Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants are NL West champions!


Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants are NL West champions!


SAN FRANCISCO Pablo Sandoval kept his eye on the ball, watched it into his glove, hit the rail and flipped end over end as a sellout crowd gasped.

He blew bubblegum through it all.

And in that instant in the fourth inning Saturday night, you knew: The Giants were not going to drop this thing. They were going to clinch the eighth NL West title in franchise history, and their second in three years.

And they were going to do it in style.

Madison Bumgarner, when he wasnt busy bear-hugging Sandoval in the dugout, rediscovered the syrupy goodness in his delivery, Buster Posey was serenaded with the loudest MVP chants yet heard and the incredible Marco Scutaro added to his legend with three more hits as the Giants beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 to set off a party scene at AT&T Park.

Sergio Romo sent the Giants into the postseason, getting pinch hitter Mark Kotsay to line out. Center fielder Angel Pagan raised two hands like a triumphant middleweight, Romo strutted a dance as Posey ran to embrace him and the Giants stormed the field in celebration.

Just as they did two years ago, the players took a victory lap around the warning track to embrace fans. It wasn't old hat for all of them, though. Romo, Sandoval and Posey were the only starting players on the field for the final out who own 2010 World Series rings.

Starting pitching report
Bumgarner was coming off an effective outing but Giants coaches were concerned because he kept coming out of his delivery while issuing five walks.

Bumgarner stressed that there was no need to worry. Somehow, the 23-year-old left-hander from down on the North Carolina farm knows how to grab the stage when the lights shine brightest. You do remember Game 4 on Halloween Night, dont you?

Bumgarner met the moment again, and now he can jot down division-clinching victory on his career dossier. He operated down in the zone, elevated his fastball when he wanted the Padres to chase and didnt give up an earned run through his first five innings.

The Padres scratched him for an unearned run in the first after Chris Denorfia hit a leadoff single. Bumgarner had the runner picked off, but first baseman Brandon Belt threw wide to second base and Denorfia took third on the error. He scored on a ground out.

Bumgarner was tough after that. The Padres only got two runners into scoring position against him in the next four innings, and they only managed those by stealing second base.

But Bumgarner allowed a leadoff single in the sixth to Logan Forsythe and then left a two-out, first-pitch slider at the belt where Wild Blue Yonder Alonso could hurt him. Alonso sent it into the right field arcade for a two-run shot that cut the Giants lead to 5-3, and Bumgarner stomped off the mound as manager Bruce Bochy employed his bullpen.

Bumgarner (16-10) joined Matt Cain in surpassing the 200-inning mark. Cain has done it in six consecutive seasons; Bumgarner has done it each of the last two years, and is a third of an inning away from matching his career high (204 23).

Bullpen report
Guillermo Mota recorded a quick strikeout and the Giants bullpen committee did not leave open any drafty doors to spoil the building heat and anticipation at China Basin. Jeremy Affeldt struck out the side in the seventh, Santiago Casilla gave up a run on a ground out in the eighth and manager Bruce Bochy made sure Javier Lopez and Romo both got some love in the ninth.

Lopez earned a thunderous ovation when he struck out Alonso, and then Romo adjourned the proceedings -- and started the party -- by pitching around a single while recording the final two outs.

At the plate
The Giants offense made it another ensemble night. And it was no surprise that Scutaro, their understated addition at the trade deadline, was in the middle of almost every scoring rally.

Scutaro lined a pair of two-out, RBI hits and finished with three on the night to give him 180 on the season fewer than only Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen in the major leagues. Scutaro is hitting .361 in 53 games as a Giant all while the Colorado Rockies are paying a quarter of his salary.

The Giants lead the NL in sacrifice flies and they employed the deep enough fly ball to take the lead in the first inning. After loading the bases with a pair of walks and Scutaros first single of the game, Buster Posey drove in his 97th run of the season and Hunter Pence drove in his 96th with a pair of sacrifice flies.

They spent the rest of the night doing what so many Giants clubs have failed to do in the past: They put constant pressure on the opposing pitcher.

Brandon Belt doubled and scored on Bumgarners single in the second inning. Bumgarners sacrifice in the fourth moved Belt and Crawford into scoring position for Scutaro, who collected a two-run, two-out single.

And Scutaro came through with yet another two-out, RBI hit in the sixth.

Belt added a solo homer in the eighth, you know, just for varietys sake.

