The Giants have built their post-season hopes in 2010 largely on their starting pitching. To make it happen, the Giants need Lincecum and Cain to stay healthy, Zito to have his best year as a Giant, Jonathan Sanchez to prove that last year’s no-hitter was a sign of things to come, and Todd Wellemeyer (or Kevin Pucetas, Madison Bumgarner or someone else) to pitch well enough every fifth game to give the Giants at least a chance to win.
Jonathan Sanchez did his part today, flummoxing the Pirates for eight shut-out innings. He was effectively wild, allowing three hits and three walks and striking out 11. Sanchez will give up his share of walks, but if can keep the hits down and the Ks up, he could have a big year.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, well, it’s only the Pirates he beat. The thing is, you don’t get any more credit in the standings for beating the Phillies or Yankees than you do for beating the Pirates or the Royals. Good teams need to beat up on the bad teams. If you play .500 ball against the other good teams and beat the bejeezus out of the bad teams, at the end of the season, you’re going to be right there.
One of the great things about blogging is that almost as soon as I write something, I’m proven wrong (sort of). A couple of days ago I wrote that Eli Whiteside was not a major league hitter. Today, he was the Giants’ big hitter, hitting a double and a homerun and driving in three.
Any player who has made the major leagues can have a big game. My favorite example is Cesar Gutierrez, who I mentioned in this post last year. That’s why they keep season statistics, so the rest of us can determine which players contributed more regularly than others. Still, it’s good to see Eli have a big game, because I still think he won’t have too many of them.
I noticed that Nelson Cruz hit his sixth homerun of the young season today, and is now hitting .414 (12 for 29) with a 1.658 OPS. I have a soft spot in my heart for Nelson as one of those rare stars who didn’t establish himself as a major league hitter until age 27 or older. It’s hard not to root for the Geronimo Berroas, Matt Stairs and Jack Custs of baseball because they got overlooked for so long until somebody (usually the A’s) decided they had something significant to offer.
I wrote this post about Nelson Cruz right around this time last year, which received more hits than any other post in the history of this blog. I have no idea why, except the obvious answer that a lot of people were interested in learning more about Nelson Cruz that day.
One thing we can be fairly sure of: so far in his major league career, Cruz has been an April hitter.
Ron Mahay’s career lives on. I noticed that the Twins just called up the soon-to-be (on June 28) 39 year old lefty. Mahay pitched well for the Twins in 16 late season relief appearances as — what else — a left-handed short man, but he didn’t make the team out of Spring Training.
Of more interest to me was the player the Twins sent down, 22 year old right-hander Alex Burnett. Because of my friend Chris who is a huge Twins, I follow the Twins pretty closely, but like Waldis Joaquin of the Giants last year, Burnett totally snuck up on me.
He was a 12th round pick of the Twins in 2005. However, he was only 17 when his professional career started, so he may have been one of those later round high school picks where the player is expected to go to college but is then lured into signing by an above-slot signing bonus.
Burnett was a starter in the lower minors, and a fairly good one, although certainly not dominating. The Twins moved him into relief in 2009, and he had a tremendous season at A+ and AA ball, mostly the latter. He finished the season with a 1.85 ERA in 78 innings pitched. It’s hard to find fault in that.
He was a surprise to make the Twins out of Spring Training, and I kind of hate to see him sent down, because he had successfully pitched 2.1 shutout innings at the major league level before the demotion. Obviously, the Twins felt they needed another left-hander in their bullpen, but you’d almost rather wait for him to get hammered once before you send the kid down.
Who knows? Baseball is littered with young pitchers like Burnett who shine during a major league cup of coffee, are sent down for seasoning, but then blow out their arms and are never heard from again. I sure hope that isn’t the case with Burnett, but I’ve been around long enough to know it’s a distinct possibility.