Tagged: St. Louis Cardinals

Barry Zito rescues the San Francisco Giants ….. again?

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Cardinals 8, Giants 3
Game 5: Giants 5, Cardinals 0
Game 6: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 4:45 p.m. Sunday
Game 7 (if necessary): Cardinals (Lohse) at Giants (Cain), 5:07 p.m. Monday

I didn’t blog after the Giants’ 8-3 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday — not entirely because I was depressed. I was actually busy with other things.

But if I had found the time to blog, this is what I was planning to write.

All hope was not lost, not even with the fact the Giants were behind 3-1 in the National League Championship series, needing once  again to win three consecutive games to advance.

And not because Barry Zito was pitching.

Jayson Stark of ESPN said Wednesday that Game 3 was the game the Giants NEEDED to win, because Matt Cain was on the mound. After Cain came the enigmatic Tim Lincecum (he was right about that one) and then the equally puzzling Barry Zito.

But as someone who has blogged about the Giants all season, I kept thinking back to similar feelings I had about upcoming Zito starts this season.

The situation was this: the Giants were coming off a loss — sometimes a couple of losses — and, oh great, now Zito is pitching.

Then Zito turns in a pearl.

Seven of Zito’s 15 wins this season — that’s almost half — have come on days that followed a Giants’ loss.

It started with  his first win of the season way back on April 9. You remember? Zito was gawd-awful in the spring, stayed in Arizona to “work on some things,” the Giants drop their first three games to the Diamondbacks, then they get Zito pitching in Colorado.

And what did he do? He pitched a shutout, being the Rockies 8-0.

He would do it six more times following a Giants’ loss, including two more when he didn’t allow the opponent to score:

  • June 25 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 8-0
  • July 6 at Pirates, Giants win 6-5
  • August 7 at Cardinals, Giants win 4-2
  • September 9 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 4-0
  • October 2 at Dodgers, Giants win 4-3

Well, Zito did it again on Friday, when the stakes were far higher than they had ever been previously.

He held the Cardinals to no runs on six hits and one walk (which was an intentional walk) while striking out six in 7 2/3 innings, sending the Giants back to San Francisco with the hopes of a pennant still alive.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us.”

Afterwards, Zito knew what the victory meant to him and his team.

“This is definitely it for me,” Zito said. “Coming here, really doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about my A’s days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now.”

And as they have so often this season, the Giants did something for Zito. They got him some runs.

For the second time in this NLCS, the Giants went hitless against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn the first time through the lineup.

And for the second time in this NLCS, they jumped on him for a four-run fourth inning.

Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened the inning with singles before Buster Posey struck out. Hunter Pence hit a high chopper back to Lynn, who fielded the ball, spun and threw to second. But the ball was low, shortstop Pete Kozma was late in covering, and the ball bounced off the bag and into the outfield, allowing Scutaro to score the game’s first run.

After Brandon Belt popped out — failing to get a runner home from third with less than two out — Gregor Blanco walked. Then Brandon Crawford delivered in the clutch again, as he has before this postseason, smacking a single up the middle to score Sandoval and Pence.

Then Zito made the offensive play of the night for the Giants. After falling behind in the count, he saw David Freese playing deep at third and punched a bunt up the third base line, then hustling down to first for an infield single that scored Blanco with the fourth run.

The play stunned the Cardinals, and even some Giants, too.

“Shocked,” third-base coach Tim Flannery said. “We work on it. We talk about it. But he did that all on his own. It was beautiful – brilliant.”

Said Blanco: “I was thinking, maybe, ball in the dirt, I’ve got to be ready. But I wasn’t expecting that. It was awesome, unbelievable. That’s what I told him: ‘Awesome! Awesome! You’ve got to do it again!’ ”

It wasn’t all Zito after that. Pablo Sandoval added another home run, and the Giants’ defense behind Zito was superb.

But the bottom line is that for the 13th consecutive game that Zito has started, the Giants came away winners.

Incredible. Amazing. Unbelievable.

Now the Giants return home where they will throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6, and hopefully Matt Cain in Game 7.

And here’s another amazing thought. If the Giants can pull off another comeback and advance to the World Series, who do you think might get the call at AT&T Park next Wednesday against the Tigers?

Could it be Barry Zito?

Oh, and the last time Zito faced the Tigers, he delivered his only scoreless start of the 2011 season, pitching six scoreless in Detroit on July 2, 2011.

