Sunday, July 16, 2017

Boston parts ways with struggling Panda

In the winter of 2014, third baseman Pablo Sandoval was the hottest commodity at the hot corner on the free-agent market. After helping the San Francisco Giants claim their third World Series championship in five years in what would be the closest thing we've seen to a baseball dynasty since the New York Yankees of the mid to late 1990's and into the year 2000, the former World Series MVP inked a five-year, $95 Million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox. And while his time in Boston began nightmarish for the 2-time All-Star, it would eventually be cut short as he was designated for assignment over the weekend.

Though staying healthy and in shape has never been a strong suit of Sandoval's, his ability to hit coupled with the defense he showed while with the Giants was virtually nonexistent during his time in Boston as he's been a shadow of his former self. In his first full year with the Red Sox, Sandoval struggled mightily, hitting a mediocre .245 on the season with career lows in both home runs (10) and RBI's (47) since breaking into the bigs in 2008. Hoping to bounce back with a solid 2016, his Sophomore year in Boston would be anything but as he was limited to only six at-bats in 3 games after straining his left shoulder which would require season-ending surgery. Following the injury, 2017 seemed to be promising for the 30-year old Sandoval who appeared in Spring Training close to 40 lbs. lighter and hitting much better at the plate as his .338 batting average and 5 home runs helped him win back the job as Boston's Opening Day starting third baseman. Instead, the struggles both offensively and defensively would continue as soon as the season started, as he hit just .212 with 4 HR and 12 RBI in 99 at-bats.
Adding to his frustration, Sandoval was plagued by injuries once more which eventually contributed to his designation despite still being owed over $48 Million dollars. That amount marks the second-highest total of money owed to a player, trailing only Josh Hamilton's $68.4 Million owed by the Angels after being cut by Los Angeles only two years into his five-year contract. While many around the baseball world would point to his former ball club in San Francisco as being an ideal landing spot for Sandoval, it's easier said than done and rather unlikely that he'll be reunited in the Bay Area. Though Sandoval became an instant favorite among Giants fans and players alike who embraced him with such nicknames as "Pandaval" and "Kung-fu Panda", he didn't leave on the best of terms with the Giants front-office. Not to mention the Giants appear to already have their third baseman of the future in 22-year old Christian Arroyo. Whether or not we'll be seeing fans at AT&T Park dusting off their old panda hats is anybodies guess at this point, but given the Giants could sign him to the prorated league minimum after Friday if the Red Sox fail to trade his rights, it wouldn't be the biggest of surprises if they decided to kick the tires on an old friend. In just 161 games with Boston over the past two and half seasons, Sandoval hit a sub par .237 at the dish with 14 homers and 59 RBI's. 

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

June full of Gloom for struggling Giants

Hoping to put the first two months of the season behind them, the San Francisco Giants cruised into the month of June with a blowout 10-0 road victory over the Phillies. Sadly, the post-game high fives and celebratory handshakes would be held to a minimum in June as well as the Giants followed up their 10-run shellacking in the city of Brotherly Love by dropping the next two games to the lowly Phillies who hadn't won a series in over a month. Though it doesn't get much worse than dropping a series to the worst team in all of baseball, it would be the beginning of another free-fall for Bruce Bochy's struggling ballclub.

After receiving a series-split in Milwaukee which saw each of the Giants and Brewers claim a pair of victories in their four-game set, the Giants would lose each of the next five series, including sweeps in three of those. Following a rare visit to AT&T Park by the first-place Minnesota Twins in which the Giants dropped the first two games of the series, San Francisco's offense would erupt for a season-high in hits (17) and runs (13) as they managed to salvage the series finale with a 13-8 victory. But any hopes of that being the starting point of something positive for the G-Men would go up in flames rather quickly as they were swept in back-to-back series by the Royals and Rockies. A trip to Atlanta would witness the Giants drop three of four before returning home where they were swept in three by the New York Mets, making it 12 losses in 13 games for the Giants. Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the Giants pulled a rabbit from their hat by stringing together not only their first winning-streak of the month, but also their first sweep of the season. Less than two weeks after being swept in Colorado, the Giants returned the favor by pulling out their brooms against the Rockies. In that series, the Giants bullpen would log 13 1/3 scoreless-innings, a far cry from anything we had seen this season up until then.
Following a day off, the Giants would hit the road for a series in Pittsburgh with the first of three games falling on the final day of June. Looking forward to turning the page to a new calendar month, the Giants made it four straight victories to close out June with a 13-5 drubbing of the Pirates. While the San Francisco offense would tie a season-high in runs, they would collect a new season-high in hits with 18, 10 of which coming from the top of the order as the first three batters (Span, Panik and Pence) combined to go 10-for-14 at the plate, along with seven RBIs and seven runs scored. The offensive outburst would be much appreciated by Johnny Cueto who started the game for the Giants and got off on the wrong foot, giving up his only 3 runs in the outing in the first inning. That aforementioned trio of Denard Span, Hunter Pence and Joe Panik would all finish the month of June swinging a hot stick, hitting well over .300 at the dish to help contribute to the Giants placing in the top 3 with the third best team batting average in all of June. And no one other than Andrew McCutchen (.411) of the Pirates would swing a hotter bat for the month than Span who was a scorching .374 at the plate in June. It would be a month of firsts for the Giants as a few players made franchise history and another made Major League history.

