Playoff decisions still loom for Bochy, Giants

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Playoff decisions still loom for Bochy, Giants

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Since the Giants are going all Hamlet on the subject of Melky Cabreras October plans, it might be time to help prod them on other players.

Say, like announcing that Matt Cain will be in the playoff rotation. Sure, that seems obvious, but it isnt official until the Giants say its official, right?

In fact, Cabrera has commanded remarkably little of Bruce Bochys thoughts down the stretch. He is the afterthoughts afterthought, a distant maybe-in-an-emergency-situation in a series the Giants have not qualified to play in yet. Apparently, we obsess so he doesnt have to.

No, he spends far more time on the rest of the jigsaw puzzle, and has spent more time on this playoff team than his five others, which when you consider the margin of divisional victory is a bit odd. More decisions should, well, make themselves.

No, this is different than the others, and not just because we clinched so early, he said after Cain shepherded the side to a 6-0 shutout of the Arizona Diamondbacks. There are a lot of things weve got to make our minds up on, and we havent made our minds up on a lot of things yet.
RECAP: Giants 6, D'backs 0

Bochy has a way of speaking in large groups that leaves great gaps between what he says and how it can be interpreted. For example, there is no guarantee that Aubrey Huff will be on the postseason roster at all, despite the assumptions of the past several days. Nor can you bank heavily on Tim Lincecum in a place of rotation honor because of his history. Nor can they say 11 pitchers or 12, or whether theyll use three catchers.

Brian and I and the staff met today, talking about different things and different ways to go, Bochy said. And were going to keep doing it in San Diego and L.A.

The biggest reason for all the meetings is that he isnt really sure of a lot of things this time. The infield is pretty well set, one would think, and with Cabreras absence the three outfield spots as well.

But the pitching staff, the strength of the team, the engine that moves the transmission, that is a profound muddle.

Cain and Madison Bumgarner will almost surely go in Games 1 and 2, no matter who the opponent might be. Theyre pretty similar teams, Bochy said of the Washingtons and Cincinnatis, so were going to go with what we think is our best rotation no matter what. The team we play wont factor in a lot, and neither will the ballpark.

But Lincecum, whose last outing Tuesday was thoroughly shambolic, is not guaranteed Game 3 just on reputation. His next start is going to be pretty important, is all Bochy would give up as information, but it says volumes in its own way.

And there is still the matter of Barry Zito v. Ryan Vogelsong, and who might be more prepared to pitch Game 4 and who might be more prepared pick up the pieces of the Lincecum start if needed. And, if Bochy doesnt have the full confidence of his rotation, whether hell need to use eight relievers against either the Nationals or the Redlegs.

In short, Bochys days are full, and not full of Melky Cabrera, either. His chances of participation, minimal though they might be, seem far more hinged to bad fortune for one of the other outfielders than it does his own eagerness to return and atone. Cabrera is our fixation, not his.

RELATED: Melky to be left off Giants' playoff roster

Besides, he has plenty of fixations already without worrying about someones fitness to play a series he cant even be sure theyll ever play.

This ones different, he says with a weary sigh, a brief profanity, and one more in a series of full face-rubs. Thats the international sign of a man who will win his division by 12 games and still looks like hes five games out with seven to play.

Baseballs a lot more fun when the decisions take care of themselves.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Fight Notes: Harper thought this was over; Giants collide; Posey avoids it

Fight Notes: Harper thought this was over; Giants collide; Posey avoids it

SAN FRANCISCO — When the Nationals visited AT&T Park for the first time after the 2014 postseason series, Bryce Harper took to Instagram to compliment the city. “Nothing like SF! #BayArea” he wrote underneath a photo of the Bay Bridge. 

Harper, a Las Vegas kid, has always seemed to enjoy facing the Giants. He hasn’t hit well at AT&T Park, but he was a star in their 2014 matchup and he praised Brandon Crawford on Twitter during this year’s WBC. The greeting Monday was not a friendly one. 

Harper was retired three times by Matt Moore. The first pitch he saw from Hunter Strickland left a dent on his hip and set off a wild brawl. 

Strickland denied any intent. Harper seemed confused by the timing of the payback pitch. 

“It’s so in the past, it’s not even relevant anymore,” he said of their 2014 series, according to Dan Kolko of MASN. “They won the World Series that year. I don’t think he should even be thinking about what happened in the first round. He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night. I don’t know why he did it or what he did it for, but I guess it happens.”

The Giants were not surprised when Harper reacted the way he did. Now they’ll wait for Strickland to get hit with a suspension, and Harper is looking at a layoff, too. 

“You never want to get suspended or anything like that, but sometimes you’ve got to go and get him,” Harper said. “You can’t hesitate. You either go to first base or you go after him. And I decided to go after him.”

Strickland, about an hour after the fight, said he’s not sure what will happen in terms of discipline. 

“That’s their decision and obviously I’ll take whatever consequences come with it and we’ll go from there,” he said. 

Any action by the league is unlikely to impact this series. Even if suspensions are handed down swiftly, players can appeal. Harper and Strickland may not be alone. Several players jumped into the fray aggressively and at least one non-active Giant — Hunter Pence — was right in the middle of the scrum. At the very least, he could be facing a fine for trying to help his teammate. 

“It doesn't look good when a guy gets hit but also on their side, the guy throws his helmet,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Strickland’s got to stand his ground. There’s no choice there. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen (with suspensions).”

