Giants win another series, but can they afford to stand pat?

827019.jpg

Giants win another series, but can they afford to stand pat?

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO Giants manager Bruce Bochy calledWednesdays lineup his bomb squad.

It was disarming, all right. The Giants were Posey-less,Panda-less and Tim Lincecum barely stood a chance in a 6-3 loss to the SanDiego Padres at AT&T Park.

Even if Lincecum had authored a third consecutive qualitystart, something he hasnt done all season, he still wouldve lost toJason Marquis and his sinker, which knocked through a weakened lineup likeduckpins.

The Giants still took another series its the thirdconsecutive time they lost in a bid to complete a three-game sweep and theymaintain their spot atop the N.L. West. So we are a full throaty scream short of a widespread panic.

But the Los Angeles Dodgers arrive on Friday, and theyvegot Hanley Ramirez along with more room on their corporate credit card to add Ryan Dempster-plus.Meanwhile, the Giants will wait in what appears to be desperate hope that PabloSandoval can avoid the disabled list. The bomb squad is losing pieces, and GM BrianSabean is setting up expectations that the Giants wont aggressively seek adding newones, either.

I asked Lincecum: Are the players expecting a counter tothe Dodgers acquisition of Lord Hanley?

Maybe a little bit, to see what we're going to do, Lincecum said. Thatwas our M.O. in 2010, making the moves that made the difference in our season.So we're probably wondering what we're going to do here.

But I feel like we have all the right pieces. Obviously if Pablo comesback healthy and fast, maybe we won't need to make a move. So we're hoping forthat. But whatever changes are made, that'll be up to them.

The Giants moves in 2010 were strategic (bullpen additions Javier Lopezand Ramon Ramirez) and dumpster dives (Pat Burrell and Cody Ross). Some of the namesavailable at this deadline are much gaudier, but would require the approval ofownership.

The Brewers Aramis Ramirez, for example, is backloaded in more waysthan one. The third basemans right-handed pull power would be a perfect fitfor AT&T Park, but hes owed 10 million next year and a whopping 16million in 2014, when he could be more fit for DH duty.

I asked a few other Giants whether they are waiting for reinforcementsand they all gave the right answers: Sure, well take whatever help we can get.But we like what we have, too.

If we get somebody, we get somebody, Angel Pagan told me. Right now.Were focused on winning games. Our chemistry is pretty solid. If its up tous, we have to protect our lead. Were playing great baseball right now.

Pagan saw plenty of Ramirez in the N.L. East. What kind of boost are theDodgers getting?

He can do anything at the plate, Pagan said. Hes a right-handed batwho adds versatility to any lineup. Hes a solid player.

The one and only Ryan Theriot said he didnt immediately seenews of the Ramirez trade because he was shopping for hunting clothes online.

But he called Ramirez a wonderful player whos done greatthings in this game. Hell help them out. Hanley definitely gives them a bigpush. Well see what happens in the end.

I think Pablos OK, though. Well get him back in there.Hes a bat in the lineup you have to have. Weve been a team thats offensivelysneaky and weve done some really good things this year. To have Pablo back inthere is definitely important.

In the end, nothing is more important to the Giants thantheir pitching staff. And theyll need to carry momentum through Lincecumsstarts in the second half. He stopped both his personal surge as well as theteams six-game home winning streak while allowing five runs in 4 13 inningsWednesday.

So its time for the requisite whats wrong with Timmyportion of the proceedings:

I just needed to be a little more aggressive, saidLincecum, who struck out five of the first nine batters but struggled withdiminished velocity the second time through the order. My fastball just gotaway from me and I wasnt hitting the spots I needed.

Lincecum didnt say that Pagan should have caught thebases-loaded, two-run double that barely fell in the fourth. But he did call ita little bloop that was kind of the difference in the game.

Pagan made an incredible catch the previous night. Thistime, he came a few inches short on his diving attempt. So it goes for Lincecumthis season.

The other pattern is his difficulty to maintain stuff afterbeing taxed early. He only threw 89 mph when he missed over the middle on a 3-1pitch that Jesus Guzman tagged for a two-run homer in the fifth.

You come out of this and its a loss and all, but itsnot a step backwards or anything, said Lincecum, whose 5.88 ERA is the worstamong all qualified N.L. starters. I just messed up on three pitches.