Adding to his red-hot month, Span also led the National League in hits for the month of June with 40 base knocks, becoming the first Giants player with a 40-hit June since Moises Alou in 2005. We would also see the first Korean player in Giants franchise history when third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang made his Major League debut on June 28 against the Rockies. After turning down a big contract to play ball in his native South Korea to pursuit his dreams of playing in the Majors, Hwang turned some heads and showcased some power during Spring Training. That power would be witnessed immediately following his call-up from Triple-A Sacramento as he made quite the impression in his first game in a Giants uniform by connecting for a home run and driving in a pair of runs. At the age of 29 years and 335 days, he became the oldest Giants player to homer in his MLB debut since at least 1913, crushing a solo shot to left in his third at-bat. Giants pitchers would also get some love as starter Jeff Samardzija made the record books by becoming the first Major League pitcher since 1900 to record 50 or more strikeouts and 1 or fewer walks over a span of seven starts after compiling 10 K's and 0 walks in a win in Milwaukee. Not to be forgotten, an evening game in Denver on June 15 would witness the first 3-run homer of the season for the Giants, a forgotten art as the Giants finally shook off their reputation for only hitting solo dingers this year.
After giving us a glimpse of the future with the April call-up of 22-year old Christian Arroyo, the Giants' third baseman of the future was sent back down to the Minors after struggling mightily at the plate (.192 batting average). And soon after the demotion of Arroyo came the promotion of Austin Slater who has finally provided some decent production from the left field position for the Giants. Since being called up and making his Major League debut on June 2 in Philly, Slater has hit .338 in 23 games for the Giants, notching a pair of homers and 12 RBIs. With several failed experiments in left field already this year and the injury to Jarrett Parker who can't seem to produce in the Majors the same way he has in the Minors, the Giants just might have something in Slater if he can continue to produce. Despite finishing the month on a strong note with a 4-game winning-streak, their longest since winning five consecutive during the middle of May, the Giants compiled a record of 9-18 for the month of June and still sit in last place in the NL West at 31-51 on the season, 20-game below .500 for the first time since 2008. With less than two weeks until the All-Star break and baseball's trade deadline on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see just how long the Giants can ride this win-streak and just how busy they'll be in trade talks. While it's almost certain they'll be sellers this time around, there's no telling to what degree or who they'll field offers for.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lakers Fulfill a Dream, Draft Lonzo Ball

With the 2017 NBA Draft officially in the books, the Los Angeles Lakers are one step closer to finishing their rebuilding process and competing for an NBA title, or at least they hope. After landing the second overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery for the third consecutive year, the brain trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka made UCLA point-guard Lonzo Ball the newest member of the Lakers. Chosen as the first player under the Lakers' new regime, Magic is putting all of his eggs into Lonzo's basket in hopes of him being the new face of the franchise a season after the former UCLA Bruin helped lead the program to the Sweet 16 and compiled the most assists in a single-season in UCLA history as a one and done freshman.

Though its been widely speculated that many including Lonzo's outspoken father LaVar Ball saw the pick coming months ago, nothing was set in stone until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced L.A.'s selection on Draft night Thursday evening. Despite the rumor of it being a foregone conclusion that the Lakers would take Ball, Magic and company still did their due diligence by working out other players and at least listening to trade offers. Not to mention a few boulders needed to be shifted along the way to make room for their "new leader" as Johnson called him. Having grown up in Southern California and playing collegiately just a stones throw away from his new home in Staples Center, Lonzo did take a gamble by working out exclusively for the hometown Lakers. And though he would consider working out for other clubs once the Lakers announced they had sent out invites to several other players in the Draft, the Lakers remained the only team he would meet with after both parties scheduled a second workout which solidified L.A.'s decision and proved to pay dividends for the 19-year old Ball. 

Having drawn comparisons to future Hall of Fame point-guard Jason Kidd, the Lakers are getting an elite passer who is dynamic in transition and is an excellent shooter, something Kidd was not. When comparing their college numbers, Ball shot a 73% field goal percentage from within the three-point line compared to Kidd's 54% at Cal Berkeley. He also had him beat from behind the arch as Ball shot 41% from three compared to Kidd's 33%. So if Lonzo can pan out to be a better shooting version of Jason Kidd, I'd say the Lakers made out alright and have their leader Magic coveted.
If Lonzo can succeed in a Laker uniform, he'll deserve all the praise in the world as he enters the league with lofty expectations set by the constant chatter and sound bytes from his loudmouth father, coupled with playing under the bright lights of his hometown in L.A. And then there's the void left by the now departed D'Angelo Russell who the Lakers decided to trade in order to make room for Lonzo. Two days prior to the Draft, the Lakers packaged Russell who was selected second overall just two years ago and the expensive contract of Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn in exchange for center Brook Lopez and the 27th Pick in Thursday's Draft which they would then use to select power-forward Kyle Kuzma out of Utah. While critics and fans alike praised the move which now free's the Lakers of Mozgov's terrible four-year, $64 Million dollar contract, they also expressed their disappointment in the Lakers' front-office for giving up on Russell so early into his career. Coming out of College at Ohio State University, Russell was touted as being the best passing point-guard since Magic Johnson. And though he would often times show flashes of brilliance, mostly with his shooting, he struggled to rack up the assists and failed to even resemble Kevin Johnson, much less Magic Johnson.

