Check out The Pulse Network's Sports Buzz on line for great sports content from all over the country. I was recently interviewed on TPN's Sports Buzz program about the San Francisco Giants and Buster Posey.
We went live at 8:00AM-- the TPN studios are in Boston, Massachusetts. Sports Buzz host Tyler Pyburn did an outstanding job and TPN is an amazingly professional and high tech organization. They could definitely give ESPN a run for their money.
Go to the Sports Buzz link here and then to the June 2, 2011 content section - "Buster Posey's Injury".
CONVICTED FORMER SLUGGER BARRY BONDS CONTINUES GOOD WORKS TO REHABILITATE IMAGE
Follows Up College Fund For Injured Fan's Kids With Offer To Put Buster Posey's Children Through Summer Camp
ANGRY SF GIANTS GM BRIAN SABEAN VOWS TO HUNT DOWN MARLINS OUTFIELDER SCOTT COUSINS IN RESPONSE TO POSEY INJURY
Sabean In Contract Talks With Navy SEAL Team 6 - "At The End of The Day, We Will Unleash A Special Kind of Hell on This Young Man"
FLORIDA OUTFIELDER COUSINS SPOTTED IN MOUNTAINS AT AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari Claims His Government Is Not Assisting Cousins - "We were as surprised as anyone about this and we are cooperating fully with the Giants", stated a shaken Zardari
NEWLY HUMBLE BARRY BONDS INCREASES IMAGE ENHANCING ACTIVITIES
SF Giants Players With Flu-like Symptoms To Receive Expensive Fruit Basket; Tells Nation's Drivers "Send Me All Your Outstanding Parking Tickets"; Arranges For State Lotto Quick-Pick Losers To Receive Encouraging Phone Call From Dali Lama
BASEBALL COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG ANNOUNCES NEW AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION FEATURING THE NEW YORK YANKEES
The Newly Formed "Pinstripes Division" Will Consist Of Three Teams; Selig Says Inclusion of Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros Will Ensure Yankees Make The Post Season "For The Rest Of Eternity"
The buzz over Buster Posey's season-ending injuries as as result of his May 25th collision with Florida's Scott Cousins is everywhere. Debate permeates the sports media and dominates conversations in every MLB clubhouse and in bars, living rooms and little league fields across the country.
It is a subject is worthy of our attention and passion because losing a player as dynamic and talented Posey is not only a loss for the San Francisco Giants, it diminishes the 2011 baseball season for anyone who cares about the game. The questions remain: should something be done to prevent MLB catchers from being injured in home plate collisions? And if the answer is "yes", what exactly should be done?
A wide range of suggestions and solutions have been offered from the baseball establishment and national sports media. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy has stated several times that he believes MLB rules should be changed to protect catchers; specifically Bochy suggested runners coming down the third base line be restricted to run inside the baseline, while catchers be restricted to positioning themselves outside the line at the plate. Thoughtful but complicated.
St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa is an old-school keeper of baseball tradition, but he believes that the rules affecting 1st base should also be applied to home plate. Reporter Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch posted that in spring training La Russa drills his catchers to always leave a slice of home plate for the runner.
The Cards' Manager believes that a catcher should not be allowed to block home plate any more than a first baseman is allowed to block the first base bag. In that scenario, any runner blocked from the bag at first is safe. Oddly, that couldn't apply to plays at second or third base, where blocking access to a sliding runner with a knee or foot is part of the artistry of defending those bases.
And second base is where I believe the solution to protecting catchers (and runners) at home plate can be found.
The art of the double play is one of the most graceful and dramatic plays in baseball. Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's double play in the May 19th game against the White Sox will take your breath away. Probably no other defensive act on the field affects the course of a game greater than a double play. Shortstops and second basemen work out every day to become expert at catching the ball to make the out at second, pivot, then get a throw off to first base to complete a twin killing.
An important element in successfully completing a double play is avoiding player-to-player contact; not allowing yourself to be upended or bowled over by the runner who is pounding hard toward second base to do that very thing. This dovetails with Tony La Russa's instructions to his catchers, and it is where managers and catchers should look to avoid a Posey/Cousins-type collision and still successfully defend home plate.