Whether its 92 or 89 I gotta trust it. I felt I could have done better in thatsituation, instead of leaving it up to a bases-loaded bloop.

Does he get upset that everyone wants to rehash his potentialissues after every bad start?

You guys are doing what youve got to do, he said. Imdoing the same thing. Im going to the chalkboard after every start.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy decided to look at the positives,even though Lincecums loss followed a familiar script.

Sure, its been a pattern this year, Bochy said. Early,that was one of the issues. He was working hard, working deep counts. Mix inwalks, hit a batter, thatll catch up with you. But I look more at how hestarted the game. It looked like he was going to be sharp. As the game went on,he was struggling to get the ball where he wanted.

Itll be up to Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong toexecute when the Dodgers arrive on Friday. The Giants arent likely to haveSandoval for the series, but itll be a major shock if Bochy doesnt playBuster Posey in all three games.

Asked if Posey would catch all three, he said, This series,hell be catching.

Theres plenty of wiggle room in that statement. Theresplenty of time for more movement in the N.L. West standings, too.

Risk and danger are part of the deal for bomb squads.

Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off

kontos_posey.jpg
USATSI

Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a rainy morning early in camp, George Kontos walked through the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium with an oversized envelope in his hand. Often times that’s bad news, the sign of a player who has been handed MRI results. For Kontos, it was a sign of his standing in the bullpen.

With the Core Four era officially over, Kontos has picked up where his longtime teammates left off. He has taken over for Javier Lopez as the Giant who organizes spread pools, squares, team golf tournaments and bullpen dinners. He has at times taken on Jeremy Affeldt’s role as a target of clubhouse jokes. When the Giants return home, it will be Kontos who takes Sergio Romo’s spot as the catcher for the first pitch.

“I wouldn’t mind doing that, so I’m sure that’s something I’ll do as well,” he said, noting that he caught Draymond Green and Metallica last season. “Whenever Sergio wasn’t available for some events they would ask me to do it.”

For the rest of the responsibilities, Kontos won’t have to be asked. With Lopez and Affeldt retired and Romo and Santiago Casilla pitching elsewhere, Kontos is all of a sudden the longest-tenured member of the bullpen, and it’s not particularly close.

Mark Melancon and Will Smith are in camp for the first time. Derek Law and Steven Okert are coming off rookie seasons. Josh Osich and Cory Gearrin have two seasons with the Giants and Hunter Strickland has three. Kontos is entering his sixth season in San Francisco. Not bad for a pitcher who shuttled repeatedly between San Francisco and Triple-A Fresno from 2012-2014. 

“I think it goes to show that hard work and doing your job and following the example of the guys who were here actually works,” Kontos said. “If you keep your head down and work hard and do your job, good things tend to happen.”

When Kontos first showed up in 2012, he was put between Lopez and Affeldt in the clubhouse. Every spring thereafter, Kontos was asked if he wanted to move to a different locker. He never did, and as Affeldt neared retirement, he saw in Kontos a player who could one day pick up the leadership baton for the bullpen.

“Most guys don’t really want that role, even if they have time. A lot of guys just want to pitch, but there’s so much more to a team than just pitching,” Affeldt said. “George has kind of always shown leadership in different ways. He was the guy that ran the hardest or worked out more than anyone else, and we always ripped on him for it, but that’s also a part of his drive to be the best and it shows the discipline that leaders have.”

At a recent event for sponsors, Kontos found that the ribbing isn’t limited to the clubhouse. “I guess I’m the new Affeldt,” he said, laughing, after taking a series of jabs during speeches from other members of the organization. That’s not a bad thing, not after a second-half slide during which Giants coaches and executives privately lamented the lack of energy and joy in the clubhouse. The original Affeldt believes the role is a key one.

“The reason you want to be able to be ripped on is that you want to show that to the younger guys,” Affeldt said. “If I don’t talk to you, I don’t like you. If I’m making fun of you, we’re just having fun. We’re ribbing like brothers.”

The back-and-forth can help a team get through the 162-game grind. While Kontos has grown comfortable in that respect, he has found new ways to grow on the field. 