With the trade being just as much a salary dump as it was a chance to make room for Ball, the Lakers have now freed up nearly $60 Million in cap space for the chance of potentially luring two big name free-agents with such names as Paul George and LeBron James expected to hit the free-agent market in 2017-18. With lots of money to play with in the coming seasons comes plenty of intrigue. But that's not to say this season isn't worth forgetting about according to one person. Just when you hoped the annoying interviews and quotes from Lonzo's father LaVar Ball were through, out he comes with another batch freshly brewed from that relentless mouth of his. After his son was introduced by the team during a press-conference on Friday, LaVar made sure to add at least one more pressure-filled prediction on his son's shoulders by claiming, "Lonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs this year." While I hope he isn't wrong with that one, if Lonzo and company can deliver on LaVar's latest promise, it'll end the Lakers' four-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kevin Gets a Ring

Finally. At last. It's about time. Just a few expressions that had to be running through the mind of former NBA MVP and 4-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant who can now be regarded as a champion after finally getting the monkey off his back by adding a Larry O'Brien Trophy to an already impressive resume following Golden State's 129-120 win over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers last night in front of a max capacity crowd. After being on the losing end to a LeBron James-led team in his first NBA Finals experience back in 2012, Durant appeared much hungrier in his second go around, leading his team in scoring in all five games and averaging 35.2 Points Per Game, 8.4 Rebounds and 5.4 Assists, while shooting 60 for 102 from the floor (.588) and earning Finals MVP honors in his first year with the team. Something only Moses Malone (1983) and Magic Johnson (1980) had done before him. By pouring in 39-points in last night's series-clincher, the 28-year old Durant joined an elite class of players as only Jerry West, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki managed to average more career playoff points at the time of their first NBA title.

Avenging last year's heart-wrenching loss in which the Warriors became the first team in NBA Finals history to blow a 3-1 series lead, Golden State made quick work of their counterparts, needing only five games to seal the series and claim their second title in three years. Though he wasn't with the team at the time, the heartbreak of blowing that 3-1 lead was also shared by Durant who saw the Warriors storm back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against Durant's then Oklahoma City Thunder. Both collapses would prompt Durant to leave and the Warriors to pursue him, making for what would ultimately be a mach made in heaven as evident by their remarkable run in this year's playoffs. Finishing 16-1 along their chase to the title, this year's Golden State team has to be up there among the greatest runs in NBA history for their pure dominance. And had it not been for a blowout defeat at Cleveland in Game 4, the Warriors would've been the first to go a perfect 16-0 in the postseason. But it's not just this postseason that's been impressive.

Led by head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have stringed together one of the greatest three year stretches of all-time. After claiming the franchise's first NBA title since 1975 in 2015, the Warriors followed that up with an all-time great regular season record of 74-9 as well as another trip to the Finals and managed to bookend it with another NBA title. Had it not been for the 3-1 collapse in which the Cavs climbed their way back to pry the championship away from Golden State's grasp just a season ago, we'd be looking at the first three-peat since the Kobe-Shaq Lakers of the early 2000's. In what's become somewhat of a rivalry, Cavs-Warriors has certainly become must-watch TV over the past few seasons and last night's Game 5 was no different and the viewers would agree as it gained the highest rating for an NBA game since Game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Generating a 16.0 metered market rating, ratings shot up 13 percent from the Game 5's of each of the past two years when these two teams met.
The Real MVP - Immediately following the game, it was only appropriate that Durant was greeted on the floor by his mother Wanda who Kevin based much of his memorable MVP speech around after the 2014 season. The two shared a moment and were brought to tears as confetti fell from the rafters at Oakland's Oracle Arena. Not shying away from his emotions, Durant hasn't been one to shy away on the game's biggest stage either as he became one of only three players to score 25 points or more in each of his first 10 NBA Finals games, joining only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. Durant also received a congratulatory hug and handshake from LeBron who Durant told they're, "tied up now" at an even 1-1 against one another in the Finals and that they'll, "have to do this again." Assuming Durant returns to play for the Warriors next season and chooses not to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, both teams are perennial favorites to make it back to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals next year. And I'm sure we'd be treated to yet another show between LeBron and Durant if they met up as both players were equally good against one another when guarding each other in this series. While Durant scored 43 points and shot 18-for-30 from the floor including 4-for-11 from three with James guarding him, LeBron scored 44 points on 18-for-32 shooting and an identical 4-for-11 from three with Durant guarding him.