Like middle infielders, MLB catchers can adjust their positioning to be in front, in back, or at the sides of home plate, or to take part of the plate and leave part for the runner. This provides the runner with what he needs: a scoring target. The use of a quick tag or swipe tag on the runner provides the catcher with reasonable protection and the ability to still do his job.
Also part of solving the problem? Stop justifying collisions at home plate in terms of manning up and being tough. NHL hockey-like smash-ups have never been part of baseball tradition and that line of huffery has zero credibility in this argument. If that kind of tedium excites you, switch the TV channel to hockey central.
Apply the rules used at first base and add the infield artistry of making the double play to plays at the plate, and Buster Posey might have been working out this afternoon in St. Louis, preparing to catch Jonathan Sanchez in the last game of the Giants' current road trip.
With Buster Posey's injuries likely putting him out for the remainder of the 2011 season this is what the Giants organization, Posey's team mates, and the Giants fan base have to deal with: the stunning shock of his loss, that feeling of losing your bearings and free-falling, then finding the grit to suck it up and keep moving ahead.
The rest of baseball, and the rest of the country, can't begin to understand what Buster Posey means to the San Francisco Giants and to Giant fans. On the field he is a rock, directing the best pitching in the game the past year; at the plate he is a dangerous hitter who, when he finds his groove, can dominate a game, a series, a season. Posey batted 3rd in the order throughout the 2010 World Series-- the last catcher to do that was Yogi Berra 54 years ago with the New York Yankees.
Since Posey was brought up mid-season last year there has been an ongoing public discussion about whether he should be moved to an infield position to avoid the inevitable wear and tear, injuries, and shortened career that faces virtually every MLB catcher. Throughout April and May this season, Posey has taken an inordinate number of foul tips off his mask, leaving games early twice after particularly bad hits.
Forget about the obvious injuries, the threat of concussion is there every time a batter hits a foul tip. The Minnesota Twins have agonized over the future of their own All Star catcher Joe Mauer, one of the best pure hitters in the game. When an organization has hitters the caliber of Mauer or Posey, the decision to extend their careers by moving them from behind the plate will always be part of the ongoing conversation. The pressure, the second-guessing, and the concern will never go away.
How is Joe Mauer doing this year? He has played in only 9 games this season and is currently on the disabled list with bilateral leg weakness.
Posey suffered what will likely be a season ending broken leg when Marlin's outfielder Scott Cousins flattened him in a collision at home plate in the top of the 12th inning of last night's game. Rookie Chris Stewart will now be the back-up catcher behind Eli Whiteside, who has been Posey's back-up for the past year. Stewart hit .321 in 20 2011 Spring Training games with 3 doubles and 1 triple. Stewart is hitting .221 with a .586 OPS in Fresno this year.
In the same game with the Marlins last night, infielder Mike Fontenot suffered a strained left groin. He will go on the DL and be replaced by defensive phenom Brandon Crawford. Crawford was on a rehab assignment at Single A San Jose, where he was hitting .322.
Speedy outfielder Darren Ford sprained his ankle scoring the winning run against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the 11th inning in last Sunday's game, and will be replaced by hard hitting Brandon Belt, who is batting .377 with a .994 OPS at Triple A Fresno.
The loss of Buster Posey confronts the Giants' organization with a tremendous challenge, as they are forced to rely on three rookie players to keep the positive momentum of their 2011 season going strong. The Giants are currently in 1st place in the National League West, 2.5 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Their team-oriented approach to building an offensive in support of the best pitching in baseball will be a huge advantage as they attempt to replace critical missing pieces on their roster.
With Florida leading 6-2 in the 9th, the Giants scored 4 runs to tie the game. The scored remained 6-6 until the top of the 12th inning, when Marlin's outfielder Scott Cousins attempted to score from third base on a Emilio Bonifacio fly.
Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz caught the ball and rifiled a throw to home plate to nail Cousins. The ball appeared to get to Posey an instant before Cousins barreled into the Giants' catcher to dislodge the ball. The collision bent Posey backwards on his ankles, and he was obviously seriously injured as he was assisted off the field by team trainers.
Cousins' run held up as Florida got three quick outs in the bottom of the 12th to win the game 7-6.