In field
Sandovals catch earned a standing ovation in the fourth, and for good reason. While blowing a bubble, he flipped over the rail near the photo well and managed to hang on with his right hand while suspended upside down. He alertly held his glove aloft to show the umpires that he had secured Alonsos foul pop.

The Giants announced 42,418 paid as the fans crowded every inch of standing room. They saw what they hoped to see.

Up next
The Giants wrap up their three-game series with the San Diego Padres when Tim Lincecum (10-14, 4.91) takes the mound on Sunday. The Padres, who might be more clear headed, will start left-hander Eric Stults (6-3. 2.69).

Crawford leads off in first Giants game of 2017

Crawford leads off in first Giants game of 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants have put a focus this spring on getting Brandon Crawford ready for the World Baseball Classic, which meant a slight surprise for the first lineup of the new year. Crawford is hitting leadoff in Friday's exhibition opener so he can potentially get extra at-bats. Crawford and Buster Posey will leave camp in early March to represent the United States in the WBC. 

Manager Bruce Bochy went heavy on the regulars in the exhibition opener. Crawford is one of six likely opening day starters to play right away:

Crawford SS
Panik 2B
Belt 1B
Pence RF
Morse DH
Parker LF
Gillaspie 3B
Hundley C
Hernandez CF

Madison Bumgarner is scheduled to pitch an inning Friday against the visiting Reds, followed by Clayton Blackburn, Steven Okert, Derek Law, Cory Gearrin and others. The opener is meaningful to a couple of players fighting for spots. Michael Morse, the DH, is trying to make the team as a left fielder/first baseman. Jarrett Parker is trying to beat out Morse, Mac Williamson and others for the starting spot in left. 

The Giants are facing a Reds team full of prospects, including the starter, right-hander Rookie Davis, who was acquired in the Aroldis Chapman deal. Former Giant Adam Duvall is hitting fourth for Cincinnati. 

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bruce Bochy announced a slight tweak to the spring schedule on Thursday: Matt Cain won't follow Madison Bumgarner on the mound in the opener; he'll likely start the second game, with Ty Blach backing him up.

The Giants have made no secret of the fact that Cain is the perfect-world pick to be the fifth starter this season. Is there a world where Blach could still be in the big leagues?

"Sure, I could see that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy called Blach a potentially good "swing guy." If he can't crack the rotation this season, Blach may see time as a long reliever or even a short-stint lefty. With Will Smith (elbow) on a tight timeline to get ready for opening day, the lefty help could be needed.

"He's confident, he's a strike-thrower, he has really good command and he's a good athlete," Bochy said, noting the traits that allow Blach to be versatile.

The 26-year-old had already proven to be flexible. A week after he threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers, Blach came out of the bullpen at Wrigley Field and threw 1 1/3 hitless innings. Two days later he threw two more scorleless innings out of the bullpen. 

Blach said he was at first a little worried about the transition, but he talked to Cain, Jake Peavy, Chris Heston and Chris Stratton about the best ways to adjust to a switch to the bullpen. He ultimately didn't have any problems warming up quickly as a reliever.

"It was pretty similar, you just try to go out there the same way and execute pitches," Blach said.

Blach made the quick transition look easy, and that might have opened up a second path to a roster spot. 

Elsewhere on the final day before the games start ...

STOCK WATCH: Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and there are going to be a lot of eyes on him. Beede is probably the No. 7 starter at this point, and when you're in that spot, you're just about guaranteed a decent chunk of starts. Injuries will open doors.

"He's looked real sharp this spring," Bochy said. "He's coming off a great year. He's got great stuff, great makeup. He’s a smart pitcher along with having good command of all of his pitches. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s one of those guys on a fast pace.”

ICYMI: Speaking of guys on a fast pace, here’s my feature on Christian Arroyo

SPRING OPENER: Buster Posey won’t catch Bumgarner on Friday, but Brandon Crawford will be behind him. Crawford is going to get plenty of time early on to prepare for the WBC. Posey makes his spring debut Saturday.

LIGHTER SIDE: Just about every day, a rookie has to get up in front of the team and do something embarrassing. Thursday’s entertainment: Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean third baseman, dancing to “Gangnam Style.”

QUOTABLE: I think Mike Morse was the best podcast guest so far. We talked about his wedding negotiations with Bobby Evans, his friendship with Hunter Pence, the photo he took with a trophy right after the World Series, why it’s SF-or-bust, and much more. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The last question for Morse: Will he use “Take on Me” this year?

“If this is going to be the last time I play baseball, I’m going to have that song every at-bat,” he said.