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9:22AM

S.F. Examiner: Baseball’s time in the sun

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – A manager’s dream. “I’m enjoying seeing those guys,” said Bruce Bochy. So are the rest of us. Not just the Giants, who Sunday out here on the desert among the scrub vegetation and abandoned jet planes, won another game.

Also the fans, few as showed up at Goodyear ballpark, seemingly halfway to California, which the Reds and Indians share each spring. It’s their time in the sun — and, yes, the sun was bright, if the temperature, 65, wasn’t that warm.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner

8:47AM

Giants: Little things and big defeats

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — They’re not going to win the division. That’s for sure. Maybe the Giants still will make the postseason, get in as a wild card, and even that’s problematic.

But definitely the way they are playing, just poorly enough to lose, they won’t overtake the Dodgers — who gleefully overtook the tumbling Giants in the National League West days ago.

It’s not that the Giants are a bad team. The Atlanta Braves are a bad team. No, the Braves are a terrible team. The San Diego Padres are a bad team. They are 22 games below .500. And that’s after sweeping a three-game series from the Giants. For a second time this season.

The Giants are a good team playing badly. Or once were a good team playing badly, very badly as defined by a classical, baseball reference.

When they hit they don’t pitch, as they did and didn't on Tuesday night, San Francisco entering the ninth with a 4-1 lead and ingloriously losing to the Padres 6-4 on a home run by, not Nate Colbert or Tony Gwynn even, but Ryan Schimpf. The 27th blown save of the season. Oh, where are you now, Robb Nen?

When the Giants pitch they don’t hit, as they did and didn't on Wednesday in the sunshine and gloom (the mood, not the weather) at AT&T Park, San Francisco getting only four singles and thus getting whipped by the Pads, 3-1.

So the little bit of optimism created when the Giants had a sweep of their own, taking three in a row at Arizona over the weekend, has been trashed, smashed and tossed into McCovey Cove. So much for progress.

The Dodgers, who beat the Yankees for the second time in their three-game series at the Stadium, now are five in front of San Francisco. The billionaires at Chavez Ravine smirk.

In the post-game session Wednesday, Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager, was asked if he had sleepless nights, to which he answered in the affirmative, adding, “I wish I could do more. Every manager or head coach does. It’s always on your mind.”

Some would say Bochy could have done more on Tuesday night if Brandon Belt hadn’t been out because he was ailing. Buster Posey was playing first, and there was a ball off Posey’s mitt, which became an infield single when reliever Hunter Strickland conceded he was slow to cover the base.

The little things, and the big defeats.

On Wednesday, the Giants' bullpen couldn’t be faulted. Neither could starter Madison Bumgarner. You allow only three runs, you’ll normally win. Not, however, when the season is coming apart at the seams.

San Diego starter Luis Perdomo mystified the Giants' batters. The first four men in the order, Denard Span, Angel Pagan, Posey and Brandon Crawford, had two walks and no hits among them. Only because Belt and Joe Panik managed back-to-back singles in the second, after a Crawford walk, did the Giants avoid a shutout.

“He had a good sinker,” Bochy, a former catcher, said of Perdomo, who didn’t look like someone who came into the game with a 7-9 record and 5.89 earned run average. Ah, but the Giants looked very much like the team that has collapsed (20-35 since July 10) in notable fashion.

Bumgarner, gracious as always post-game, stood there attired like a hunter (not Strickland) and was asked what needs to be corrected: pitching, hitting, whatever.

“I don’t know,” he answered quietly. “So far, the second half’s been a club I’ve never seen before.”

A club that Giants fans have seen too much of, one that's causing them to wonder what might have transpired if San Francisco, not the Cubs, got 100 mph closer Aroldis Chapman (or who the Giants would have been forced to trade to acquire him).

Bumgarner was unable to pick up his 100th career victory, a total that’s inevitable.

“There’s a lot of pressure this time of year,” reminded Baumgarner, reflecting on the chase for the playoffs and not his personal goals or difficulties. “It’s more of a mind-set this time of the year.”

Bochy could only agree.

“This was a big series,” he conceded about the three games, three defeats, against San Diego. “They’re all big.”

A little more than two weeks are left in a season that began so well, a season — an even year — in which the Giants were picked to be champions. How did we go wrong? How did the Giants?

9:14AM

S.F. Examiner: Giants need to prove magic of spring isn’t lost in fog of summer

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

Bruce Bochy was telling the truth. A game in April is no less important — critical, was the word he used — as a game in August. But April is gone. So is the Giants’ lead. They are in second place now, behind the Dodgers, a team hailed and by some — Giants fans — hated.

