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9:03PM

Bochy on 2017: 'This isn’t who we are'

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That was a Giants flag, a black SF on a circle of orange, almost like the Great Pumpkin, flapping in the freshening breeze and incoming fog atop the right field foul pole at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon.

A rare sight after a rare victory, a tease of what should have been this season, decent pitching, timely hitting, a good break — Jarrett Parker’s excuse-me double in the seventh that scored two runs — a 4-2 win over Milwaukee and a rare series victory.

A little more than a month remaining in the Great Lost Season, when the players stopped performing — for the most part — and the fans stopped coming, and given the farm system and budget restrictions, no one is quite certain how corrections can be made.

Unless, perchance, they don’t need to be made. Unless, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy said when the talk drifted from failure to frustration to potential, this season of 2017 was an aberration, a rare set of misfortunes that now and then strike teams in baseball.

“We don’t think we’re the team that had this rough a year,” said Bochy. ”We’ve been there the last six, seven years. These are really good ballplayers, really good pitchers. This year is different, injuries, off years. This isn’t who we are.”

So, instead of talking about 2018, Bochy's idea is to play well the rest of 2017, to regain lost confidence, find new belief.

No small issue, but with baseball's reliance on home runs, the Giants ought to find some new power. San Francisco’s cleanup hitter, Buster Posey, while batting .317, has only 12 home runs. The Brewers’ cleanup batter, Travis Shaw, has 27.

The cliché is good pitching will beat good hitting, but for the most part — yes, Madison Bumgarner was out weeks — the pitching hasn’t been that good. Which is why Matt Moore’s third straight quality start had Bochy enthusiastic and explanatory.

Moore went six innings and allowed only a run. He left when the game was tied 1-1. Hunter Strickland got the win, Mark Melancon the save — just as it was planned in March, before Strickland was inconsistent and Melancon was injured.

Still, Moore has a 4-12 record and a 5.54 ERA. And as we know, the Giants were eliminated from postseason play in mid-August, something unimaginable in spring training.

“It’s how you finish,” said Bochy. ”You’re going to have your struggles, your hiccups, bumps in the road. Matt had some good starts now. For him, less is more. He’s backed off his pitches a little bit.”

And some would say a little late.

The reflection of this season is as much in the bleachers and grandstands at AT&T as on the field. This is the 18th season for the park, but the first when there were huge areas of empty seats. 

The announced attendance Wednesday, meaning tickets sold, was 40,015, some 2,000 below capacity. Even in that streak of sellouts, which ended earlier this year, were unfilled seats. Now there are hundreds, probably thousands.

Giants fans, Bay Area fans, cannot accept losing. Interest in the Giants and Athletics has tumbled. No longer are BART trains packed with fans wearing orange and black.

The Wednesday game was joyful for those in attendance, a reminder of the way it was. A Giants win and that black-and-orange flag.

8:41AM

Giants show some fire, but what about the future?

 

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That was an interesting figure of speech from Bruce Bochy about an apparent controversy dealing with the pre-game stretching routine by relief pitchers. “It’s pole vaulting over mouse droppings,” said Bochy, or something a trifle more colorful

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Mark Melancon, the closer the Giants paid $62 million to hold the leads they almost never have, along with his fastball and sinker brought his own exercise program, “one that rubbed teammates the wrong way.”                            

Nothing is too small to be overlooked when a team is playing as poorly as the Giants are, certainly. Losers have issues that nobody notices or fusses about on winners.

But a debate over stretching? As Melancon said, it brought back memories of Allen Iverson missing a workout and whining, “We’re talking practice, man.”

In other words, irrelevant. Pole vaulting over mouse droppings.                                     

The discussion ought to be how the Giants escape this disaster of a season when losing streaks seem to last forever. Mercifully, the most recent one, five games, came to an end on Monday night at AT&T Park, with San Francisco beating Colorado, 9-2.

Jeff Samardzija pitched, shutting out the Rockies for the first six innings, and virtually everyone hit, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik. Still the Giants are 2-12 in their last 14 games. Those are 49ers numbers.

Tim Flannery retired as the Giants' third base coach two years ago and now on occasion sits in the NBCS Bay Area studio after game telecasts and gives unfiltered opinions.

On Sunday, after a listless San Francisco loss to the New York Mets, Flannery said “there is something missing” from his old ball club. He didn’t mean in personnel. He meant in attitude.

“If I were in that clubhouse,” Flannery said, "I’d kick a few butts." 