And the Giants scored runs for him, winning 15-3.

NLCS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals 3, San Francisco Giants 1

BOX SCORE

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
x-if necessary

OK, it isn’t time to panic.

But it is time to become worried … at least about Hunter Pence.

At least Hunter Pence’s defense has been good in the postseason (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

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.

Matt Holliday-Marco Scutaro fallout: At what point will MLB place player safety above machismo?

San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro grimaces as his leg is caught under a sliding St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday on a double play attempt during the first inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League championship series Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it an illegal play.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called the play “hard, but within the rules.”

So who’s right? Well, opinions varied Tuesday, a day after the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday injured Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro in an effort to break up a double play in Monday’s Game 2 of the National League championship series.

Scutaro was diagnosed with a strained hip, but expects to play Wednesday in Game 3. So that’s the good news.

Wording of some MLB rules are often vague and open to interpretation. And that’s why opinions on plays like the one Monday are so varied.

In Rule 6.05 (m), pertaining to a batter is out when …

“A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.”

Seems pretty clear there. And applied to this play, Holliday and batter Allen Craig should have been ruled out, which would have been little consolation for an injured Scutaro. However, if this rule had been enforced in the past, and fines and suspensions were attached to blatant violators, then that would deter runners from doing what Holliday did.

However, it’s the comment on this rule that opens it up to interpretation.

“The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.”

Some interpret “by .. leaving the baseline” to mean that as long as the runner is in the baseline that anything he does there is fair game.

But others would look at “obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man … rather than trying to reach the base” and see that clearly Holliday’s intent was to contact Scutaro and not the base, as he didn’t contact Scutaro until after he passed the base.

This is the issue Billy Ripken took with the play on MLB Network. Ripken said he had no problems with contact on plays that occur in the baseline between first and second base. But Ripken pointed out that Scutaro positioned himself on the far end of the bag for protection, knowing that Holliday would have to slide over the bag to get to him. Holliday solved this problem by not starting his slide (i.e. hitting the ground) until after he passed the bag, and Scutaro got no relief from the umpires.

But another veteran infielder on MLB Network, Larry Bowa, didn’t understand the hub-bub over the play, saying it was just a baseball play. He added that’s the way the game has been played for years. Bowa said “we could put skirts on these guys” showing how old he is and how out-of-date his thinking is.

Baseball is by nature a non-contact sport, and it should be played that way. Any contact should be incidental.

Fans don’t go to the game to see players crash into each other. They go to football games for that.

They go to see players play, and MLB needs to make sure it can do all it can to make sure that happens.

The simple solution is to follow high school rules on sliding into a bag.

High school rules defines that a legal slide “can be either feet first or head first. If a runner slides feet first, at least one leg and buttock shall be on the ground. If a runner slides, he must slide within reach of the base with either a hand or a foot.”

And an illegal slide occurs “when a runner uses a rolling, cross-body or pop-up slide into the fielder; the runner’s raised leg is higher than the fielder’s knee when the fielder is in a standing position; the runner goes beyond the base and makes contact with or alters the play of the fielder; the runner slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg; or the runner tries to injure the infielder.”

Now that’s clear and not open to discussion. An illegal slide equals interference. If the rule is blatantly broken, ejections, fines and suspensions will ensue.

Problem solved, and it allows the best players decide which teams should advance in the postseason.

NLCS Game 2: San Francisco Giants 7, St. Louis Cardinals 1

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws during the second inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Giants (Cain) at Cardinals (Lohse), 1:07 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4: Giants (Lincecum or Zito) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
Game 5: Giants (Lincecum or 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

Ryan Vogelsong stopped the streak. Several streaks in fact.

And in doing so he kept another streak going.

The first streak that ended was the Giants’ three-game losing streak at home in the postseason, and that evened the NLCS at one game each.

He helped end Chris Carpenter’s streak of winning his last five postseason decisions.

And by pitching seven solid innings, he became the first Giants starter to post a quality start in the postseason.

Of course, Vogelsong could have ended that last streak in his last start had the Giants managed any early hitting in Game 3 of the NLDS. Vogelsong gave up one run in five innings against the Reds, when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter when the Giants were being no-hit by Homer Bailey.