One player who won’t face discipline: Madison Bumgarner, who is also on the DL but wisely stayed away from this one, even if it probably killed him to do so. 

--- The biggest hit didn’t come from Strickland or Harper. It was Jeff Samardzija and Michael Morse coming together in the middle of the field. Both players said they were fine. 

"I was just trying to get in there to break everything up," Morse said. "We lost the game, that's what's most important."

Ahhh, yes, the Giants lost 3-0. Bochy seemed particularly peeved that Strickland chose the eighth inning of a 2-0 game to exact revenge, and you can bet some teammates weren't thrilled. We'll see if there's anything more to this Tuesday. There was a lot of adrenaline flowing, but some of these guys might not be feeling so spry when they wake up in the morning. Bochy said he had not heard any reports of players getting injured, but he also admitted that he didn't see most of the collisions and had no idea what happened with Morse and Samardzija, who had a world-class reaction, by the way.  

--- As with the incident with the Dodgers a couple weeks ago, Buster Posey stayed out of this one. Smartly. 

"After it happened I saw Harper point and the next thing you know he's going out after them," Posey said. "Those are some big guys tumbling on the ground. You see Michael Morse, as big as he is, and he's getting knocked around like a pinball."

Posey is not alone in staying away from these scrums where 250-pound dudes are flying at knees and ankles. Brandon Crawford can often be found on the outside, as well. It's smart, but I think something else was at play here today. Posey understands that the Giants are fighting for every scrap at this point. Every loss digs the hole that much deeper, and this happened with two outs in the eighth inning of a 2-0 game, against a team with a poor bullpen. I'd imagine there was some serious annoyance there. 

--- How angry was Strickland? It took three guys, three big guys, to drag him into the dugout: Pence, Mac Williamson, and George Kontos. 

"I was pretty fired up to be honest with you, but that’s just adrenaline," he said. 

--- Baseball fights are rather silly, but at least you get some phenomenal photos.

After fight on mound, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

After fight on mound, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a certain rhythm to a baseball brawl. A player gets drilled and inches toward the mound, often at the invitation of the man who threw the pitch. The catcher rushes to get in the way as both benches and bullpens clear. Within five seconds, most baseball “fights” turn into a “hold me back” tournament. 

Monday’s showdown between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper was not your normal baseball fight, in part because it was a long time coming. 

Three years after Harper twice took Strickland deep in the NLDS, the second homer leading to a stare down and primal screams from the Nationals’ best player, the two met again. Strickland’s first pitch to Harper since that series was a 98 mph fastball directly at the hip. Harper charged the mound and both players connected with shots before sanity was restored.

Strickland was waiting for reporters when the clubhouse opened after a 3-0 loss. He denied any intent.

“Obviously I’ve left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. It was mostly to go inside and obviously I got it in a little bit too far,” Strickland said. “I didn’t expect that (fight) but it’s part of the game and that’s what he decided to do.”

There’s no upside in coming out and saying you flat-out tried to hit a guy, but actions spoke louder than words during the fight and afterward. Buster Posey didn’t move as Harper charged his pitcher, as if to say, this is your mess. Bruce Bochy said he talked to Strickland after the fight to reiterate that this was not the situation to seek payback.

“We’re trying to win a ballgame,” Bochy said. “It’s 2-0 and I had to talk to him. Obviously we don’t take or do things that are out of the ordinary from what I want. We go out there and try to win a ballgame. It’s a situation where I needed to talk to him and make sure that we’re straight with something. We did talk.”

Bochy called the incident “unfortunate” and said a couple of times that “it looks bad.”

“You have two guys that probably don’t care for each other much,” he said.  

No, they certainly don’t, but that’s nothing new. This started in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, when Harper, already one of the league’s better hitters, took Strickland, then a rookie, deep. Three games later he hit a game-tying shot into McCovey Cove, watching it as it soared into the dark night. He stared Strickland down as he rounded second and yelled back at the mound as he took his gear off in the dugout. 

It’s unclear why that first incident quite turned out the way it did. There was some speculation that Harper was reacting to Strickland saying after Game 1 that he would throw Harper more fastballs. After the second homer, Harper looked out at the field and yelled, "Let's go! Again!" Either way, nothing more came of that first tussle. The Giants eliminated the Nationals and went on to win the World Series. Harper and Strickland didn’t square off in either of the past two seasons. 

With two outs in the eighth Monday, they finally faced off again. After taking the pitch off the hip, Harper pointed his bat and then flung it down. The players exchanged expletives and Strickland stood with a calm expression on his face, his glove dropped to the ground. Harper threw his helmet toward second and Strickland got the first shot in, an open-handed right to the face. Harper got one good punch in before players from both sides collided on the mound. 

“It’s go time,” Strickland said. “You’ve got to protect yourself and stand your own grand, you know.”

Harper told Nationals reporter that this was probably the first time he was certain a pitcher was going to throw at him.

“One thing I’ve got to say about Strickland: He hit me in the right spot. I do respect him for that. He didn’t come up and in at my face or anything like that, which some guys do," Harper said. "So I respect him on that level, because he could’ve come up and in and got me somewhere you don’t want to get hit. He got me on the hip. But there’s some times where it’s just not relevant. That was a spot where it wasn’t relevant. It was three years ago, over 1,000 days. I don’t know why he’s thinking about it.”

Strickland claimed he wasn’t thinking about 2014, even if the connection was immediate to anyone watching. 

“I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds, but that’s the past,” he said. “Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. Obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”