And not long after that, Mike Krukow, who shares TV play-by-play duties with Duane Kuiper, growled that the Giants seemed accepting of their fate, saying, “They had no spirit.”

That’s not at all surprising for a team that has underachieved, a team with a lot of high-price players, a team out of the pennant race before the end of June. What’s to get excited about?

San Francisco, however, belied all the negative comments on Monday night, showing spirit and competitive fire, if against a team with its own troubles, the Rockies having lost six in a row — although their first to San Francisco after nine straight wins.

And Panik, who had two hits, two runs scored and two RBIs, insisted the team, even if it had lost games, hadn’t lost its way. “Being professional is coming to the park every day and playing hard, no matter what,” said Panik.

So, according to Panik, the Giants haven’t conceded. The fans? Well, the Giants announced a 550th straight sellout, 41,388, but at least 15,000 of those seats were empty. Baseball and blue Mondays never have been the best of matchups by the Bay, yet this was reminiscent of those seasons at Candlestick.

What has happened this season is a contradiction, bewildering and yet understandable. The Giants in March seemed very much a contender — but with Madison Bumgarner injured, the pitching, other than Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, has been a mess, especially the relief pitching.

The team ERA is 4.78, awful for a club dependent on pitching for success, which is why there hasn’t been any success.

Posey can hit. He’s batting .347. But he’s a singles and doubles hitter, in the cleanup spot. Pence had three hits Monday night, but in too many games he looks like the 34-year-old he is, striking out, grounding out.

In the media dining room before Monday night’s game, the talk was less about the Giants’ present than the future. Do they trade or sell Cueto and/or Pence? Do they bring in a more efficient defensive centerfielder than Denard Span? Do they go after a home run king like Giancarlo Stanton?

No mention of pole vaulting over mouse droppings.

 

10:02PM

Bochy on the Giants: ‘I like to think this was a start’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Still learning. “That’s the goal,” said Buster Posey, "to learn.” About the Giants, and himself. To learn how to improve, and even for a former MVP, a World Series hero, the education never stops.

For Buster. For manager Bruce Bochy. For the fans, after a week of successful baseball that finally arrived after too many weeks of failing baseball.

They learned, and we learned, that for a few games at least the Giants were able to combine pitching and hitting, play as they once played, play — yes — as they were supposed to be playing.

They won five in a row, five out of seven on a home stand that concluded Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park with a defeat, not surprising since the other team was the Dodgers and the other pitcher was Clayton Kershaw.

“He was his usual good self,” said Bochy, an understatement of sorts. Pitched the first seven innings. Didn’t allow a run. Impossible to win if you don’t score, although the Giants finally did, on an Eduardo Nunez bases-empty home run off of ex-Giant Sergio Romo in the ninth. It was a bit of face-saving in a 6-1 defeat.

In effect, the game was over in the first when Yasmani Grandal doubled in two runs off of Johnny Cueto. Kershaw with a 2-0 lead before two innings had been played? “Very tough,” said Bochy.

Two words that apply to the Giants' road trip, which starts Friday at St. Louis and then goes to Chicago. The Cardinals are in first in the National League Central. The Cubs are World Series Champions. Posey will learn something about the Giants.

“I like to think this was a start,” said Bochy of the home stand. “We lost the opener (falling 12 games below .500), and everyone is thinking we’re out of it.

“The thing I liked is we played Giants baseball. We were in games, got quality pitching, which gave us a chance.”

In the previous few games, at Cincinnati and New York, they barely had a chance, losing 13-3, 14-2 and 6-1. The return to San Francisco, to AT&T, a pitcher’s park, changed scores and perhaps attitudes.

“We kept people away from the big inning,” said Bochy. “The thing I like about this team is there’s a sense of confidence. We just have to keep playing the way we have been.

What appeared to be a reminder of the historic Dodgers-Giants rivalry popped up — in a manner of speaking — in the third. Cueto, possibly upset with himself after giving up the first-inning hits on two-strike counts, yelled at Grandal in the third for stealing signs from Posey after the first-inning double. An inside pitch, and like that both dugouts and bullpens emptied. And that was it.

In fact, Kershaw walked through the three dozen or so players from both teams that, as is the situation in most baseball confrontations, were just grabbing or yelling and marched to the mound to take his warm-ups for the bottom of the inning.

After the game, Grandal and Cueto (now 4-3) apologized to each other. No ejections, no fines and, for the usual sellout crowd at AT&T Park, no real excitement.

