All-Star RF redo: Vote CarGo

May 31, 2012

            Alright, scratch Matt Kemp. It looks as though the Dodgers star is headed back to the disabled list after re-aggravating his hamstring last night against Milwaukee.

            After last night, it seems like Carlos Gonzalez wants it more anyhow. While all eyes were on Seattle’s 21-8 win over Texas, Gonzalez was making headlines of his own in Colorado. The Rockies slugger hammered three home runs en route to a 4-for-5 night, improving his season average to .323 while vaulting into third place in the NL with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs, respectively.

            It’s hard to believe Gonzalez has never appeared in an All-Star game. Sure he’s still just 26. But in 2010 he took a shot at an NL triple crown while pacing the league with a .336 average. And while he finished third in the MVP race behind Joey Votto and Albert Pujols that season, it was widely theorized that Gonzalez would have won the award if not for a remarkable year from his teammate Troy Tulowitzki, which essentially split the Colorado vote.            

            What’s even harder to believe, especially for A’s fans, is how Gonzalez ended up in Colorado in the first place. The technical answer is he was traded by Oakland for Matt Holliday. The more accurate account, though, is he was part of one of the most prolific (if not strange and disastrous) parlays in Billy Beane’s tenure as general manager of the A’s.

            Gonzalez was initially something of a steal for Oakland, when he was acquired prior to the 2008 season along with pitcher Brett Anderson for ace right-hander Dan Haren. The trade was a no-brainer for Oakland, with Haren on the verge of a salary spike. But, that argument went out the window the following year when Beane rolled over Gonzalez into a package deal with the Rockies for high-priced slugger Matt Holliday.

            As it stands, three former A’s outfielders – Gonzalez, Holliday, and NL RBI leader Andre Ethier – are serious contenders to make the NL All-Star team.

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Delfino paces Cal in 2012

May 31, 2012

            Generally, if you’re wearing No. 44 on your back, they expect you to hit. So it comes as no surprise that Cal junior Mitch Delfino emerged as the Golden Bears’ top hitter this season.

            Delfino spent two seasons carving a niche as Cal’s starting third baseman. In a part-time role as a freshman in 2010 he hit .315, before hitting .260 last year while anchoring the hot corner amid Cal’s Cinderella run to Omaha.

            This season, though, the 6-foot-3 junior earned a regular spot in the middle of Cal’s batting order. The right-handed hitting slugger paced the Golden Bears with a .355 batting average and a .485 slugging percentage.        

            “I could always see his offensive upside,” Cal All-American second baseman Tony Renda said. “He’s a big kid. He’s strong. I could see it. I was like: ‘It’s gonna click for him some day. He’s going to get it, and when he does, look out, he’s going to be really good.’ And it just so happened it clicked this year.”

            Delfino was a highly touted shortstop prospect out of Cloverdale H.S. His three-year varsity career culminated in a USA Today second team All-American nod in 2009, while hiting for a .591 average.

            “I’ve always hit well average-wise and had decent power,” Delfino said. “I’ve never felt that anyone could get me out, which obviously is not always the case. But I’ve always been pretty comfortable at the plate.”

            As a two-way prep player, Delfino posted a 7-2 record on the mound, though he finished his prep career with a heartbreaking complete-game loss – a 1-0 playoff loss to Berean Christian that ended Cloverdale’s season.

            Upon his arrival at Cal, Defino made a seamless transition to the hot corner. And although Renda earned the starting nod at third to start the year, his defensive struggled opened the door for Delfino. He’s been a fixture there ever since. But, it wasn’t until this season that a lot of work in the cages began paying off. With the help of Cal hitting coach Tony Arnerich, Delfino deconstructed his swing before his freshman year. Working with Arnerich was a revelation to Delfino, who had never worked with a hitting coach previous to Cal.

            “I definitely had to work at it. I think I’ve gone through seven or eight different batting stances since I’ve been here,” Delfino said. “It’s all about trying to get my swing as quick as I can to the ball. Sometimes I tend to get a little long. So, a lot of off-day Monday work with Tony Arnerich.”

            The first alteration his freshman season was lowing his hands to create a shorter path to the ball. As Delfino grew into the Division-I game, and into the new BBCOR bats which force hitters to generate their own power, he built his was back to a high-hands set, which fueled his insurgence this season.

            “This year I’ve stayed with the same stance all year, and felt comfortable with it,” Delfino said. “We found something that worked and stuck with it.”

