Moore looks to sustain momentum after Giants’ marathon 17-inning victory

 

By Ben Leonard

SAN FRANCISCO—There truly is no rest for the weary.

It took 17 innings and a Buster Posey walk-off home run for the Giants to vanquish their woes in a 3-2 win against the Reds Friday, which had won four games against San Francisco in seven days, including a three-game sweep in Cincinnati May 5-7 in which the Reds outscored San Francisco 31-5.

Now, just 12 hours after using seven relief pitchers in the the second-longest game in AT&T Park history, Matt Moore (1-4, 6.52 ERA) will attempt to rebound from his struggles and eat up innings against the Cincinnati Reds for the San Francisco Giants at 1:05 p.m. The Reds will counter the Giants’ left-hander with a pitcher who hasn’t made a major league start since 2014, Lisalverto Bonilla (0-0, 7.20).

After a strong start to his Giants’ career after being acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Rays in August, Moore has hit a rough patch to start his 2017 campaign—he holds the second worst ERA in the National League.

While just one reliever, Bryan Morris, who pitched three innings Friday, is unavailable for Saturday, the Giants (13-24) will be counting on Moore to go deeper into games. The Fort Walton Beach, Florida native has finished the sixth inning just twice this season.

But things have looked up at home for the 6-foot-3 southpaw this season. While Moore has posted an ugly 10.50 ERA away from the friendly confines of AT&T Park this season, he has given up just 12 earned runs in his last seven home starts.

Oddly enough, lefties have been Moore’s kryptonite this season. After allowing left-handers to hit just .238 last season, they have crushed Moore this season to the tune of a .378 average.

With switch-hitting speedster Billy Hamilton and hot-hitting leftie Scooter Gennett both out after last night’s marathon, Moore will get a bit of a break against a Cincinnati team (19-16) that is usually left-handed heavy.

Posey and right fielder Hunter Pence will both be out of the lineup for the Giants—Posey for weary legs after catching the entire game, and Pence with a tight left hamstring, which manager Bruce Bochy said wasn’t a major issue.

The Giants will miss Posey’s offense—the slugging catcher has hit four home runs in his last four starts after implementing a swing change—getting rid of his leg kick.

No San Francisco hitter has faced Bonilla, who has appeared in one game for the Reds this season, yielding four earned runs in five innings. The 26-year-old Dominican pitcher had spent most of his time with Triple-A Louisville this season, posting a 5.61 ERA in five starts.

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No Durant, no problem: Warriors blow past Trailblazers

By Ben Leonard

Golden State had gone through rough patches when Kevin Durant went down with an MCL sprain, dropping five of their first seven games without him. With their small forward out with a left calf strain Wednesday, the Warriors were faced with that possibility once again.

But the Warriors certainly did not let their star’s absence affect their play Wednesday, blowing past the Trailblazers 110-81 to take a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals. Despite a merely average offensive output, the Warriors leaned on lockdown defense to shut down Portland’s high-flying offense, holding them to shoot just 21.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Among the Trailblazers who struggled was star point guard Damian Lilliard, who converted on just 5-of-17 field goal attempts and scored 12 points.

After limiting the Trailblazers to 17 points in the first quarter, Golden State yielded just 12 points in the third quarter to pull away for good. The Warriors had been off to a hot start offensively, going on a 12-of-18 shooting run midway through the first quarter to distance themselves from Portland.

But the Trailblazers went on a strong run to cut the Warriors’ lead to just one point midway through the second. From there, the Warriors kicked it into gear, finishing the game on a 67-39 run to vault past Portland.

Despite an off shooting night, converting on just 6-of-18 field goal attempts, Stephen Curry shouldered the brunt of the load on offense, scoring 19 points and making four 3-pointers.

JaVale McGee came off the bench to shoot a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, chipping in with 15 points while Klay Thompson also added 16.

