On Sunday in Chicago, the Giants needed a hero. They found one in Hunter Pence.
In doing some research on nicknames for Giants players, I discovered that Hunter Pence’s nickname is Captain Underpants. Well, at least according to Baseball Reference.
I searched for an explanation on the Underpants moniker and all I could find was a story when Pence played in the minors, a heckler mistakenly thought the stadium P.A. guy said “Underpants” when introducing “Hunter Pence.” The heckler then called Pence “Underpants” the rest of the game.
From Underpants, the title “Captain” was added, a reference to the children’s novel series in which two 4th graders hypnotize their mean principal to become the pseduo-superhero Captain Underpants.
Well, whatever you want to call him, he’s been a hero for the Giants in 2013.
Pence belted his fourth home run this season for the Giants. In 59 games after being acquired in a trade with the Phillies last season, Pence hit seven home runs for the Giants.
He came through in the clutch Sunday when with two outs and on a 2-2 pitch from Shawn Camp, Pence launched a homer to left-center to tie the game at 7-7.
The Giants added three runs in the 10th for a 10-7 and take the series from the Cubs, 3-1.
Amazingly, the Giants won for the third consecutive time that Tim Lincecum has started. In all three games, the Giants have had to come from behind.
After rallying from a modest 1-0 deficit to beat the Dodgers on April 3, the Giants had to erase a 6-2 deficit against the Rockies to win 9-6 on Tuesday.
On Sunday, after surrendering two-run homers to Starlin Castro and Nate Schierholtz in the first inning to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead, Lincecum settled down to four scoreless innings to keep the Giants in the game. He was actually in line to get the win after the Giants scored four runs in the sixth.
The Giants got creative with their runs scored, or should we say the Cubs did. The Giants scored runs on a passed ball, a wild pitch and a balk.
But the Cubs rallied to take the lead themselves by scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth off just one hit. Jeremy Affeldt issued three walks, including one with the bases loaded, and Alberto Gonzalez added a sacrifice fly.
After Pence tied it in the ninth, the Giants tallied three runs in the 10th on singles by Hector Sanchez, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and a double by Marco Scutaro — as well as the aforementioned balk from Camp.
Sergio Romo came in to save it in the bottom of the 10th. Although we’ve stated we don’t like using Romo to save three-run leads, with the day off Monday, we had no problem with going to Romo in this situation.
The win gave the Giants a 3-1 series win. The series opened and closed with Giant comebacks. The Giants rallied from 5-0 down to beat the Cubs 7-6 in the series opener. They even erased a 2-0 deficit in the top of the ninth Friday, before giving the lead back in the bottom of the ninth for their lone loss in the series.
MoreSplashHits got up Friday thinking how great it would be to be at AT&T Park for the pre-game festivities, but at least I could watch it on TV.
Then I turned on the MLB Network, which was carrying Friday’s Giants-Cardinals game. But instead of showing the pre-game, the network decided to show Brian Kinney and Harold Reynolds blabber at each other.
OK, no problem. I’ll just go to MLB. TV. But MLB.TV also did show the pre-game, joining the broadcast right before the first pitch.
So, we’d like to thank SFGiants.com show sharing video of the highlights of Friday’s pre-game activities as the Giants raised their 2012 World Series banner.
And it almost turned out like we called it.
MoreSplashHits posted 10 prime candidates to raise the flag on Friday.
Two of them did not participate, as we expected, because they were getting ready for the game: Pitcher Barry Zito, who was warming up in the bullpen, and catcher Buster Posey, who was catching Zito.
“It would have been nice, but I also like my routine,” Posey said of joining the pre-game festivities. “It’s a balance.”
Two other players we listed did not hoist the flag, but were given another honor. NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval got to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.
As for the flag itself, it was brought in via the bay on a San Francisco fire boat. After it was carried into the stadium, it was handed to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who walked it to the outfield wall, and passed it off to pitcher Matt Cain.
Cain carried the flag into the stands and to the flag pole, followed by five teammates — each of whom took turns in hoisting the flag up the pole:
Matt Cain — got it
Tim Lincecum — got it
Ryan Vogelsong — got it
Sergio Romo — got it
Hunter Pence — got it
Angel Pagan — DOH!!
OK, we didn’t get Pagan, but 9 out of 10 isn’t bad.
Actually, when I was compiling my list of candidates, I wanted to have five pitchers and five position players. After coming up with Pence, Scutaro, Posey and Sandoval, I needed one more.
