Archive for the ‘The McCovey’s’ Category

The Nats’ Season Ends In San Francisco

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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A strangely quiet line-up, a misplayed grounder, a well-placed bunt, a defensive gem, and a wild pitch ended Washington’s season on Tuesday night, as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals, 3-2. The defeat ended the Nationals season, as the Giants now go on to face the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League championship.

The difference in this series, as any Nationals fan will tell you, was Washington’s strangely quiet line-up. While Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper hit well against Giants’ pitching in the series, San Francisco was able to consistently quiet the bats of Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond — the heart of Washington’s offense.

The same was true on Tuesday, with a medley of Giants pitchers (from starter Ryan Vogelsong to closer Hunter Strickland) throwing on oh-fer to Span (0-4), Werth (0-3), LaRoche (0-4), and Desmond, who notched a single hit. Even the normally productive Anthony Rendon (0-4) proved unable to provide the Nationals with needed offense.

The misplayed grounder on Tuesday came in the 2nd inning, when a hit back to the pitcher off the bat of Juan Perez was muffed by Nationals southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez, putting two Giants runners on base with no one out. A well-placed bunt (by Ryan Vogelsong) one batter later loaded the bases, with the Giants then scoring two runs — on a walk to Gregor Blanco and a Joe Panik ground out to first, which scored Perez.

Did Gonzalez pitch well? The 2-0 score at the end of two reflected the reality of the series: the Giants were moving runners on bloops, bleeders, walks and errors — a habit of championship teams. They were finding a way to win. At no time was this more apparent than in the 6th inning, when a long drive off the bat of Jayson Werth was snagged by right fielder Hunter Pence, who made a Roberto Clemente-like back-to-the-wall catch.

But the game came down to a Nationals miscue in the 7th inning, when Nats fireballer Aaron Barrett came on in relief of Matt Thornton and walked Pence to load the bases. Barrett then threw a wild pitch to Pablo Sandoval, which scored Panik with the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

Barrett made up for the gaffe when he tagged out Buster Posey after blooping a ball to the backstop on an intentional walk, but the damage was done — and San Francisco was the 3-2 winner of the game, and the victor in the series. “I got lucky, obviously, with the wild pitch,” Barrett said after the loss. “The bottom line is I didn’t make pitches when I had to, and it ended up costing us the game.”

If there was a Washington hero for the loss, it was Bryce Harper, who showed that he can be a big-game player in a winner-take-all series. Harper ripped his third homer of the Nats-Giants toe-to-toe in the top of the 7th inning on a 97-mph Hunter Strickland fastball, a long and deep fly ball that ended up in McCovey Cove.

“This is tough,” center fielder Denard Span said after the loss. “We didn’t play well all series. That’s the bottom line. The Giants made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The little things added up.” Nats skipper Matt Williams called the defeat “bitter,” but praised his team for their 96 win season. “I’m proud of them,” he said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Winners go on to play another day, while losers talk about things like “perspective” — as in, “I know we lost, but let’s put this in perspective.” Still, it’s worth standing back, particularly after a season-ending loss like the one last night, to talk about history . . .

Back in 2010 I wore my ‘Curly W’ hat to the Roy Halladay-Tim Lincecum post-season face-off in Philadelphia, calculating that no one would really look to see whether the cap bore the trademark Philadelphia “P.” I was mostly right, though one Philadelphia fan gave me a puzzled look: “Really?” he asked, eying my hat. “Why would you root for such a loser . . .”

I might have told him that if anyone should know about losing it was a fan of the Philadelphia Stinking Phillies, Established in 1883, it took the Phillies 22 years to just appear in a championship game (which they did, in 1915), and just under one hundred years to win their first one, which came in 1980 . . .

If you study the Phillies or Cubs or White Sox or Twins or Braves (or just about anyone else, perhaps, excepting the Cardinals and Yankees) you realize that it sometimes takes years to build a winner — and a little bit of luck to win it all even when you have one . . .

That’s true for the Nationals too. It’s taken ten years for the Nationals’ front office to build a winner, but it might have taken a lot longer. Back in 2008, the Nationals offered a huge contract to Mark Teixeira, and were disappointed when he decided to sign with the New York Yankees. He signed with them because they were a “winner” . . .

But here’s the thing: If Teixeira had signed with the Nationals, the team might have had a stronger 2009 and finished with, say, 63 wins instead of 59. Which means? Which means that Bryce Harper would probably be playing in Pittsburgh (or in Baltimore) instead of in Washington . . .