Image: Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) dribbles past Portland Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner during the first half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

 

Labanc, Sharks scrape out 3-2 overtime win against Oilers

San Jose Sharks’ Kevin Labanc (62) celebrates his goal with teammate Logan Couture (39) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 3-2. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Ben Leonard

SAN JOSE — Even after he watched his former team make it to the Stanley Cup Final this year, former San Jose Sharks’ and current Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan is on the best terms with the Sharks organization, “friends” with current head coach Peter DeBoer, as CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz reports.

But that didn’t stop the two squads from getting chippy at the SAP Center Friday night.

The Sharks and Oilers fought three times and combined for 40 penalty minutes and 41 hits before Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc scored his second goal of the game in overtime to take down Edmonton 3-2. With their sixth victory in their last seven contests, San Jose (21-12-1) took sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division before their four-day Christmas break, moving one point ahead of resurgent Edmonton (18-12-6). At this time last season, the Oilers were 27th in the NHL standings.

“Both teams understood what was at stake, first place going into the break,” Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillion said. “It was a typical Western Conference matchup… Obviously, with four more times against each other it’s just going to get bigger and bigger… Guys were finishing their checks and guys are going hard to the net, you get a couple of penalties, going back at each other. It’s something where everyone top to bottom is chipping in and sticking up for one another.”

That hard-nosed style came back to bite McLellan and his revamped Oilers near the close of first period, when left wing Matt Hendricks earned a five minute major penalty for fighting Dillon, the first fight of the game. The Sharks answered on the ensuing power play when Joe Pavelski netted his 12th goal of the season just 31 seconds into the second period, slapping a laser into the top right corner of the net past goalkeeper Cam Talbot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. The goal marked the 300th assist of defenseman Brent Burns’

The Sharks answered on the ensuing power play when Joe Pavelski netted his 12th goal of the season just 31 seconds into the second period, slapping a laser into the top right corner of the net past goalkeeper Cam Talbot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. The goal marked the 300th assist of defenseman Brent Burns’ career, and was the 700th in Joe Thornton’s time in San Jose.

“I finished my check, and he kind of looked at me,” Dillon said of Hendricks. “I didn’t know if we were fighting or not, I asked and Hendricks came over. It was fortunate for us to get the power play advantage and to be able cash in there.”

The Sharks had struggled on the power play all season long, ranking 20th in the NHL, and those woes continued after that first goal, finishing the night 1 for 4 on power plays.

The Sharks had the 31-18 edge in shots taken, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Oilers at bay for the entire game. Although San Jose held that 1-0 lead and outshot Edmonton 22 to 9 through the first two periods, physical play from Edmonton kept them close despite failing to light up the lamp.

San Jose largely held down the Oilers’ potent offense, led by the NHL’s points leader in second-year center Connor McDavid, until the third period by shutting out Edmonton on their six power play attempts and forcing 11 takeaways.

“We could have been up by a couple with the way we played through the first two periods,” DeBoer said. “Their goalie gave them a chance to hang around, or we could have been up by a couple more and it would have been a different game. They got good goaltending, which helped them hang around, and they don’t need many looks to score.”

After being moved to the second line with center Leon Draisaitl, second on the Oilers in points, McDavid scored in a flash for Edmonton in the third period, knotting up the score at 1-1 with 12 minutes left to play. Arguably the best player in the NHL, McDavid also picked up an assist later in the period, his 29th of the season.

But from there on out, it became the Labanc show. Labanc answered McDavid’s goal just two minutes, lighting up the lamp in the third period to give San Jose the 2-1 lead. When Edmonton forced overtime, Labanc stepped up once again.

The rookie forward from Brooklyn, N.Y. beat Talbot from just in front of him, giving him the fifth goal of his young career and sending the crowd at the SAP Center into a frenzy.

“Christmas will be nice, but being in first place in the division feels better,” Labanc said.

 

Travis, Cardinal Overwhelm Cal State East Bay

By: Ben Leonard

STANFORD, Calif. — Even for basketball players, finals week at Stanford is grueling.

Before overwhelming Division II Cal State East Bay 79-53 Friday night, Stanford had eight players with finals at nine o’clock in the morning, some pulling all-nighters to cram for their exams. The nearly two weeks off from games for finals period didn’t phase the Cardinal and junior forward Reid Travis, who recorded his fifth double-double of the season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in just 22 minutes to pace Stanford.

