After taking three-out-of-four in Chicago, the Giants hoped to carry momentum to Milwaukee, but their come-from-behind track record in 2013 could not sustain the onslaught of a Milwaukee Brewers lineup that laid waste to their pitching staff. Unlike the harsh cold they had to endure at Wrigley Field, Miller Park's roof was closed for all three games to block out the elements. And the closed roof only strengthened Miller Park's reputation for being a hitter friendly park.
The Giants flirted with danger in their series with the Cubs in terms of being out-homered by eight to one. The one homer at Wrigley by Hunter Pence was a game tying clutch one that left the Cubs staggered, but home runs gave the Cubs a chance to win all four of those games. The trend continued in Milwaukee, where the Brewers clubbed seven homers to the Giants two. Home runs help keep any team stay in games, and the Giants staff has been especially susceptible to giving up the four-bagger early in 2013. For as good as their offense can be, no team can continually rally from deficits game after game. The Giants' pedigree over the last few seasons has been built on pitching to keep them in games. Through 16 games, the starting staff has a 5.07 ERA, and Madison Bumgarner has been the only true dependable arm.
Barry Zito came into his start Tuesday not allowing an earned run, but an eight run Milwaukee third capped with a Yuniesky Betancourt grand slam, hiked his personal ERA to 4.86. Ryan Vogelsong went seven strong innings Wednesday, but Betancourt continued his menacing ways with a home run, and the Giants did not get him any runs until the sixth inning. On Thursday, Matt Cain was jumped on for the first three innings. Ryan Braun, who had been quiet for most of the series, blasted a two run bomb in the first. Betancourt, of course, singled home Carlos Gomez in the second. Opposing pitcher Yovani Gallardo hit a two-run homer in the same inning to make it 5-0. Finally, catcher Jonathan Lucroy cranked a two run homer in the third, and that ended the Brewers' scoring spree for the day. Cain battled through six innings simply because Bochy could not tax his bullpen any more on this road trip. Cain's 7.15 ERA in 2013 is not only troubling but a tad puzzling thus far, because his velocity and stuff are still there. The Giants are winless in his four starts.
Cain did well to battle through six innings to spare most of the bullpen Thursday. With Jeremy Affeldt on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique, this bullpen has a different look. Affeldt's recent struggles suggested he was hurting so this stint may come at a good time. Santiago Casilla clearly needed more than a day off because on Wednesday he just looked a bit taxed physically. He did give up the walk off hit to Blake Lalli, but Brandon Crawford's throwing error helped set things up for the Brewers. Sergio Romo got a three day break, so there will be no questions about his availability for the upcoming series with the San Diego Padres.
There weren't many highlights in this three game sweep, which saw the road trip go from a potential winning one to a 3-4 conclusion. Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence had RBI hits to tie the game Wednesday. Pablo Sandoval had a 10 game hitting streak entering Thursday, but that ended with an 0 for 4. Buster Posey has great career numbers at Miller Park, but his average dipped to .213, and he sat out Thursday due to the short turnaround with the day game. When a hitter is in a funk, it doesn't matter where he is hitting, because Posey missed some hittable pitches that he would normally smash when going right. The criticism of Posey is hardly warranted at this point, and it's a foregone conclusion he will right the ship in due time.
Only one name really enjoyed Miller Park. Brandon Crawford had a breakout series and hit the only two home runs for the Giants in the series. His average is up to .352 and Bochy moved him up to the number five spot Thursday. Crawford is very comfortable at the plate at the moment, and isn't forcing the issue in two strike counts. Crawford isn't some spring chicken, he's 26, and proved last season he can play shortstop at the big league level for 162 games. He held his own at the plate last season hitting .248, so it's not like Crawford was ever inept at the plate. He's not as futile at the plate as the .204 he hit in 2011 in 66 games, nor should his recent production be likened to the immortal Honus Wagner. Crawford hopes to prolong his 11 game hit streak as the Giants head back home to face a well known division rival in the Padres.
The 5-10 Padres are definitely the pick to finish last in the N.L. West. It wasn't too long ago (2010) they led the division until collapsing to the Giants at AT&T Park to end their playoff and pennant goals. And they haven't been the same since. In August 2012, computer software entrepreneur John Moores sold the Padres to beer distributor Ron Fowler and heirs to the O'Malley family (former Dodgers owner) fortune for $800 million. Long time general manager was let go a couple years ago. Jed Hoyer and Josh Byrnes, two baseball personnel men cut from the same cloth as Theo Epstein since they worked under him in Boston, were promoted to replace general manager Kevin Towers. Once Epstein took the Cubs presidential job, Hoyer went to join his old boss and Byrnes was promoted to GM of the Padres in 2011.