“When he first got here he was predominantly a four-seam guy, and he two-seamed it a little and threw a lot of sliders,” pitching coach Dave Righetti said. “He can cut it now. He can still use his slider. He’s got a changeup and he threw a nice curveball last year. He’s adapted. He can keep pitching, and if he stays in shape, for quite a while. A lot of hitters are one-way type of guys now and George is able to do different things now to different guys. He’s done a hell of a job doing that.”

Kontos threw his four-seam fastball 44 percent of the time when he broke into the big leagues, but that dropped to 12 percent last season, per BrooksBaseball.net. He threw his two-seamer a career-high 22 percent of the time last season, and his cutter — a pitch he didn’t prominently feature until 2014 — 33 percent. In his first full season with the Giants, 51 percent of Kontos’ pitches were sliders; last season it was 22 percent. Throw in the curveball and changeup and you’ve got a starter’s repertoire coming out of the bullpen. 

Kontos came into professional baseball as a starting pitcher, but he has quietly been one of the more effective relievers in the National League over the past three seasons, ranking 15th among NL relief pitchers with a 2.49 ERA. Over the past two years, he ranks in the top 20 in the league in relief outings (130) and innings (126 2/3).

That durability has put Kontos in an odd spot. The pitchers he learned from were late-innings guys, but Kontos has been viewed as a better fit for the sixth and seventh. He often comes on with a starter’s runners on base, and Bruce Bochy knows he can ask Kontos to warm up multiple times without worrying about him being down for the count. 

“He’s been a staff-saver,” said Righetti. 

That has led to a long career in orange and black. With tenure comes added responsibility, and in a rebuilding bullpen, Kontos is ready to fill in for role models who have since departed.

“With Javi gone now, it’s one of those things that whether you want it or not, you’re going to be one of the guys,” Affeldt said. “And he has the background to step up and do that leadership stuff.”

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico to win 2017 World Baseball Classic

LOS ANGELES -- Marcus Stroman tossed six hitless innings, Ian Kinsler slugged a two-run homer and the United States routed Puerto Rico 8-0 on Wednesday night to win its first World Baseball Classic in four tries.

Stroman dominated the tournament's highest-scoring team. Puerto Rico lost for the first time in eight games after outscoring the opposition 55-26. The U.S. territory finished runner-up for the second time, having lost to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 final.

Stroman, who was named the tournament's MVP, avenged his shakiness in the Americans' 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico during pool play. The right-hander from the Toronto Blue Jays retired the side on three grounders to open the game. In all, he gave up one hit, struck out three and walked one on 73 pitches.

He allowed just three balls past the infield until Angel Pagan's double in the left-field corner leading off the seventh, when Stroman departed to a standing ovation, having staked the Americans to a 7-0 lead.

Stroman walked Carlos Beltran leading off the second, but the defense helped him out. Yadier Molina hit the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play before Stroman struck out Javier Baez to end the inning.

The U.S. pounded out 13 hits and finished with a 6-2 record while making the final for the first time in front of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.

Kinsler homered off an 0-1 pitch from Seth Lugo into left-center field in the third, scoring Jonathan Lucroy, who singled leading off.

Lugo of the New York Mets allowed four runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked four in four innings. The right-hander won his first two starts of the tournament, including in the second round against Stroman and the U.S.

In that game, Stroman gave up six consecutive singles in a four-run first inning and took the loss against Puerto Rico last Friday in San Diego.

The Americans made it 4-0 in the fifth on RBI singles by Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen.

Fans wore flags of both countries as capes and decorated their faces in team colors. Puerto Rico boosters pounded cowbells, tooted horns and blew whistles early on before their team fell behind 4-0.

Fans were on their feet chanting "U-S-A" when the Americans loaded the bases in the seventh with two outs. They were rewarded with Crawford's two-run single that chased J.C. Romero, extending the lead to 6-0.

The U.S. tacked on another run on Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single off Hiram Burgos past diving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Burgos' wild pitch moved runners to second and third before he walked Lucroy to load the bases a second time. Kinsler flied out to end the inning.

The Americans led 8-0 in the eighth on McCutchen's RBI single with two outs.

The U.S. defeated two-time champion Japan, while Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands to reach the final.

The three games at Dodger Stadium drew 109,892.