So what would you rather have — Mark Teixeira playing first base, or Bryce Harper in left field? Which is why we take universal take-it-to-the-bank judgments about baseball (or about anything else, for that matter) with more than a grain of salt . . .

We’re going to hear a lot of such judgements in the days ahead: the Nats loss to the Giants shows “they’re not ready for prime time,” that the Nats don’t know how to don’t “step up on the big stage,” that skipper Matt Williams “needs seasoning,” that the Nationals need to show some “character . . . ”

What a bunch of baloney. This has nothing to do with character. The Giants didn’t win their series against the Nationals because they’re better citizens, they won it because they hit some timely bleeders and some down-the-third base line bunts . . .

Perspective? How this for perspective: If the “just a little outside” Zimmermann called “ball” in game two had been called a “strike,” we’d still be playing . . .

It was a great season. It was fun to watch. The Nationals are a fine baseball team. They didn’t win it all, but that’s the way it goes . . .

So here’s the argument for perspective. When you lose a series like this one, you pack up your bats, you hop on the airplane, you start planning for next year — and you live to fight another day. In almost everything else, that’s never an option . . .

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Nats Live On: Fister Fells The Giants

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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Facing elimination in San Francisco, the Washington Nationals lived on to play another day, as starting righty Doug Fister combined with timely hitting, and an error on pitcher Madison Bumgarner, to down the Giants at AT&T Park, 4-1. Fister threw seven innings of four hit baseball in a brilliant outing that left the Nats trailing the NLDS by two games to one.

After a frustrating series that saw the Nationals score just three runs in 33 innings, the Washington line-up put three runs on the board against Bumgarner and the Giants in the 7th inning of game four on an Ian Desmond single, a walk to Bryce Harper and a rare sacrifice bunt from catcher Wilson Ramos on a two strike count.

While the Ramos sacrifice was fielded cleanly in front of the mound by Bumgarner, the Giants ace whirled and threw wide of third base, sending the ball down the left field line and into the Giants bullpen. Desmond and Harper scampered home for two runs. The next hitter, Asdrubal Cabrera then singled home Ramos, who slid past Buster Posey for the Nats third run.

“You can’t throw the ball away,” Bumgarner said of his key throwing error. “I screwed it up for us. I thought I had a shot right there. Whether we had a shot or not, I think we still had a shot to get Ramos at first base.” The other Washington run came on Bryce Harper’s second home run of the series (a massive 421 foot shot) over the right field wall.

The game also saw Harper notch two clutch defensive gems, snagging Brandon Crawford’s drive to the left field wall in the second inning and grabbing a dead duck single off the bat of Travis Ishikawa.

“Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it’s very tough,” Harper said of his dramatic outfield plays. “We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long. It’s definitely tough, trying to battle out there.”

The 4-1 victory was a shot in the arm for Washington, which had struggled at the plate against Jake Peavy in game one of the series, and Tim Hudson in game two of the series. While the Nats were still only 1-7 with runners in scoring position, they took advantage of San Francisco’s miscues, while making none of their own.

The victory forces game four of the series, which will be played today in San Francisco. The Nationals will send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face off against the Giants Ryan Vogelsong.

“His numbers the last month were fantastic,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said in explaining why he will go with Gonzalez on the mound. “He’s been going deep into games and using all his pitches for strikes when he wants to.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Here’s what you do if you’re Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly: you run Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke out to the bump, take a snooze on the pines, and when you wake up — “presto,” you’ve taken a 2-zip lead on the what-are-we-doing-here St. Louis Cardinals . . .

Or, at least, that’s what fans of the Trolleys would have you think. In fact, it hasn’t turned out that way. Last Friday, in as close to a sure win as you can have, the Redbirds touched the All World Kershaw for eight runs in six innings and squeezed out a jaw-clenching 10-9 win . . .

The Dodgers bounced back from that first game loss with a ho-hum two hit seven inning stint from Greinke on Saturday (notching a 3-2 victory in Game 2 of the Dodgers-Cardinals best-of-five), but baseball analysts were still wondering why Donny Baseball hadn’t given Kershaw the hook when he started to unravel the day before . . .

Last night we were all given an insight into Mattingly’s thinking, which goes something like this: why in the world would you rely on a sometimes shaky bullpen when you’ve got the game’s best starter on the mound. Sure nuf, last night in St. Louis, the Dodgers bullpen waltzed their way into a 3-1 loss when lefty reliever Scott Elbert gave up a two run homer in the 7th to Kolten Wong . . .

Scott Elbert? One L.A. wag described Mattingly’s decision as “one for the birds . . .”