While the Giants scheduled Posey for a series of medical tests Thursday morning, word leaked out from several players and reporters that Posey's left leg was broken and he had also suffered torn ligaments. He will miss the rest of the season and will face a long rehab program to get back to the Major Leagues.
Scott Cousin's decision to charge into Posey brings up an ongoing MLB debate about hard contact plays at home plate. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy had previously called for additional rule protections for catchers who are defenseless as they attempt to catch the ball while a runner is about to administer a full tilt body slam. Giants' broadcaster Duane Kuiper also stated that baseball must change their rules to prevent serious injuries to catchers during violent collisions at home plate.
The National Football League has taken strict action in recent years to stop helmet to helmet hits and unimpeded body slams. Violations include assessments against NFL teams during games and hefty individual fines against violating players.
Posey was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010, and was considered San Francisco's team leader as they went on to win the 2010 World Series.
But the moment to savor from the weekend was the bottom of the 11th inning in Sunday's contest. Oakland pinch hitter Ryan Sweeney hit for pitcher Craig Breslow to lead off the top of the 11th in a 4-4 tie game. Sweeney rapped a single to right field but was erased when Coco Crisp hit into a fielder's choice and the inning sputtered for the A's. Sweeney then stayed in the game and took over right field in the bottom of the 11th.
The Giants came out hacking in the bottom of the 11th. Lead-off hitter Andres Torres popped out, but Darren Ford pinch hit for Sergio Romo and slapped a single to right center. The amazingly swift Ford immediately stole second base in a blur of cream colored home jersey.
With one out, Oakland intentionally walked Buster Posey because a) Posey is heating up at the plate; and, b) it set up a one out double play scenario.
Emmanuel Burriss was up next. Burriss had been called back up from Fresno on May 19th after Mark DeRosa went down with a reoccurring wrist injury-- this after DeRosa bumped Burriss back to Triple A on May 10th after rejoining the team from the disabled list. Baseball is built on the contradictions defined by opportunity and disappointment; the admirable and determined DeRosa's latest injury setback provides an opening for Manny Burriss. And another chance to play in the big leagues.
With one out and Darren Ford on second base, Burriss hit a line drive single to right field. With Ford thundering to third base, right fielder Sweeney scooped up the baseball and in one smooth movement unleashed his own accurate line drive right back to home plate. Unable to hold back, Pablo Sandoval and several other Giant players climbed the dugout railing as the play unfolded.
That's when a breathtaking baseball moment jumped up. Just as Ford was careening around the third base bag with Sweeney's throw slicing through the afternoon air, Giants third base coach Tim Flannery, his left arm spinning like a B-17 propeller at full throttle, started running down the line paralleling Darren Ford's wild dash toward the plate.
For a wonderfully crazy instant the right field camera followed Ford down the line with Flannery running along side just beyond him. And out of nowhere, there was the unstoppable Sandoval, somehow out of the dugout and himself hopping sideways down its length in a line beyond Ford and Flannery as they all made a collective dash to outrun Sweeney's throw to home plate.
Replays seemed to show Sweeney's throw got to Athletic's catcher Kurt Suzuki just as Ford slid across the plate. And if the ball had not popped out of Suzuki's glove when Ford's left leg jarred it loose? Hell, I suppose they could still be playing that game.
The Giants win 5-4 in what the celebrated East Coast philosopher Yogi Berra would have described as "a real cliff dweller". At AT&T Park this season, the San Francisco Giants are 13-5, and 11-0 in one run games at home. This is developing into a season rife with electric moments, and it's only May.
Baer essentially said the first 50 games of the season allow the manager and front office to assess what they have; the next 50 games allow management to adjust and problem-solve; and the final 62 games are all about winning. It's a simple, insightful and almost zen-like blueprint that reflects the realities and opportunities offered by the 162 game MLB schedule.
Obviously Baer was not describing a franchise philosophy carved in stone or emblazoned in quotes on his executive business card, but the 50-50-62 roadmap is still a rational approach to understanding how a season works and how much time is available to properly assess player performance and make critical decisions.
