Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Listening and Learning

Listening to a San Francisco Giants game on the radio is a tradition that has maintained the highest level of standards for as long as I have been a fan of the orange and black.  Or as long as I have owned a transistor radio.  You only need to hear the play-by-play of another team's broadcast crew to know just how good the Giant's fans have it.

There are the occasional times when a Giant's announcer will stray from the details and listeners have to fuss with the dial.  Static versus clarity.  It is during these rare occasions when the listener has to use imagery to fill-in-the-blanks.  When you can picture (in your mind's eye) what is taking place your grasp of the game elevates to a new level of competence.

This happens because when you have the privilege of listening to announcers, who are adept at painting the brilliant word picture, you are being taught from pitch-to-pitch how to identify the game as it develops between the foul lines.

You learn to anticipate the next move only by experiencing the situation before (at another time). And if you are truly locked in you will get a rhythm that will keep the progression of the game in an almost serendipitous groove.

This is the same rhythm a pitcher can get into when he has the benefit of a generous strike zone (from the man stationed behind the catcher whose job it is to call balls and strikes).  In the July 20, 2012 game with the Giants at Philadelphia, Phillies starting pitcher, Vance Worley, must have looked like Jim Bunning and Tom Seaver rolled up into one stud hurler.  

But as I began to read between the lines I could see that the Giant announcers were calling the game like they saw it but that also they were spelling it out to the listener that Worley was the benefactor of an unseen before strike zone.  Something the Giant pitcher (Tim Lincecum) wasn't receiving.

Then about the sixth inning the strike zone changed.  The home plate umpire (we'll call him Laz Diaz) seemed to have lost the luster on Worley's fastball or slider that was freezing Giant batters.  Next thing you know the wide strike was a ball.  Just as it is defined in the baseball rulebook.

When an umpire is incapable of maintaining a consistent strike zone inevitably the team leading will sputter (especially if their opponent hangs in there and keeps them from breaking the game wide open by scoring an insurmountable number of runs).  Suddenly the team that was once leading has to make the adjustments and those conformities aren't adaptations easily made.  Depending on when the game turns, say after the 7th inning, it just may be too late to re-capture the momentum.  (Note:  In games where the umpire gives you the momentum he can just as easily taketh away. Never forget this, as a player or listener.) 

Kevin J. Marquez

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Even New Breed Tends to Stray from the Guidelines

In yesterday's San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants game, Giant shortstop, Brandon Crawford was robbed of hitting a double when the first base umpire decided to stick his nose into the game and call Crawford out for missing first base.

Replays showed that Crawford "clearly" planted his foot on the bag as he kicked it into gear to take another base for his team lead in doubles.

The rule of thumb is that you have to be absolutely sure that you positively saw the foot "miss" the bag for you to consider even making such a call. But the rookie decided he had seen enough and barked incorrectly that Crawford had missed the bag. How could someone miss a call when they were 100% sure they saw it? Optical illusion? Or could it be, he just wanted to get his name mentioned on ESPN?

The umpires today are such egomaniacs that it wouldn't surprise me, in the least, to think the guy may have made his call to get some recognition. I mean some umps have to feel like they're offensive lineman, right?  They do all the work and it's the quarterback or running back or wide receiver who gets all the applause. What satisfaction does an umpire get when nobody knows his name?

A job well done isn't enough for some of these attitudes in need of adjustment. But one thing is for sure, Giant fans know the umpire's name is Jordan Baker.

Knowing the rotation of the umpires,per each series, the ump who calls first base does the plate the following game. So Mister I-Need-You-to-Know-My Name will be calling balls and strikes with Madison Bumgarner facing Edison Volquez.

Will Baker be professional enough to own-up to his error and call a good game or will he squeeze the Giant shortstop?  I always listen to the game on KNBR-680AM so I'll hear it via the Giant broadcasters.  We shall see...and stay tuned.

Kevin J. Marquez

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lincecum According to Bengie Molina

(From something posted by Alex Pavlovic on 6/25/12 by Daniel Brown of the Mercury News)

"What stands out to me is his body language," said former batterymate, Bengie Molina.

What's the difference between the Lincecum you're seeing this year and the one you used to catch?  Obviously, this is easy to say because he was doing good then, but when I was there his body language never changed. He gave up a few walks. He gave up a few hits. But his demeanor was, 'I'm going after you no matter what. If I give up a hit or a homer, the next guy better watch out.'

That's the kind of approach he had.

Now,  it's a little different because he's struggling a little bit.  And you know what? Struggling in San Francisco is giving up three runs.  It's different from everywhere else. If you take those three runs and go some place else, he might not be struggling. He might win the game.

