Talkin’ Giants with Bay City Ball

On the heels of the Cliff Lee trade, the Phillies head to San Francisco on a rush. They’ve won 15 of their last 18 games. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since that sweep in Atlanta to start the month of July. Baseball’s hottest team just added last year’s AL Cy Young award winner — what are the Giants thinking? Are they scared?

I talked with Chris Quick of the Saber-friendly Giants blog Bay City Ball to get some insight on the upcoming series. And some Aaron Rowand gossip. Chris was kind enough to share his time with Crashburn Alley, let’s jump right into the questioning.

1. How unwatchable would the Giants’ infield be without Pablo Sandoval? Your first and second basemen and shortstop have an OPS+ of 90, 49, and 66 respectively.
It would have been very, very, very unwatchable. The Giants infield (specifically SS and 2B) have been major problems for this year’s team. Ishikawa has been up-and-down as a hitter, but he plays top notch defense at first, so he’s not the worst offender of this sad group.

Pablo’s season has been fantastic for Giants fans. He’s really built upon his successful, but brief, 2008 season in which he hit .345/.357/.490. Not only has he kept on hitting, but he’s walking more (almost league average — for a contact-oriented hacker that’s not terrible) and hitting for more power. The Giants haven’t produced a quality position player since the Carter administration and Pablo is not only giving fans a great performance, but some hope as well that things could be changing.

2. What has Aaron Rowand crashed into lately?

You name it: walls, small children, vendors in the stands, elephants. As a card carrying member of the GAMER Union, Rowand is contractually obligated to run into things. He’s currently nursing a nasty arm bruise that he got as a result of getting plunked a few games ago.

Giants fans have been a little slow to warm up to Rowand (his ’08 season was pretty meh-worthy) but he’s having a nice year so far.

3. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain: best one-two in baseball? If not, who ranks higher in your opinion? Are you worried that both pitchers’ great campaigns are going to hurt their NL Cy Young chances?

I’m going to be biased and say that it’s tough to get better than Lincecum and Cain at the top of your rotation. I think you could make the argument that they are the best 1-2 in baseball. I think a healthy Brandon Webb and Dan Haren could give them a run for their money. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are near the top for any 1-2 pairing in the game.

RE: Their Cy Young chances — I’m not overly worried. I think Lincecum could repeat his CYA season this year, he’s definitely pitched well enough. Matt Cain is still viewed as an oddity by a lot of the press. He’s essentially the same pitcher he’s always been but without the soul-crushing poor run support this year.

4. The Giants are the NL’s best defensive team according to UZR at 7.3. They were at 2.1 last season. Who or what deserves credit for the defensive improvement?

Travis Ishikawa has been huge in the infield — he’s ranking as something like a +20 run defender at 1B over 150 games by UZR. I doubt he’s truly a +20 run defender, but +10 runs isn’t out of the question. The OF is very good starting with a Rowand bounce-back defensively (he posted a -6.5 run season in CF last season vs. a +4.5 run season this year).

Randy Winn has always been a great defender and the Giants have filled the corners with plus-defenders like Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, and Andres Torres. There really isnt’ a bad defender in our OF.

Maybe most shocking is that Sandoval — he of girth — has played an average defensive 3B. I was definitely worried about how he would handle the position defensively but Sandoval has shown that he has enough at the moment to play 3B full-time.

In short: Amazing OF with some highlights in the INF = pretty darned good defensive team.

5. Are you worried about the Rockies impeding the Giants’ path to the playoffs?

A little. The Rockies are legit. Bizzaro Jason Marquis has somehow thrived in Coors Field this year and I’ve always been a fan of Ubaldo Jimenez. The Rockies can flat out hit the baseball and they’ve been on a tear lately.

I’m not a true beliver (yet) that the Giants are a playoff team, but they’ve exceeded most fan’s expectations.

BONUS: Crystal ball time. We have Rodrigo Lopez/Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Blanton/Ryan Sadowski, Jamie Moyer/Tim Lincecum, and Cole Hamels/Barry Zito. How do you see the series panning out? The teams split the season series last year 3-3 with each winning its home series 2-1.

[NOTE: As you can tell, these questions were asked and answered prior to the Cliff Lee trade, so adjust accordingly]

I’ll take Sanchez over Rodrigo Lopez (whom I had no idea was still pitching), Blanton over Sadowski, Lincecum over Moyer, and Hamels over Zito. I’ll be boring and call it a 2-2 split. I think, from a Giants angle, the wild card is Sanchez. He’s got great potential, but unravels sometimes.

I’ll state right now that I can’t stand watching Moyer pitch to teams like the Giants. We hack, don’t walk, and Moyer usually will take full advantage of these types of teams. But, I can’t bet against Lincecum.

. . .

Thanks to Chris for his time and insight.

The Giants’ lineup is still pretty weak, even with the addition of Freddy Sanchez. Pablo Sandoval is far and away the biggest threat in the lineup. I think it would behoove the Phillies not to touch him with a ten-foot pole when first base is open. Give him the Albert Pujols treatment. Sandoval has a 141 OPS+ while Sanchez has the next-highest at 109. Huge drop-off.

Now that the Phillies have Cliff Lee, he and Cole Hamels have to vault near the top of the list in baseball’s best 1-2 punches in starting pitching. I’d still take Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, despite Cain’s 3.74 FIP compared to his 2.12 ERA this season.

As for Lee, no one’s sure yet when he’s going to start but it will either be tomorrow in place of Joe Blanton against Ryan Sadowski or Saturday in place of Jamie Moyer against Tim Lincecum.

Make sure to keep up with the quality analysis at Bay City Ball. One of my favorite posts is the analysis of Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter.

[In the voice of the blind kid from Dumb and Dumber]

Pretty graphs. Yes, can you say pretty graphs? Pretty graphs, yeah, pretty graphs… Polly want a cracker?

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