“There’s definitely a lot of things we can work on, but I’m proud of the way we bounced back this week. We had a tough finals week, so definitely to refocus and have a game like we did tonight,” Travis said. “Defensively, offensively, we’re really starting to get our standards down and do everything we need to do to be successful in conference play.”

Stanford hadn’t played since falling 89-74 to No. 4 Kansas Dec. 3, and certainly showed some rust in the early going against the Pioneers (8-3, 0-0 CCAA). Stanford had been limited to five full practices during that time, taking several days off and only holding shootarounds on many occasions. After a dominant 18-3 run to start the game, the Cardinal (7-3, 0-0 Pac-12) lapsed on defense, allowing Cal State East Bay to cut the lead to 22-16.

But Travis and the Cardinal quickly became too much for the undersized Pioneers to handle. Led by eight points from the 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward, including a clean dish from sophomore guard Robert Cartwright for a thunderous dunk, the former McDonald’s American and the Cardinal surged to on a 15-0 run to take a commanding lead, never looking back.

Travis’ physicality, a product of an unmatched, almost excessive work ethic that ex-Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins in part attributed to his missing 22 games last season with a stress reaction in his left leg, paid off Friday, simply too much for the Pioneers to match. Only one of the Pioneers’ top six scorers was above 6-foot-5, presenting huge matchup problems for the lower-division squad.

Although they took just seven 3-point attempts, making one, Stanford dominated in scoring through the post, outscoring the Pioneers 42-20 in the paint and winning the rebound battle 42-30.

“Our identity is a team that gets the ball inside first by dribble or pass, hopefully gets some things in transition and on offensive rebounds, but we have to work from the inside out,” Stanford head coach Jerod Haase said. “Because it was working well and effectively, we didn’t have to go to the second part of that, which is shooting from the perimeter. As time moves on, we are going to have to shoot from the perimeter. We have to be more efficient than we have been from the perimeter.”

The Cardinal’s leader in 3-point scoring percentage, junior guard Dorian Pickens, made Stanford’s lone 3-pointer Friday in his only attempt. He was the only other Cardinal player to score in double-digits, scoring 11 points in 21 minutes on 3-of-5 shooting. The Phoenix native helped buoy a Stanford offense that shot 55.3% from the field (26-of-47 FG’s), even without contributions from one of their key contributors.

After starting all nine of the team’s previous contests, a familiar name was out of the starting lineup Friday: junior forward Michael Humphrey. The Phoenix native had seen his field goal percentage dip from nearly .500 to a meager .429 mark this season and his rebounds per game fall by two, which prompted Hasse to sit Humphrey and play him for just 12 minutes Friday, replacing him with senior center Grant Verhoeven.

“(The goal was) hopefully to light a little fire under Michael,” Haase said. “It’s not a secret, Michael isn’t playing his top performances right now. Grant has earned that right as well. He’s been a consistent performer and played well.”

Humphrey was effective in limited time, matching Verhoeven’s scoring total with seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and grabbing three rebounds.

On the whole, Verhoeven thought it was fairly solid showing for the Cardinal, albeit a work in progress before it takes on a talented SMU squad (8-3, 0-0 AAC) on Monday.

“It’s good to have a game like this where we can just focus on getting better, working on our offense and defense,” Verhoeven said. “There was a lot out there that wasn’t pretty on our end of the court, but we have a lot we can work on in these next couple days before our game against SMU.”

 

 

 

Cover Image: Stanford’s Reid Travis (22) scores against Cal State East Bay during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Rock bottom? Giants optimistic things will turn around

By Ben Leonard

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants made history Friday night. But not the type of ground you’re usually looking to break. On a hard line drive to first off Brandon Crawford’s bat, San Francisco became the first eighth inning L3-3-5 triple play in major league history.

That kind of play would devastate a lot of teams. When you’ve won two games in as many weeks, an unlucky, bizarre play like that could be crippling to most clubs. But not the Giants.