Despite becoming the fourth player and first NBA MVP to lose in five NBA Finals, the 32-year old LeBron averaged the first triple-double in NBA Finals history by posting 33.6 Points Per Game, 12.0 Rebounds and 10.0 Assists to further his claim for the greatest of all-time in his seventh consecutive Finals appearance. Sure it's another Finals loss to his belt, but like LeBron said in his post-game presser, "I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for all five games", doing all he could while receiving minimal help from his teammates. A much different approach than the one he took two years ago when he sat at his locker for nearly an hour with a towel over his head. Even when LeBron was on the sideline getting the little rest he received (28 minutes), the Cavs were outscored by 27 points in the series.
With another ring to his resume, Warriors coach Steve Kerr adds ring No. 7 to his mantle after winning 5 as a player with the Bulls and Spurs. As for someone else destined for the Hall of Fame who waited even longer than Durant for his first Championship ring, Steve Nash can finally say he's got one. After playing 20 seasons with the Mavericks, Suns and Lakers and never making it past the Conference Finals, 2-time league MVP Steve Nash joined the Warriors following their 2015 title run as a player development consultant as was one of the first people to receive a hug from Kevin Durant in the tunnel as the players made it from the floor towards the locker room. With Durant being one of the players Nash worked the most with during the season, the two can now share in common that they've got a Championship ring on the way, regardless of how they got it. With the sole mission of winning a ring being the reason Durant signed with Golden State during the offseason which sparked plenty of criticism, he can finally sleep well knowing his decision payed off as a success. 

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Giants Roll the Dice on struggling reliever Dyson

With one of the worst records in the National League and a league-leading 36 losses, you would think the 24-36 San Francisco Giants would be ready to jettison a few guys in preparation of retooling for a successful run in 2018, right? Wrong. The Giants actually did the opposite of that on Tuesday by going out and acquiring former Texas Rangers closer Sam Dyson for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The 29-year old reliever who's been knocked around this year to the tune of a 10.80 ERA in 17 games, is only a year removed from posting a 38-save season for the Rangers and an ERA of 2.43 and two seasons removed from an impressive 2015 in which he logged a 1.14 ERA while splitting time with the Rangers and Marlins. Those numbers have been a far cry from what 2017 has looked like thus far for Dyson which led to him being demoted from the closer role in Arlington.

After being designated for assignment by the Rangers, the Giants decided to take a flyer on Dyson and are hoping one team's trash is another team's treasure. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said it himself following Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Brewers during which Dyson was acquired that he hopes a change of scenery will do the newly acquired Dyson some good. Though his fastball has reportedly decreased from 96 mph to 93 mph since the start of May, his strikeout to walk ratio has also plummeted as batters have feasted off of Dyson with a .392 batting average. It's obvious the guy is struggling, but who's to say Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti who served as a closer himself, can't help turn the guy around and pinpoint just what it is that has led to such a disappointing start to Dyson's 2017 campaign. Dyson brings with him five years of big league experience and the know how to pitch the late-innings. A pair of guys who have both caught and faced Dyson and are glad he's joining the team is Buster Posey and Joe Panik. Posey, who was behind the plate and caught Dyson in this year's World Baseball Classic, praised him for his powerful sinker by calling it, "one of the best sinkers" he's ever caught. Panik also commended Dyson's power sinker only he was in the batters box facing Dyson whom he went 0-for-6 against in his career.
As Panik and company no longer have to worry about facing Dyson's powerful pitch, they're hoping he can regain that power and use it to help right the ship in the Giants bullpen that has been sinking since last season. If the newest member of the Giants can somehow manage to regain his form of the last few seasons, he could be in line for a set-up role to closer Mark Melancon.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

More Giants Struggles in Up & Down May

Following their dreadful month of April, the early part of May appeared to be a step in the right direction for the San Francisco Giants as they took two of three on the road against the archrival Dodgers in their first trip to Los Angeles this season. With one of those wins being a 4-3 victory against Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw in the series-opener, a 4-1 win in the rubber-match would help the Giants bookend the series with victories as the Giants claimed only their second series win of the season and their first on the road. The win would also be victory No. 1,800 in the illustrious career of manager Bruce Bochy, allowing him to etch his name into the record books as being only the ninth skipper in Major League history to reach that feat along with three World Series titles. And the other eight before him are all in the Hall of Fame, a place the 62-year old Bochy will likely join them someday.

With many great seasons under his belt, 2017 doesn't appear to be one of them as the rest of the road trip was one Bochy would rather forget about. With three games down along this road trip and six more to go, the Giants would pay a trip to Cincinnati where the Reds swept a three game series in which the Giants were outscored 31 to 5. As if the Giants couldn't wait to get out of the Queen City any faster, the team bus would break down on the way to the airport, adding insult to injury. It would likely be a bad omen of things to come as their next series against the New York Mets wasn't a whole lot better. After dropping the first two games at Citi Field, the Giants headed to the ninth inning in the series finale on the verge of being swept. Trailing 3-2 and set to face one of the league's best closers in Jaurys Familia, the Giants managed to pull a rabbit from their hat, rallying for 4 runs including a bases-clearing double by rookie Christian Arroyo to put the Giants ahead, 6-3. But the Mets wouldn't go down without a fight as the Giants would suffer a scare of their own, giving up a pair of runs before escaping with the 6-5 win. The comeback victory would snap a streak of 134 consecutive losses when trailing heading into the 9th inning.
Finishing the road trip 3-6, it was the first inning that proved to be trouble for the Giants in all six of their games in Cincy and New York which saw Giants starting pitchers allow at least one run in the opening inning, including a pair of 2- run first innings, one 3-run first inning and one 4-run first inning. One guy who didn't wanna leave New York's Citi Field was one Buster Posey who homered in three consecutive games for the third time in his career and the first time since June 2014. A return to AT&T Park for a 7-game homestand against the Reds and Dodgers would begin and end with losses, but would ultimately be a success as the Giants managed to win a pair of series consecutively for the first time in 2017, highlighted by a season-high 5-game winning streak after taking 3 of 4 from the Reds and 2 of 3 from Los Angeles. During their win streak, Giants pitching would allow a total of 11 runs, a night and day difference from the 3-game series at Cincinnati alone. The homestand would also feature the second longest game in AT&T Park history -- a 17-inning marathon that ended on a walk-off blast by Posey to beat the Reds, 3-2. It would be the third walk-off home run of Posey's career and his fourth homer in five games.

