Athletics

Giants look to Cain for three-game win streak

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Giants look to Cain for three-game win streak

Sept. 13, 2011PADRES (63-85) vs.
GIANTS (77-70)Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. on CSN Bay Area(AP) -- The San Francisco Giants' NL-worst offense has suddenly found its groove, which may be good news for starter Matt Cain.The right-hander takes the mound as San Francisco seeks to win three straight for the first time in nearly two months Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park.The Giants (77-70), last in the league with a .238 team batting average, have totaled 16 runs and 20 hits in their past two games after scoring two runs while losing their previous three contests.Pablo Sandoval, batting .400 during a seven-game hitting streak, had a three-run homer in a four-run seventh inning during Monday's 8-3 win over San Diego."It's good to see the guys loosen up and swing the bats like we're capable of," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're trying to finish up strong. We're hanging by a thread, but it's not over."The reigning World Series champion Giants trail Arizona by 8 12 games with 15 remaining and need plenty of help to get a chance to defend their title in the postseason."We're not going to give in," said Cody Ross, who homered and had three hits Monday. "We're the defending champs and we've got something to prove. We're going to play through and see what happens."The Giants haven't won three consecutive games since July 17-19, losing their last six when coming off back-to-back victories.Cain (11-10, 2.84 ERA) hopes to help halt that trend, though the offense hasn't provided much support for him throughout the season.Cain has been solid of late, going 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA over his last five starts, but he lost his most recent outing 3-1 to San Diego on Wednesday after allowing two runs in seven innings.It marked the 19th time this year that Cain has received two runs or fewer of support, and he's one of three Giants starters - Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum the others - who rank among the bottom five in the NL in run support average.Cain has experienced a similar trend when facing the Padres this season, receiving nine runs in 27 innings over four starts. Cain is 0-2 with a 3.67 ERA in those outings, dropping him to 1-5 with a 4.70 ERA over his last eight starts against San Diego.The Padres (63-85) have lost nine of 12 to San Francisco, though Cain has started two of the Giants' defeats.Cory Luebke (5-9, 3.28) started the other San Diego victory, and he'll look to break out of a slump Tuesday. Luebke has lost his last three starts, posting a 5.87 ERA during that stretch after giving up two runs in 5 2-3 innings of Thursday's 4-1 defeat at Arizona.The left-hander, though, has pitched well in both of his starts against the Giants. He struck out eight while allowing two runs in six innings of a 2-1 loss July 7, then gave up two runs in seven innings to beat San Francisco 11-3 on July 16.Like Cain, Luebke hasn't received much help from his offense lately. The Padres have scored three runs in his 15 1-3 innings during his three-start skid.Nick Hundley and Chris Denorfia each went 3 for 4 on Monday. Hundley is 9 for 16 over his last four games, while Denorfia is hitting .600 in six contests since returning from the disabled list.Hundley, however, is 1 for 12 lifetime against Cain.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.