In his last start, Lincecum gave up 3 early runs, then finished up with 5 hitless innings. Manager Bruce Bochy said it was because Lincecum got mad and took control. He said he started pitching with attitude.

Exactly.  That's what I'm trying to tell you: He did that all the time. No matter if he gave up a double, no matter if he gave up anything. He was taking charge of the game. He was the guy that you had to beat. He didn't beat himself.

In the games that I've seen that he's lost, it's because he's beat himself. It wasn't like an (opponent) took it to him... If you don't have that confidence and if you don't have that fight in you, I think it's really easy for you to lose the game.

Right now, it's in his mind. It's all in his head. As soon as he gets over that hump, as soon as he changes his thinking, you guys are going to see the same guy who dominated. That kid is unbelievable.

I was talking to my brothers about this because Jose (Molina, also a catcher) is not doing so well, either, in Tampa. I told them: It's not the work you're doing, because you're doing everything you can- it's the mental part.

Rafael Palmeiro, in 2000, saw me when I was down. I got a weak hit and I got to first base and, in Spanish, he asked me how I was doing. I said, 'I'm OK, I wish I could hit better.'

And Palmeiro said, "The way I see it, when you come from the on-deck circle, you're coming up all beat up already. You don't come with confidence. When you come up from the on-deck circle, you're The Man out there. The pitcher has to get you out. You don't get yourself out- they have to get you out."

It's a mind game. It seriously is.

(Another point of view about a kid we're all rooting for.)

Kevin J. Marquez

Kansas City Here We Come

(Thanks to an article by John Shea) I just have to borrow from Mr. Shea because there were tasty morsels of information that melded nicely with how the 2012 Giants responded as they picked up where Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds left off.

Willie Mays played in the 1960 All-Star game in Kansas City and had 3 hits, including a game-opening triple that ignited a 5-3 National League win.  Unfortunately for Willie, no Most Valuable Player was given until 1962. 

In 1973, Bobby Bonds, who was not voted in (Cub outfielder, Billy Williams was) came into the game during the 4th inning. Facing Angel righty Bill Singer (a former Dodger) Bonds crushed Singer's pitch over the wall for a two-run homer. In his next at-bat, he stretched a routine single to center into a stand-up double.

"He's got to be the best ballplayer in the National League," Reggie Jackson said.  Sal Bando further complimented Bonds, "the most dynamic hitter I've seen. He scares me when he's up there at the plate. He's such a free swinger, and the way he runs, well, I guess there's no real way to tie him down."

NL All-Star coach Gene Mauch said, "Bonds may be the best player in baseball today," and NL manager Sparky Anderson called him "the best player in America."   (Note: 1973 was the year Bonds would have been the first 40-HR, 40-stolen base player in the history of major league baseball if not for the unfortunate fact that one of his homers was "rained out.")

A year later, Bonds was traded to the New York Yankees for Bobby Murcer. (Back to Bonds later.)

Last night, July 10, 2012, Melky Cabrera got two hits, one of them the only home run of the game and was voted the MVP of the game.  Pablo Sandoval got the only bases loaded triple in All-Star history. (Once again, where Atlee Hammaker gives up the first ever grand slam in All-Star history these Giants have a much more memorable historic event.)  Matt Cain goes two scoreless innings for the win and Buster Posey walked, scored a run and caught Cain.

Something about Kansas City brings the best out of the Giants and yesterday the 2012 Giants continued the trend.

About Bonds, Shea seemed to revisit just how good Barry's dad was on the ballfield.  And to further echo what Shea was saying, while it was true after he got traded on October 22, 1974 to the New York Yankees for Bobby Murcer, he was traded 7 times in 7 years.  But look who the Yankees traded him for on December 11, 1975 (Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers).  These two players were key factors in the Yankees' winning ways beginning in 1976.  For three consecutive seasons the Yankees would reach the World Series. (Although they lost the World Series in 4 games to the Big Red Machine in 1976, they went on to beat the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, both 4 games to 2.) 

You know that to get someone good you have to give up someone good and Bobby Bonds was the perfect guy to deal because you only had to deal him and you most likely would get 2 players of quality in return.

(thanks to John Shea for his excellent article on Giants history in the All-Star game at Kansas City.)

Kevin J. Marquez

Monday, July 9, 2012

Attitudes in Blue are in Need of an Adjustment

In both Saturday and Sunday's games the home plate umpire (Tim Welke on Saturday, Allen Porter on Sunday) had serious attitudes in need of adjustment.

Don't question their mannerisms or calls or anything about them. They're right so don't even think to ask once. You would only serve to piss them off.