            Delfino’s performance was a silver lining on an otherwise disappointing season for Cal. Despite entering into Pac-12 play with an 11-4 overall record, the Bears scuffled in conference by dropping three of their first four series, then getting swept twice down the stretch. Their struggles culminated in an 11-15 conference record, and an eighth-place finish in the Pac-12 in failing to return to the postseason.


All-Star RF: Vote Matt Kemp

May 30, 2012

            Carlos Beltran has been the best right fielder in baseball this year. But, when casting an All-Star ballot, fandom matters. And having been witness to Beltran’s short stint in San Francisco at the end of last season, there’s no way I’m voting for the guy, let alone endorsing him.

            To prove I’m not going full-on homer, though, my vote for right fielder goes to Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp. It would be justifiable to bypass Kemp, who was recently activated after spending two weeks on the disabled list. His epic start is pretty much worthy of All-Star consideration in and of itself, though.

            Kemp was the most dangerous hitter in baseball before being sidelined with a hamstring injury, and that dates back to last season when he won two legs of the triple crown. He earned NL Player of the Month honors in April, and is currently hitting .355, while his 12 home runs ranks third in the NL.

            So far as voting for All-Star outfielders goes, it’s essential that fans keep in mind the importance of defense. All-Star ballots don’t recognize the three individual outfield positions, which makes being astute to the defensive dynamic all the more important. Seriously, Can you imagine Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, and Jay Bruce starting in the NL outfield? No one needs to see that.

            Sliding center fielders over to play a corner is certainly acceptable, especially if there is good cause. There certainly is with Kemp, whose range has been inhibited this season by the hamstring injury. He has a fair amount of experience as a right fielder, though, and more importantly, would give the NL a viable center-field option should, for example, Holliday and Bruce earn the other two nods as starting outfielders.

            And, just a quick note: As mentioned in the previous All-Star write-up, I had originally penciled in Carlos Gonzalez as the starting right fielder. This, of course, was before Kemp was reactivated. Rafael Furcal still stands as my choice at short over Troy Tulowitzki, however. Sorry, Rockies. However, we may soon need to reassess the first base situation now that Joey Votto is returning to his MVP form.


Melky baby, you’re money

May 27, 2012

            See, Shawn Estes. That’s how you do it.

            While Melky Cabrera is swiftly reaching sensation status in San Francisco, it’s only a matter of time before milk-carton hats join the ranks of the panda and giraffe lids, mark my words. Sunday’s 3-2 win clinched a third consecutive .500-or-above road trip for the Giants, and Cabrera’s 4-for-4 performance was the orange-and-black icing on the cake.

            Maybe it’s just something about “M” cities, because the burgeoning switch-hitting superstar had a brilliant road trip through Milwaukee and Miami, going 14 for 31 while hitting safely in six of seven games. But, it was one iron-man style jaunt from second to third on Sunday that has me considering adopting Cabrera as my personal hero.

            In addition to his four-hit day, Cabrera stole two bases. His fourth-inning swipe didn’t even elicit a throw from Marlins catcher John Buck. His eighth-inning steal did warrant a throw, an errant one that allowed Cabrera to get up and go to third, but not before second baseman Omar Infante took a chunk out of Cabrera’s lower lip as his head-first slide was met with a brutal swipe tag that nailed him in the face.

            Without hesitation, Cabrera sprung to his feet and sprinted for third, while several times taking inventory by grabbing his jaw and lower lip. After safely advancing, he asked for time, and took a minute or two to regroup.

            Sigh. A textbook base-running clinic – never to be taken for granted by longtime Giants fans. Woe, how we’re still bitter about Shawn Estes’ base-running debacle from Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS.

            For those who need a refresher course, Estes made a critical base-running blunder at second base with the momentum of a scoreless game hanging in the balance in that playoff game with the Mets. And keep in mind, Estes wasn’t your atypical pitcher on the base paths, having been utilized as a pinch runner regularly throughout the season.

            But, when Estes advanced from first to second on an infield single by Bill Mueller, he twisted his ankle upon sliding. All Estes had to do was ask second base umpire Dan Morrison for time. But, he didn’t. Instead, he started hobbling about in pain, allowing Mets shortstop Mike Bordick to nonchalantly tag out the wincing Estes for the second out of the inning.

            What’s worse, Estes never even looked frustrated or surprised at being called out. Granted, he did leave the game with an alleged ankle injury. However, even if you’re dealing with some freak kind of ankle fracture, it seems reasonable to think that anyone living and breathing the fervor of a playoff game would at least have the presence of mind to yell “time” amid one’s barrage of f-bombs.

            Now, with Cabrera’s stalwart effort on Sunday, perhaps the old-school Giants faithful can find some solace from wondering time after time, What might have been? And, we can definitely rest assured that Shawn Estes – tucked safely away at the Comcast postgame desk with his epidemic of intermittent bed-head – can never irreparably wound us during a playoff run again.


Cal wins wild one in the 18th

May 26, 2012

            Saying it was a wild one doesn’t even begin to explain the madhouse that ensued at Sunken Diamond Friday night.

            After a rapidly paced regulation nine innings, Cal and Stanford forged into the cool night in a game that fell just short of six hours. Not until the 18th inning did Cal junior Tony Renda smash a two-out single to center to plate Mike Reuvekamp, giving the Golden Bears a 5-4 win.

            Hindsight makes winning or losing seem almost irrelevant compared to the 12th inning, though, which will stand as one of the most chaotic innings in the history of the storied Cal-Stanford rivalry.

            Deadlocked at 2-2 to start the 12th, Cal rallied in dramatic fashion to take the lead on a two-out, two-strike, two-run single from senior catcher Chadd Krist. Emotions were running high at what seemed like the turning point of the game.

            Oh, but things were just getting cooking.

            In the bottom of the 12th, Stanford mounted an improbable comeback. With two on, Austin Wilson roped an RBI double to cut Cal’s lead to 4-3. And after an intentional walk loaded the bases, the proverbial fit hit the shan.

            Actually, the fit was a literal one, after pinch hitter Brett Michael Doran drove a ball into the left-field corner. The ball dropped just foul on the warning track, but home-plate umpire Billy Speck called it a fair ball. Stanford’s jubilant players stormed the diamond it celebration. Cal’s bullpen threw up their arms in outrage, as manager David Esquer vehemently charged towards Speck to argue the call. For a moment, Esquer’s objection seemed futile. But, with the Cardinal moshing in celebration behind second base, the umpires decidedly conferred to overturn the fair call. The decision not only reset Doran’s at bat with Stanford trailing 4-3. It also nullified the walk-off win, leaving Stanford’s players and fans simmering in disillusionment.

            Oh, but there’s more.

            After a delay to allow Cal pitcher Logan Scott to warm up, Doran delivered a clutch RBI single on the very next pitch to tie it. Doran cued an infield bounder just past the second-base side of the mound, allowing Brian Ragira to easily score the tying run from third. As Cal’s infield scuffled to make a late throw to first, Wilson attempted to score all the way from second base, stutter-stepping around third before making a dash for the plate. But, Cal first baseman Andrew Knapp wheeled and fired, nailing the sliding Wilson at home, thanks to a show-stopping swipe tag by Krist. Livid, Wilson popped up and spiked his helmet in a burst of frustration, leading to his immediate ejection.

            The ejection loomed large, causing Wilson – Stanford’s team leader with nine home runs this season – to miss two at bats over the final six innings.                                                

            It’s almost unfathomable that Renda entered into his final at bat in the 18th amid an 0-for-7 night. The reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year is finishing another sensational season, having entered the final series of the regular season fifth in the Pac-12 in hitting. After his heroic 1-for-8 night, Renda is hitting at a .355 clip.

            More unfathomable is that after the marathon contest, the starting pitching matchup of Mark Appel and Matt Flemer is something of an afterthought. Appel – who by most accounts figures to be the first overall pick in next month’s MLB draft – put forth the usual smooth and stellar performance, working seven innings while allowing one run on six hits, striking out eight and walking two.

            Most unfathomable is this was just the first game of a three-game set. First pitch for both Saturday and Sunday at Sunken Diamond are scheduled for 1 p.m.


Giants win 14-7 pitchers’ duel

May 25, 2012

            Sure, the Giants bats came to life Thursday night in Miami, as bats are prone to do in a 14-7 win.

            And so, a great pitching duel between Ryan Vogelsong and Anibal Sanchez gets lost in the shuffle of 28 total hits – an outcome that’s somewhat unconscionable considering the Giants and Marlins had four hits apiece after five innings.

            But, the Giants certainly have seen enough pitchers’ duels in recent memory to let one go by the wayside for a two-touchdown night.

