Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 8, Dodgers 4

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Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 8, Dodgers 4

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LOS ANGELES The Giants jetted away on their road trip to Petco Park and Dodger Stadium still in shock over the season-long suspension of Melky Cabrera. They responded by winning both series.But they had to muddle through Wednesday night without Buster Posey, too.No matter. The Giants finished a statement trip with the appropriate punctuation in their archrivals den, as Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Joaquin Arias went from supplemental to starring roles in an 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.The Giants entered Chavez Ravine on Friday as a second-place club in the NL West. They departed in first place, with a 2 -game lead over their archrivals.BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Game 1 Game 2
Matt Cain picked up the baton and fired seven strong innings to finish the Giants first three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium since April 24-26, 2007.How long ago was that? Well, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry and Kevin Correia were the winning pitchers in that series. Barry Bonds hit his 741st career home run to get within 14 of matching Hank Aarons all-time record. And heavens strike me if I lie, Armando Benitez saved all three games.Cain is the only current Giant who was on the roster for that sweep six years ago. Hes a keeper, all right.The Giants rotation flat-out dominated in this series while going 3-0 with an 0.95 ERA.With Posey scratched because of a tight right hamstring, Pagan and Scutaro combined to kickstart another productive first inning, and Arias did the rest. He hit a two-run home run, added a pair of doubles and set a career high with five RBIs.It was the third consecutive series between the clubs that ended in a sweep.Starting pitching reportThe Giants went 5-1 on their road trip and Cain set the tone last Friday when he fired eight shutout innings at San Diego.Cain (13-5) finished the trip the way he started it. He kept the ball off the barrel, executed pitches with runners on base and involved his defense to remain unbeaten in his last seven starts against the Dodgers.Cains best pitch in seven innings might have been the 2-2 piece of straight filth that he threw to Shane Victorino a slider at the ankles that the Flyin Hawaiian waved through to strand runners at second and third in the sixth.Cain held the Dodgers to seven hits and one run, which came in the sixth only because Hunter Pence failed to haul in a catchable ball in right field that was scored a double.Cain lowered his ERA to 2.83, tied with Madison Bumgarner for sixth in the NL (and barely ahead of Ryan Vogelsong, at 2.85). Cain threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes, he struck out five and did not walk a batter.BAGGARLY: Bumgarner gives Giants a performance for the ages
In fact, Giants starters issued just one walk to the Dodgers in 22 innings over the series. Cain, Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum combined for 19 strikeouts and just two earned runs allowed.Bullpen reportClay Hensley and Jeremy Affeldt combined to retire just one of five batters, leading to a three-run eighth inning. Santiago Casilla didnt earn a save, but it felt like he deserved one after recording the final five outs to stave any memories of Wayne Franklin.At the plateThis series was won in the first inning. The Giants scored in the first inning of all three games, going 7 for 12 and scoring six runs. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were 0 for 9.It started yet again with Pagan and Scutaro, who went double-single to start the game against Dodgers left-hander Chris Capuano. Pablo Sandoval hit a sacrifice fly to open the scoring and Arias hit his third career home run, two of which have come on this road trip.Pagan hit .481 (13 for 27) with eight runs scored over the six-game trip, ending it with a sharp lineout. He collected leadoff hits and scored in the first inning of all three games at Dodger Stadium.Scutaro had a hand in that. He hit .385 on the trip (10 for 26) and collected two hits on all three nights at Dodger Stadium as the Giants improved to 48-16 when they score the first run of a game.And Arias was a wrecking crew on the trip while making four starts against left-handed pitchers, going 9 for 16 overall in those games. Notably, both his doubles on Wednesday came off right-handed relievers.Capuano had allowed 19 earned runs all season at home before giving up six. Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval went single-double-single to chase him in the sixth.In fieldIs it possible Arias has played a better major league game? In addition to his contributions at the plate, the shortstop ranged deep to his right to glove Victorinos grounder in the third, then heaved an off-balance throw that barely beat the speedy runner.The Dodgers would have had runners at the corners with two outs in the third. Instead, Cain and the Giants jogged to the dugout.Hunter Pence was the bizarro Arias. He looked totally out of sorts while striking out twice and popping up. And he got turned around in right field by Andre Ethiers catchable drive in the sixth, which was scored a ground-rule double.That mistake led to the only run against Cain. But the right-hander benefited from some spectacular outfield defense, too.Left fielder Justin Christian made one of the greatest catches by a Giant all season. He sprinted and laid out while making an improbable catch of Juan Riveras drive in the left field corner in the seventh. Christian rolled hard in the dirt and didnt stop until he crashed into the wall, but appeared OK after a few minutes to get his bearings.It was a huge contribution for Christian, who drew a bases-loaded walk but otherwise is hitless in his last 18 at-bats over 11 games.AttendanceThe Dodgers announced 40,173 paid As owner Lew Wolff among them.No, Lew. The As cant move here, either.Up nextThe Giants return to AT&T Park for a brief, four-game homestand against the Atlanta Braves in what will be Chipper Jones final regular-season series in San Francisco. Barry Zito (9-8, 4.42) will pitch Thursday nights opener against right-hander Tommy Hanson (12-5, 4.27). Ryan Vogelsong (10-7, 2.85) starts Friday against right-hander Ben Sheets (4-3. 3.07). Itll be Madison Bumgarner (14-7, 2.83) on Saturday against left-hander Mike Minor (6-10, 4.74). Then Tim Lincecum draws Sundays finale against right-hander Tim Hudson (12-4. 3.69).