I went with Blanco because he’s defensive plays in the postseason stuck out more in my mind. But I could have gone with several candidates like Brandon Crawford (for his defense) and Pagan.
Pagan was a solid choice for his contributions from the start of the season through the playoff run. And he just signed a four-game contract with the Giants last winter.
“This is about sharing the joy, sharing the accomplishment,” Pence said Hunter Pence. “That’s what we do it for. We do it for each other. We do it together.”
Good choices all the way around, and it was a great ceremony. Still, it would have been nice to see Buster in the mix.
“Aw, I had fun watching ’em,” Posey said of his teammates.
Don’t feel too bad for Buster. He’ll get his time in the spotlight Saturday when he’ll be presented his MVP trophy in a pre-game ceremony.
You remember the 2010 season when Buster Posey and the Braves’ Jason Heyward were hooked in a heated battle for the NL rookie-of-the-year award?
Posey went on to take the honor. In 2011, Heyward struggled through a sophomore slump, while Posey had his second season ended in May with a disastrous ankle injury.
In 2012, we all know Posey returned to start the All-Star game and went on to win the NL MVP. But Heyward wasn’t all that bad. He hit .265 with 27 home runs.
Well on Friday, when teams were scheduled to exchange arbitration numbers, Posey and Heyward both settled on one-year deals with their teams during their first go-round in arbitration.
Posey agreed to an $8 million deal. Heyward signed for $3.65 million.
It’s clear that Posey deserved to get more than Hayward. But more than twice as much? It makes you wonder how much Posey would have cost to sign this season if he didn’t miss most of the 2011 season.
MoreSplashHits projected Posey would get about $5.9 million in his first year. So the $8 million deal the Giants agreed to must have meant that Posey was prepared to ask for as much as $10 million in arbitration.
It also shows the need to get Posey signed to longer deal. He has three more years of arbitration after this year, meaning he could be looking at salaries of $12 million, $16 million and $20 million-plus in the coming years.
The Giants also agreed to contracts with reliever Jose Mijares and outfielder Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco.
Blanco signed for $1.35 million, which is just slightly higher than the $1.3 million figure MoreSplashHits projected.
Mijares signed for $1.8 million, again higher than the $1.6 million MoreSplashHits projected.
Pence agreed to $13.8 million, which was spot on with what MoreSplashHits projected.
The Giants haven’t gone all the way through the arbitration process with a player in several years, and it seems unlikely that they will allow any negotiation go to the arbitrators this year. Coming off a World Series championship that was won as much with team chemistry as talent, the Giants likely were willing to pay a little more to keep harmony in the clubhouse.
Friday’s deal leave the Giants with two unsigned arbitration-eligible players: reliever Sergio Romo (projected at $3.6 million) and infielder Joaquin Arias (projected at $800,00).
Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Giants (Lincecum) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
Game 5: Giants (Zito) at Cardinals (Lynn), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m. Monday
OK, it isn’t time to panic.
But it is time to become worried … at least about Hunter Pence.
Pence repeatedly missed opportunities to deliver in the clutch as his woeful postseason at the plate continued.
After going 4 for 20 (.200) with no RBI in the NLDS, he is now 1 for 11 with no RBI in the NLCS. That’s a whopping .161 for the postseason.
The Giants’ biggest scoring threat came in the top of the third when Angel Pagan singled and Marco Scutaro slapped a double down the right-field line, putting runners on second and third and nobody out.
Pablo Sandoval followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Pagan and sending Scutaro to third.
The Cardinals then intentionally walked Buster Posey. Then Pence came up and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the fifth with two outs, the Cardinals walked Posey again. Pence grounded out to short.
In the seventh, Pablo Sandoval hits a one-out liner off the wall in left, but only managed a single. That angered many Giants, but it didn’t really matter. Because if Sandoval had doubled, the Cardinals would have simply walked Posey again.
At least with Sandoval staying at first, Posey at least got a chance to swing the bat. He delivered a single to left, putting runners at first and second and one out.
This time, Pence struck out.
“I’m the goat tonight. I just didn’t get the job done,” Pence said.
Well, there were plenty of oats to go around the Giants’ lineup.
With runner at second and third and two out in the fourth, Angel Pagan flied out to center to end the inning. In the sixth, with two on and two out, Pagan grounded out to end the inning.
In the seventh, after Pence struck out, Brandon Belt struck out looking.
In the end, it was one run on nine hits and FIVE walks.
The hole in the lineup that is Pence is making it easy for teams to pitch around Posey, who is being followed in the lineup by a guy who strikes out swinging too much and then a who strikes out looking too much.
