TORONTO — I don’t know who kidnapped those guys in the San Francisco Giants uniforms who came to Rogers Centre but it sure seemed like a two-game blip on the radar the way this season has opened for the defending World Series champions.
The Giants struggled for most of the 2010 season, which ended with their first Series title in 52 years out West. And they were 7½ games out of first place in their division last May before sweeping to their second Series crown in October in Detroit. This season has been a different story.
The champs look good right out of the gate, especially at home (15-7). They entered the weekend atop the NL West and with only St. Louis and Cincinnati owning better records among National League teams. The talk of a Yankees-like run of three titles in four years is certainly legitimate.
“It’s always good to get off to a good start but you have to remind yourself it’s just that, a start,” manager Bruce Bochy told this corner. “Sometimes it hasn’t been our best baseball and we know that. Our pitching hasn’t been quite as sharp as we’d like but guys have been doing a great job of grinding every day trying to find a way to win ballgames.”
The Giants were outscored, 21-9, in dropping the two games against the Blue Jays. Starting pitchers Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong got pummeled in the first inning as the Blue Jays batted around both nights to score 11 runs while the Giants were committing four errors.
“That’s unlike us,” Bochy said. “I can’t think back to when we had two games, identical games, where we made mistakes there in the first inning. The big number there killed us, took us out of our game. It’s hard to explain.”
The Giants hit the road Wednesday night for Denver and fell behind the Rockies, 6-0, in Thursday’s series opener. They then roared back to win, 8-6, beating the Rox for the 10th straight time.
At the plate, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval are both batting over .300 and Sandoval entered the weekend with seven home runs. So did Hunter Pence. Sandoval had 30 RBIs and Buster Posey had 25. The middle relief has been solid and closer Sergio Romo has converted 13 of 15 saves.
The starting pitching is the area of concern, and that’s where the Giants looked strongest on paper coming out of spring training. Tim Lincecum (4.07) and Matt Cain (5.43) both entered the weekend at 3-2 with poor ERAs. Vogelsong is 1-4, 8.06, the highest ERA among NL qualifiers. Bochy said Vogelsong, an all-star in 2011, will stay in the rotation for now.
Only Madison Bumgarner (4-1, 2.18) is pitching at or above what was expected at the start of the year.
“These guys are veterans. They’ve been around. They know what they need to do,” Bochy said. “If it’s something mechanical or something really out of sync, sure. We’ll help them. But it’s just more a matter of time and concentration too for these guys to get on track.”
The biggest thing Bochy said he liked about his team was its attitude. No complacency. No early-season boredom after the push through last October. Many of these players have now gone through two World Series and understand the long grind it takes to get there.
“They’re fighting hard. We have so much baseball left but I really like the attitude they have right now,” he said. “That’s play hard every day and try to find a way to win a game. You can look at all these guys and it seems like it’s somebody different most of the time doing something different to win the game for us. That’s been the way we’ve gone through it before.”
The Melky Way
Speaking of the Giants, they brought Melky Cabrera’s World Series ring to Toronto and presented it to him in a private meeting in the clubhouse tunnels with Cabrera and Bochy. The Giants skipper said that was Cabrera’s preference rather than an on-field presentation like teams often do for players who move on after a Series title.
After the game, however, Cabrera said it was Bochy’s decision to do the ceremony that way. Giants reporters jumped on Cabrera for that, pointing out he lied to them when asked about PED accusations last season a couple of weeks before his 50-game suspension.
The Giants, of course, never returned Cabrera to the roster for the postseason and he left town without ever acknowledging his teammates. His credibility rating isn’t the highest.
Collins v. fans
Jordany Valdespin is part flash and dash and part spoiled brat. We saw it last year in Buffalo and so did the Mets. And the Amazins are getting a huge dose of it again this year. For a guy who can’t hit .250, Valdespin has an awful lot of mustard on his hot dog.
He pimped a pinch home run last weekend against the Pirates with the Mets in a 7-1 hole, drawing ire in both dugouts. The next day, he reportedly tried to get out of a pinch-hitting appearance fearing reprisal and finally strode to the plate with an elbow guard to take his plunking. He went quietly to first after he was hit but threw a dugout tantrum after the inning and didn’t talk to the media afterward, again earning no points in his own dugout.
Mets manager Terry Collins is certainly tiring of this bunch and a part-time player being in the middle of the New York maelstrom was a little much for Collins to take. Especially when talk radio lit up with fans complaining the Mets didn’t back a teammate.
“I don’t answer to fans,” Collins said in St. Louis. “They don’t play this game. They have no idea what goes on. They have no idea what goes on in there. They have absolutely no idea what it means to be a professional teammate at this level.”
Ouch. That’s just not going to end well for the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer in the lame-duck year of a contract. Especially if the Mets keep playing like, well, the Mets.
Running like Ryno
The biggest-early season chatter in Philadelphia was about Roy Halladay’s drop in velocity that finally resulted in shoulder surgery on Wednesday. Another hot-button item is Ryan Howard’s alarming lack of speed on the bases.
Howard, remember, blew out his Achilles tendon with his swing for the final out in the 2011 division series against St. Louis and needed surgery. He struggled at times last year with his footwork, and the 33-year-old is regularly getting pinch-run for after manager Charlie Manuel did it just five times combined in 2010 and 2011 prior to the injury.
Said one veteran scout to the Philadelphia Inquirer: “It looks like he’s running on pieces of glass.”
Around the horn
• Great Sports Illustrated cover story this week on Mets phenom and former Bisons ace Matt Harvey, who continues to prove how bored he was in Triple-A last year by the way he’s throwing in the big leagues. Still, the story is also a lot of New York City hype early in the season. There are other young pitchers thriving too and Harvey doesn’t get that kind of pub if he pitched in, say, Milwaukee. Let’s talk again in July before anointing him some kind of Dark Knight of Gotham. Yeesh.
• When the Indians beat Justin Verlander last weekend in Detroit, it gave them a stunning 6-1 record this season against former Cy winners. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2013 Tribe is the first team ever to do that prior to June 1. The Indians have beaten Verlander, Toronto’s R.A. Dickey, Tampa Bay’s David Price, Philadelphia’s Halladay and Cliff Lee, and Oakland’s Bartolo Colon. The lone loss was to Jake Peavy of the White Sox.
• All-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson is a fan of Louisville center fielder Billy Hamilton, who leads the International League in steals one year after setting the all-time single season record in 2012 with 155 between Class A and Double-A. Said Henderson to the San Francisco Chronicle: “He reminds me so much of me, I had to go hug him. At Stockton, we did everything to stop him, but he’s just going to steal when he wants to.”
• The Gwinnett Braves snapped a 14-game losing streak with last Sunday’s 7-6 IL win at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which broke an 0-10 run in May that included Jason Heyward’s rehab stint. Too bad the Bisons didn’t catch them in their cold spell. Buffalo meets Gwinnett eight times in a 12-game span from June 17-28. And get this: The G-Braves had a 15-game skid last year. Ouch.