Every MLB team seems to have two or three regular season series that end up defining their season. Those games can happen early in a season or during the final week; they can be played against really good teams or teams going nowhere.
In reality, these season-defining match-ups are almost always clearly identified only after the season ends. Of course that doesn't stop the endless declarations that dozens of Giant series and games are "critically important" throughout the season.
Broadcasters are paid to hype every series ("they're all critical…") and fans tend to focus on certain teams– has there ever been a Dodgers series that Giant fans didn't feel was extremely important?
But I think the importance of these kinds of games and series are really about the state of your team. What's happening with the roster, is the team climbing, wallowing, or falling in the standings. Are expectations being met or are systemic failures beginning to pile up.
For the San Francisco Giants I think this weekend's three game series with the Colorado Rockies could be one of the most important series of the first half of the season for a number of reasons strictly about the Giants:
> the Giants just lost starter Ryan Vogelsong for the equivalent of half a season;
> they seem to be stuck in a first place mudpile with Arizona and Colorado and can't create any separation;
> reliever Santiago Casilla just went on the DL and the Giants' bullpen is not the same without him;
> the jury is still out on just what Tim Lincecum is bringing to the table this year, and this is also a demonstration year for Barry Zito, who faces a potential team buyout option after October.
On the positive side, the Giants are second in the Majors in home wins at 17-8 (the Pirates have won 18 home games), and Colorado pitchers have often seen their ERAs inflate by the inning when taking the mound at AT&T Park. Add to that Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence are simply smacking the bejesus out of the ball.
Lincecum and Zito will pitch, respectively, tonight and Saturday with Matt Cain throwing the finale on Sunday. Three starters with a lot on the line and a team with significant injury issues.
In the middle of it all, an excellent opportunity to pull out the defibrillator paddles and jump some much-needed life into this 2013 season.
Note: I will add brief analysis and comments here after each of the Colorado games this weekend.
Game 1 – SFG vs COL Friday 5/24/13 – COL 5 SFG 0
10:40PM Three things defined this lackluster performance by the Giants:
1. Tim Lincecum gave up 4 earned runs in 7 innings, giving his pitches too much of the plate at times. That's a 5.14 ERA, so forget the 8 strikeouts because they really didn't matter in this game.
2. Colorado had 3 RBIs with 2 out; the Giants went 0-4 with runners in scoring position (RISP).
3. Giants' left fielder Gregor Blanco went 1 for 4 (a single with 2 out in the 2nd inning).
Left field has to be a run-producing position for San Francisco and it has not been all year long. Blanco and Andres Torres are killing the offense.
Whenever your left fielder is batting 7th in the line-up (strike 1), and his one hit is a single (strike 2), with none on and two outs (strike 3) = the offense is fractured.
On competitive MLB teams, the left fielder is batting 3-4-5 in the line-up and the offense doesn't come to a stop after the #6 hitter. Like it does with the Giants.
Game 2 – SFG vs COL Saturday 5/25/13 – SFG 6 COL 5
4:54PM Angel Pagan wins the game in the 10th inning with a 2 run inside the park walk-off home run! The first in 82 years by a Giants player!
But– yet another game with blown umpire calls which should have been subject to replay review and could have cost San Francisco the game. Major League Baseball cannot get comprehensive replay protocols in place fast enough.
Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez blew two critical calls: he called Brandon Belt out at home plate in the 7th inning when replays clearly showed Belt's foot hit the plate before Colorado catcher Yorvit Torrealba tagged him.
Then, amazingly, umpire Marquez was up the line at third base in the 8th inning to call Marco Scutaro out on a tag play– only Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado clearly missed Scutaro who was actually safe at third base. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy raced out of the dugout to protest and Marquez somewhat reluctantly tossed Bochy– probably because he knew he had blown the call at third.
After being shut out the night before, the Giants put five innings of zeros on the board before they exploded for three runs in the 6th. Andres Torres doubled home the tying run in the bottom of the 7th to make the score 4-4, which brings up my ongoing criticism of the Blanco/Torres platoon in left field.
Sorry, anecdotal performance has nothing to do with comprehensive player evaluation. Torres has a .669 OPS and has never been a defensive standout– and at 35 he is getting worse by the month. Thanks to Angel Pagan both the poor umpiring and the Giants' continuing lack of a consistent offense was erased. At least for this game.
Barry Zito pitched a solid 6 innings and gave up 4 runs. More and more, I think the Giants will exercise their option on him for 2014– and the team may simply work out a new three year contract for Zito.
Game 3 – SFG vs COL Sunday 5/26/13 – SFG 7 COL 3
9:38AM Mon Giants come back big to take 2 out of 3 in the series.
Matt Cain held on by a thread, throwing 107 pitches in 5 innings before he was pulled. At the time the score was tied 2-2.
In the bottom of the 5th with two out Brandon Belt smacked a two run double, then Andres Torres knocked in Belt with a double. Hunter Pence plated two more runs with a double in the bottom of the 6th inning.
Belt and Pence went 3 for 6 in this game with 4 RBI, 3 RS, and Belt also walked twice. Getting this kind of production from the 5th and 6th spots in the line-up takes the pressure off 3/4 hitters Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey (and Posey went 2 for 4 with a home run).
The Giants continue to make "come-backs" an integral part of their game. They fought back after being down four runs after the 4th inning on Saturday, they came back Sunday after being down 2-0 after the 1st inning, and they came back to take two games in a row after losing the Friday opener.
Now it's on to two very tough series: four games with the Oakland A's and a three games next weekend with the St. Louis Cardinals.
This weekend's test was to take at least 2 of 3 from a second-tier team and start to build some dominence at the 50 game mark of the 2013 season. The coming week is about keeping the momentum going against two very good teams.