The current version of the Padres may not be flush with talent, but they take on the attitude of their manager Bud Black. The San Mateo born - and San Diego State graduate - and former Giants pitcher has the respect of his roster and they play hard for him. Black also served as a pitching coach for Mike Scioscia's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the early 2000s, and was around a winning culture which included a World Series title. Black is trying to implement the same aspects of Scioscia's winning baseball philosophy in San Diego.
Despite their expected slow start, the Padres are coming off an impressive road sweep of the Dodgers. San Diego jumped all over Clayton Kershaw en route to a 7-2 victory to finish the sweep Wednesday night. They did so without outfielder Carlos Quentin. Quentin is serving an eight game suspension for charging at Dodger right hander Zack Greinke last week. Quentin will not be eligible to return until April 23. The Giants and their pitchers won't have to worry about dealing with a full back-looking outfielder who crowds the inner half of the plate.
Third baseman Chase Headley, who enjoyed a career best season and led the N.L. with 115 RBI in 2012, made his 2013 debut on Wednesday after a broken thumb injury. These are familiar names to the Giants since they play their division opponents eighteen to nineteen times during each season. There are a few changes to the Padres everyday lineup from 2012.
Kyle Blanks, the much hyped prospect a few seasons ago. Blanks is now 26 and getting a chance to play left field every day. Yonder Alonso, the major piece in return for Mat Latos, has filled the first base vacancy left by Adrian Gonzalez. Alonso is hitting .309 with two home runs. Speedy outfielder Cameron Maybin has been placed on the disabled list with a wrist injury, but the Giants will still have to contend with outfielder Will Venable's speed if he gets on base.
The Padres are also playing 24-year-old Jedd Gyorko at second base, even though his natural position is third. Because of Headley's return, the Padres want to keep Gyorko in the lineup, since he hit 30 home runs in the minors last season. Nick Hundley is San Diego's version of Kirt Manwaring, Yorvit Torrealba, or Mike Matheny. At 29, Hundley's probably got a bit more athleticism and power with the bat than those three guys. Not enough to the point where he could ever be elite, but enough to be coveted by one team for most of his career.
Scott Hairston (he tired to hurt the Giants again as a Cub this season) and David Eckstein are not members of the Padres anymore, which is good news as they are reputed Giants killers. Although, 37 year old Mark Kotsay is doing his best Bernie Carbo, Matt Stairs, and Julio Franco impression pinch hitting and providing some pop off the bench.
As for the pitching matchups, the Giants lineup will not face Jason Marquis and former Oakland A's righty Tyson Ross in the Padres rotation. That is not a bad thing either for the Giants. Marquis, the former Atlanta Braves prospect, is enjoying a renaissance season early on with a 2.41 ERA and a career 2.94 ERA versus San Francisco. Friday's game will pit Madison Bumgarner against the erratic Edinson Volquez. Volquez owns a career 5.40 ERA versus San Francisco. His starts seem to take extremes. When he is on, Volquez shows why the Cincinnati Reds were so interested in acquiring him for Josh Hamilton back in 2008. When he struggles, it makes all the sense in the world why the Texas Rangers parted with him for Hamilton.
Saturday will see Tim Lincecum square off against former Michigan Wolverine backup quarterback Clayton Richard. Two lefties in Barry Zito and Eric Stults will wrap up the series finale on Sunday. Lincecum's career 2.44 ERA against the Padres is the best out of the three arms going for the Giants this weekend. Bumgarner's got a career 3.58 ERA and Zito's sports a 4.80 ERA.
The Padres also have a nice little mix in their bullpen to be effective. Bud Black has crafty guys like Dale Thayer and lefty Joe Thatcher. Former Cubs right hander Andrew Cashner can hit 100 on the radar gun. Eighth inning man Luke Gregerson is back throwing his sharp slider and former A's great Huston Street is still a quality closer.
San Francisco is back home at AT&T, facing a lineup they should be able to contain, and will be considerable favorites to take the series. San Francisco is 24-12 overall and 12-6 at home against San Diego over the last three seasons. They dominate the recent series history, but the starting staff is putting the offense behind the eight ball with early deficits. Nothing like home some cooking at AT&T to get back on the winning track.
-Matthew Lottice, KNBR