The guy who strikes out looking might find himself looking from the bench in Game 5.
Bruce Bochy said he would consider lineup changes for Game 5. Bay Area media members said that would likely include Hector Sanchez catching and Buster Posey at first base.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News suggested a lineup that would look like this:
CF Angel Pagan
LF Gregor Blanco
2B Marco Scutaro
1B Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Hector Sanchez
RF Hunter Pence
SS Brandon Crawford
I doubt we’ll see a lineup with Pence hitting seventh. It’s not Bochy’s style. But some kind of shakeup is needed right now.
Hunter Pence has been looking to contribute since joining the Giants late last month.
He got one Saturday with an RBI double. He got an even bigger one Sunday.
Pence hammered a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth, sending the Giants to a 9-6 win over the Rockies.
“There’s definitely times that you’re down, but I understand that the next at-bat everything can change,” Pence said. “I try to think of it as ‘Let it go and go out there and try to do everything you can to win. Whether you’re getting hits or not, play defense, and you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity.’ ”
The opportunity Sunday came in the eighth inning.
Trailing 6-4, the Giants loaded the bases with no one out. But Marco Scutaro’s fly to left was not deep enough to advance any of the runners.
The Giants made it 6-5 on an infield single by Melky Cabrera. Then Buster Pence made Rockies’ closer Rafael Betancourt work before lofting a 3-2 pitch to left field for a sacrifice to tie the game.
But with two on and two out, the Rockies were looking to get out of the inning tied 6-6. Then Pence smacked an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a 9-6 lead.
It was the first home run by a Giants player other than Buster Posey at AT&T Park since June 29.
And that called for a curtain call, even if it was a bit forced.
“Melky pushed me out there,” Pence said. “I didn’t even realize … it was pretty exciting. Those things don’t happen very often and is just kid of humbling.”
It’s hard to call a game this early in August as a must-win. But these are games the Giants need to win. When you’re playing a team like the Rockies, those are series they need to win.
It’s especially true with the NL-leading Washington Nationals coming to town on Monday.
Last season, in the midst of an offensive struggle, the Giants added a right fielder. This season, they did the same thing.
Last season, that newly acquired right fielder started by going 2 for 17 for the Giants. This season, the new right fielder did the same thing.
Last season, that right fielder got his first multi-hit game in his fifth game with the Giants. This season, the new right fielder did the same thing.
We hope that’s where the comparison ends.
On Sunday, Hunter Pence, acquired in a trade with the Phillies last week, went 2 for 5 with two doubles and three RBI in the Giants’ win over the Rockies.
Last season, it took Carlos Beltran 21 games before he got his first multi-extra base hit game, and 21 games before he got his first three-RBI game. It also took Beltran 11 games before the Giants won three games with him in the lineup.
Pence accomplished all those things in just his fifth game with the Giants.
It helped the Giants complete their first three-game sweep of a road series this season behind another solid outing from Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum labored through a 36-pitch first inning, but only allowed one run. He finished with a quality start, allowing just the one run on five hits and five walks (yech) in an 104-pitch outing.
The Giants scored 35 runs in the series. Angel Pagan went 0 for 4 with a walk Sunday to prevent the Giants from having every starting position player get at least one hit in each of three games.
Hopefully this series will allow the Giants hitters build enough confidence to help them when they move to St. Louis for a key four-game series. It’s a key series because these Rockies now head to Los Angeles for a series against the Dodgers.
The Giants’ three-game swept did not gain them any room between them and the Dodgers, who swept the Cubs at home. The Giants’ lead remains a half-game.
But the Giants are now 4-1 in Lincecum starts since the All-Star Break, after going 4-14 in his starts before the break. He has a 2.48 ERA since the break.
Now, it’s time to get Matt Cain some runs. The Giants lost in Cain’s last two starts, mostly a product of poor run support (nothing new for Cain). Cain will face Jake Westbrook on Monday in the opener in St. Louis.
When the Giants traded for Freddy Sanchez in 2009, MoreSplashHits was wary of trading away pitching prospect Tim Alderson.
But that deal worked out for the Giants, as Sanchez was a key member of the 2010 World Series title team, and Alderson has not amounted to much.
When the Giants traded for Carlos Beltran last year, MoreSplashHits was wary of trading away Zach Wheeler.
That deal did not work out for the Giants, as Beltran struggled, then got hurt, then got hot, but a bit too late to help the Giants make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Wheeler was just promoted to Triple-A for the Mets last week.