And that was the positive streak he extended Monday. Monday’s start was the fifth consecutive start that Vogelsong has allowed one run or fewer. Take a look:

  • Sept. 21 vs. Padres: 6 IP, 1 ER, 5 hits
  • Sept. 28 at Padres: 6 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 hits
  • Oct. 3 at Dodgers: 5 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 hits
  • Oct. 9 at Reds: 5 IP, 1 ER, 3 hits
  • Oct. 15 vs. Cardinals: 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 hits

And this after a seven-start stretch in August and September in which he posted on ERA over 10.00.

Angel Pagan gave the Giants the early lead with his second lead-off home run of the postseason.

After the Cardinals tied the game 1-1, the Giants took control with their second four-run fourth inning in two days.

Brandon Belt, who struggled in the NLDS, came up with a big double in the fourth, and moved to third on Gregor Blanco’s single. When Chris Carpenter made an error on Brandon Crawford’s chopper, Belt scored to make it 2-1.

After a walk to Pagan, Marco Scutaro, who was hurt by a late slide by Matt Holliday in the first, delivered a two-run single and a third run scored when Holliday booted the ball in the outfield.

The Giants added to more runs in the eighth when Ryan Theriot, who replaced the injured Scutaro in the sixth, delivered a bases-loaded single.

Scutaro had X-rays after the game, which came back clean. Then he went to the hospital for an MRI.

But the Giants got the win they needed. They need to win at least one in St. Louis to bring the series back to San Francisco. And who would pitch in that potential Game 6 in SF?

Ryan Vogelsong.

NLCS Game 1: St. Louis Cardinals 6, San Francisco Giants 4

San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti (33) visits starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) on the mound along with catcher Buster Posey (28) during Game 1 of the National League baseball championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Jose Luis Villegas) MAGS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40); MANDATORY CREDIT

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 5:07 p.m. Monday
Game 3: Giants (Cain) at Cardinals (Lohse), 1:07 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4: Giants (TBA) at Cardinals (TBA), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
x-Game 5: Giants (TBA) at Cardinals (TBA), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22

Normally, it’s the visiting team that comes into the best-of-seven series looking to at least split the first two games.

But if you had asked any Giants fan heading into the 2012 NLCS, they would have gladly taken a split.

Now, the Giants almost need that split.

Things started badly for the Giants Sunday, got a little better, but ended with a 6-4 loss to the Cardinals in the Giants’ third consecutive home postseason loss at AT&T Park.

And the overriding question after the loss was: What is wrong with Madison Bumgarner.

A pitcher who was so key during the Giants’ 2010 World Series run has been in a major funk this postseason.

It continued Sunday, as MadBum was tagged for six runs on eight hits, one walk in 3 2/3 innings.

Things started off well for Bumgarner as he set the Cardinals down in order in the first on two groundouts and a line out to left.

“He came out with good stuff, but it dropped a little bit,” manager Bruce Bochy said.

But in the second, Bumgarner got stung again by the long ball, something the Giants’ had hoped to avoid by having Bumgarner start at home.

David Freese’s two-run shot to left gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

In the fourth it got worse. Daniel Descalso raked a double down the line in right. Pete Kozma followed with a double down the left field line and it was 3-0 Cardinals. After striking out pitcher Lance Lynn, Jon Jay singled home Kozma. Then Carlos Beltran’s two-run homer to left ended Bumgarner’s night.

“I think (he’s) just struggling with command,” catcher Buster Posey said. “Breaking balls not getting buried in. It doesn’t have quite the same finish on it. I’d say that’s the main thing.”

More troubling was the radar gun on Bumgarner, which Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News reported at being around 88-89 mph in the fourth inning, lower than the 91-93 mph we are used to seeing from Bumgarner.

“That’s the way it’s been the past two starts,” Bumgarner said. “Not a whole lot of life on the ball. At the same time, you’ve still got to find a way to make pitches.”

Well, it’s been more than the last two starts in the postseason. It actually dates back to August.

Bumgarner had a string of eight consecutive quality starts from July 13-Aug. 20, culminating with eight shutout innings (four hits, 10 Ks) at Los Angeles.

Since then, he has only had one quality start — Sept. 17 at home against the Rockies, when he gave up one run on four hits in six innings. However, in that game, he walked a season-high five batters. In his other regular-season starts, he’s given up 3 to 5 runs in between 4.0-6.1 innings per start.