            What’s absolutely unconscionable is Sanchez was on the hook for five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. Giants hitters only really put one good lick on him, when Angel Pagan dug out a filthy cutter to single with the bases loaded and break a 1-1 tie.

            Otherwise, San Francisco’s four-run outburst in the sixth was courtesy of a defensive meltdown by the Marlins. Greg Dobbs literally kicked a ball in left field to start the rally. Brett Hayes and Hanley Ramirez went Bad News Bears in failing to record a gimmie out on a rundown between third and home. And, the hit that knocked Sanchez out of the game was a broken-bat Texas Leaguer with some championship hang-time.

            So, make no mistake, Sanchez was absolutely dealing. Nearly two months into the season, numbers don’t lie. It’s fitting the 28-year-old fireballer is currently tied with Matt Cain for fourth in the NL with 62 strikeouts, as Sanchez is threatening to dethrone Cain as the most prolific hard-luck pitcher in baseball. Despite Sanchez’s outstanding 2.87 ERA and .229 opponents’ batting average, he has a mere 2-3 record to show for it, picking up right where he left off last season when his 202 strikeouts culminated in an 8-9 record.

            In this the inaugural season of the spacious new digs of Marlins Park, Miami is on the verge of finding itself in a precarious position. The Fish are soon to discover what West Coast baseball fans know all too well, that stud pitchers require stud defense, especially stud outfielders who can go get it.

            Don’t get me wrong. On a night where Blanco, Pagan, and Melky Cabrera each had a multi-hit game, the Giants demonstrated a virtue of winning baseball in fielding outfielders who can swing it. But, just as crucial is the fact that this dynamo trio currently taking the Bay Area by storm consists of three stud defenders with game-changing, center-field range.

            Had Anibal Sanchez been backed with that kind of defense Thursday night, he would have been virtually unhittable.


All-Star SS: Vote Furcal

May 24, 2012

            If Derek Jeter isn’t the first hole people punch on this year’s All-Star ballot, they’re either in denial or they are Red Sox fans. But, obvious as the AL choice is, there is no clear-cut shortstop in the NL this season. Sad, but true.

            Troy Tulowitzki stands out as the ranking stud, and will garner plenty of attention. By virtue of his defensive prowess, it’s difficult to begrudge anyone voting for him. In terms of my ballot, though, let me take this opportunity to explain one of the unwritten rules I employ while casting my annual All-Star votes: Only one player per team, per ballot. That’s just the way I roll. And, in light of the season Carlos Gonzalez is having, he’s more deserving of representing Colorado.

            So, the NL nod comes down to the timeless paradox of youth vs. experience. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a coin flip. For the sake of promoting one clear choice, though, I’m going to swing it 60-40 and sign off on Rafael Furcal.

            Don’t get me wrong, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro would be a fine choice. He’s coming off a 200-hit season, his first as an All-Star, and is currently on pace for another while hitting at a .313 clip. And, while the 22-year-old is a bit of a hack – he’s currently sporting a career-low .323 OBP – his 12 steals make him a decent top-of-the-order option for the NL.

            However, there are several factors that tip the scales in favor of Furcal. It isn’t his experience, per se, though veteran prowess never hurts in a must-win game. And, let’s face it, Commissioner Bud Selig’s gift to the baseball world is the must-win dynamic of the modern All-Star game. But, at the end of the day, Furcal’s merits speak for themselves.

            First, he’s leading all NL shortstops with a .339 average and 31 runs scored. Granted, he has the advantage of hitting in front of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and David Freese, all of whom rank in the league’s top 10 in RBIs. Keep in mind, though, Furcal is heartily outhitting each of these household names. Interesting side note: catcher Yadier Molina is currently the Cards’ second leading hitter with a .297 average.

            Just as important, Furcal represents the reigning World Champion Cardinals. It seems unthinkable a reigning World Champ could whiff on All-Star starters the following year. But, with perennial All-Star juggernaut Albert Pujols abandoning St. Louis for free agency, it could very well happen. For a time, it seemed Cards center fielder Jon Jay was a brilliant sleeper pick, until the .343 hitter landed on the disabled list with a  shoulder injury.

            Of course, the ceremonial slant of both Furcal and Braves third baseman Chipper Jones potentially starting an All-Star Game in Jones’ final season pretty much writes itself. The two started along side one another in Atlanta for the better part of four seasons, while Furcal was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2000, just a year after Jones won the only MVP award of his career.