Exceptions to the formula certainly abound, most recently 2010 NLCS MVP Cody Ross playing his first game as a Giant on August 23, 2010-- which was game #126. Player decisions are also dependent on opportunity, but compare Major League Baseball to the NFL, where the season goes by so fast it's rare to see major personnel changes during the season unless they are injury-related.
So, where in the Baer blueprint are the 2011 Giants? Game number 50 is coming up next week: the Thursday May 26th day game with the Florida Marlins at AT&T Park. General Manager Brian Sabean and his executive team have certainly had time to assess team strengths, team weaknesses and team needs. Since every issue can't be addressed and every problem on the field can't be solved, discerning the team's critical priorities ends up being the most important decision of all.
The 2011 Giants have three major problems staring at them at game #50: run production up and down the line-up, shortstop defense, and getting another left handed power bat.
Out of 16 NL teams, San Francisco ranks 16th in runs scored with 142; St. Louis leads the League with 220 runs. The Giants come in at 15 of 16 teams with a .304 OBP, and again the Cardinals rank first with a .359 OBP. Maybe most troubling of all is the fall off in the category of extra base hits; they're 10th of 16 teams with 105 XBH. The aggressive St. Louis Cards top the League with 126 XBH.
The ability to produce XBH throughout the line-up was a mainstay of the 2010 Championship team, and provided just enough support for the team's outstanding starting and bullpen pitching to win. That piece is missing the first seven weeks of the 2011 season.
Few things support starting pitching better than infield defense. The Giants' lagging offense has the front office in a bind trying to fill the shortstop position with players who can also produce runs. This year, they're getting neither offense or defense at short and it puts a lot of additional pressure on the pitchers. This is not about errors, it's about range and creating outs and double plays. Once again, the Giants come in 15th in the NL with 28 DPs made so far this year; the hard charging Cards again lead the pack with 43 DPs.
Rumors that the Giants were in discussions with the Mets over upcoming free agent shortstop Jose Reyes were a fantasy. How ridiculous is it to believe the Giants would, a) give up top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in a deal to get Reyes now; and then, b) pony up $100-120 million to retain Reyes for 5 or 6 years.
In Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, the Giants have two in-house shortstops who can provide Major League defense-- now. Adrianza's offense is likely a year or two away, but Crawford can hit and would almost instantly improve the infield defense and create more outs to support Giant pitchers.
And the lefty power hitter the Giants so desperately need? He is currently batting .387 with a 1.129 OPS in the city of Fresno, CA. The name is Belt, Brandon Belt...
So it was when the San Francisco Giants met the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park Tuesday May 11th in the second game of a three game set, having won the first game Tuesday 1-0 on a Cody Ross run scoring single in the bottom of the 9th inning. On Wednesday night, things started badly for the Giants; starter Jonathan Sanchez had already given up three runs by the end of the 4th inning. Although San Francisco's offense was alive it was being held scoreless by Snakes' starter Armando Galarraga.
In the bottom of the 4th inning Arizona manager Kirk Gibson made a decision that created an opportunity for San Francisco's offense. Buster Posey opened the 4th with a single to center field. After Cody Ross struck out and shortstop Mike Fontenot flew out, 7th place hitter Aaron Rowand walked sending Posey to second base. Miguel Tejada came to the plate with two out and pitcher Sanchez on deck.
D'Back's Manager Gibson had two clear options. With two outs he could intentionally walk the 8th place hitter to face the pitcher and hopefully get out of the inning. There was an open base and despite Tejada's terrible start at the plate this season he is still a professional Major League hitter who can do damage.
Option two for Gibson was to pitch to Tejada. In his first at bat in the bottom of the 3rd, starter Jonathan Sanchez had hit a double off Galarraga; add to that the "open base" in this scenario is third base, so an intentional walk to Tejada puts a second Giants runner (Rowand) in scoring position. Tejada came into this game hitting .195 with a .230 OBP, evidence of his offensive struggles this year. If Galarraga gets Tejada, the icing on the cake would be that Sanchez then leads off the bottom of the 5th inning for San Francisco.
Kirk Gibson opted to pitch to Miguel Tejada, who promptly singled Posey in from second. Galarraga then walked Sanchez to load the bases and followed that up with a wild pitch, scoring Rowand. Andres Torres worked a walk and Freddy Sanchez flew out to right field for the final out. Arizona 3 Giants 2. In the bottom of the 5th Aubrey Huff's solo home run tied the game and in the bottom of the 6th Andres Torres' ground rule double scored the winning run-- 4-3 Giants.