One of the most resilient teams in recent years has pledged to keep fighting after another soul-crushing loss.

“These guys are fighting,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said Friday. “They’ll be fine. We’ll keep grinding through this thing and we’ll come out of it.”

This isn’t your average press conference mumbo jumbo. When it came out of the players’ mouths, it sounded like they believed it. You should believe it. Brandon Crawford looked reporters in the eye, asserting that, yes, it would turn around. He didn’t have to convince himself.

Neither did starter Jeff Samardzija, who took taking the streak cooly and with veteran savvy. Just a little downturn, nothing more.

A lot of it has just come down to poor luck, something that’s particularly devastating when you’re running out a 4-A type of bottom half of the order.

Sure, some of it has been sloppy play — like Gregor Blanco’s slow throw that cost Samardzija a run in the fourth — but you notice those things more when a team has lost eleven of thirteen games.

But largely, this has come down to a lack of clutch hitting, a smidge of poor luck, and inevitable regression from a team that was held together by a string. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto couldn’t keep pitching like Greek gods, and a team without three regulars was due to fall off offensively.

Most of the time, they’ve been competitive and feel they can wriggle their way out of this deepening rut.

“We’re right there,” Samardzija said after the Giants’ fifth loss in his last six outings. “We’re in all these games. It’s not like these things are out of reach… You just keep working hard and eventually those bounces will go your way.”

They wouldn’t have had the chance to be right there had they not been resilient. Down 4-1, the Giants stood up and rallied in the eighth to load the bases with no outs, when they made broke infamous, silencing ground.

 

This team has proven that it has what it takes when it matters — a one-game lead in the NL West should be motivation enough for this crew. They didn’t fall down when Hunter Pence did earlier in the season. They didn’t fall down in 2012 when down 2-0 and 3-1 in the playoffs. Why would they now? It’s not in their DNA.

Plus, the silver lining to all of this is that it could force management’s hand with the trade deadline rapidly approaching. There’s certainly pressure on general manager Bobby Evans to make another move — Eduardo Nunez probably isn’t going to be the second coming of Mike Trout — and a move could inspire this club. Marco Scutaro was the catalyst in 2010, Pence inspired this club in 2012, and Jake Peavy gave the club a lift in 2014. Even a mid-level name could fit right in in this welcoming, laidback California club house

Even a mid-level name could fit right in in this welcoming, laidback California clubhouse and help the club take off. The public acknowledgement that this team needs to do more inherent in such a move would put more pressure — the good kind — on this club.

As they’ve proven time and time again, pressure is nothing but motivation for the Giants. Don’t expect them to press like this for much longer.

 

 

 

 

Matt Reynolds embracing opportunity with Giants

By Ben Leonard

sfgiants.com file photo: San Francisco Giants left hand pitcher Matt Reynolds joined the Giants pitching staff last Thursday

SAN FRANCISCO– Independent league ball isn’t quite the first thing that comes to mind when you think of glamor. Or even the hundredth. With its minuscule budgets and dwindling attendance, they’re hard places to find future major leaguers.

That wasn’t the case for the San Francisco Giants’ most recent roster addition, Matt Reynolds, who pitched in the Atlantic League before signing with the Giants on June 24th. He was called up Thursday after left-hander Josh Osich was placed on the disabled list with a forearm strain.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Reynolds said Friday.

“Indy” leagues, as they call them, are a completely different baseball universe. Completely unaffiliated with Major League Baseball, these leagues run mostly in the pursuit of profit and zany promotions.

The Atlantic League is one of the more prestigious independent leagues, with several former big leaguers on Reynolds’ team, but that didn’t stop them from, among other things, hosting an mid-game fireworks show. Yes, stopping play for fifteen minutes right after the seventh inning.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a rough stint with the Diamondbacks in 2015, that sort of league was Reynolds’ only choice after spring training this season.

“It made it a fun opportunity,” Reynolds said. I kind of got back to really enjoying baseball and enjoying the guys in the clubhouse.”