So when the Giants traded for Hunter Pence last week, MoreSplashHits was again wary. But it wasn’t because of the players the Giants gave up — OF Nate Schierholtz, C Tommy Joseph and P Seth Rosin.
Schierholtz was basically on his way out of San Francisco, basically request a trade. Schierholtz had been given the chance to win the starting right field job each of the past three seasons, but was unable to do so. We still think Schierholtz will be a good big-league outfielder, in the right lineup and in the right ballpark. But in San Francisco, he was going to be little than a good reserve outfielder.
Joseph was the center piece of the deal. He was the No. 4 prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball Prospectus.
But with Joseph a catcher, it was an area of strength of the Giants. Their best player is a catcher in Buster Posey. They also have a young backup in Hector Sanchez. And Andrew Susac, the No. 6 Giants prospect, is playing well at Class A San Jose.
Rosin, once on the Giants’ list of top-20 prospects, has faded in the past year or so to a marginal prospect.
So the concern wasn’t as much on what the Giants gave up to get Pence, but what the acquisition of Pence would mean to the organization going forward.
Pence is earning $10.4 million this season in his third year of arbitration. He will have one more year of arbitration, which will likely put his 2013 salary around $13-$14 million.
With Melky Cabrera expected to require a multi-year deal at a similar per-season salary, it left us to wonder whether the Giants could afford an 2013 outfield that consists of both Pence and Cabrera.
Giants GM Brian Sabean said there is room in the budget for both.
“It became apparent we were going to have flexibility this offseason,” Sabean said. “I’m sure everybody’s curious if we have enough room (to re-sign Cabrera) after Pence, and we do.”
Sabean also said he’d like to keep Pence beyond 2013.
Well, that’s encouraging. It’s also encouraging that the Giants brass was willing to take on a salary like Pence’s ($10.4 million) in exchange for Schierholtz ($1.3 million).
It may be a sign that the Giants are willing to enter 2013 with a payroll significantly above the current $130 million.
By MoreSplashHits’ calculations, the Giants would have about $25 million in 2013 to re-sign Cabrera, add another outfielder and a starting second baseman.
If they bring back Cabrera and Pence, that would cost in the neighborhood of $27 million for 2013.
That would leave the Giants with a budget of $132 million for 2013 and still in need of a second baseman, as it does not appear there is one ready to make the jump to the majors from within the system.
And they would need to find someone to play center field, as a payroll that includes Cabrera and Pence would almost certainly take Angel Pagan out of the mix. Pagan is set to make $7-$8 million a year in free agency last season. Plus, they wouldn’t want to block the path of top prospect Gary Brown, who after a slow start is playing well at Double-A Richmond. Brown is hitting .287 with a .349 OBP, seven HRs, 37 RBI and 64 runs.
But unless Brown is promoted to Triple-A very soon, it doesn’t seem likely that he will be an option to start in center in 2013 for the Giants. And Gregor Blanco’s struggles doesn’t really make him a strong candidate either.
So even if the Giants are able to bring Cabrera back, there are still questions lingering for 2013.
Here’s a closer look at the prospects the Giants recently dealt away:
- C Tommy Joseph, 21, was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arz. Joseph hit 16 HR, 68 RBI and .236 in 117 games in Class A Augusta in 2010. He hit 22 HR, 95 RBI and .270 in 127 games for Class A San Jose in 2011. This season for Double-A Richmond, he had 8 HR, 38 RBI and hit .260 in 80 games.
- P Seth Rosin is a 6-6, 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Giants out of Minnesota. Rosin went 2-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 89 innings for Class-A August in 2011, making 10 starts in 39 games. He was 2-1 with a 4.31 ERA in 34 games (five starts) for Class A San Jose this season. He struck out 68 in 56.1 innings with 18 walks.
- 2B Charlie Culberson (traded to Colorado for Marco Scutaro), 23, was drafted in the first round in the 2007 (51st overall, sandwich pick) out of Calhoun (Ga.) HS. The Giants had high hopes for Culberson. But his minor-league career peaked in 2010 for Class A San Jose when he hit .290 with 16 HR and 71 RBI. After hitting .259 with 10 HR and 56 RBI for Double-A Richmond last season, he hit .236 with 10 HR an 53 RBI in 91 games for Class A Fresno this season. He had a brief spell with the Giants in May when Ryan Theriot went on the DL. But he was 3 for 22 (.136) with 7 Ks and one RBI in six games.