San Francisco's winning ways would continue in the first part of their following road trip as the Giants took 2 of 3 from the St. Louis Cardinals. Playing their best ball yet, a 6-4 win to open a 4-game series against the reigning World Champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field would give the Giants 9 wins in 12 games. Unfortunately, they would follow that up with four straight losses including each of the next three at Wrigley and the first of three at home against the Braves. Prior to a 2-run homer by outfielder Mac Williamson in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Cubs, the Giants stringed together a streak of 19 consecutive solo home runs, falling two shy of tying their own Major League record set in 2011. After winning the next two games against Atlanta, the Giants would host a 3-game series against the red-hot Washington Nationals who entered the series 30-19 and eight games ahead of first place in the NL East. As if the Giants didn't already have their hands full with one of the top teams in the National League, a benches-clearing brawl some three years in the making would take center stage in the series-opener.
Giants reliever Hunter Strickland who was taken deep not once but twice by Nats outfielder Bryce Harper in the 2014 NLDS where the two exchanged staredowns and a few words as Harper made it back to the dugout, made it very clear that he hadn't forgotten about Harper showing him up, despite the Giants eventually winning that series and going on to win their third World Series title in five years. And in their first meeting since then, Strickland would greet Harper with a 98mph fastball to the hip that Harper took exception to and charged the mound. With both players landing a punch before being separated or in Strickland's case carried off the field against his will by his own teammates, we would be treated to our first "basebrawl" of the 2017 MLB season. The fight would land both players suspensions as Strickland was hit with a 6-game suspension and Harper was hit with a 3-game suspension after having his initial suspension of 4-games reduced. Oddly enough, the two guys that would receive more damage than either Strickland or Harper were Jeff Samardzija and Michael Morse who collided head first when trying to get in between the fracas. While Samardzija would be fine enough to pitch the next game, Morse wouldn't be so lucky as he showed up to the park the following day showing concussion-like symptoms which ultimately landed him on the 7-day disabled-list.

In what's been another rough year for the Giants bullpen, Strickland has been one of the few bright spots and owns a team-leading 1.45 ERA in 22 appearances (18.2 innings pitched). By completing the three-game sweep, Washington would eventually get the last laugh as the Giants fell to 13-16 in the month of May and 22-33 overall. In need of a miracle to help turn things around fast, the Giants are tied for last in the division with the Padres and are dead last in the league in runs score per game. Given their struggles and the unlikelihood that they'll be able to overcome their early slumber, it's worth wondering whether or not the Giants will be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline, something Giants fans have been used to being on the opposite end of since 2009. With such names as All-Star pitcher Johnny Cueto who's eligible to opt out of his contract at the end of the season as well as infielders Joe Panik and Brandon Belt ringing out the top of the list of players who the Giants could certainly field offers for if a playoff contender comes calling, the faces on this Giants ball club could look much different come August if the struggle continues. And with 15 of their next 20 games on the road to kickoff the month of June, let's just hope the team bus can survive without breaking down this time around.

Noteworthy: Matt Cain became the 12th pitcher in Giants franchise history to log 2,000 innings with the club, tying them with the Braves and Cubs for the most pitchers all-time with at least 2,000 innings pitched.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Giants Open 2017 Season with Historically Bad April

Struggling out the gate - With the month of April coming to a close and a month of baseball already in the books, Giants fans are more than glad that May is peeking its face as the team has gotten off to a forgetful start to begin their 2017 campaign. And anything that can go wrong for San Francisco, pretty much has. With injuries to several key players in the early going, none was greater than that of Giants ace Madison Bumgarner who hurt himself in a dirt bike accident during the Giants' off-day in Denver. The 4-time All-Star and former World Series MVP suffered bruised ribs and an AC sprain in his left throwing shoulder which sent him on his first career stint to the disabled-list, costing him to miss three months as he's not expected to return until July's All-Star break. As if the team wasn't already struggling with their most reliable pitcher on the field, losing Bumgarner for any chunk of the season is a huge blow that they could ill-afford in hopes of making it back to the postseason.