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Nats Blasts Not Enough Against The Giants

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

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Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera each homered for the Nationals, but the round trippers weren’t enough to tame the Giants, as Washington fell to San Francisco 3-2 in the first game of their five game National League Division Series face-off. The two teams will continue their fight to play in the N.L. Championship series on Saturday.

The Giants victory was fueled by a nose-in-the-dirt outing from San Francisco righty Jake Peavy, who no-hit the Nationals into the 5th inning, when Bryce Harper finally connected for an infield single. When Peavy exited the game after two outs in the 6th, he’d held the Nationals to just two hits and no runs and had struck out three.

“Peavy was unbelievable,” Harper said, following hit team’s loss. “He has been in this game a long time. I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I love his mentality out there and the way he pitches. He screams and yells and does what he does out there.┬áThat’s a gamer’s mentality. I have the utmost respect for Peavy for the way he threw tonight.”

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, labored through five innings, giving up eight hits. The Giants played a small ball, hit-to-contact game against Strasburg, nickel-and-diming him with line-drive singles up the middle. Singles from Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey put the Giants ahead, 3-0 by the 7th inning.

The Giants’ hit-em-where-they-aint’s routine was frustrating for Washington’s young righty, who put in a solid performance, but took the loss. “Wasn’t like they were hitting me all around the yard,” Strasburg acknowledged, following his loss. “Hit it where we weren’t.”

Washington finally clawed back from the early deficit in the 7th, when Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera launched home runs that brought the Nationals within a single run. Harper’s breathtaking homer landed in the upper deck of right field, as the 45-000-plus Nats fans screamed their appreciation.

Jerry Blevins, Craig Stammen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard followed Strasburg to the mound, providing workmanlike relief to the righty ace. But San Francisco responded by putting an extra run on the board in the 7th against Stammen, when Joe Panik led off the inning with a triple and was plated by a clutch Buster Posey single.

“Like I said, we had opportunities,” Nats skipper Matt Williams told the press after his team’s loss. “One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game today. It didn’t happen. We will see if it can happen tomorrow.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Bryce Harper’s 7th inning home run traveled 445 feet and landed in the third tier, bouncing forward where it was retrieved by a fan. The home run came off reliever Hunter Strickland, a late season addition to the Giants’ roster and the reputed “closer of the future” for San Francisco . . .

The Giants game plan against Strasburg was to hit his fastball up the middle, and not to do too much. It seemed to work. “He was good,” manager Matt Williams said. “Throwing strikes early. It wasn’t that he was so excited that he wasn’t throwing strikes. Worked through the first inning well. I think he pitched fine . . . ”

Nats fans were silenced, and a little surprised, by San Francisco’s early offensive, but then got back into the game when Harper homered. When Asdrubal Cabrera then hit his round tripper (following a Wilson Ramos “K”), lifting his arms into the air to spur the home town crowd, the fans responded . . .

Cabrera’s home run didn’t have the distance of Harper’s, but it was impressive nonetheless. The offering from Hunter Strickland was high-and-away, and came in at 97 mph. Cabrera reached out to get it, and actually pulled it down the right field line. Very few 97 mph fastballs are pulled that well . . .

Strickland is an impressive addition for the Giants who is capable of providing late inning heat. But his final line on Friday was downright terrible. He gave up two hits, both of them home runs, and his final ERA for the day came in at a solid 18.00 . . .

The Nationals stranded seven runners on Friday and were 0-7 with runners in scoring position. That was the difference in the game, though the Giants pointed to the performance of starter Peavy and their playoff experience as the key to their victory . . .

“I think we tapped into our postseason experience,” San Francisco closer Sergio Romo said. “There’s that little extra thing in our chemistry — that focus, that determination — that separates postseason games from regular-season games. Everything seems to matter in the playoffs . . .

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It’s Nats-Giants In NLDS

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

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Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, 8-0, propelling San Francisco into the National League Division Series, where they will face the Washington Nationals. Bumgarner threw a complete game four hitter in leading the Giants.

The Giants’ win came off the arm of Bumgarner, and the bats of shortstop Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Crawford hit a grand slam home run in the fourth inning to give San Francisco a four run lead, while Belt chipped away at Pirates pitching with two hits and three RBIs.

“We got outplayed tonight,” Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker said after his team was eliminated from the post season. “Bumgarner went out there, he did what he wanted to do. He put up the strike zone and he made it tough on us.”

The Giants victimized Pittsburgh starter Edinson Volquez, who was rocked for five runs in just five innings of work. The Pirates followed with five relievers, but Pittsburgh’s hitters still couldn’t get to Bumgarner, who threw 109 pitches in the game, 79 of them for strikes.

The Giants win sets up a five game series with the Nationals in Washington. The Nats are expected to throw ace Stephen Strasburg in the opening game of the series on Friday, while the Giants will throw veteran Jake Peavy and follow with another veteran, Tim Hudson. The Nationals took five of the seven games in which they faced the Giants this year.

While Washington has yet to make its final roster and starting rotation decisions, the team is expected to follow Strasburg with Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Gio Gonzalez will be the sole Washington lefty starter should Washington need him. The first game of the series will be played at 3 pm on Friday at Nationals Park.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington’s Internet Baseball Writers Association announced their 2014 player awards on Wednesday, and CFG was one of the voters. Anthony Rendon took top honors among the voters in winning the Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player Award while Jordan Zimmermann was named the winner of the Walter Johnson starting pitcher award . . .

Centerfield Gate was outside this mainstream: we voted Denard Span the team MVP and Doug Fister the team’s best starting pitcher (this was before we saw Zimmermman’s no-hitter, which might have changed our vote). Drew Storen received the best reliever award, while Adam LaRoche was named the teams best slugger . . .

It’s worth reviewing the season’s final player stats — to show just how solid the Nationals were in the regular season. Washington’s Span led the the N.L. in hits (tied with Philadelphia’s Ben Revere), Anthony Rendon was fifth and Jayson Werth was in the top 30 . . .

Anthony Rendon led the league in runs scored (with 111), while Werth was third in OBP (.394). Rendon and Span were fourth in doubles, Adam LaRoche was fifth in RBIs and Span was fifth in stolen bases. It was a solid year for the team at the plate (fifth in BA, fourth in OBP, fifth in Slugging, fourth in OPS) . . .

But no one outshone the Nationals on the mound, where Washington finished first in team ERA, was second in the league in shutouts (behind the Dodgers) and gave up fewer walks than anyone. Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann finished in the top ten in ERA, while Stephen Strasburg finished tied with Johnny Cueto for the league lead in strikeouts . . .

The Nationals had the second best bullpen in the National League (just behind San Diego, and measured by bullpen ERA), and has to be accounted as having one of the best benches. The Nats weighed in with the best record in the National League, at 96-66. But the most important test yet remains, and it begins tomorrow — against the Giants . . .

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Let’s Play The . . . Giants

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

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Somewhere here soon, and actually any minute now, Nats skipper Matt Williams will tell the Washington sports press that he doesn’t care whether the Nationals face the Pirates (and, well, perhaps the Cardinals) or the Giants in the playoffs — “they’re both good teams.” That’s fine for Matt, but the rest of us should have a decided preference: Let’s play the Giants.

It’s not that we don’t like the Pirates (we love them, and if the Nats weren’t in the playoffs . . .), it’s that of the two teams that the Nats are likely to face in the playoffs first round, the Giants are (arguably) the easier opponent. They’ve had an inconsistent September (swept by the Padres and dumped by the Dodgers) and, with the exception of Madison Bumgarner (and Jake Peavy) their pitching is a mess.

The Giants know it. Having backed into the playoffs, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is now juggling his starting staff to make certain San Francisco puts Bumgarner on the mound on Wild Card Wednesday, no matter who the Giants face. Which means that, if the Giants were to win, the Nationals would face either Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy or Tim Hudson in the first game of the N.L. Division series — while Bumgarner sits.

San Francisco will enter the playoffs with the worst pitching stats of any of the five N.L finishers, with a so-so team ERA (at 3.52), a habit of giving up big runs to small teams and a back of the rotation that has been absolutely shelled.

The Giants lost to the Padres 4-1 last night at home, but gave up eight runs to them on Thursday, in a game the franchise said it had to win. Earlier in the month, the McCoveys were outscored by the Friars in a three game set, 16-2.

But our argument doesn’t have as much to do with the Giants as it does with the Pirates. Pittsburgh is red hot (they’ve won nine of their last eleven), their line-up is that much more formidable and their starting rotation is tougher than San Francisco’s. Pittsburgh is the N.L.’s big secret: they can hit, they can pitch, they’re patient at the plate and they’re fast.

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Zimmermann Gets Nats Back On Track

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

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Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann threw eight complete innings, Jayson Werth plated two RBIs and Asdrubel Cabrera homered as the Nationals snapped back from their Friday 10-3 loss, defeating Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants on Saturday at Nationals Park, 6-2.

“Last night they score 10 runs, they kind of put a dagger in us a little bit,” Nationals center fielder Denard Span said of his team’s victory. “The first inning they were swinging away again. For us to respond, and come out and get a win is definitely good for us.”