“It caught me by surprise,” Grandal said of the Cueto pitch, and no, he wouldn’t dare steal a sign and relay it to a batter, one of the many unwritten rules of a sport that has many.

“We talked about it,” said Grandal, the Dodgers' catcher. “We apologized, so we’re on good terms, I guess. Let’s not make it a larger deal than it really is.”

Everything between the Giants and Dodgers is large. San Francisco fans have forever chanted “Beat L.A.” Dodgers fans, and, wow, were there great numbers at AT&T, many of them hoisting a blue banner that covered much of the right centerfield bleachers, shouted “Let’s go, Dodgers.”

On Wednesday, after losing Monday and Tuesday, the Dodgers went. It’s obvious they’re a very good team. The Giants? We, and they, still are learning.

9:33AM

S.F. Examiner: After finally winning three straight, maybe the Giants are on to something

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

AT&T PARK — Maybe. That’s the only appropriate word. Maybe the Giants are about to play as everyone thought, as their manager Bruce Bochy conceded, to expectations. Maybe the breakout — their first three-game win streak of this so-far rotten season — is an indication.

Or maybe it’s just a tease.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner 

8:59AM

Bochy on consecutive 2-1 games: ‘That’s who we are’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That’s who they are. Bruce Bochy said it about the Giants. He didn’t mean losing to the Dodgers, as they did, 2-1, Tuesday night. He meant pitching well and fielding well and having chances to win, unlike those three games at the end of last week against the Rockies in Denver.

The Giants, built on pitching, desperate for hitting, lacked both in those games, losing them 12-3 and 8-0, respectively. That can happen at Coors Field, said Bochy.

But it didn’t happen for the Giants, just against them, against a staff that is supposedly among the best in baseball but last in the National League with an earned run average above 5. After two beautifully pitched games at AT&T Park against L.A., a 2-1 win followed by a 2-1 defeat, their ERA is still is up there at 4.39.

You allow only three runs total in two games, win or loss, and you can’t be displeased. Bochy wasn’t. The way Matt Cain pitched Monday, then Ty Blach — the spot starter, filling in for Madison Bumgarner — pitched Tuesday, had Bochy believing once again.

Had he been on the mound, and not on the disabled list — you do know about that dirt bike accident, of course — Bumgarner couldn’t have pitched much better or had much less offensive support than Blach. Then again, the guy starting and starring for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, is a Cy Young Award winner.

“All we ask,” said Bochy, “is our starters give us a chance to win.” Blach, a lefty like Bumgarner — and Kershaw — certainly did that. He also doubled to lead off the third, then after a couple of strikeouts scored the game’s first run on Buster Posey’s single. That the Dodgers, quality team that they are, responded with two runs in the top of the fourth, showed why L.A. is the favorite in National League West.

In this agonizing season of injuries and inconsistency —  on Tuesday night, Brandon Crawford strained his right groin rounding first base after a single in the eighth — the Giants are trying to stay close and relevant. And, reminded Bochy, play their style of baseball, keeping in the game, as they did against the Dodgers, as they didn’t do against the Rockies.

They brought up the kid everyone thinks will be the star of the future, the next Buster Posey, infielder Christian Arroyo — only a few days after the front office said he would stay in the minors for a while. On Tuesday, Arroyo, 21, got his first major league hit, off the brilliant Kershaw, no less. His family was in the stands.

An omen for the Giants? Could be. As the injury to Crawford could be. Posey was out with a possible concussion. Cain pulled a hamstring. Bumgarner tumbling on his pitching arm and destined to miss two months. So much pain, and very little gain.

Crawford was to travel Wednesday to southern California to attend family services for his sister-in-law, who died last week. He would be on bereavement leave for three days. Bochy hoped Crawford would get an MRI before departing, but Crawford didn’t think it would be possible given time constraints.

“I’ve never had anything like this before,” said Crawford about the injury, “so I can’t tell you how bad it is.”

The other day, after losing four in a row, one to Kansas City and then the three to Colorado, the question was how bad the Giants might be. In the clubhouse Sunday, Bochy, invariably upbeat, sighed, “We’re not very good.” Then, maybe realizing how that sounded in just the third week of the season, added, “Right now.”

The two games at home against the Dodgers proved an antidote, a reassurance. “Ty did a real nice job,” he said of Blach. “He had his pitches going. It was a hard-fought, well-pitched game by both guys.

“This is our type of game. Two to one, close games, that’s who we are.”