At the time of Bumgarner's accident, he had suffered from poor run support as the Giants offense would score a whopping 7 runs in his four starts, two of those runs Bumgarner would drive in himself in Arizona when he became the first pitcher in Major League history to belt a pair of Opening Day home runs. But even before the injury to Bumgarner, an injury to their most reliable hitter in Buster Posey would leave a sour taste in the mouth of Giants fans as he took a Taijuan Walker fastball to the head in his first at-bat of the Giants home-opener, also against Arizona. While the former National League MVP would appear to be fine, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy chose not to take any chances with his All-Star catcher as he was placed on the 7-day disabled-list with a concussion. In his first game back, Posey would shake off the cobwebs by collecting three hits in five at-bats in a 2-1 win in Kansas City where the Giants made their first appearance since their thrilling Game 7 victory to win the 2014 World Series.
Bumgarner's injury would prove to be a bad omen as their trip to Colorado would only get worse. Not only would they get swept for the first time this year in the three-game series against the Rockies, but Johnny Cueto who entered his fourth start of the season with the lowest ERA of all-time (2.43) at Coors Field would be welcomed rather rudely in his first visit to the mile high city of 2017. Not only would Cueto suffer the loss by allowing a season-high 6 earned runs in 5 innings pitched, but in his 10th season in the Majors, he would also surrender the first Grand Slam of his career. And with the Giants outfield already struggling to produce at the plate, they would leave Coors Field with another player lost to the disabled-list.

Other notable injuries would be suffered by left fielder Jarrett Parker and center fielder Denard Span, both of whom hurt themselves while crashing into the outfield wall. While Parker suffered a broken clavicle which will sideline him for 8 weeks, Span was sent on the DL with a shoulder sprain. With the injuries in the outfield coupled with minimal production from left fielder Chris Marrero, the Giants were forced to make several call-ups from the Minors including Drew Stubbs and Michael Morse. As for the infield, injuries sustained by Aaron Hill and Brandon Crawford would result in the call-up of the Giants' No. 2 ranked prospect Christian Arroyo. The 21-year old rookie who was lighting up the Minors at Triple-A Sacramento at the time of his promotion to the big club, would provide a nice jolt of offense in his first week. After going 0-for-4 in his debut, Arroyo would collect his first Major League hit the following day against some guy named Clayton Kershaw. The following day he would connect for his first career home run in a walk-off victory over the Giants' bitter rival Los Angeles Dodgers. He would add another homer in San Francisco's following series against San Diego. Though he's hitting only .207 in 29 at-bats thus far, Arroyo figures to be a bright spot and the future of the Giants for many years to come.
But perhaps the Giants biggest surprise individually is none other than pitcher Matt Cain. In what's been a rough patch over the last three seasons for the former ace of the staff, Cain has experienced a resurgence thus far. Despite allowing 4 runs in his first start of the season, Cain has registered four consecutive strong outings in which he's allowed one run or fewer and has a 2-0 record and an ERA of 2.30 to show for it. After being plagued by injuries in each of the past three seasons and mechanical issues to boot, Cain has easily been San Francisco's best pitcher through the first month. As for pitcher Ty Blach who was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation following the injury to Bumgarner, the Giants lefty has filled the void rather nicely in his first two starts by pitching a combined 12 innings and allowing only two earned runs. And though his last outing would be one of his best yet, his 7 shutout innings of 3 hit ball would be all but forgotten thanks to another meltdown by the Giants bullpen. In San Francisco's series-finale against the Padres and in their final game of April, the Giants took a 2-run lead into the ninth inning where closer Mark Melancon would blow his second save of the season in a 5-2 loss in extra innings, derailing Blach's hopes of notching his second career win.

The deflating loss would be San Francisco's 17th of the season as they finished out the month April with a record of 9-17. The dreadful month would mark their first 17-loss April in modern baseball history and their worst winning percentage in April since 1983. With a sub par bullpen being their biggest weakness a season ago, 2017 hasn't been much different thus far as the bullpen carries with them an ERA of 5.04 into the month of May. Though it's still way too early to write anyone off just yet, including the Giants, it hasn't been a pretty start to the season as their only series victory came in the home-opening series against the Diamondbacks (April 10-12). And with the month of May beginning with a nine-game road trip including the first three games at Dodger Stadium, things can get ugly quick if the G-Men are unable to turn things around right away. Despite their ugly start, the Giants have now sold out over 500 consecutive home games at AT&T Park, setting a new National League record. With that being said, here's to hoping those fans have much more to cheer about in May.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

49ers open 2017 NFL Draft with a Bang!

Round 1 - Under a new regime, the San Francisco 49ers made quite the impression in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft. And in their first draft together at the helm of the 49ers, head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch had an unforgettable first day of the draft which included the Niners selecting two solid players on defense as well as stockpiling a few more picks along the way. With Myles Garrett going 1st overall to the Cleveland Browns as we all expected, there San Francisco was at pick No. 2 where they were ready to select Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas if unable to trade back. And then came calling the Chicago Bears who would treat us to our first "wow moment" of the Draft by working out a trade that allowed them to select UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky. One pick later, the 49ers would find their man in Thomas.

