T-Wolves have already declined an offer that included Dion Waiters, last year's first overall pick Anthony Bennett and Cleveland's first-round pick next year, while making it clear that they have eyes for Wiggins. Adding Love into the mix would certainly put Cleveland over the top as the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference to contend for a title. But until then, 2014-15 might be a lot like 2006-07 when LeBron led the Cavs to an NBA Finals appearance but was unable to claim the title.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - June

Following a dominant month of May which saw the San Francisco Giants jump out to a blazing start, manager Bruce Bochy saw his team continue their winning ways through the first week of June. After taking two of three on the road in Cincinnati where the Giants have struggled in recent years and sweeping a three-game series at home vs the Mets, San Francisco stood at 41-20 with the best record in all of baseball. It would also be the best 60-game start to a season for the Giants since 1973. And on June 8, the Giants would witness their lead in the NL Western Division hike up to 9 1/2 games over the second place Los Angeles Dodgers. But any hopes of running away with the division, would come crashing down by months end.

After going 6-1 to begin the month of June, it was almost as if someone flipped a switch as the Giants began struggling both offensively and with their pitching which up to that point had been clicking on all cylinders. Right-hander Tim Hudson who through the first two and a half months as a Giant, looked anything but human on the mound. But a trio of bad outings in June for Huddy, who still boasts an ERA of 2.59, and three blown saves in a two week span for reliever Sergio Romo who would be stripped of his closing duties, would highlight some of San Francisco's pitching woes. The Giants would also experience a power outage on offense as the long ball which played a key role in the team's early success, went missing. Also gone missing would be the Giants' lead-off hitter and spark plug in Angel Pagan who's been sidelined since June 14, while nursing a back injury.
Overall, the Giants would finish the month of June going 10-16, losing 5 of their last 6 series' in the month. Bochy and company would witness their reign of 2+ months in first place come to an end as San Francisco seized the top spot in the NL West on the last day of the month. With the Giants having a day off, the Dodgers took advantage by blanking the Cleveland Indians to take a 1/2 game lead in the division. That lead wouldn't last long, however, as the Giants reclaimed first place the very next day with a win copped with a Dodgers loss. Heading into July, the Giants had lost 15 of 19 games entering the month, but despite their struggles, they would still hang on to one of the best records in the league at 46-36. It wouldn't be all doom and gloom for the orange and black in the month of June, however, as the month also witnessed Tim Lincecum hurl his second career no-hitter. His historic outing would also be the first of back-to-back shutout outings for the 2-time Cy Young Award winner who would also be awarded Player of the Week honors for the performance.

For the Giants, the month of July will feature the halfway point as the All-Star break commences from July 14-17 with the MLB All-Star Game taking place on Tuesday July 15. As for San Francisco's opponents, unlike the month of June where all eight series' were against teams at or below the .500 mark, July will be a much harder task as five of their nine series' will be against teams with winning records. One of those teams the Giants will be meeting with is their Bay Area rival -- Oakland Athletics who currently own the best record in the league. 

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lincecum Twice as Freaky vs Padres

After turning the ripe age of 30 years old less than two weeks ago, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum treated himself to a late Birthday gift on Wednesday by twirling a game for the books. Having done things in pairs throughout his career, such as hoist a pair of Cy Young Awards and help pitch the Giants to a pair of World Series triumphs, the one better known as "The Freak" has now added a pair of no-hitters to his well decorated resume. Just less than a year after tossing a no-hitter on the road against the division-rival San Diego Padres, Lincecum repeated the feat against the same ball club, this time in front of the home fans for what is already the third no-hitter recorded in the Bigs this season, joining the Dodgers' Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw.

On a day where a sold out crowd of 41,500 packed into the beautiful AT&T Park for a 287th consecutive time, Giants fans witnessed one of their favorites toss the third no-hitter since the club opened the doors to AT&T Park in 2000 before his teammates awarded him with a Gatorade bath. Though Lincecum didn't completely baffle batters with his stuff on the mound, most notably with his fastball which he chose to throw with only 36% of his pitches on Wednesday afternoon, he simply didn't have to as his pinpoint accuracy helped him record outs in a much quicker fashion than we've been used to seeing this year. A six-pitch third inning and a seven-pitch seventh helped Lincecum cruise through the ballgame while needing 35-pitches fewer than he needed in his July 13 no-hitter last season. And on pitch number 113, San Diego's Will Venable hit a ground ball to rookie second baseman Joe Panik who in his fifth career Big League start, helped assist the final out of the ballgame to seal the no-no. The only blemish on the day for Lincecum came with one out in the second inning when he walked Padres third baseman Chase Headley. 
Finishing the game with 6 strikeouts, seven fewer than the 13 punch outs he accumulated in last year's no-hitter, Timmy threw 73 of his 113 pitches for strikes and had all four pitches in his arsenal working for him. After signing a 2-year, $35 Million deal during the offseason to stay with the Giants, which many thought was a bit much for a pitcher who hasn't performed anywhere near the level he did while being named to the NL All-Star team for four consecutive years from 2008-2011, Lincecum became one of only 32 players in MLB history to toss multiple no-hitters. Lincecum also joins an exclusive club of elite pitchers with multiple no-hitters and multiple Cy Young Awards which features Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Sandy Koufax. However, Lincecum and Koufax are the only two who can make the claim with a pair of World Series rings under their belt. 

Big Time Timmy Jim is also one of only four active pitchers to hurl multiple no-hitter's, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Homer Bailey being the others. Lincecum's feat on Wednesday gave the Giants 16 no-hitters in franchise history, and only he and Christy Mathewson have tossed multiple no-no's in a Giants uniform. But of all the no-hitters that have occurred, Lincecum is one of only two players to no-hit the same ball club more than once, joining Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps who tossed two career no-hitters vs the White Sox.
While his efforts at the plate will more than likely be overshadowed by his performance on the mound, Timmy also went 2-for-3 on the day with a pair of singles and a walk and also scored a pair of runs to support his own cause as the (46-32) Giants pulled out the 4-0 victory to salvage the finale of the three-game set vs the Padres. For a starting pitching staff that has struggled mightily as of late, boasting an ERA of 5.05 in the month of June and has been the centerpiece to blame for the team's 3-11 skid over the last two weeks, Lincecum's masterful outing just might be the shot in the arm the team needs to jump start what began as a blazing start to the season. That start which saw the first place Giants get off to a 9 1/2 game lead in the division, has been reduced to just 3 games by the archrival Dodgers.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clayton the Unhittable

Whatever's in the water cooler in the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout seems to be working for the team's starting pitching staff which has produced the only two no-hitters thus far. After going nearly two decades without a single Dodger no-hitter, the boys in blue have now witnessed a pair of no-no's less than a month apart from one another in 2014. With Josh Beckett tossing the first no-hitter of the 2014 season back in May, the first by a Dodger since Hideo Nomo in 1996, L.A.'s ace Clayton Kershaw now has a no-hitter story to tell of his own. Having already established what appears to be a Hall of Fame worthy resume in just six full seasons and touted as the best pitcher in all of baseball, Kershaw's name will now be etched in the record books after logging his most dominant outing yet. And let's be honest, we all knew he was bound to toss a no-hitter sooner or later.

With the start of Kershaw's 2014 season anything but ideal, serving a stint on the disabled-list for the first time of his career just one start in after being awarded his second Cy Young Award last season and third consecutive ERA title, the 3-time All-Star appears to have put that behind him and has more than made up for his early absence. Having often been compared to Dodger great and fellow southpaw Sandy Kofax, Kershaw now has something else in common with the Dodgers legend now that he's got a no-hitter under his belt. Something Kofax knows plenty about considering he tossed four no-hitters of his own during his days, one of which being a perfect game. Though time will tell whether the 26-year old Kershaw can come even remotely close to Kofax's four no-hitters, his no-no would've been a perfect game had it not been for an error in the seventh inning by Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez who's errant throw to first base allowed the only base runner in the game for the Rockies.
To put into perspective just how dominant Kershaw's outing really was on Wednesday night, he struck out a career-high 15 batters and allowed only one 3-ball count while needing only 107-pitches (80 for strikes) as the Dodgers defeated Colorado easily by a final score of 8-0. Kershaw improved to 7-2 on the year while bumping his ERA down to 2.52 and more importantly helped L.A. close the gap on the division-leading Giants who's 9.5 game lead just two weeks ago has shrunk to just four games. Despite a disappointing outing in the series clinching game 6 of the NLCS last season which saw Kershaw surrender seven earned runs to the St. Louis Cardinals who went on to the World Series, the Dodgers agreed to a record-setting contract extension with their ace during the offseason, signing him to a 7-year, $215 Million deal, the richest contract ever signed by a pitcher. And so far, Kershaw's been worth every dime.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - May

Best in the Bigs - With baseball season in full swing as two calendar months are officially in the books, here's a look at the San Francisco Giants and the season they've had thus far through the month of May. Currently standing as the best team in all of baseball with a league best record of 37 wins and 20 losses, the Giants sit atop the NL Western Division with a 7 game advantage over the second-place L.A. Dodgers which is also the largest lead of any division. Winners of 8 out of their last 10 games, the Giants are heating up just like the weather and have been finding ways to win games with both their pitching and perhaps more surprisingly their hitting.

Through the first 50 games this season, the Giants stood at 32-18, the best start through the first 50 games for the franchise since the team opened their gates to AT&T Park in 2000, known then as Pac Bell. But as good as the Giants have been at home thus far, going 19-9, they've been equally as good on the road at 18-11 after taking 3 of 4 versus the Red Birds in St. Louis. Overall, the month of May saw San Francisco finish 10 games over .500 at a 19-9 clip despite having only two off days in the entire month, winning or at least splitting every series with the lone exception of a 3-game set in Pittsburgh where the Giants won the first game of the series before dropping the next two. Not even having Hunter Pence's scooter stolen has been able to slow down the team.
Part of the Giants early season success had a lot to do with the bat of first baseman Brandon Belt who stood among the league leaders in home runs after the first several weeks of the season before suffering a broken thumb vs the Dodgers after being hit by a pitch. The injury to Belt prompted Giants manager Bruce Bochy to call up outfielder Tyler Colvin who in limited action this season has come through big on a number of occasions. The label of San Francisco's most productive hitter, however, belongs to Michael Morse who up to this point has been everything the Giants hoped he'd be and more when they signed him during the offseason to provide some pop, hitting from the cleanup spot and leading the team in both home runs (11) and RBI's (38). Recently, Morse and co. has gotten some help on offense with what appears to be the resurgence of Pablo Sandoval who entered the month hitting near the Mendoza line but has been on a tear the last few weeks, riding a 12-game hit-streak and plating 4 Home Runs and 12 RBI's while hitting .368 in his last 10 games. Even with their backbone on offense in Buster Posey missing several days due to tightness in his lower back, the Giants have shown no signs of slowing down.

With dominant starting pitching and a shutdown bullpen being the formula for each of the Giants' World Series runs in 2010 and 2012, 2014 has seen much of the same. But hamstring injuries to both Matt Cain and Santiago Casilla, both of whom have become staples for the orange and black, has landed both pitchers on the disabled-list. Luckily for the G-Men, the ball club is rich in pitching and have been able to survive without them. Possibly the biggest story of the season for the Giants has been that of pitcher Tim Hudson who general manager Brian Sabean signed during the offseason for 2-years, $23 Million which at the time raised a few eyebrows given Hudson's age of 38 years old and a fractured ankle which he suffered in 2013. 11 starts into his 2014 campaign and the acquisition of Hudson now looks like a bargain as nine of those outings have seen him pitch at least 7 innings. Boasting an ERA of 1.75 and a record of 6 wins and 2 losses, Hudson has so far pitched his way into being an early Cy Young candidate. 
Hudson isn't the only Giants hurler who's been on a role as of late, teammate Madison Bumgarner took home NL Pitcher of the Month honors for the month of May after posting an undefeated record of 5-0 in six starts while collecting 48 strikeouts and walking just five. Upon being named the first Giants pitcher to be awarded Pitcher of the Month honors since teammate Tim Lincecum took home the honors in June of '09, Bumgarner saw his ERA dip from 3.74 to 2.85.

The month of June will see the Giants play 8 series against seven different teams, all of which currently stand at or below a .500 winning percentage. One of those series will be a two-game set on the road to face the Chicago White Sox where the Giants will look to improve on their perfect record of 6-0 this year during Interleague play and make it 8 straight wins versus American League teams dating back to last year which would set a franchise record.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dodgers' Beckett no-hits Phillies

Baseball saw its first no-hitter of the 2014 season on Sunday when Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers worked his magic to blank the Philadelphia Phillies in their own home. With such pitching stars as Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, both of whom who have hoisted Cy Young Awards during their careers as well as former All-Star Dan Haren and Korean sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu, it was the eldest of the bunch who did something neither of his teammates had accomplished before. Needing 128-pitches, 80 of which were for strikes, the 34-year old Beckett became the 24th Dodger in franchise history to toss a no-no (11th since the club moved to L.A.) and the first since Hideo Nomo no-hit the Colorado Rockies on September 17, 1996.

Beckett, a 3-time All-Star himself and a 2-time World Series champion, has had his fair share of ups and downs over the last few seasons but seems to have found his rhythm so far in 2014. Sporting a 2.43 ERA in 9 starts this year, Beckett saw his best outing yet on Sunday, striking out six and allowing three walks without yielding a single hit, which earned him NL Player of the Week honors. But the road Beckett has taken over the last year is almost as remarkable as the masterful performance he had on Memorial Day weekend. After struggling early in the season last year and eventually serving a stint on the disabled list where he began experiencing tingling in his fingers and numbing of his hands, it was learned that Beckett had been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Fearing that he wouldn't be able to pitch again, Beckett underwent season-ending surgery in July and had a rib removed to relieve pressure on his nerves. Several outings into the new season and I think it's safe to say Beckett is healthy again.
Though the no-hitter was a first for Beckett who had made 320 starts prior to Sunday's 6-0 win over the Phillies, the man behind the dish who caught Beckett, had some experience however. Dodgers catcher Drew Butera added a second no-hitter to his resume on Sunday after catching one from Francisco Liriano back in 2011 while with the Minnesota Twins. Beckett's gem was nearly one-upped the following day when his fellow teammate Hyun-Jin Ryu took a perfect game into the 8th inning on Monday before Todd Frazier of the Reds hit a double to lead off the inning. The two combined for 17 straight no-hit innings, nearly becoming the first pair of teammates to toss no-hitters on back to back outings. L.A.'s streak of 17 hit-less innings is one that's only been matched one time in the last 30+ years when the Dodgers' cross-town rival Los Angeles Angels did it in May of 2012 which featured a no-hitter by Jared Weaver. The Dodgers (29-24), winners of their last three, are hoping Beckett's stellar pitching can continue as they look to gain some ground on the division-leading San Francisco Giants who hold a 4.5 game lead in the NL West.

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