Welke had an umpire's balk while James McDonald was in the batter's box and Ryan Vogelsong on the mound.  What Dave Flemming described as 'McDonald did that half-spin in the batter's box when you realize you took a called third strike' but Welke witheld the right fist pump and the call became 3-balls and 2-strikes.  Needless to say, Vogey's facial countenance was not all smiles.  The next pitch, in the same spot, BALL FOUR.  McDonald would eventually come around and score.

Now watching Welke's strike zone, the curve only had to land in the catcher's mitt.  And these roundhouse curves were not crossing the plate only landing in the catcher's mitt exactly as he framed the pitch. 

Vogelsong's pitch cut the corners just as you would draw it up if you were a pitching coach and Welke just didn't like the way the pitch looked.  Welke apparently likes the swirly curvy ball that ends up in the catcher's glove.  Corners were for mourners. Welke's a wiffle ball lover and his strike zone emphasized such lollypops.

On Sunday, Allen Foster got hit by a couple of foul tips and picked up the ball that struck him and both times fired the ball back to Lincecum or Kontos (both happening to be Giant pitchers).

This behavior was clearly in the category of poor sportsmanship.  I mean come on, do you think this was something the Giants were trying to do?  And if so, why would they stop at two times? Heck, that was the one thing yesterday they were executing to perfection.

The crew doing the Pirates/Giants games should not get any consideration come post-season time.  Welke and Foster are clueless as to what a strike is while Paul Schrieber is no better.  The only guy in this crew with a workable strike zone is Mike Everitt.  This incompetence cannot be tolerated in the playoffs. Unless they usually break up the crews and field the best team of umpires per series then Everitt gets his just due.  The other three can use this time to go to charm school.

Kevin Marquez

Whiteside to the Rescue

With all of the attempts to get Tim Lincecum back on track I have to question why Hector Sanchez is still behind the plate on days Lincecum pitches.  Yes, it was something Manager Bruce Bochy tried to shake things up earlier in the season but now it's a matter of having someone back behind the plate who is capable of calling a good game. 

I noticed, in yesterday's (7/8/12) loss to Pittsburgh 13-2, that Lincecum had two pitches that were making the batter's miss and yet it appeared Sanchez, in trying to mix up the pitch selection, was calling pitches that were being crushed. 

The game started with Drew Sutton, a .341 hitter at the time of his at-bat, and he swung and missed 3 times for out number one.  Then Neil Walker came to bat and it was as if Sanchez wanted to try a pitch other than the ones Sutton missed.  Either the curveball or slider.  His fastball and changeup seemed to be on.

Walker promptly ripped a double off Lincecum.  Next batter was the ultra hot Andrew McCutcheon.  This isn't the guy to be "trying" things out on.  After getting McCutcheon to swing and miss the pitch selection was again in doubt.  Even after seeing that McCutcheon swung and missed at a pitch the hottest hitter in the league was not given the same pitch but something a little slower. BAMM, the next pitch reaches the seats and immediately it's Pirates-2  Giants-0. 

Some people might wonder why Lincecum didn't shake off the catcher if he felt the pitch called wasn't the one he would get past McCutcheon.  And that's an excellent question.  But in his delicate condition I'd say his confidence is non-existent so he probably doesn't trust his own judgment for the time being.

It's okay to use Hector Sanchez as Barry Zito's catcher because they played together last year when Zeets was rehabilitating.  They seem to have formed a bond and Zito has all the confidence and belief in Sanchez.

I'm not saying Lincecum has no belief in Sanchez but he's going through something he has never gone through before.  Lincecum needs to go down to Fresno and throw to his old batterymate, Eli Whiteside.

The Giants paid Whiteside good money to play in Fresno and now we can see this may have been the best move they made all off-season.  Especially if he corrects the flaws in Lincecum's mechanics.

I hope I don't come off like I'm kicking Hector to the curb but since the Giants will be looking for some help to bolster their roster for the second half of the season, and they seem to have a gluttony of catching help in the minors I think the Giants could use Hector Sanchez as trade bait to get a quality arm or bat.  Realizing you have to give up someone with an upside, which young Hector has, to get someone of equal upside.

If this happens, Eli Whiteside fills his spot on the roster.  All of the pitchers on the staff are familiar with Whiteside and things should resume without anyone missing a beat.

Kevin Marquez

Friday, July 6, 2012

You Ever Notice...

You ever notice how the panic button becomes readily available when the team you follow begins to find creative wins to BLOW leads?  Ever notice how everyone has a remedy?  Ever want to just take a long walk off a short pier? (I've got my Andy Rooney on and I can't snap out of it!!!)

Is it panic attack time?