First, there is no correct or incorrect choice here for Manager Gibson. He could have walked Tejada and pitched to Sanchez and it still could have gone south for Arizona-- in a sense, either way works if no one scores and the Snakes get out of the inning. But...
I got the feeling that Jonathan Sanchez's double in the 3rd inning unduly influenced Gibson's decision to pitch to Tejada. In today's game, former players who become managers tend to have two common faults: they are overly uncritical of their players, and they let recent anecdotal player performance influence decisions that are often better assessed with long-term trends and stats.
The thinking appeared to be, since Jonathan Sanchez just hit a double in the last inning, and Tejada is in a slump, let's pitch to Tejada and cross our fingers. But the real question was, how many times in his career has Jonathan Sanchez had a multiple hit game? And how often do pitchers in general have multiple hit games? My guess would be the statistical trend greatly favored walking Tejada and pitching to Sanchez.
Gibson's approach to making that decision helped the Giants start their offensive comeback.
Wilson came into Friday's game with a 5.84 ERA, a 0-1 win-loss record, and 10 saves. He proceeded to get the win in each of the first two Rockies games, then picked up the save in game 3. From Friday to Sunday, Wilson's ERA dived 1.14 points to 4.70 and his 11th save tied him with Florida's Leo Nunez and Colorado's Huston Street for the National League lead.
Giant starters also made a statement. In Friday's 4-3 win, Matt Cain went 7 innings giving up 3 runs; Saturday's 3-2 victory featured Madison Bumgarner's 6 innings and 1 earned run; and in Sunday's 3-0 capper Ryan Vogelsong finished the weekend sweep going 6.1 innings with no runs allowed. Over the three game set, Rockies starters and relievers tossed almost 100 more pitches than San Francisco's staff-- 486 to 390.
The Colorado Rockies came into the 2011 season as San Francisco's biggest challengers, but the Giants can now start to claim some serious ownage having won 9 of the last 11 meetings between the two clubs.
Hitting the baseball and scoring runs continues to be a work in progress for the Giants this season-- San Francisco only scored 10 runs in three games. Two of the Colorado games were 9th inning walk-off wins, but clutch hitting alone won't take a division title. There will be a number of dramatic changes in the starting line-up over next several weeks, changes the front office hopes will jumpstart the sagging offense.
Andres Torres and Mark DeRosa should be joining the team this Tuesday when the Giants begin a three game home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Torres brings energy and power as the lead-off hitter, and his defense and speed in center field further solidifies the outfield with Cody Ross full time in right.
Mark DeRosa should be starting just about every day at third base until Pablo Sandoval returns in six weeks, which will provide a serious defensive upgrade at third. At the plate DeRosa's bat is more than capable of creating what this team so desperately needs-- runs.
Look for the Giants to also bring Brandon Belt up from Fresno very soon to take over in left field. Belt brings yet another major defensive upgrade on the field, and his left-handed power bat should help take the sting out of losing Sandoval until mid-June. Also coming back are power reliever Santiago Casilla and starter Barry Zito.
All of these changes will mean some number of players currently on the 25 man roster will be sent down to the minors or traded. Speedy outfielder Darren Ford has not produced at the plate, batting .222 since being called up, and his celebrated speed has produced a 3-3 SB/CS record; infielder Ryan Rohlinger is a likely candidate be sent to Fresno when DeRosa returns. The Giants also tossed Nate Schierholtz's name out into the tradesphere and put him on display a lot over the past two weeks-- we should find out soon if any teams are biting.
The Giants front office has two particularly difficult decisions looming with lefty Dan Runzler currently sporting a fat 6.19 ERA as Casilla's return is around the corner, and Ryan Vogelsong (2-0) putting up some nice numbers as Barry Zito's replacement in the rotation: 20.2 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts, 7 walks, and a 0.97 WHIP.
Brandon Belt, Barry Zito, Dan Runzler, Darren Ford, Ryan Vogelsong, Nate Schierholtz: stay tuned.