Playing for the Lancaster Barnstomers this season, Reynolds struck out 32 hitters in 22 innings, good for a 1.64 ERA. That was enough for the Giants to give Reynolds a chance, inking him to a minor league deal and shipping him to Double-A Richmond.

There, he gave up just two hits and no runs in eight relief appearances, striking out seven. When Osich (one of the Giants’ two left-handed pitchers) went down, Reynolds became a clear candidate for a call-up.

Now, he’s thrown into the midst of a pennant race with the Giants, who sit just two games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West. Quite a different place from Lancaster.

“Obviously it’s really fun to step in here on a really good team that’s playing for some big things,” Reynolds said.

 

Hunter Pence’s return to clubhouse gives Giants ‘boost’

By Ben Leonard

SAN FRANCISCO — In the midst of a grueling post-All-Star break slump, the mood was light in the Giants’ clubhouse Friday. Not because they’re satisfied with two wins in as many weeks.

With outfielder Hunter Pence’s return to the clubhouse Friday, there’s plenty of reason for the Giants to be optimistic that this flat-footed slump won’t stretch much longer. Even though Pence can’t return from the disabled list (hamstring surgery) until Saturday, his presence is changing the vibe around a struggling team.

“Just to see him around, he’s such a positive guy,” Bochy said Friday. “He’s got so much energy and is so inspirational that he’s going to give these guys a lift. That being said, we’ve got to get better at some things here, really all facets of the game.”

Pence hopes he can boost a team that has hit just .146 with runners in scoring position and averaged just over three runs per game since the break.

“I play the game with a lot of emotion and a lot of energy, and hopefully I can pour that vibe onto the field and give a little boost,” Pence said. “I’ve come ready to help.”

The former All-Star outfielder hasn’t played in a big league game since June 1st, but appears ready to hit major league pitching. Pence hit .417 with three home runs in a seven-game rehab stint with Triple-A Fresno.

Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said Pence feels ready to go but needs a day off before getting in the lineup. The ultra-competitive outfielder didn’t push Bochy on the decision and has stayed positive throughout the road to recovery.

“I try to deal with it in the most positive light that I can, no matter the situation, and be appreciative of every moment and every journey,” Pence said. “That’s the part of the beauty of the major league journey. It takes everyone.”

Giants acquire Eduardo Nunez from Twins

For Pence, everyone included the front office which brought in and developed parts like Mac Williamson to replace his production. Evidently, management didn’t think Pence’s return alone would be enough to give them the type of team they want heading into a pennant race, acquiring Twins’ infielder Eduardo Nunez on Thursday. In return for his services, the Giants had to part ways with prospect Aldaberto Mejia, ranked tenth in the Giants’ system by Baseball America. 

Nunez, an All-Star and the American League’s stolen base leader (27), brings much-needed depth, underrated power, and speed to a roster that has been hit hard with injuries.

“It’s fair to say, we’re not a power-hitting club,” Bochy said Friday. “This gives us another way to hopefully put some runs across the board by using our speed and as we always say keep the line moving. Speed makes it a little easier to score runs without hitting the ball out of the ballpark, which he can do.”

With the last-place Twins this season, Nunez hit .300, belting 12 home runs and driving in 47 runs. Nunez came up with the New York Yankees as a shortstop, but can handle second or third base in addition to an outfield spot. Nunez is under contract through 2017.

After a late flight into San Francisco, Nunez will be used off the bench Friday against the Nationals and start on Saturday.

Bochy said the acquisition of Nunez doesn’t impact Matt Duffy’s starting role at third base. Duffy has been rehabbing from an Achilles strain, and had a pain-free day of running on Friday. Duffy will likely begin a rehab assignment on Sunday.

The move did spell the end of outfielder Jarrett Parker’s stint with the big league club, as he was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento in a corresponding move. In 47 games with the Giants this season, Parker hit .248 with five home runs and eleven RBI.

Samardzija set to take on Nationals

In the second game of a four-game set with the Washington Nationals, the Giants will send Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22) to the hill against the Nationals’ Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92).

Samardzija has struggled of late, posting a 6.32 ERA in his last ten starts. The home run bug that bit Samardzija in 2015 with Chicago has come back with ferocious vengeance, as the right-hander has given up 14 big flies in his last eight games.

