EXTRA BAGGS: Giants need Lincecum the sandbagger, etc.


EXTRA BAGGS: Giants need Lincecum the sandbagger, etc.


SAN FRANCISCO Once upon a time, the Giants would docartwheels and hold sparklers when Tim Lincecum would take the mound in the rubber game of aseries.

Now theyre crossing their fingers.

Its hard to believe that the Giants have lost sevenconsecutive times with Lincecum on the mound. If hes battling any focusissues, hell have to purge them quickly. The Texas Rangers are the bestoffensive club in the majors.

What does Giants manager Bruce Bochy expect Sunday?

We have all the confidence when Timmy hits the mound. We alldo, Bochy said. Were all behind him. This is a special talent. HopefullyTimmys at the top of his game and gives us a chance. Thats all we ask.

It's a crazy thought, but maybe the Rangers are coming at a good time. Lincecumcertainly had swing-and-miss stuff in his last start against the San DiegoPadres (who are on other end of the color wheel from Texas, admittedly). He retired 11of the last 12 hitters, striking out eight of them.

But once again, he endured the big inning. And it followed thesame pattern: Some mistakes up in the zone, a walk or two, and then a fluky hit(a broken-bat double on a good pitch to Cameron Maybin). Its true, Lincecumsopponent batting average on balls in play (.330, well above the league averageof .298) indicates that he has been a bit unlucky this season.

Unlucky or not, a starting pitcher still has to compete.Luck, velocity, stuff, blisters, errors, poor run support none of it matters. Ifthe tides begin to rise, you have to find a way to throw more sandbags on thelevee. No matter how you fill them.

Lincecum hasnt been able to do it yet this season. Butthen, hes always been a bit of a sandbagger at heart. Weve seen him pitchwith a season on the line. The Rangers certainly would have a hard timebelieving that he struggled so mightily in August, 2010, with the way hepitched against them a little more than two months later.

So maybe the Rangers, as dangerous as they are, willrekindle some positive memories and some mojo. And maybe Lincecum will bringhis shovel and get back to work.

And if not? If the losing streak hits eight? Well, that's not the way Lincecum will want to go home. His next start will be his first at Seattle's Safeco Field.

Gregor Blancos baseball IQ qualifies him for baseball Mensa. On Twitter (@CSNBaggs) and in the Instant Replay file, I pointed out how he racedfrom left field to try to catch Mike Napoli napping off third base after asacrifice bunt. It nearly worked.

Blancos baserunning decision in the third was brilliant,too. He stopped rather than run into second baseman Ian Kinslers tag. The decision was so unexpected thatKinsler ended up throwing off the wrong foot and slinging the ball away. The Rangersrecorded no outs from what shouldve been a double-play grounder. It gave theGiants a run, too.

You'll hear scouts point to someone and say, "that's a winning player." This is what they mean.

Really nice game for Nate Schierholtz, who was masterful inright field even though he hasnt played there (or anywhere) with regularity inthe last six weeks or so.

Schierholtz also had two extra-base hits. He hadnt collected oneof those since his six-hit day in that April doubleheader at Citi Field in NewYork.

Bochy said he plans to get Aubrey Huff at-bats as the DHwhen the Giants play nine consecutive games in AL parks beginning Friday atSeattle. But Huff continues to hit pop-ups and show an absolute lack of batspeed. Its hard to argue with anyone who would tell Bochy the DH would bebetter used to rotate his outfielders, get Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan offtheir feet for a day or two, maybe do the same with Buster Posey, and get Schierholtz in the lineup more often.

Brandon Belt was 0-for-4 to drop his average to .228. He simply isnt getting the bloops and dinks and dunks that fell for him earlier inthe season. But hes also driving more pitches, even if most of them are findinggloves. When he's making contact, it's harder contact.

Bochy confirmed that Belt is working to incorporatechanges to his swing, and by all accounts, hes going to keep getting hischance.

Hes going to go out there and let his talent surface,Bochy said.

The Giants could move Pablo Sandoval to first base in thelong run, but Bochy made it clear thats not an option he wants to entertainnow. So Belt has no real competition for at-bats at the moment. But as the tradedeadline approaches, you can set your watch by this: GM Brian Sabean willdo everything possible to acquire a first baseman if Belt doesnt begin toproduce.

The Giants power outage at home is getting ridiculous.

Since Blanco homered May 14, the Giants have gone 15games (477 at-bats!) without a home run at AT&T Park. The 15-game stretchmatches the longest in franchise history (1980) and the longest by any majorleague team since the 1990 Houston Astros failed to homer in 16 consecutivegames at the Astrodome.

Heres the most ridiculous part: The Giants are 10-5 overthis homerless stretch at home.

Winning games, came Buster Poseys simple reply.

Cant argue with that. Youd rather have a lineup of playerswho know their limitations and accept their environment and knock doubles andtriples around the yard than a bunch of frustrated hackers who swing for thefences.

Lord knows Giants fans have seen plenty of Column B over theyears.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."