A team against which San Francisco tonight begins a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

9:53AM

Bochy on Cueto: ‘This is why we wanted him here’

By Art Spander

It isn’t quite the sweet torture of a few seasons past. Oh, the Giants make you sweat, make their manager — the incomparable Bruce Bochy — wish it didn’t have to be as difficult as it seems to be. Yet, with that pitching staff, and Monday night Johnny Cueto was the man, there’s also a feeling the other team might never score.   

Now for two straight games, Sunday the awesome Cubs, Monday the not-so-awesome but very tenacious Padres, the other team hasn’t scored.

And finally the Giants did score. If barely. But when Cueto follows Madison Bumgarner, barely is plenty. Yes, consecutive games in which San Francisco could only score a run, Monday night when Hunter Pence, with a sore hamstring, pinch-hitting for Cueto, blooped a two-out ball to right in the ninth that Matt Kemp couldn’t reach.

Down went the ball, in ran Brandon Belt from first, and it was 1-0 Giants.     

Just as on Sunday it was 1-0 Giants, if against another team.

They’ve got the routine down. So exhale. And commend management for signing Cueto, a free agent, over the winter.

He is earning $130 million, a lot, but the long-held theory here is for cars, wine and ballplayers you almost always get what you pay for. Cueto is wonderful verification.

In his last four games, including this cold Monday night at AT&T Park, Cueto has allowed a total of three runs. The statement has been repeated often but perhaps not often enough: If the opponent doesn’t score, you can’t ever get worse than a 0-0 tie.

Which is what we had going into the bottom of the ninth. Now what the Giants have is a third straight win and 11 wins in the last 12 games. That ain’t bad.

“Pretty amazing what our pitching is doing,” said Bochy. Not really. It’s doing that it needs to do. What Cueto, 7-1, with a 1.93 earned run average (compared to Bumgarner’s 2.17) did was hold the Padres hitless the first 3 2/3 innings, give up only two hits total and pitch his second consecutive complete game after going nine in a 2-1 win against the Padres five days earlier in San Diego.

“This guy’s done it when he was with Cincinnati in that Great America Park,” said Bochy of a location as different as imaginable from spacious AT&T, a pitcher’s paradise. Cueto last year was traded from the Reds to Kansas City, where he was on a World Series champion. As a free agent he joined the Giants, where life is both beautiful and nerve-wracking.

“I’m enjoying it,” said Cueto, a Dominican, through translator Erwin Higueros. “I can handle these close games.” He understands the English questions well enough but is more comfortable giving the answers in Spanish. His fastballs and sliders speak a universal baseball language. Get out of here.

Cueto swings a mean bat, but he doesn’t always connect. In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, Angel Pagan, who had walked — and subsequently reinjured his hamstring — was on second and Gregor Blanco, walked intentionally, was on first. Bochy may have considered a pinch hitter but not for long. Cueto had thrown only 78 pitches so he came to the plate — and struck out swinging.

“I was thankful that finally Pence came in to get a hit,” said Cueto.

So was Pence, who before the game was tentative about getting into the lineup. “But I felt fine,” said Pence, “when I went up there.”

Bochy was pleased with the ending but less so with the progress of the game. “We made it hard,” he said. “We had those two runners on in the first. We didn’t execute.”

Kelby Tomlinson and Matt Duffy had back-to-back one-out singles, Tomlinson going to third. But Duffy was caught attempting to steal second and Buster Posey struck out.

“Their guy did a great job too,” Bochy said of Padres lefthander Drew Pomeranz, who went seven shutout innings. “We thought it would be a close game.”

Isn’t it always when the Giants are involved? Sure, there are exceptions, such as Chicago’s 8-1 win on Friday night, but otherwise it was 2-1 and 3-1 over San Diego and then 1-0 and 1-0 over the Cubs and the Padres.

“That game Sunday,” said Bochy about the victory over Chicago “was one of the great baseball games. It had everything. Then we come back with this one.

“We had Johnny Cueto on our radar last year. This is why we wanted to bring him here.”

9:24AM

S.F. Examiner: Optimism escapes Bochy as Giants lose fifth-straight

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

He’s normally a man of silver linings and orange-and-black optimism. Bruce Bochy has spent a career believing everything’s not as grim as the rest of you would think. But there was a different Bochy after the Giants, his San Francisco’s Giants, were smacked around again Thursday by the Arizona Diamondbacks, a Bochy whose frustration could be sensed, whose disappointment could be heard.

Baseball, we’re told, is a game of ups and downs. There have been no ups for the Giants of late.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner