49ers Special Teams Woes

In last Sunday’s game against the Giants, the 49ers displayed several elements that have been uncharacteristic of the team during their string of success since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach. In the 26-3 loss the 49ers: allowed a 100 yard rusher at home for the first time since 2010, they allowed a running back to score a rushing TD (something only Marshawn Lynch accomplished vs. this defense last season), Alex Smith threw 3 INT’s (just 2 shy of how many he threw all of last season). From what I’ve seen from the 49ers this season these appear more as an aberration from a really…. really bad game. The more concerning trend on display this past Sunday was the 49ers poor performance on special teams.

 Last season special teams was a core strength of the 49ers team, according to football outsiders, the 49ers special teams were the 2nd best in football behind only the Chicago Bears. This season however through week 6 the 49ers special teams unit ranks 25th in the NFL. The biggest issue for the Niners this season has been covering punt and kickoff returns, the Niners rank 30th and 31st respectively in those categories. The 49ers coverage units have allowed a kickoff or punt return of 40-yards or more in every game, except the game vs. Minnesota, and in that game Percy Harvin had a 32-yard kickoff return.

The 49ers allowed special teams ace Blake Costanzo to leave via free agency this past off-season, the team brought in another highly regarded special team player in former Raider Rock Cartwright, but he was cut after Anthony Dixon beat him out for a roster spot. In 2011 the 49ers ranked 1st in average starting field position for both their offense and defense, through 6 games the 49ers rank 5th and 8th respectively. Another area for some concern, though not as alarming as the issues with kick coverage are missed field goals.

 David Akers, who set several NFL records last season, including most field goals made and attempted in a single year, is 11/16 on FG’s this year and has missed at least 1 FG in half of the Niners games so far this season. Akers’ issues this season have come on FG’s 40 yd’s or further, he is 6 of 11 on FG attempts of this distance including his NFL Record tying 63 yd FG in Green Bay.  Last year Akers was 13 of 20 on FG’s of 40 or more yards, but was 7 of 9 when those attempts came from 50 yards or further. Akers missed two FG’s last week vs. the Giants and is hitting on 68.8 percent of his tries this year after converting 82 percent in each of the previous four seasons.

The 49ers special teams played at such a high level last season that it was reasonable to expect the unit to come back a bit closer to Earth this year. What we didn’t expect was for the coverage units to do a Felix Baumgartner* dive towards the surface. Brad Seely, is a very respected special teams coach, and if he can get the 49ers coverage units to stay disciplined and bring the level of enthusiasm for making plays that last year’s unit possessed, everything will be fine. Just like Baumgartner did during his dive, I’m sure Seely will help the 49ers coverage units land on their feet.

*Felix Baumgartner reference used mostly to help with trending

Tigers and A’s Game 1 Preview

The A’s surged to a division title winning 8 or their last 9 games to become the first team in MLB history to win their division when trailing by 5 or more games with fewer than 10 games remaining.

After winning the AL Central by 15 games last year, the Tigers got off to a slow start this season and trailed the White Sox in the division as early as last month. Detroit finished the season 18-13 over the final month, including taking 2 of 3 from the Athletics and outscoring the A’s 22-16 during the series.

The Tigers won the season series 4-3 over the A’s. Oakland and Detroit finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in ERA in the AL.

Game 1 will feature last years AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander vs. A’s rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker, who was 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA this season.

Verlander has beaten the A’s twice this season going a combined 13 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 4 walks and 13 strikeouts in his two starts. One of the Athletics major catalysts, Coco Crisp, didn’t play in either of the games Verlander started against Oakland. The A’s are 66-17 since June 1st in games Coco Crisp has played in.

Over his last 6 starts, Jarrod Parker is 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 41 innings. Parker faced the Tigers once this season, that was back in May, Parker went 5.2 IP giving up 6 hits and 2 earned runs with 4 walks and 5 strikeouts while taking the loss in his 4th start of the year.

The A’s hit .252 with seven home runs against Detroit pitching this season. Seth Smith batted .417 with two home runs against the Tigers this year, and Josh Reddick hit .357 against Detroit with two homers.

For the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera just completed the first triple crown in 45 years and is an MVP candidate. Cabrera has beaten up on pretty much every team this year, and the A’s are no exception to that. This season Cabrera has gone 15-30 with 7 runs, 3 homers and 14 RBI against A’s pitching.

How the Reds Have Fared vs. the Giants in 2012

The San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds will begin their best-of-five series this Saturday at AT&T Park. Before the two teams take the field let’s look back at how Reds have fared against the Giants this season and how some of the key players have been performing since the last time the teams squared off.

Cincinnati Reds Lineup vs. the Giants

The Reds won the season series 4-3 over the Giants, and the two teams haven’t played head-to-head since splitting a 4-game series at the end of June and the first day of July.  The last series between the clubs cost the Reds their star slugger Joey Votto who injured his left knee sliding into third base on June 30th. Votto posted good peripheral stats in 22 September games hitting .343/.527/.448 during the month. Though Votto has returned from surgery his power stroke has not returned to the Reds lineup and he has yet to homer in a game since returning from the DL on September 5th.

Without Votto in the lineup the Reds surged to 31-15 record and proved that their lineup was deeper than one guy. With that said, the Reds offense has really struggled over the last month hitting just .230/.303/.332 in the month of September.

Several of the Reds players have fared well against the Giants this season including: Jay Bruce, who went 11-for-26 (.423) with a homer and seven RBIs; Todd Frazier was 5-for-12 (.417) with a homer; and Ryan Ludwick was 7-for-20 (.350) with a homer.

Cincinnati Reds pitchers vs. the Giants

Cincinnati will have Johnny Cueto start Game 1 vs. Matt Cain. Cueto faced the Giants back on June 28th and was a 5-0 loser to San Francisco while giving up three runs (2 ER) on six hits, walking four and striking out three over six innings. In that game Cueto was beaten by Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a one-hit shutout.

The Reds pitching has been terrific down the stretch posting a 2.91 ERA in 241 innings during the month of September. One of the core strengths of this Cincinnati Reds team is the bullpen. The Reds pen features a lot of power arms that rack up strikeouts and limit home runs. Led by closer Aroldis Chapman (45.9%) the Reds pen K’s 26.6% of hitters faced and despite playing half their games in the bandbox known as the Great American Ballpark, the pen has posted the lowest homerun rate per 9-innings in the majors.

A home field advantage benefit that may help the Giants vs. the Reds bullpen could be the stat Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). The Giants bullpen had a .302 BABIP the 5th worst in the National League. This can be attributed largely to playing their games within the odd dimensions of AT&T Park.

Overall this season the Reds pen has posted a respectable .284 average on balls in play, good enough for 5th best in the NL. However, a few key members of the Reds pen Alfredo Simon (.337) and Sean Marshall (.325) have posted high averages on balls in play, and those numbers could inflate at AT&T Park. This is by no means a guarantee of success for the Giants against a tough Cincinnati pen, it’s simply an aspect that could favor the Giants while playing at home.

Although the matchups weren’t known until Wednesday both the Giants and Reds punched their postseason tickets almost 2 weeks ago. With plenty of time to get their houses in order before a playoff run this should be a great series. The Reds had the best road ERA in the Majors this year, while the Giants had the NL’s 3rd best home ERA so this will feature strength against strength… Let’s get it on.

Giants Post-Game Notes Sept. 26th

The San Francisco Giants beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-0 and avoided the team’s first 3 game losing streak since dropping 5 in-a-row from July 25-30th. With the win the Giants have won 9 or their last 12 home games and have outscored their opponents 60-30 over that stretch.

Buster Posey‘s RBI single in the 3rd inning gave him his 100th RBI of the season. Posey is the first Bay Area hitter since Frank Thomas in 2006 to have at least 100 RBI in a season, and the first Giants hitter to accomplish the feat since Barry Bonds in 2004.  Posey joined former Giants Walker Cooper (122 RBI in 1947) and Dick Dietz (107 RBI in 1970) to have 100 RBI for in a season for the Giants while primarily playing catcher. When asked what it meant to reach the 100 RBI milestone the often humble Posey replied

“I think an accomplishment like that can’t be done without your teammates, without guys getting on base,” Posey said. “The speed of guys on our team getting into scoring position, moving runners, it’s something that I think is only accomplished when you have help from your teammates.”

See what else Buster Posey had to say…

Matt Cain picked up the win by shutting out the D-Backs over 7 innings pitched surrendering just 4 hits while walking 1 and striking out 6. Cain improved to 3-0 vs. the D-Backs this season, and he is 6-0 with a 2.18 ERA over his last 9 starts. Cain had 6 strikeouts in tonight’s game, and established a new career-high for strikeouts in a season with 191 so far in 2012. Cain showed great improvement in allowing just the 1 walk after allowing 16 walks over his previous 5 starts. Cain talked about his improved command after the game.

“The past couple starts, I was just finding ways to walk guys, and I kind of made that a point between the last start and this start just to throw a lot of strikes and get ahead a lot of guys and not even think about walking guys and take that out of my mind.”

Watch what Matt Cain said after the game.

Marco Scutaro extended his NL leading hitting streak to 14 games which is a career-high for Scutaro. Scutaro is hitting .466 with 4 doubles and 12 RBI during his streak.

Giants Post-Game Notes Sept 18th

The Giants beat the Rockies 6-3 tonight and brought the Magic Number to…. 7. With the win tonight the Giants have won 24 of their last 35 games and are a season-high 22 games over .500.

Tim Lincecum picked up his 10th win of the season tonight going 6.1 scoreless innings, allowing 5 hits and 2 walks while strikingout 6. Lincecum now has double digit wins for the 5th straight season, he is the 8th pitcher in San Francisco Giants history to accomplish the feat. Lincecum saw his ERA drop below 5.00 for the first time this season, he now sits with a 4.91 ERA on the season, and over his last 10 starts has an ERA of 3.02. Lincecum talked about what has changed for him in the second half of the season.

“Just focusing on that second half has alleviated that pressure to do what I needed to be doing or what everybody thought I needed to be doing,” he said. “It’s about making good pitches and getting outs. Really, that’s all they’re asking me to do. That’s all I need to do.”

Lincecum’s battery mate Hector Sanchez was 2-for-4 tonight with a double and a run scored, he is hitting .370 with 5 RBI in his last 7 starts.

Angel Pagan broke Willie Mays San Francisco Giants record last week on the road, tonight Pagan broke his own record with his Major League-Leading 14th triple of the year. The fans were able to recognize Pagan’s accomplishment tonight and did so with an ovation. Pagan talked about what it meant to hear from the fans tonight.

Bruce Bochy said after the game that Gregor Blanco is healthy enough to start after missing yesterday’s game and appearing as a pinch-hitter tonight. Bochy also said that Xaiver Nady has been good, Nady was 2-for-3 tonight with 2 RBI and now has 5 RBI in 7 games with the Giants. Bochy sees leftfield as platoon situation for the time being.

See what else Bochy had to say after tonights 6-3 win.

Giants Post-Game Notes Sept. 17th

The Giants beat the Rockies 2-1 tonight and have now won 13 of their last 19 games. The Giants lead the NL West now by 8 games over the Dodgers and the all important Magic Number now also sits at 8 games. Tonight was the Giants Major League leading 29th one-run victory of the year.

Madison Bumgarner became the first left-handed pitcher to win 15 games in a season for the Giants since Shawn Estes in 2000. Bumgarner went 6 innings giving up 4 hits and 5 walks while striking out 6. The 5 walks from Bumgarner were a career-high. Bumgarner thought his mechanics were the worst they have been all season.

“[My mechanics] were way off compared to when I’m usually on and feeling good,” Bumgarner said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily one thing but I’m going to get a closer look at it the next couple of days and try to figure it out and get back on track.”

See what else Madison Bumgarner thought about his performance tonight vs. the Rockies

Brandon Crawford was 2-for-3 with a double, a triple and a run scored tonight. Crawford’s triple hit off the very top of the wall and bounced back into play. The play was eerily reminiscent of Ian Kinsler’s near home run in the 2010 World Series, up to the where along the fence line the ball hit. Crawford also made an incredible defensive play going deep into the hole at short and making a long throw to nab the runner at first. When asked about his hits, Crawford believed he had his homerun stroke with him tonight.

 “Both of them off the bat I thought might be out,” Crawford said. “But you never know here. Got about as close as you can without hitting a home run.”

See what Crawford had to say about his overall performance tonight.

Bruce Bochy was impressed by his club’s ability to hang in and win games even when not everything is clicking. The Giants continue to win and Bruce Bochy keeps pushing the right buttons to keep the machine rolling. Santiago Casilla found himself back in the batter box tonight, he grounded out to 2nd.  After finishing out the 8th inning, Bochy chose to have Casilla hit so he could have him face the right-handed hitting Chris Nelson before bringing in Lopez knowing that some tough lefties were likely to bat later in the inning. Bruce Bochy continued to take advantage of his deeper bullpen tonight using 3 different pitchers to finish the 9th inning.  Sergio Romo ultimately earned his 12th save of the year by striking out Jason Giambi, the only hitter Romo faced in the game.

Bochy has refused to talk about the playoffs until his team finally clinches a berth, but he did talk about the excitement of playing these type of games in September.

“It’s what you talk about, you hope for in spring training and here we are,” Bochy said. “These are very exciting games. Of course you can feel it from the crowd. But we have baseball left and you have to come out here every day and be on your toes.”

See what else Bochy said about his team’s performance tonight.

Giants Pre-Game Notes Sept. 17th.

The Giants will look to continue their march towards the playoffs tonight with Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Bumgarner will try to improve on his last outing vs. the Rockies in Colorado, a start that saw Bumgarner last just 4.1 IP giving up 5 runs on 11 hits while walking 1 and striking out 2. Bumgarner has been very good here at AT&T Park where he is 8-3 with a 2.39 ERA, compared to 6-7 with a 4.21 ERA on the road. The Giants enter play today with the Magic Number to clinch the division at 9 games.

Xavier Nady is back in the Giants lineup for the first time since September 5th. Nady had been nursing a hamstring injury, Bruce Bochy said he was close to bringing Nady back yesterday but felt he could use one more day of rest. Bochy talked about Nady’s return,

“He’s a guy we brought up and helped us right away and now it looks like he’s good to go so he’ll be out in left field with (Gregor) Blanco still feeling the shoulder a lil bit he needs another day or two. I was close to starting Nady yesterday, but I felt like he needed another day. He ran the bases well, passed all the test and checked all the boxes.”

See what Nady had to say about his return to the Giants lineup

Gregor Blanco is dealing with some pain in his shoulder, the Giants don’t think it’s anything serious and Blanco should be ready to participate fully by Wednesday. Bochy said Blanco could be available to pinch-hit or bunt if needed, but he’ll try to rest him as much as he could.

Bochy refused to talk about the potential of clinching a playoff spot here at home or about what his pitching staff may look like in the post season, but he did talk about Ryan Vogelsong. Bochy believes Vogelsong’s stuff has been good and his struggles are more a product of bad luck. Bochy said,

“I know he’s frustrated, and it’s hard to believe he came out of the game yesterday. I thought his stuff was great, I did, he just made some mistakes: a walk an error and the pitcher has hurt him the last 3 games. Bochy said “his stuff’s to good for him to go through a rut like this long, he’s got to get his confidence back and maybe not go as hard.”

See what else Bruce Bochy had to say before today’s game vs. the Rockies.

Colorado Rockies Lineup

  1. Dexter Fowler (S), CF
  2. Josh Rutledge, SS
  3. Jordan Pacheco, 1B
  4. Willin Rosario, C
  5. Chris Nelson, 3B
  6. Andrew Brown, LF
  7. Matt McBride, RF
  8. D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
  9. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP

San Francisco Giants Lineup

  1. Angel Pagan (S), CF
  2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
  3. Pablo Sandoval (S), 3B
  4. Buster Posey, C
  5. Hunter Pence, RF
  6. Brandon Belt (L), 1B
  7. Xavier Nady, LF
  8. Brandon Crawford (L)
  9. Madison Bumgarner, LHP

Early Impressions of the Giants 2013 Schedule

Today MLB released the 2013 schedule, this was the first look at how the realignment of the leagues will affect the on field agenda. The Houston Astros will leave the NL Central and join the AL West, the move will put 15 teams in each division and necessitate at least one interleague matchup when ever there is a full slate of games.

The Giants will open the 2013 campaign on the road vs. the Dodgers, before returning home for 6 games with the Cardinals and Rockies. An early season challenge for the Giants should come from a 10-game homestand against the Dodgers, Phillies, and Braves from May 3-12th.

 One of the hilights of next year’s schedule is a “New York, New York” road trip that will see the Giants take on the Mets and Yankee’s in back-to-back series from September 17-22nd. I’m sure Finnerty’s bar in New York will be excited for the opportunity to host San Francisco Giants fans for almost a full week.

As i’m sure you can guess from the above paragraph the Giants will play the AL East for interleague play this year along with the traditional series with the A’s. There is however a new twist the the Bay Bridge series this year, the A’s and Giants will play just 4 games against one another instead of the usual six. The A’s head to San Francisco on May 28-29, and then the Giants cross the Bay Bridge from May 30-31st. In that regard the series will be structured much more like the preseason series, where the two clubs alternate stadium sites in a 3 game series just before the start of the regular season.

From the AL East the Giants will host the Orioles from August 9-11th, so get ready for another edition of Halloween in the park, and the Red Sox return to AT&T Park from August 19-21st.

The Giants will wrap up the year with a six game homestand with the Dodgers and Pirates from September 24-29th.

Early Impressions of A’s 2013 Schedule

Today MLB released the 2013 schedule, this was the first look at how the realignment of the leagues will affect the on field agenda. The Houston Astros will leave the NL Central and join the AL West, the move will put 15 teams in each division and necessitate at least one interleague matchup whenever there is a full slate of games.

One of the new wrinkles in the schedules has geographical rivals, like the A’s and Giants, slated to play just 4 games against each other instead of the usual six. The A’s head to San Francisco on May 28-29, and then the Giants cross the Bay Bridge from May 30-31st. In that sense the series will be structured much more like the preseason series where the two clubs alternate stadium sites in a 3 game series just before the start of the regular season.

 This year the A’s will face the NL Central in interleague play. Oakland will host the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and have the Cubs make their first visit to the Coliseum.  The A’s will travel to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and to Cincinnati. That is a tough break for the Green and Gold to draw two series with the likely-to-be NL Central division champs, but I guess it all balances out when you consider Oakland will add 19 games against the Houston Astros and the worst record in baseball.

The Yankee’s and Red Sox will both make one appearance at the this year. New York comes to town for a Tuesday-Thursday series from June 11-13th, while the Sox will visit over the weekend of July 12-14th.

The A’s will host the Angels and Twins for 7 games from September 16-22nd in the final homestand of the year, before hitting the road to close the season with 6 games vs. the Angels and Mariners to end the year.