Giants just keep finding ways to win
Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Indians-Giants game on Saturday.
As Giants manager Bruce Bochy left the dugout to congratulate his players, he turned to me and joked, "That was such a butt-kicking they won’t come back tomorrow."
Another day with the Giants. Another one-run victory. Another offensive eruption — two errors, a walk and a balk produced their only run.
Bochy knew the Indians would show up again Sunday, but the poor Tribe got a full dose of Giants baseball. San Francisco capped the sweep Sunday with a 3-1 win.
The general manager of another NL club expressed admiration for the defending World Series champions, saying they are getting by "on muscle memory."
Well, that and pitching.
The Giants rank last in the NL in runs. Their cleanup hitter, catcher Buster Posey, is out for the season. Their No. 2 hitter, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, might be lost for that long, too.
The team’s No. 3 hitter, Pablo Sandoval is back, but only 12 for 48 (.250) with one extra-base hit since coming off the disabled list. Sandoval told me that his right hand is improving but still weak — no surprise, considering that he is coming off surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his wrist.
Yet even with all this, the Giants are 22-11 in one-run games, by far the best record in the majors. Seventeen of their 24 home wins have been decided by one run.
Muscle memory. Or something.
INTERLEAGUE INEQUITY, PART 672
For all the Red Sox’s angst about moving first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to right field in NL parks, the Indians are perhaps the biggest victims of the interleague schedule.
The Indians, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels are the only AL clubs playing nine straight road games in NL settings — and the Indians are the only one doing it for the second straight year.
Travis Hafner, the Indians’ designated hitter, is the team’s leading slugger and highest-paid player at $13 million. His absence from the lineup in NL parks looms even larger now that right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is out at least six weeks with a fractured right thumb.
Choo will be out even longer if he requires surgery, which appears likely. The Indians will replace him with a platoon of Travis Buck and Austin Kearns, missing not just Choo’s offense, but also his defense and baserunning.
The team’s biggest need remains a right-handed hitting outfielder, someone like the Royals’ Jeff Francoeur.
ASDRUBAL THE SLUGGER
The biggest difference in Asdrubal Cabrera’s game is that he’s hitting for power — thanks in part to some advice he received from teammate Orlando Cabrera in spring training.
Orlando Cabrera watched Asdrubal take batting practice, marveled at his power from foul pole to pole and encouraged him to "let it fly" at the appropriate times.
"As soon as he saw me take batting practice, he said, ‘Kid, you’ve got power. Don’t be afraid to hit a home run,’ " Asdrubal Cabrera remembers.
The two are not related — Orlando Cabrera is from Colombia, Asdrubal Cabrera is from Venezuela. But Orlando possesses rare insight into the game.
The way Orlando sees it, Asdrubal can hit .280 to .320 every season with 20 homers and 45 doubles without getting out of his comfort zone.
In spring training, Orlando would whistle from the dugout or yell at Asdrubal in Spanish, "Be ready! Let it go!"
Such encouragement no longer is necessary.
"Now everyone knows this is our Albert Pujols, our Joey Votto," Orlando says. "He’s not a guy that hits like a little shortstop. This guy drives in runs."
FOR GIANTS, SOUNDS LIKE "NO WAY JOSE"
Much will change between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but from talking to people around the Giants, it sure sounds like a trade for Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is a longshot.
The Giants already have stretched their payroll to $118 million, the eighth highest in the majors. They’re also reluctant to part with premium young talent for two months of Reyes, however brilliantly he might perform.
It’s always possible that the Mets could include cash in any deal to help defray the balance of Reyes’ $11 million salary and get better talent in return. But they face similar issues with outfielder Carlos Beltran, who is earning $18.5 million, and closer Francisco Rodriguez, who is earning $11.5 million plus a $3.5 million buyout. Those are players that the Mets absolutely want to move — unlike Reyes, whom they might prefer to keep.
The Giants, meanwhile, are practically barren at short. Miguel Tejada has the lowest OPS in the NL among qualifying players. Rookie Brandon Crawford looks overmatched offensively. Mike Fontenot will help once he returns from a groin strain, but not on an everyday basis.
As I reported on my Full Count video, the Indians’ Orlando Cabrera is the kind of veteran who could attract the Giants’ interest. He’s earning a mere $1 million, the Giants liked him in the offseason and the Indians’ younger infielders are pushing him into a more limited role.