The Giants scored all of their runs in the first inning on a Hunter Pence home run that gave the Giants the lead. But that was the only glitch in Zimmermann’s outing, as the Auburndale, Wisconsin native threw 107 pitches, 78 of them for strikes. “His most effective pitch was his fastball,” backstop Wilson Ramos said of Zimmermann’s outing. “It was really working well.”

“I had a good fastball.. I was locating in and out. The slider was there. I mixed a curveball the second and third time through the lineup,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “I started throwing more curveballs. The last two innings, I mixed in a few changeups and got some ground balls.”

The Nationals showed their resilience after the Giants put their runs on the board early. Trailing 2-0, Denard Span led off the bottom of the 1st inning with a triple, Anthony Rendon walked and Jayson Werth followed with single that scored Span. Rendon then scored when Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice — and the Nats were suddenly back in the game at 2-2.

The Nationals piled on a shaky Lincecum in the 2nd inning, chasing three more runs across the plate. Asdrubal Cabrera led off the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second and then scored on a Denard Span single. Span then scored on a Pablo Sandoval error that put Anthony Rendon on second and Rendon scored on another Jayson Werth single.

The Nationals added a sixth run to their total on a long home run off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the third. The Cabrera home run marked the end of the night for Giants starter Lincecum, who gave up four earned runs in just 2.2 innings of work. Lincecum took the loss for the Giants and is now 10-9 on the year with a 4.64 ERA.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Giants are frustrated with Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young award winner and four time All Star who’s had an up-and-down season, but mostly down. Saturday was only the most recent example of what ails Lincecum, who kept his now 92-mph fastball out over the plate, where Nationals hitters crushed it . . .

While the Giants are frustrated, so too is Lincecum, who described his Saturday outing as “horseshit, just horseshit.” While that was obviously true, there was a time this season when opposing hitters couldn’t touch the righty. Starting on June 25, when he threw a no-hitter against the Padres, Lincecum was brilliant, notching a 0.92 ERA in his next five outings . . .

But starting on July 25, against the Dodgers, Lincecum has been repeatedly roughed up. The one exception came earlier this week, when Lincecum notched a win against the Phillies, though he gave up seven hits and four walks in just five innings of work. While beating the Phillies, Lincecum was all over the place, a sign of what was to come on Saturday versus the Nationals . . .

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. . . And Here Come The Giants

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

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The San Francisco Giants were our pick to win the National League West, and we had good reason to suppose so. The Giants had a snappy starting rotation, we thought that Tim Lincecum would recover some of the velocity on his fastball, and the team could hit — not least because they added Michael Morse to their mix.

For much of the season our prediction looked solid. The Giants appeared to be running away with the West, the Dodgers were struggling (and Clayton Kershaw was on the disabled list for a short time), and Morse was hitting the snot out of the ball, and still is.

But starting in late June and extending well into mid-August, the Giants were hit by a series of devastating injuries: Matt Cain went down for the season, Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were hit with concussions, Marco Scutaro went down with a bad back and a stiff neck and the McCoverys spiraled out of first place.

But the real loss for the Giants came in late June when center fielder Angel Pagan was hit with a back injury that refused to heal. Pagan is San Francisco’s spark and had led the Giants in BA and OBP prior to sitting out an eight game streak in late June. Finally, realizing that he just wasn’t healing, the Giants took Pagan off the bench and put him on the disabled list.

The Giants went 19-26 without Pagan, though G.M. Brian Sabean did his best to back-and-fill off the Pagan injury. Sabean signed struggling second sacker Dan Uggla to a contract on July 25, then swapped two minor leaguers for Red Sox starter and veteran tosser Jake Peavy the next day.

Sabean’s moves haven’t worked out. Uggla went 0-11 with six strikeouts in two weeks of work for the Giants (who then outrighted him, putting him back on the street) and Peavy has been just so-so. The former San Diego righty began his time in San Francisco by going 0-3, though he’s recovered lately, authoring two key wins in his last two outings.

It hasn’t been enough. While the Giants have been able to patch together a workable starting rotation and supplemented it with a solid, very solid, bullpen, the Giants are just middling run scorers. The McCoveys offense is not only not as good as L.A.’s, it’s probably worse than Arizona’s, with a sorry .305 team OBP.

Yes, we know: the Giants have heavyweights Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Morse in their line-up. But the guy the Giants really have to have (they’re 21st in runs and 21st in BA) is Angel Pagan — who needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Pagan is the key, the one guy that makes it all work. Without him, they’re just not the same team.