Couch-bound observations from Game 1

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Couch-bound observations from Game 1

Programming note: Tune in to Giants October Quest, today at 4 p.m. leading up to first pitch of NLCS Game 2, and again following the final out, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area!

SAN FRANCISCO It was cruel enough to be sick for Game 1 ofthe NLCS Sunday night.

But my couch-bound experience got a little better once Istreamed KNBR on my MLB app, paused the DVR on my TV just long enough to syncup the audio, and hit the mute button on Joe Buck.

Ill be back at AT&T Park tonight for Game 2 (I do notrecommend coming down with a cold and food poisoning simultaneously, by the way),but here are a few observations I jotted on the back of an envelope betweengulps of Gatorade last night:

--Madison Bumgarner just doesnt have anything left. Heisnt out in front on any of his pitches. Theres no crispness or late life tohis stuff, and that was never more apparent than when he couldnt get a pitchpast pitcher Lance Lynn who was 3 for 50 in the regular season.

RELATED: Box score -- Cards 6, Giants 4

This is kind of what I expected from Bumgarner down thestretch two years ago, when his innings count soared from the previous year inthe minors. He didnt let down as a 21-year-old, of course, and won Game 4 of the 2010 WorldSeries on Halloween night. Perhaps now were finally seeing the result of allthose innings at such a young age.

Bruce Bochy said after the game that Bumgarners next startfor Game 5 is an open proposition. I think Barry Zito is pretty much assured astart now, whether its Game 4 or Game 5 with Tim Lincecum starting Game 4.

--Bochy has been a savant in the postseason, but he mighthave made his first major blunder by leaving Bumgarner in to face CarlosBeltran in the fourth. With Beltrans blinding bat speed, there was no way thatconfrontation would turn out well for the Giants unless he hit a rocket atsomeone. The two-run homer ended up being the difference in the game.

--Hey, the Cardinals bullpen is pretty good. I had no ideathe Oak Ridge Boys could throw like that.

--Actually, you might find it interesting that the Cardsbullpen, despite a series of truck-stop characters who throw 95-plus, had thehighest relief ERA of all five NL playoff teams. The Giants were fourth. Thattells you something about the Reds, Braves and Nats bullpens, doesnt it? Icant remember the last time there was so much terrific relief pitching in theNL at one time.

On a related note, hey, getting an early lead is a greatidea.

--Jeremy Affeldt is such a valuable relief pitcher becausehe can face righties as well as lefties, and he almost always keeps the ball inthe park. Everything breaks down. And my word, Santiago Casilla had thenastiest stuff Ive seen from him since the first half. A 95 mph two-seamer,breaking on the hands of right-handed hitters? And a power curve in his backpocket? Almost seems unfair.

--I thought Mike Krukow nailed it in his commentary on KNBR:Every single Cardinals pitcher was just pumping fastball after fastball. Itwas, Here it is, hit it.

That tells you what the scouting reports must say. And youknow what? Theyre dead on. Pablo Sandoval was late on everything, Hunter Penceis lunging and not balanced at all, and Brandon Belt just about got the batknocked out of his hands on his bloop single.

The only two fastballs turned around all night were onGregor Blancos triple and Brandon Crawfords double.

Blanco, Crawford, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma its amazinghow much production both teams are getting out of the lower third of the order.

--Would it be insane to suggest moving Blanco to third andSandoval to seventh?

--Jose Feliciano can sing the National Anthem backwards withsynth-pop and experimental percussion for all I care. Ill get goosebumps. And Ilove that Tony Bennett checks his pitch before God Bless America. Even at 86,he is pitch perfect, every single time.

I feel badly for whomever the Giants arrange to sing forGame 2 and beyond. It really cant get any better.

Luckily, I'm much better today. Off to the ballpark in a little while.

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ty Blach is the young one in the race to be the fifth starter, but on Sunday he sounded like a veteran. Asked if he has gotten a hint one way or the other about his opening day role, Blach smiled.

“I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better,” Blach said. “I’m enjoying the process and having fun.”

Smooth. 

Those days are adding up to a nice spring for Blach, the left-hander trying to unseat Matt Cain. While Bruce Bochy didn’t shed any additional light on the current lean, team officials hinted Sunday that this is not as open-and-shut as it seems. Matt Cain, who will start Tuesday, looked like a lock to be the fifth starter a week ago, but the Giants are considering all options because they have an off day during the first week and two more shortly thereafter. 

“We’ve had discussions every day,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some tough calls.”

The Giants are expected to announce their official rotation when they return home for the Bay Bridge Series. Whether he’s starting, long-relieving, or pitching in a completely new role, Blach has certainly done all he can to make sure he’s in the big leagues on April 2. He gave up two runs over six innings Sunday, walking one and striking out one while giving up seven hits. Blach has allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings this spring, but four of those came when he was ambushed coming out of the bullpen one day.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be in a good spot,” Blach said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season rolling.

After pitching out of the bullpen most of the spring, Blach got his pitch count up to 85 on Sunday. 

“We’ve gotten him stretched out,” Bochy said. “That’s a solid, solid job. We’ve got guys stretched out where you want them. We’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see as we get close here which way we’ll go.”

POSITION BATTLES: The Giants will carry a backup for Denard Span, and for about a month it looked like Gorkys Hernandez would be that guy. But Hernandez has slumped so badly this spring that he went over the minor league facility Sunday to get a ton of extra at-bats, and Justin Ruggiano has emerged, reaching base in nine of his last 16 plate appearances. The plan a few days back was for Ruggiano to go to Sacramento and get 50 or so at-bats to see where he’s at, but this is another race that could change in the coming week. 

Cory Gearrin has done his part to hold off any charging relievers, throwing two sharp innings while going back-to-back for the first time this spring. 

FAMILIAR FACES: A rough day for a couple of longtime Giants. Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco both have oblique injuries, hurting their odds of breaking with the Twins and Diamondbacks, respectively. Elsewhere, David Hernandez showed that he made a smart decision asking for his release. He was signed by the Braves. 

AROUND CAMP: Hunter Pence really does do all he can to make every single teammate feel welcome in the clubhouse. He spent some time with young right-hander Roberto Gomez on Sunday morning, learning a few Spanish phrases. When the players went out to warm up, Pence threw with Jae-Gyun Hwang. These are small gestures, but for the new guys, they matter. 

BARRY’S BACK: We all knew Barry Bonds would step into the cage at some point, and on a quiet Sunday morning, there he was. Bonds, 52, took about five or six easy hacks before crushing one out to deep right. He’s still got it. The other day, reporters asked Bonds if he could suit up in the WBC if asked. He said he can absolutely still hit, but he would need to DH and he would need a day or two off before games. Being a big league hitter is not easy, even if he always made it look that way.

 

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants knew Barry Bonds would step back into the box at some point. It happened Sunday, with Bonds taking a few cracks at BP pitches from Gary Davenport.

Bonds warmed up with a couple of lighter swings and then blasted a homer to deep right. That was enough, as the 52-year-old walked away with a big smile on his face. 

Bonds is in camp as a special instructor, and he still picks his spots to show off his legendary swing. When he was the Marlins' hitting coach last season, he beat slugger Giancarlo Stanton in an impromptu home run derby.