The Wild Card Lead is on the line at Coors this weekend. Sort of.

Little Giant series

I don't know about you, but I circled today's date on my calendar at the All-Star break.  The Rockies had pulled within 2 games of the wild card leading Giants, and this weekend was the chance to take over the lead at home.  Of course, that's not the storyline anymore, but at least it's not because we were the ones to blow up over the past week.

We probably should have known - at the ASB, no team in MLB baseball had won more home games than the Giants.  They were padding their record at AT&T and struggling on the road.  So naturally, the Giants dropped 5 of 7 on the road to begin the season's second half while the Rockies won 5 of 7. 

The result:  not only have the Rockies caught the Giants, but we are a full game ahead of them.  At this point, the only way we aren't at least tied for the WC lead is if the Giants sweep us.  Even losing the series 2-1 results in a tie.

Adding to the loss of luster for the series would be two MIA All-Star pitchers.  Jason Marquis has been scratched from tonight's start due to lingering blister issues, and Tim Lincecum is not scheduled to start this weekend.

So with some of the juiciness dried up, is it time for a letdown?  Not likely.  While we might have been looking forward to this showdown of a series, the Rockies were taking care of business against lesser opponents.  And of course, these games are still important, as there is only a shaky one game lead in hand, and we have the charging Braves, Marlins, Astros and Cubs to deal with.  Plus the Dodgers have won five straight, so there must be not mercy on the Giants if there are still any pipedreams of making up nine games on Los Angeles.

The Giants have won 3 of the 5 games in the season series so far, so after this series, there's still 10 head-to-head games among the 64 left, so while important, this weekend will be far from deciding anything.  It would still be nice to knock them 4 games off the pace though.

If you have been overwhelmed by how busy the Row has been lately, check out McCovey Chronicles, the NL West's beacon of bustling activity.

 

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San Francisco Giants (51-44, W1, 3rd, 1 GB WC, 10 GB Div) 

Friday-Sunday: 3-game series at Coors Field


The Bats: F

The Rockies are hitting .259, good for 17th in MLB - the Giants slide in at .258, 18th in MLB.  Surprised?  I was too - then again,  batting average isn't everything.  San Fran has scored just 384 runs, 5th worst in the majors.  They did themselves no favors by scoring 16 runs in the 7 games since the All-Star Break.  They have also managed just 63 home runs, 10 worse than every MLB team sans the almighty Mets.

Most telling is their team wOBA of .302, powered by a league-worst  .307 OBP.  Their Fangraphs hitting value puts them at -77.0 runs, dead last in the majors by a wide margin.  So basically, they can get singles, but can't hit home runs and can't get on base.  And aside from the Kung Fu Panda, there isn't a single hitter in the lineup that is more of a threat than Dexter Fowler (seriously - cross-reference wOBAs).  And this is despite playing in a hitters' park - yes, AT&T Park has a Park Factor of 102 historically, 103 this year.  It kills home runs but inflates everything else.  No excuses.

Bruce Bochy has a musical chairs project of six outfielders for the three outfield spots, while his starting shortstop and center fielder have been injred recently.  Both should return this weekend.  Alas, it makes it difficult to know what Bochy's A lineup is, but here's a guess:

LINEUP Avg HR RBI OBP SLG wOBA
Randy Winn - LF .278 2
38
.324 .391 .319
Edgar Renteria - SS .254 2
38
.308 .316 .279
Pablo Sandoval - 3B
.322 15 56
.371 .551 .390
Bengie Molina - C .267 11
50
.279 .437 .303
Nate Schierholtz - RF .291 3
19
.319 .413 .313
Aaron Rowand - CF
.274 9
41
.334 .436 .338
Travis Ishikawa - 1B .262 7
30
.314 .413 .315
Matt Downs - 2B .186 1
2
.280 .302 .261

By wOBA metrics, the lineup features one All-Star caliber players (Sandoval), one slightly above average hitter (Rowand), four below average (Winn, Schierholtz, Molina and Ishikawa), and bad hitter (Renteria) and one absolutely terrible hitter (Downs).

Juan Uribe (.294, 4, 21) is the utility infielder.  John Bowker (4-for-28, 1 HR) can play first base or outfield, while Fred Lewis (.243, 4, 12)  and Andres Torres (.239, 2, 11) are backup outfielders.  Bowker , Lewis, Torres, and Schierholtz have played musical chairs for one outfield spot, or more during injuries. Rookie Eli Whiteside (.231, 0, 3) is Molina's backup catcher.

Hop after the jump for the scouting report on the arms, the D, the pitching matchups and the hot/cold players.

The Arms: A-

The Giants are tied with the Dodgers in leading MLB with a 3.57 ERA. They lead the league by a ridiculously large margin in strikeouts with 756.  They are tops on the leaderboards in complete games and shutouts.  Then again, almost half of their rotation value comes from Tim Lincecum, who we will miss in the series.  Thus, Timcecum will be factored out in rating the staff.  Overall, the rotation has an ERA/FIP/tRA split of 3.67/3.79/4.16, while their bullpen comes in at 3.37/3.75/3.96.  They are a legitimately strong staff, even sans the CY winner.