What happens now to Santiago Casilla?  Well, in his defense, he has been starting out rocky but seems to find his groove-just in the nick of time- and usually makes pitches to get out of the mess. That is, providing the defense catches the ball and throws it (preferably on a fly and within reasonable distance from the bag) to their teammate for the force or tag play.

Marty Lurie, the lovable talk show host before Giant games on the weekend called it.  He "tweeted" on Wednesday how the series with the Gnats reminded him of the 2012 opening series in Arizona. Bullseye Marty! Everything about that series spelled out S-W-E-E-P.

And think about it, when we go up against the Pirates of Pittsburgh, they will be the fourth team in-a-row the Giants would have faced who was in first place in their division.

The Giants just have to weather the storm and brace themselves for 2012 major league baseball. As for Casilla, Bochy has this thing about going with the hot hand. He certainly does it with the hitters/fielders. The same has to be true of the relief pitchers. You have to demand consistency or that player rides pine. If Sergio Romo is 'hace calor' then he gets the nod. If Casilla is 'muy frio' he sets up Romo. I don't mean to get all WWF on you but Bochy has to remind these guys to know their role. 

Perhaps I can say it best by borrowing from a classic rock n' roll tune of the 1970s.
In the words of Jagger/Richards:

There's a fever in the funk house now
This lowdown bitchin' got my poor feet-a-itchin'
Don't you know the deuce is still wild?
      Baby I can't stay, you got to roll me and call me
the Tumbling Dice..
      Got to roll me (keep on rolling)
      Got to roll me (keep on rolling)

(inspired by the Rolling Stones)

Kevin J. Marquez

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hit or Lose Your Spot

During the course of a 162-game season a manager (we'll call him "Bochy") is going to make changes in the batting order according to how well the players- he chooses to play- perform.

Playing those- with the hot hand- in the game is how the majority of managers make out the lineup.  Why would you mess with a good thing? 

In this 2012 season for the San Francisco Giants, Manager Bochy has the tall order of watching how his star catcher is doing (the healing process) after last year's season-ending injury to Buster Posey's lower extremity (ankle).

Bochy is using Posey at first base when he probably should be leaving Brandon Belt there and I say this because too much time on the bench can turn a hot bat cold.  It is understandable that Bochy wants Posey's bat in the lineup and to relieve him from the grueling duties of catching because of the foul tips and errant pitches that often deflect off the catcher's tools of ignorance.  Sometimes there's a lack of luck involved and these deflections hit the catcher in unguarded territory.  Get enough of these bumps and bruises and it will effect the catcher's plate appearances, to be sure.

Brandon Belt is seemingly on the fringe of coming out of what began in 2012 as a difficult time at the plate.  While he is only now finding a bit of a groove at the plate this is the time to just stick with number 9 (in your San Francisco Giants' program). 

Hector Sanchez, who catches on days when Posey plays first, is the backup catcher so he expects not to play every day.  It's a mindset but it won't help his plate appearances if he spends too much time on the pine.  

So you can see Bochy's job is a tenuous one at best. I say that because even when one of the aforementioned three players gets hot he most likely will have to sit- at some point- so the one player not getting enought at-bats (usually Sanchez) can get enough swings to avoid getting rusty.

I understand the 'hit or lose your spot' mentality but you have to also give some players room to let their talents play out.  Who is producing?  Who has a better on-base average?  Who is having the best at-bats?  All of this should be figured into who gets slotted where in the lineup.

Currently, Sanchez should be the odd-man out because he hasn't seen a pitch he didn't like.  And until he gets to Pablo Sandoval status you have to go with Belt at first and Posey at catcher.  Until Sanchez shows more plate discipline and is willing to take a walk, Bochy has to not be so quick to put him in the game at the expense of his slick-fielding first baseman.  And that's the other thing, the team loses when anybody other than Belt is at first base because he has exhibited a natural ability to make the throw to second on a grounder or pickoff attempt and that's been said, by past first basemen, not to be an easy play.

Posey is the type of hitter, like most big leaguers, when he gets hot you leave him in there until he cools off.  Then his rest is best for him and the team.  Belt is the type of hitter who takes walks and will put the ball in play with authority.  When he's swinging and missing on a regular basis he then becomes a candidate for riding some pine.  Last, but certainly not least, is Sanchez.  Only because Hector doesn't have the plate discipline to take walks. When the time comes that he learns this skill then he'll challenge for more playing time.  It shouldn't be any more complicated than that.

C'mon Giants!  Don't let the Nationals be gnats to you in the nation's capital. What's the old idiom:  Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.  Mind over matter is easier said than done but you have to find a way.  Afterall, you're the Gigantes!

Kevin J. Marquez