From 1997 to 2004, the San Francisco Giants finished first or second in the NL West eight years in a row, thrice winning the division and once making the World Series as the Wild Card team. In 2005, Barry Bonds' knee gave out on him, limiting him to 14 September games. Since then, the Giants have been a sub-.500 also ran. Always an old team, the Giants of the last three years have been downright ancient. When Barry Bonds joined the Giants in 1993 at the age of 28, the average Giants hitter was also 28 years old. Since then, the Giants hitters have steadily aged with Bonds. Last year, the average San Francisco hitter was 33.5 years old. This year they've shaved a few moths off that average age by doing things such as replacing the 41-year-old Steve Finley and the 39-year-old Moises Alou with 35-year-olds Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia.
The creaky Giants ran off eight-straight wins in late April to slip into a first-place tie in the West, but the geezers ran out of gas there. They've been 18-33 since, are 5-14 in June, and have lost seven in a row coming into this weekend's series against the Yankees. During that slide they've scored an average of 3.14 runs per game and allowed an average of 6.43. Overall, the Gians have one of the four worst offenses in baseball, ahead of only the Pirates, Nationals, and White Sox. Omar Vizquel looks to finally be finished at 40, those 35-year-olds have been nearly as bad (though Roberts can still run, stealing 11 of 12, and Aurilia's on the DL, yielding first base to a resurgent 36-year-old Ryan Klesko). Worst of all, Barry Bonds, who's up to his old tricks, is being protected in the lineup by Bengie Molina. Seriously. No surprise then that Bonds already has 70 walks, 26 of them intentional.
I should say, Bonds was up to his old tricks. This particular geezer's been a bit winded himself, hitting just three homers in his last 36 games, batting .240 and slugging just .385 over that span. For those not keeping track, he's seven homers shy of Hank Aaron's career record. At that pace, he'll barely make it this season.
Things are a bit brighter on the pitching side of the ledger as long as you don't look too closely. Twenty-two-year-old Matt Cain, who starts tonight, leads the team in ERA and is fifth in the NL in least hits allowed per nine innings. He's also second in the league in most walks allowed and is getting a little help from a low BABIP (.257). Matt Morris has rediscovered his 20-game winning form in his second season in San Francisco, or seems to have until you notice that his strike out rate is continuing it's now six-year decline and his K/BB ratio is a dismal 1.55. Barry Zito is proving all his doubters right by echoing Morris's strikeout rate issues. Similar afflictions have struck Noah Lowry, who lost 2 2/3 K/9 last year and has gained more than a walk per nine innings this year. Top prospect Tim Lincecum is another issue altogether, as the existence of major league game film on the rookie and some wildness issues appear to have torpedoed what had been a sensational start to his career. The Yankees won't see him this weekend, which is unfortunate both because he's been ineffective and because his delivery is an exciting thing to watch.
In the bullpen, the Giants cut bait on Armando Benitez, sending him to Florida for Randy Messenger and installing another strikeout-challenged starter, Brad Hennessey, as the closer. Set-up men Vinnie Chulk, who came over in the Shea Hillenbrand trade last year, and Kevin Correia, another converted starter, have been solid, but the pen's trio of lefties have been less reliable. Veteran Steve Kline, for example, has struck out just five men in 19 innings thus far.
What is it about Corporation Ballpark that suppresses strikeouts anyway? The Giants hitters don't really strikeout that much either. Only two NL teams have fewer batter strikeouts and only four have fewer pitcher strikeouts. That's bad news for Kei Igawa, who will be making his return to the rotation tonight. Ks are a big part of Kei's game, as he struck out 21 in his last 20 innings after sorting out his mechanics in Scranton. The good news for the lefty Igawa is that the Giants have only two righties in their everyday lineup and of their three switch hitters, Ray Durham and Randy Winn are much weaker from the right side and Vizquel isn't hitting under any circumstances. Once again, here's Igawa's line over his last three starts in Scranton:
20 IP, 15 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 21 K, 1.05 WHIP, 1.80 ERA
Let's hope that translates back to the majors. If Igawa can keep the fifth spot in the rotation warm for Phil Hughes, the Yankees will not only have a better shot of climbing into the Wild Card race, but they'll be able to be more cautious with Hughes coming off his severe ankle sprain, which is crucial to protecting his arm from a cascade injury caused by his adjusting his mechanics to protect his ankle.
Manager: Bruce Bochy General Manager: Brian Sabean
Home Ballpark (2006 Park Factors): [Your Name Here] Park (100/100)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Dave Roberts replaces Steve Finley
Rich Aurilia replaces Moises Alou
Ryan Klesko replaces Shea Hillenbrand
Nate Schierholtz replaces Fred Lewis (DL) who replaces Lance Niekro
Bengie Molina replaces Mike Matheny and Todd Greene and some Eliezer Alfonzo
Guillermo Rodriguez replaces the rest of Eliezer Alfonzo (DL)
Luis Figueroa replaces Jose Vizcaino
Barry Zito replaces Jason Schmidt
Tim Lincecum replaces Jamey Wright
Randy Messenger replaces Armando Benitez on the roster while Brad Hennessey replaces him as closer
Vinnie Chulk replaces Jeremy Accardo
Jack Taschner replaces Mike Stanton
1B Ryan Klesko (L)
2B Ray Durham (S)
SS Omar Vizquel (S)
3B Pedro Feliz (R)
C Bengie Molina (R)
RF Randy Winn (S)
CF Dave Roberts (L)
LF Barry Bonds (L)
L - Mark Sweeney (1B)
R - Kevin Fransden (IF)
L - Nate Schierholtz (OF)
S - Luis Figueroa (IF)
R - Guillermo Rodriguez (C)
L - Barry Zito
R - Matt Cain
R - Matt Morris
L - Noah Lowry
R - Tim Lincecum
R - Brad Hennessey
R - Kevin Correia
R - Vinnie Chulk
L - Jack Taschner
R - Randy Messenger
L - Steve Kline
L - Jonathan Sanchez
15-day DL: R - Rich Aurilia (UT), L - Fred Lewis (OF), R - Russ Ortiz
60-day DL: R - Eliezer Alfonzo (C)
L - Dave Roberts (CF)
S - Randy Winn (RF)
S - Ray Durham (3B)
L - Barry Bonds (LF)
R - Bengie Molina (C)
L - Ryan Klesko (1B)
R - Pedro Feliz (3B)
S - Omar Vizquel (SS)