Behind inconsistency (Sanchez), luck (Cain), and inexperience (Sadowski), the rotation doesn't pose an insurmountable task, even if we miss their only two below average starters (Zito and Johnson).

The back end of the bullpen is anchored by closer Brian Wilson, followed by Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Bob HowryMerkin Valdez, Justin Miller and Brandon Medders fill out the bullpen.

 

The D: A

Who would believe that San Francisco is leading MLB in UZR/150, especially in that ballpark?  Only seven teams have made fewer errors, and Fangraphs rates them as the 3rd best defense.  Huh.  Pablo Sandoval and Edgar Renteria are the only fielders rated out as below average.

 

Probable Pitchers:

Tonight, 7:10 pm MDT

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Matt Cain 11-2 2.32 1.23 103 48

All-Star Matt Cain rebounded from his elbow injury to allow one run in 7 innings in his last start.  In fact, he's allowed one run or less in 6 of 7 starts and 10 of 12.  But in a factoid sure to rile up the SABR-haters, Cain listed as less valuable this year than Jorge de la Rosa by Fangraphs and Statcorner.  Seriously though, check DLR and Cain's K and BB totals.  It's interesting.  Cain is enjoying a ludicrously high strand rate (along with Affeldt and Miller) with a career low BABIP, in spite of an above career average line drive rate.  Translation:  Cain is getting very lucky.

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Jason Hammel 5-4 4.26 1.45 68 24

It is the first of consecutive tough draws for Hammel, who will face Johan Santana on Wednesday.  Since his gem on July 1, he has struggled with either pitch count or getting hit hard in his last three starts, to the point of being the universal Rowbot candidate for demotion to the bullpen in favor of Jhoulys Chacin.  Still, he's been a reliable starter at the back end of the rotation and has the ability to stymie the Giants' lineup and give the Rockies a chance, even at Coors Field.

 

Saturday, July 25, 6:10 pm MDT

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Jonathan Sanchez 3-8 4.68 1.45 87 47

Jonathan threw a no-hitter.  So did Anibal once.  Due congratulations, but big whoop.  The lefty had been relegated to the bullpen and was only reinstated due to Randy Johnson's injury.  When he's on, he's very talented, but he's been erratic, evening out as an average to slightly above average pitcher.  He's also just 1-2 with a 7.47 ERA in his career against the Rockies.

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Jorge De La Rosa 7-7 4.95 1.40 105 47

The Rockies counter with their own electric, inconsistent lefty.  He has quietly been improving of late, tossing four consecutive quality starts, while the Rockies have won the last six times he has been on the hill, and eight of nine.  His slider was recently rated as the #4 most difficult pitch to hit in the majors, and his fastball is top 15 in MLB in velocity.  Not a bad fifth starter.

 

Sunday, July 26, 1:10 MDT

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Ryan Sadowski 2-2 4.15 1.43 12 11

The 2002 13th round pick actually replaced Sanchez in the rotation in June.  He allowed just 2 runs in his first three starts, but he didn't really face a threatening offense.  Then Atlanta hung eight runs on him in his last start.    He's a five pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball (89), slider (86), cutter (86), curve (77) and changeup (83), though only the fastball and cutter are above average pitches.  Nothing about his stuff is overpowering, and he'll be facing the strongest offense in the best run-scoring environment of his career.

W-L ERA WHIP K BB
2009 - Aaron Cook 9-3 3.94 1.42 67 39

Cook has a very good stat line, but tRA and FIP don't like him - in fact, they haven't all year, as is the case with a lot of contact pitchers.  Certainly, his double play ability and veteran mentality should give him a better stats than peripherals would suggest - I won't deny that.  Just keep in mind he's doing all this with a career high strand rate, career low BABIP, and a sinker he can't seem to keep down in recent starts.

 

My take

Tonight's game should be a Giant challenge (I groaned at that one myself).  ESPN's AccuScore gives SF 11:9 odds to win, while oddsmakers have Colorado as -125 moneyline favorites.   The Rockies have the advantage in starting pitching in Saturday and Sunday's games, with the obvious offensive advantage.  If the Rockies can manage to eek out a win tonight, it makes it almost impossible to lose the series,while making a huge sweep likely.  This should definitely be a series win, with a win tonight being far more likely than it would appear.

 

33_15_10---fire-flame-texture_web_mediumMatt Cain has given up more than one run just once in his last 7 starts.  Brian Wilson has allowed just  two base runners in his last 5 innings, all scoreless.  Nate Schierholtz is 9-for-24 in the last week, helping to secure playing time in the crowded outfield.

 

IceThe entire team is on a 7-game homerless drought despite playing away from AT&T Park in all seven games.  Pablo Sandoval, Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, John Bowker and Fred Lewis are all hitting under .200 since the ASB.  Only Randy Winn and Schierholtz have posted post-ASB OPS' above .700.

 

Bandaid_medium

Randy Johnson (shoulder) and Rich Aurilia (toe) are both on the 15-day DL.  Noah Lowry (ribs) and Joe Martinez (concussion) have been on the 60 day DL since at least Opening Week, and pitcher Kelvin Pichardo (shoulder) joined them late last month.

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