The move would prove to be a sign of despair for Chicago as Trubisky might have been on San Francisco's radar, but not at pick No. 2 which means the Bears were either smoke-screened into thinking Trubisky would be taken by San Francisco or that someone else might swoop in via trade to select him. Either way, the move would help Lynch and company make out like bandits as they received the No. 3 pick as well as Chicago's 3rd (67th overall) and 4th round picks (111th overall) this year and a 3rd rounder next year in exchange, all while selecting Thomas who they intended to take all along. But Lynch's brilliance and busy night wouldn't end there as he was able to flip one of the picks received from the Bears to move back into the first round. With rival Seattle on the clock at pick No. 31, San Francisco sent their 2nd round pick (34th overall) and the 4th rounder received from Chicago to the Seahawks, which the Niners would then use to select Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
Prior to the draft, the Niners had Garrett ranked as the no. 1 player in the draft, Thomas ranked no. 2 and Foster no. 3, meaning they managed to land two of their top three ranked players in the entire draft. This order was confirmed by Lynch during the 49ers' press conference following Round 1 of the draft, so to land Foster at pick 31 is a complete steal in the eyes of Lynch & Shanahan. After drafting a defensive lineman with their top pick in each of the past two seasons despite being under two different head coaches and a different GM, Lynch who also went to school at Stanford, made it a third straight year with the selection of Thomas. Oddly enough, their alma isn't the only thing the two have shared as they even had two classes together a few years ago when Lynch returned to Palo Alto to finish his degree. The two would grow quite the relationship over the years with Thomas even asking Lynch for advice before the biggest game of his career in December's Sun Bowl, not knowing he would later be drafted by his fellow classmate to work alongside him within the same organization. Another positive for Thomas would be the 22 mile trip from Stanford's campus to his new digs in Santa Clara as he's just a stones throw away from Levi's Stadium which will make the adjustment to the NFL life that much easier.

After soaring up the rankings on draft boards thanks to his dominant Sun Bowl performance which led to game MVP honors against Trubisky's North Carolina Tarheels no less and a glaring need on the defensive front for the Niners, it was an obvious decision for San Francisco to take Thomas despite the many different directions they could've gone. Thomas who has been looked upon as virtually being another Myles Garrett, can help stop the run as well as pressure the quarterback. Both are areas the 49ers struggled at a season ago when they allowed the most yards in franchise history and ranked last in the league in yards allowed and rushing yards allowed just a season ago, while also ranking near the bottom of the list in generating pressure on the quarterback.
As for Reuben Foster who I'm personally delighted to see in a Niners uniform, it was rather shocking to see him fall so deep into the first round the way he did. While there's been character concerns regarding Foster heading into the draft spanning from a diluted urine sample and an argument with a hospital worker which led to him being sent home at the scouting combine, there's no denying his passion for the game and the talent he possesses. It wasn't long ago that most draft experts had Foster projected to go in the top-five, but a shoulder injury that Foster claims to be "90% healed" could've also been just as much to blame for his draft stock taking a plunge. Niners fans can't help but be excited to now have Foster on the team especially after what San Francisco went through last season following the injury to NaVorro Bowman which made it very clear just how valuable the linebacker position is and how thin they were at said position. The same could be said about the defense in general as it's no secret how many lingering holes this team had on the defensive side which already looks much improved after only one day of the draft. With Rounds 2 through 7 still yet to come and the Niners owning picks in every round but the 2nd and a total of  11 picks, more selections on defense will be added with the addition of Thomas and Foster who already figure to help bolster a defense that couldn't stop a nosebleed a season ago.

Stay tuned for more coverage as the Draft continues.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Eric Thames - From Sleeper to Stardom

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Eric Thames is all the rave right now in baseball after returning to the big leagues from the Korean Baseball Championship (KBO) where he not only revived his career but set records while doing so. After being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2008 Major League Baseball draft where he saw little success in his limited time while bouncing around between the Jays and the Minor Leagues from 2011 to 2012 before being traded to the Seattle Mariners, Thames elected to play overseas by signing with the NC Dinos in 2014. The move would not only summon a new found power in Thames' swing, it would make him a cult hero as his hot hitting and base stealing helped gain him instant stardom. During his three seasons in the KBO, Thames averaged over 41 home runs and became the first player in league history to hit for the cycle twice in one season as well as become the league's first ever member of the 40-40 club by stealing 40 bases and hitting 40 home runs on his way to an MVP Award in 2015.

Thames was so admired in the KBO that he was given the nickname "God" by Korean baseball fans and was seen in cartoons. He even had his own theme song that the Dinos and their fans would play whenever Thames would hit a home run. It wouldn't be long before his old stomping grounds in the MLB began to take notice of Thames' success which resulted in the Milwaukee Brewers taking a flyer on him by offering the 30-year old Thames a $16 Million, multi-year contract despite not seeing him play in person and relying strictly on video and game play footage. The lofty expectations for the Brewers newest slugger would be noticed right out the gates as the move prompted the ball club to designate first baseman Chris Carter for assignment even after he led the league in home runs with 41. With deeper ballparks and all around better talent in the MLB than what Thames grew accustomed to in the KBO, Thames hasn't skipped a beat in his first 15 games of the season with Milwaukee who's off to a 9-8 start. Currently leading the league in home runs (8), slugging percentage (.981) extra-base hits (14) and total-bases (52) as well as being atop the National League with a .415 batting average, Thames has fit in quite nicely and appears to be worth every dime the Brew Crew dished out to acquire him in the small sample size we've seen thus far.
Having hit a home run in five straight games this year and becoming the first Brewer to achieve that feat since Jeromy Burnitz in 1997, not even Thames can explain what changed in his approach. Regardless, he's enjoying every minute of it and is relishing at the fact that he can go unnoticed in public (at least for now) unlike his time spent in Korea. I think we can all expect Thames to return to earth sooner than later, but here's to hoping this wave continues. 