Part of those struggles can be attributed to a failure to get left-handed hitters out. Since June 18th, lefties have hit .373 against Samardzija.

Dusty Baker’s Nationals will roll out five left-handed hitters against Samardzija on Friday, including the first three hitters in their order. Those three (Ben Revere, Bryce Harper, and Daniel Murphy) have combined to hit .391 lifetime against Samardzija.

As for Bochy’s lineup, Joe Panik is back and hitting in the three-hole in his second game back from the disabled list. Catcher Buster Posey is taking a scheduled day off after “feeling it a little bit” the day before a day game.

 

Giants lineup:

Denard Span, CF

Angel Pagan, LF

Joe Panik, 2B

Brandon Crawford, SS

Brandon Belt, 1B

Connor Gillaspie, 3B

Gregor Blanco, RF

Trevor Brown, C

Jeff Samardzija, SP

Nationals: 

Ben Revere, CF

Bryce Harper, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

Wilson Ramos, C

Jayson Werth, LF

Clint Robinson, 1B

Anthony Rendon, 3B

Wilmer Difo, SS

Max Scherzer, SP

 

Cover image attribution: By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Categories MLB

Cool Brandon Crawford Steadies Giants

By Ben Leonard
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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Behind Brandon Crawford’s slicked back man bun and electric blue eyes lies a fire inside. A fire to win. A fire to back his teammates. But a silky smooth, calm, slow burning flame, one that picks up and rages when the game, or his teammates, are in jeopardy.

The moment never seems too big for Crawford, the cool UCLA kid. With his laid back demeanour and flowing hair, he seems like he would be more at home at a Southern California beach than in a big league batter’s box. Crawford’s cooly confident yet internally fiery leadership has quietly buoyed the San Francisco Giants this season, and no other time was it more apparent on Friday, leading the Giants to a 6-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When the Diamondbacks thought they were retaliating for a retaliatory hit-by-pitch that Jeff Samardzija didn’t throw, Crawford stepped up to back up his catcher. After Arizona starter Patrick Corbin threw tight and inside to Posey and then threw right behind him, that smooth ember within Crawford was lit. Facing a 2-0 deficit, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was ejected after lobbying for Corbin’s ejection. Four pitches later, Crawford gracefully slammed one into the arcade to tie the game.

“When he walked [and threw at Posey], I wanted to make him pay for doing that,” Crawford said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. That’s what I was going for. I wanted to get him, and fortunately, I was able to get a pitch that I was able to get both in with.”

Giants’ outfielder Gregor Blanco knew that Crawford was going to do something to steady the team — he had a feeling that Corbin’s throw had ignited his sense of duty.

“When he took that bat, I felt like he’s going to do something,” Blanco said. “I knew he was kind of mad about it.”

Even though seemingly few have noticed, Crawford has been doing this all season long for the Giants. Count Mets’ manager Terry Collins in as one of those who hasn’t noticed Crawford’s exploits — he snubbed the Giants’ RBI leader and defensive whiz from the National League All-Star roster.

Among others, Blanco thinks Crawford should join fellow Brandon (Belt) in San Diego.

“Defensively, he’s one of the best shortstops in baseball, and now in the last couple years, he’s starting to become one of the best offensively as well,” Blanco said Friday. “So it’s really good to watch him play.”

The numbers back up Blanco’s assertion — Crawford ranks first in FanGraph’s defensive ratings, and second in overall WAR, behind just the Dodgers’ Corey Seager. But he doesn’t just do it when the game is firmly within one team’s grasp — the Giants’ count on him to come through when it matters.

“He’s a clutch hitter,” Blanco said. “He’s a guy that always in big situations, he always brings in the run or at least gives you a good at-bat.”

One of those clutch moments vaulted the Giants into the (real) National League playoffs in 2014, a grand slam that put them ahead of the Pirates in a do-or-die Wild Card Game. Without it, who knows if Madison Bumgarner would have been able to carry the Giants on his back all the way to the championship.