And you’ll recall the Giants didn’t exactly finish the season against powerhouse lineups: Cubs, Rockies twice, Padres twice.

In the postseason, he gave four runs on seven hits in four innings vs. the Reds. And then Sunday’s start.

In his last four starts, he’s given up six home runs — in pitcher friendly ballparks (3 starts at AT&T, one in Petco).

So what does this mean for Game 5?

“We’ll talk about it tonight, tomorrow, and as we get to Game 5 what we will do,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But, he’s one of our guys. He’s had a great year, and we’ve seen what this kid has done for us during the season and in the postseason. But, it’s something that we’ll discuss.”

Depending on what happens Monday with Vogelsong, it looks as if Barry Zito might get the call.

For what it’s worth, Zito gave up two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings in his only start in St. Louis this season on Aug. 7.

St. Louis Cardinals 3, San Francisco Giants 1: Like you didn’t see that coming

BOX SCORE

One day after scoring 15 runs, the Giants only managed one Thursday in the series finale against the Cardinals.

You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that.

As we mentioned Wednesday, a win Thursday would have been icing on the cake.

  • The Giants still leave St. Louis with a split
  • They leave with a 5-2 road trip.
  • They leave with a 9-4 record on their last two road trips.
  • They leave with a one-game lead in the NL West.

But there were some unsettling stats from Thursday’s game.

The Giants out-hit the Cardinals 5-4. They also drew four walks to one by St. Louis.

The difference was this: Three of the Cardinals’ four hits were extra-base hits. Two contributed to runs: Carlos Beltran’s two-run home run in the first and Jon Jay’s double in the sixth.

Meanwhile, all of the Giants’ hits were singles.

Hunter Pence went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

If you’re looking for a positive as the Giants’ travel home, we’ll offer you this:

The Giants bullpen, which had its struggles recently, finished the series with 7 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

San Francisco Giants 15, St. Louis Cardinals 0: A perfect night in Missouri

BOX SCORE

The next time the Giants are struggling to score runs — which could easily come Thursday — and fans start to complain, they can remember August 8 in St. Louis.

The next time Giants fans complain that the Giants can just win games easily, they can remember August 8.

The next time fans complain the Giants don’t give Ryan Vogelsong enough run support, they can remember August 8.

And hopefully, some time in October when the Giants in the postseason, they can look back on August 8 as a turning point.

The Giants got a win they needed to get Wednesday. Oddly enough, on a night when they only needed one run, they got 15.

Too bad there’s not run equity or aggregate scores don’t count for anything.

The Giants needed to come into St. Louis and earn a split. They’ve assured themselves of at least doing that.

It will enable the Giants to return home on Friday with the lead in the NL West, either one game over the Dodgers or two.

As Mike Krukow said Wednesday, if the Giants lose Thursday, it will have been a good road trip. If they win, it will be a great one.

On the heels of an ugly 3-7 homestead, the Giants have turned the tables with a road trip that will be at worst a 5-2 one, at best 6-1.

And there were plenty of highlights to go around:

Marco Scutaro was the star of the box score, with his seven RBI. But six of those RBI, including his grand slam, came in the eighth and ninth innings, when the game was well in hand. The biggest RBI was his first, when he singled home Angel Pagan in the first inning. It marked the fifth time on this road trip that the Giants have scored in the first inning. They won all of those games.

Hunter Pence went 2 for 5 with a pair of RBI singles.

Buster Posey kept it up, going 1 for 2 with three walks. If teams are going to continue to pitch around Posey, Pence’s contributions will become even bigger.

Angel Pagan got things going atop the lineup, going 1 for 3 with two walks.

Brandon Belt continued his solid hitting, going 2 for 5. Melky Cabrera and Brandon Crawford also had two hits each.

But the star of the game was Ryan Vogelsong. He earned his 10th win of the season by limiting the Cardinals to no runs on three hits and three walks in seven innings. He left after 97 pitches and could have thrown more. But with the Giants up 10-0 in the top of the eighth, what was the point.

He lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.27. It was the kind of outing that makes you glad the Giants signed Vogelsong to a two-year deal prior to this season. It makes you feel even better that they added a team option for 2014.

Madison Bumgarner takes the mound Thursday afternoon against Adam Wainwright. If the Giants win, they’ll be sitting pretty with a two-game lead heading into the weekend series against the Rockies.

But even a one-game lead feels pretty good right now.