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bumgarner makes History in Opening Day Loss

Baseball season is back at last! Sunday served as Opening Day for six MLB teams including the San Francisco Giants who made it as far as the National League Divisional round last season before falling in a best of five series against the eventual champion Chicago Cubs. And if there was one thing that kept the Giants from making it to the World Series for the fourth time in seven years or in its fourth consecutive even year if you believed in the even year magic, it was the inconsistency of the bullpen which showed its face all too often in 2016. After owning the dubious title of leading the league in blown saves a year ago with a total of 30, Sunday seemed all too familiar for Giants fans.

After leading for most of the game thanks to a bit of small ball and a pair of Madison Bumgarner home runs which we'll get to after the dreadful bullpen, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy saw much of the same in Game 1 of 162, falling to a walk-off loss on the road against the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. Though Arizona starter Zack Greinke was only able to make it thru the first 5 innings due to a high pitch count, the former AL Cy Young Award winner who has some ownage on the Giants, would be bailed out and no longer on the hook for what appeared to be an imminent loss. With MadBum supplying some offense of his own as well as pitching a gem thru 5 innings and not allowing a single base runner until the bottom of the 6th, the Giants ace who made his fourth consecutive Opening Day start, would hit a rough patch as he surrendered three straight hits to end both his bid for a perfect game and the shutout. Following a 1-out triple by D-Backs catcher Jeff Mathis and a Nick Ahmed single to put Arizona on the board, A.J. Pollock tied the game at 3-3 just three pitches later with a 2-run homer. It would be a deflating inning considering how dominant Bumgarner was pitching before allowing his first hit, striking out 11 D-Backs batters in total, but he wouldn't let it effect him too much as he would more than make up for it during his next at-bat the following inning.
With the Giants back on top in a 4-3 ballgame, Derek Law would take the ball in the bottom of the 8th inning in relief of Bumgarner but would be greeted rather rudely as three straight singles tied the game once again and put an abrupt end to his day. Relievers Ty Blach and Hunter Strickland would limit the damage thanks to a double-play and a ground out to end the frame. Onto the 9th they went where a lead-off triple by Joe Panik who scored on a pinch-hit sac-fly by Conor Cillaspie one batter later, appeared to be the deciding blow. However, the third time would not be a charm this time around as San Francisco's bullpen struggles only continued. While the Giants headed into December's winter meetings with a closer atop their list of needs, they walked away with their guy after throwing what was then a record of $62 Million over 4 years at Mark Melancon. Though it would be a lot of money to invest into one guy, not to mention a reliever, the Giants were in desperate need as the signing received positive reviews among Giants fans who are hoping he'll be the anti-Santiago Casilla for years to come. But while facing his first big test in a San Francisco uniform, things didn't quite go as planned for the 3-time All-Star.

After retiring the first two batters he faced and needing only one more out to complete the save and seal the win, the same guy who ended Bumgarner's bid for perfection, sparked the late rally for Arizona. Jeff Mathis' 2-out double would be followed by three straight singles including the decisive blow off the bat of Chris Owings as the Diamondbacks walked-off to a 6-5 Opening Day victory, spoiling Bumgarner's record-setting day and Melancon's Giants debut as he was tagged with the loss. Defeat is always a bummer but this one stings a bit more because of how the Giants went ahead three different times and had their opponent's back against the wall and needing only one out for the win, but hey, its the first game of many. Let's just pray to the Baseball Gods that this isn't a repeat of the 2016 Giants bullpen. It'll be up to All-Star pitcher Johnny Cueto to get the Giants in the win column as he'll toe the slab in Game 2.
The biggest takeaway from the game would be Giants ace Madison Bumgarner who has proved to be almost as dangerous at the plate as he is on the mound. After making a bid for the Home Run Derby last season before the idea was shot down by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, baseball fans everywhere are already putting his name in the hat in hopes of getting a glimpse of MadBum at this year's Derby after his Opening Day magic which saw him belt a pair of home runs including his second career homer off of Zack Greinke. After becoming the fourth pitcher in Giants franchise history to connect for a home run on Opening Day, Bumgarner did something no other pitcher has done by becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to hit multiple home runs on Opening Day. It would also mark the fifth time a Giant at any position would have a multi-home run game on Opening Day with a guy named Barry Bonds being the last to do so. Following his home run in the fifth inning which tied him for the franchise lead for the most career home runs by a Giants pitcher with 15, Bumgarner separated himself from the rest of the list with another dinger in his very next at-bat for career home run No. 16. Though it won't last too long, how cool is it to say a pitcher (who isn't just any normal pitcher) is currently leading the league in home runs.

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