Series 33 Preview: Cubs at Giants

Posey

Giants catcher and reigning NL MVP Buster Posey is having another stellar season. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/GettyImages)

World Series champions two of the last three seasons, the Giants are in a tailspin this year. They’re 17-30 since June 1, when they were 29-25, and now sit seven games back of the surging, first-place Dodgers. Even worse is that they’ve been getting blown out more and more in the month of July, as their starting pitching has been an utter disaster except for Madison Bumgarner (and Chad Gaudin’s eight starts). The Giants offense has rarely been able to carry the team, but this year they are outplaying the pitching staff. Unfortunately for them, it hasn’t been enough. That said, they’ve been much better at home, where their mound mistakes can be covered by both a spacious outfield and fielders who can roam it effectively.

HITTING: 3.9 Runs Scored/Game (10th in NL)
Catcher Buster Posey, the reigning NL MVP, is just a slight tick off last year’s pace, but he’s still a one-man wrecking crew. If not for Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina, Posey would easily be the best at the position. Only Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt and right fielder Hunter Pence have double-digit home runs this year. Still, when you take into account their spacious home ballpark, the Giants feature some well-rounded position players. Second baseman Marco Scutaro, 37, has extended his career since being traded to San Francisco, and he pairs an average glove with an all-fields contact bat. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, 26, looks more capable with the stick each year, though his calling card is some of the best range and glove work in the game today. And, when healthy, third baseman Pablo Sandoval still brings average-to-better work at the plate and in the field.  The Giants carry three switch-hitters (Sandoval, Tony Abreu and Andres Torres) and three left-handed hitters (Blanco, Belt and Crawford), so manager Bruce Bochy has options aplenty to load up on the platoon advantage.

PITCHING: 4.5 Runs Allowed/Game (13th in NL)
The Cubs will face what was formerly known as San Francisco’s top three—but is now a top one and two shells of greatness. After six straight seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA (and four of the last five below 3.00), Matt Cain takes the hill tonight with an ERA sitting squarely at 5.00. What was a consistent ability to use his fastball up in the zone to induce lazy pop-ups has become a concerning tendency to leave hittable pitches over the plate. Manager Bruce Bochy has limited Cain’s usage of late (2.1, 0.2 and 5.0 IP over his last three starts) and thrown out a vague sense of “precaution.” What we do know is that Cain is using his fastball less and his slider more than ever, to the diminishing effectiveness of both. Bumgarner starts Saturday’s game, and the young lefty is pitching as well as ever. He has a career-best 2.93 ERA, .193 batting average against, and 25 percent strikeout rate, easily making up for an uptick in walks (to a still below average 7.1 percent). Cubs hitters have a tough assignment against Bumgarner. Righties will have to guard against cutters and sliders inside, while protecting against soft stuff away. Lefties will see fastballs located in all quadrants but will have to stay back on breaking pitches. And Bumgarner often pitches backward. Then there’s Tim Lincecum, coming off a 148-pitch no-hitter followed by an eight-run, 3.2-inning start. After five straight stellar seasons to start his career—including two Cy Young Awards—the diminutive righty is in the midst of his second subpar season in a row. There’s a good chance the Cubs will see plenty of the eight-man bullpen, a good-but-overworked squad capped by closer Sergio Romo and his physics-defying slider.

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