FOR INDIANS, INFIELD DEFENSE CRITICAL
Three of the Indians’ starting pitchers — Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco — rank among the top 11 in the American League in groundball percentage.
As a result, the Indians pay particular attention to infield defense. Their quest for improvement in that area influenced their offseason decisions and continues to help dictate their lineups and roster decisions.
Manager Manny Acta’s lineup on Saturday was a classic example of how he tries to extract the most offense out of his club while playing the best possible defense, too.
First, Acta wanted Carlos Santana to catch rather than play first base, and not because Santana had a rough game defensively Friday night. Santana, a switch hitter, was a better offensive choice against Giants righty Matt Cain; Lou Marson, the Indians’ other catcher, is batting only .161 against righties.
At first base, Acta chose Jack Hannahan, a left-handed hitter, over Shelley Duncan. Another option was Hannahan at third and Duncan at first, but Orlando Cabrera was 3-for-13 with two homers and a double off Cain. Cabrera, though, is still new to third, so Acta wanted the stronger defender, Hannahan, at first.
Hannahan’s defense at third is one reason why the Indians are in no rush to promote their top prospect, Triple-A third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. While Chisenhall is improving at third, he’s not in Hannahan’s class.
THE GIANTS CATCH AS CATCH CAN
Giants catcher Chris Stewart, 29, caught his first career shutout Saturday, and Manager Bruce Bochy says the veteran’s release on his throws is as quick as any he has seen.
The Giants have timed Stewart in the 1.7 to 1.8 second range, and catchers can throw out base stealers even at 1.9 to 2.0.
Neither Stewart nor Eli Whiteside hits like Buster Posey, but both are capable defensively. One Giants official, asked if the Giants would like to find a better hitting alternative, shot back, "Name me one (available) catcher hitting over .250."
The Mets’ Ronny Paulino is batting .319 in 94 at-bats, but the point is well taken.
HOW THE MAFIA CAME TO BE
For the record, the Indians’ relievers did not nickname themselves the "Bullpen Mafia." The moniker came from a fan who was impressed by the rapid-fire banter between the relievers on Twitter.
"We get on there, one guy will say something and it will be like pingpong, stuff coming from everywhere," Indians closer Chris Perez says.
The fan sent the since-demoted Justin Germano a tweet coining the term, "Bullpen Mafia." Germano showed the tweet to Vinny Pestano, and a movement was born.
All seven Indians relievers are on Twitter, as are the team’s two bullpen catchers.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Indians believe that a slight mechanical adjustment could help right-hander Fausto Carmona snap out of his slump.
Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher and bullpen coach Scott Radinsky worked with Carmona on standing more erect in the stretch in his most recent bullpen session.
Belcher says that Carmona, like other pitchers who are mindful of the running game, became more and more hunched over and spread out. His arm slot dropped, and his sinker flattened out.
"He’s close," Belcher said Saturday. "He’s easy to work with. He works his ass off. Some guys work as hard as him, but nobody works harder."
Carmona allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings Sunday, taking the loss to drop to 4-10.
• Infielder Mark DeRosa, who has appeared in only 44 games in two seasons since signing a two-year, $12 million free-agent contract with the Giants, is understandably impatient.
On one hand, DeRosa says he wants to "play or go home" rather than continue rehabilitating his left wrist. On the other hand, he says he still has something to prove.
"I’m not ready to concede to the fact that at 36, I’m suddenly old," DeRosa says. "I don’t think that. I think I had a serious injury that caused a lot of problems."
• Indians second baseman Cord Phelps is enjoying a homecoming this weekend. He was born at Stanford Hospital and lived his first 12 years in Woodside, Calif., before moving south to Santa Barbara.
Phelps attended Stanford games as a boy and later went to the school the hard way — not on a baseball scholarship, but as a walk-on. That’s right, Phelps was smart enough to get accepted by Stanford — and major in human biology.
• The players who have known Manny Acta the longest always thought he would manage.
Indians infielder Orlando Cabrera played for the Expos when Acta was the team’s third-base coach. He says that Acta talked constantly about managing in the majors, and was determined to get a job.
The Giants’ Miguel Tejada, meanwhile, played for Acta as a member of the Dominican Republic team in the 2004 Caribbean Series.
"I knew from that time that he was going to be a manager in the big leagues," Tejada says.