He’s one of the driving forces behind a team that has overperformed its way to three championships since 2010, scratching and clawing together makeshift rosters to perfection. With that magic Giants glue, they’re doing it again this season, at times rolling out lineups that look more like the San Francisco Rivercats than a major league lineup, yet still leading the majors in wins.

We may not have the best team,” Blanco said, “but we do something together that, I don’t know how we do it, we just feed off of each other.”

The Giants aren’t in your face about it, but they win. And win again. With one of the more quiet clubhouses in baseball, (Hunter Pence excepted) behind Crawford and Buster Posey they calmly do it every year.

With Crawford at the helm, expect nothing less than a deep run in the playoffs this season. He’s calm about it, he’s cool about it, but you know it: the fire to win a World Series is still there. It’s early, but watch out: Crawford and the Giants might just take another trophy from right under your nose.

Cover Image: San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Crawford hits a double against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Friday, July 8, 2016, in San Francisco. The Giants defeated the Diamondbacks 6-2. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

 

 

 

Game Notes: Belt Wins Final Vote, Plus Injury News

By Ben Leonard
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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Brandon Belt has been named to the National League All-Star team, and perhaps his manager is one of the reasons why. Giants’ skipper Bruce Bochy texted in a couple of the 10.4 million votes cast for Belt in the annual final vote, perhaps helping him vault ahead of Pirates’ outfielder Starling Marte in one of the closest races ever.

“That’s great new,” Bochy said of the announcement Friday. “I couldn’t be happier for him…..I know he’s ecstatic and he should be. We’re very proud of him.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman, Belt was enjoying a meal with his wife Haylee when he learned that he won the vote. While Belt presumably stayed stoic, Haylee couldn’t hold her emotions in. “I told her, ‘We’ve got to leave,” Belt said. “Can’t have you crying in a restaurant.”

He had earlier told MLB Network that he tried to stay on top of the news on the radio, but found out when his phone was faced with an onslaught of congratulatory texts.

The congratulations were well-earned — Belt is second in baseball with a 151 wRC+ season, behind only Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (152).

Flying with Belt to San Diego for the 87th Midsummer Classic will be pitchers Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, and catcher Buster Posey.

Bochy Sees ‘Light At End of Tunnel’ With Injuries

For the injury-riddled Giants, the length of the disabled list as of late has been approaching short story lengths. Soon, it could be poem length, something that encourages Bochy.

Although there’s still no timetable on Hunter Pence’s return, he’s getting closer to returning from hamstring surgery after doing baseball activities today. Joining Pence in these activities were infielders Matt Duffy (Achilles) and Joe Panik (concussion), although Panik’s work was more on the light side, simply taking light grounders and hitting balls off the tee. None of the three will be back before the All-Star Break, but with outfielder Denard Span’s return to the lineup and Matt Cain throwing 65-70 pitches in a rehab start Friday, Bochy feels that the support the Giants need is coming soon.

“Yeah, we still have a little ways to go, but it’s good to seem them out here, just doing baseball activities out here,” Bochy said. “You have to be careful you don’t rush him because you want em back as soon as you can get um, but to see them at this point you do see the light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t be long.”

Samardizja Set to Take On Diamondbacks

The last time Giants’ pitcher Jeff Samardzija (8-5, 3.97) took the hill, he was dealt a tough-luck loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks after going 7.1 strong innings of four-run ball, exiting with a 5-3 lead. On Friday, he’ll try to exact some revenge against the very same D’Backs squad, a team he has fared well against in the past.

In five career starts against Arizona, Samardzija has posted a 3.38 ERA, giving up just one home run. He’s kept up that type of pitching against the rest of the NL West this season as well, going 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 62 innings against division rivals.

The same can’t be said about his team, which has dropped 10 of their last 11 games against Arizona at home.

In a rematch of his last start, Samardzija will face talented left-hander Patrick Corbin (4-6, 4.90), coming off a return from Tommy John surgery just over a year ago. He gave up five runs over 5.1 innings in his last start, but has dominated the Giants throughout his career.