Report: Giants 'among teams that have asked' about lefty reliever Howell

Report: Giants 'among teams that have asked' about lefty reliever Howell

The Giants added a huge piece to their bullpen Monday by signing closer Mark Melancon to a four-year deal. While much of the bullpen is complete, San Francisco's front office is reportedly keeping an open mind with a familiar reliever. 

San Francisco has reportedly asked about lefty reliever J.P. Howell, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. Howell, who turns 34 in April, spent the last four seasons as a Giants rival with the Dodgers.

Last season coming out of the Dodgers' bullpen, Howell tossed 50.2 innings pitched and ended with a 1-1 record and 4.09 ERA. The year before, Howell posted a career-low 1.43 ERA. 

In just 13 appearances out of the bullpen -- 10.2 innings pitched -- Howell has struggled in his career at AT&T Park. The lefty has a 6.75 ERA in San Francisco, to go along with an 0-1 record. 

As a whole, the Giants' bullpen finished the 2016 regular season with a 25-24 record. The group's 3.65 ERA ranked ninth in the National League. 

Howell is seeking a one-year deal, according to Olney. 

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Giants never tried to hide their offseason plan. From a downcast season-ending press conference, to the General Managers Meetings, to the first days of December, team officials insisted that the focus was on adding a big name to the ninth inning. 

In the opening hours of baseball’s annual winter meetings, the Giants found their guy.

Mark Melancon, a three-time All-Star and one of the premier relievers in the game, signed a four-year, $62 million deal. The ninth inning is set. The Giants believe the bullpen is set, too. 

“The core of the bullpen was in place. We felt that closer was the one area we didn’t want to have any doubts about,” general manager Bobby Evans said Monday. “It gives all of the club peace of mind and confidence. As many close games as we play, we have a lockdown guy in the ninth.”

Few have had a firmer grip on the ninth in recent years than Melancon. In his three full seasons as a closer, he has led Major League Baseball with 131 saves. He has a 2.60 ERA in eight seasons and last season posted a microscopic 1.64 for the Pirates and Nationals, closing 47 games in 51 chances. 

Melancon has 10 blown saves over the past three seasons. The Giants had nine in September alone. 

“We’re glad he chose us,” Evans said, smiling. 

When Melancon completed a physical on Monday afternoon in Scottsdale, the finishing touch was put on the richest contract ever given to a reliever. The deal put the Giants back over the competitive balance tax and carries a $17 million average annual value. The previous Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, was on a deal that originally guaranteed him $15 million total over three seasons. Melancon has blown that out of the water, and he could be in line for one more payday. 

The deal includes an opt-out after the second year, similar to the one given to Johnny Cueto a year ago. Melancon will get a $20 million signing bonus with $8 million deferred. He is due $4 million in salary in 2017 and $10 million in 2018, and if he opts out, he gets that money plus the full signing bonus, turning this into a two-year, $34 million pact. If Melancon doesn’t opt out, he will make $14 million in each of his final two seasons. He also received a full no-trade clause. That was simply the price of doing business for the Giants, who have avoided big-money closers since the Armando Benitez disaster. 

“You would have loved for this market to have been more in line with past markets, but the demand for closers is high and there were some big clubs pursuing them,” Evans said. “It certainly created a competition.”

The Giants were edged out in a competition for Melancon’s services in July, when they fell just short of the Nationals’ offer to the Pirates. They had the winning bid on Monday, and league sources indicated that the Nationals finished second this time around.

Melancon took advantage of the best closer market in MLB history, and he was the first of the Big Three to ink a deal. The Giants met with Melancon in San Francisco in November and also visited former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen at his home in Arizona. They never met face-to-face with the third big name on the market, Aroldis Chapman. Both Jansen and Chapman are expected to shoot past Melancon’s current high mark for money given to a relief pitcher. 

The Giants all along felt that Melancon was the right fit of the three. Evans noted his durability — he has made at least 70 appearances in five of the last six seasons — and said Melancon impressed team officials with a description of his preparation process. Melancon primarily throws a cutter in the low 90s and he’s not the traditional power pitcher in the ninth. He struck out just 8.2 batters per nine innings last season but he allowed only three homers and walked just 12 batters. Melancon ranked eighth in the majors in average exit velocity against, and the Giants believe that pitch-to-soft-contact approach is perfectly suited for an infield that has two Gold Glove Award winners up the middle.

“He’s a high ground-ball rate guy, which is perfect for our defense,” Evans said. “His preparation and approach — we just feel he’ll be a great fit for us.”

Melancon will be introduced to fans and the media on Friday at AT&T Park. When he dons the Orange and Black, the Giants believe he’ll be the final piece to a championship contender. They do not intend to make big waves in the rest of the market, although Evans said they would remain open-minded about additions to the outfield or bench. In the bullpen, the order is just about set. Any additions will likely be non-roster invitees at this point, tasked with trying to break into a group that includes Will Smith, George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and other young pitchers. 

Evans said he feels good about the collection — now that he’s found his closer. 

“He'll make the rest of the bullpen better,” he said of Melancon.