Great pitching has Giants looking very scary

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Barry Zito and three relievers blanked the Reds last night, as the Giants pitched a shutout for the 16th time in 120 games. San Francisco has allowed the fewest runs in baseball with 441 in 120 games, which is 31 fewer runs than any other staff, and you wouldn’t know it from his 8-11 record but Zito has quietly bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2008 season that saw him go 10-17 with a career-worst 5.15 ERA.
This season his ERA is down to 4.26 in 25 starts, and 114 strikeouts versus 56 walks in 148 innings is Zito’s best K/BB ratio since way back in 2002. He’s certainly not the top-of-the-rotation stud he was in the early Oakland days, but Zito is far better than he was during his first two seasons in San Francisco and has a 2.36 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. Zito reemerging as a solid starter has the Giants looking like a very dangerous opponent should they get into the playoffs.
The entire pitching staff has been fantastic with a 3.47 ERA, but even that includes some poor performances from guys who wouldn’t touch the ball in October. Tim Lincecum is the best pitcher on the planet and Matt Cain is 12-4 with a 2.49 ERA. Toss in Zito and those are the three guys who could start nearly every playoff game. Beyond that the primary relievers have all been excellent, including closer Brian Wilson saving 30 games with a 2.75 ERA, 61/21 K/BB ratio, and .203 opponents’ batting average in 55.2 innings.
Setup men Jeremy Affeldt and Justin Miller both have ERAs under 2.00, Bob Howry and Brandon Medders are obviously no slouches with ERAs in the mid-3.00s, and rookies Sergio Romo and Merkin Valdez have also stepped up with a combined 2.21 ERA during the past month. Because of all the off days during the playoffs teams typically need three main starters, with the occasional fourth starter in the mix, plus three or four key relievers. Here’s what the Giants could trot out there under those circumstances:

SP1   Tim Lincecum       2.37 ERA, 207/46 K/BB in 178 innings
SP2   Matt Cain          2.49 ERA, 126/56 K/BB in 162 innings
SP3   Barry Zito         4.26 ERA, 114/56 K/BB in 148 innings
CL    Brian Wilson       2.75 ERA, 61/21 K/BB in 56 innings
SET   Jeremy Affeldt     1.80 ERA, 38/25 K/BB in 45 innings
SET   Justin Miller      1.83 ERA, 34/18 K/BB in 54 innings
SET   Bobby Howry        3.50 ERA, 33/12 K/BB in 46 innings

Not bad, huh? Those seven guys have combined for a 2.83 ERA and 613 strikeouts in 690 innings, and Medders, Romo, and Valdez are certainly capable of soaking up any loose work. Oh, and if the Giants need a fourth starter at some point Jonathan Sanchez has a 3.22 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in seven starts since rejoining the rotation with a no-hitter in mid-July. Come playoff time the Lincecum-led pitching staff has a chance to shut down anyone.
Of course, scoring runs have been a problem for the Giants all season, which is why they’re 4.5 games back in the division and a game behind the Rockies for the Wild Card despite the league’s best pitching staff. San Francisco’s lineup ranks 14th in the league with 4.0 runs per game, but has improved since adding Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko last month and does have one big-time threat in 22-year-old hitting savant Pablo Sandoval. If they can get there, the Giants would be my playoff sleeper pick.

The Tigers will listen to trade offers on anybody

Miguel Cabrera
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Earlier this week Tigers GM Al Avila said that his club was going to get “lean” and “efficient” and that their days of spending big money are over. Later in the week Avila said that they would not likely offer a long term contract to outfielder J.D. Martinez, who will become a free agent after the 2017 season.

None of those comments necessarily suggested that the Tigers would be conducting a fire sale or anything, and it’s certainly possible to get leaner while still competing. One would assume that the Tigers could cut fat in the middle but still head into battle with their superstars. But that may not be the plan. Buster Olney:

. . . the message being received from the rest of the industry is a dramatic shift for one of baseball’s oldest franchises: They will listen to trade offers on everybody.

Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander. Ian Kinsler.


Trading those guys would be a pretty big deal. In both senses of the term.

It would take a blockbuster-sized deal to move such players. Verlander is owed $28 million a year for the next three seasons and has a vesting option for 2020 at $22 million. Cabrera just finished the first year of an eight-year, $248 million deal that will be paying him more than $30 million a year between 2018 and 2023, with an $8 million buyout for 2024. And that’s before the fact that both Verlander and Cabrera are 10/5 guys with full no-trade protection if they choose to exercise it. Beyond that Kinsler is a relative bargain at $11 million in 2017 and a $10 million club option for 2018 with a $5 million buyout. Victor Martinez and Justin Upton are hanging around too.

But for as big a trade would have to be if any one of those guys were dealt, it’d be a bigger deal in terms of team philosophy and direction. Cabrera has confirmed his Hall of Fame credentials in his nine years in Detroit. He’s the best player to wear the English D since Al Kaline and has been the biggest star in the organization for most of a generation. Verlander is nearly as important and nearly as famous. I don’t think it’s likely the Tigers will move either of them because the logistics of such deals would be mind-boggling, but even entertaining deals for these guys would alter the course of the franchise for years and years to come. It happens to every franchise eventually, but I don’t think the Tigers fan base is prepared for it to happen to them yet.

Still: the free agent market is thinner that it has been at any time in years and years. Cabrera and Verlander, if they could be had, would be the biggest splashes any team looking to improve could possibly acquire. Kinselr would be a big get for anyone as well. Al Avila knows that. Even if he’s not ready to part with his superstars, he probably owes it to his organization to at least listen.


The World Series broadcast schedule is announced

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Major League Baseball just announced the broadcast schedule for both Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) of the NLCS and the entire World Series.

There are no surprises here. The World Series games are all on Fox. The pregame show starts at 7:30 and the games themselves start just after 8pm Eastern Daylight Time, regardless of whether it’s Chicago or Los Angeles representing the National League. For some reason Game five of the World Series, scheduled a week from Sunday if it comes to pass, starts seven minutes later than all of the other games. Maybe something super exciting will happen then.