Corbin’s ERA against San Francisco (3.47) doesn’t exactly encapsulate how stingy he has been — he holds a career 8.71 K/BB ratio against the club, behind only Colby Lewis’s 8.80 (vs. Houston) across he majors for the best figure against any one team.

Lineups: 

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Cover Image: San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Belt swings for an RBI single off Colorado Rockies’ Tyler Chatwood in the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Peavy Leads Giants Past Rockies On Independence Day

By Ben Leonard

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — 240 years ago today, America’s Founding Fathers declared independent a nation founded upon the principles of self-determination, liberty, and eventually, baseball. Especially in San Francisco, America’s national pastime has become much more than that on Independence Day (and every day) — a place for a sea of red, white, and orange to congregate and revel in freedom.

There’s something about pitching that resembles that founding spirit. It’s on you — and only you — to blaze your own trail and stay in command. And who would be better to represent the Giants on a blustery but brilliant Independence Day than Jake Peavy, the ardent patriot? On Monday, Peavy seemed to fit the bill perfectly, leaving with a standing ovation after gritting through 6.2 innings to lead the San Francisco Giants (53-32) to a 3-1 win over the Colorado Rockies (37-45), backed by home runs from Buster Posey and Angel Pagan.

“I’d like to think I’m as patriotic as they come,” Peavy, who has played guitar to benefit Barry Zito’s Strikeouts For Troops, said Monday. “It’s just fun to have the extra adrenaline when you see the flyover and you see the troops. You all know that’s meaningful to me, so you just try to put the best effort you can forth. But July 9th, 10th, whenever the next one is, I’m going to bring it too.”

Peavy gave up just an after a second-inning balk that produced the Rockies’ only run, striking out six and walking two. With the bases loaded and the pitcher, Tyler Anderson, at the dish, Peavy picked off to first to read if Anderson would bunt, but was called for a balk, plating Ryan Raburn. By MLB rules, since Peavy threw to an unoccupied bag (first baseman Brandon Belt wasn’t near first), it had to be deemed a balk. Peavy indicated that he was confused about the call — he didn’t know the rule.

Other than that, it was smooth sailing for the 35-year-old Alabama native, who has finally found a groove after a rough start to the season. Fans were calling for Peavy’s head after a nine-game stretch in which Peavy posted a 8.21 ERA, but has quickly turned those numbers around. In his last eight starts, opponents have hit just .215 against Peavy, good for a 2.27 ERA.

“I think more than anything, he’s doing a better job of pitching,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said Monday. “Backing off a little bit, changing speeds, hitting the spots. He was throwing a little hard there when things weren’t going well, and I think he’ll say the same. It’s just better for him to back off a little bit and pitch — that’s who he is now.”

In support of Peavy, Posey slammed a bottle rocket off Anderson in the second, quickly tying up the game. The next inning, Angel Pagan hit the decisive shot, a two-run homer that just sailed over the left field fence into an erupting crowd.

Perhaps in a night game, Pagan’s homer would have landed in the glove of the left fielder Raburn, but not on this Independence Day. Calling back memories of Candlestick Park, Bochy noted that balls were drifting fifteen or twenty feet further than normal and outfielders repeatedly lost balls in the sun.

Peavy’s outing was a big boost for a depleted bullpen that was ravaged in the previous series against Arizona. “He got pretty high up there in his pitch count and still maintained his command and stuff,” Bochy said. “He did a good job of going out there and giving guys a break.”

One pitcher who didn’t need a break was reliever Sergio Romo, who hadn’t pitched since April 10th after suffering a flexor strain. Romo entered in the eighth to a raucous ovation and got one out before giving up a double to noted Giant killer Nolan Arenado. Dating back to the beginning of last season, Arenado has 13 homers and 42 RBI’s against the Giants, tops by any player against any opponent in that span, so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary.

“He looked normal, so that’s a good sign,” Posey said.

The Giants will need Romo at top form if they want to keep up their elite play — their bullpen ranks 26th in the majors in WAR as of Monday.

Cover Image: San Francisco Giants pitcher Jake Peavy works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, July 4, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)