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.

Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich win MVP Awards

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Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich were announced on Thursday evening as the winners of the 2018 Most Valuable Player Awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Betts, 26, led baseball with a .346 batting average, a .640 slugging percentage, and 129 runs scored. He also put together a .438 on-base percentage with 32 home runs, 80 RBI, and 30 stolen bases while ranking among the best defensive outfielders. According to Baseball Reference, Betts was worth 10.9 WAR, the highest total by a position player since Barry Bonds in 2002 (11.8). It was the 21st time a player compiled a 10.9 WAR or better since 1871. The others to do it along with Betts and Bonds: Cal Ripken, Jr., Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

Betts is the first Red Sox player to win the MVP Award since second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2008. Other members of the Red Sox to win the award include Mo Vaughn (1995), Roger Clemens (1986), Jim Rice (1978), Fred Lynn (1975), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Jackie Jensen (1958), Ted Williams (1946, ’49), Jimmie Foxx (1938), and Tris Speaker (1912).

Angels outfielder Mike Trout and J.D. Martinez each received one first-place vote with Betts receiving the other 28. Trout finished in second place with 265 overall points, Indians infielder José Ramírez finished third with 208, and Martinez finished fourth with 198. They were followed by Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Blake Snell, Justin Verlander, Mitch Haniger, Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, José Altuve, Blake Treinen, Andrelton Simmons, Whit Merrifield, Edwin Díaz, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Jed Lowrie, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Hicks, and Chris Sale.

Trout is now one of four players to finish second in MVP Award voting four times, joining Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Albert Pujols. Trout was the runner-up behind Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13 and Josh Donaldson in 2015.

Yelich, 26, led the National League with a .326 batting average, a .598 slugging percentage, and a 1.000 OPS. He also put up a .402 on-base percentage with 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 118 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases while playing above-average defense in the outfield.

Yelich is the first member of the Brewers to win the MVP Award since outfielder Ryan Braun in 2011. The other Brewers to have won the MVP Award are Robin Yount (1982, ’89) and Rollie Fingers (1981).

Nearly a unanimous choice, Yelich was voted in first place on 29 of 30 ballots with NL Cy Young Award winner getting the other first-place vote. Cubs infielder Javier Baéz finished in second place with 250 points and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished in third place with 203 points. They were followed by Freddie Freeman, deGrom, Paul Goldschmidt, Lorenzo Cain, Trevor Story, Matt Carpenter, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Nola, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Jesús Aguilar, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Markakis, and Eugenio Suarez.

Coincidentally, both MVP Award winners hit for the cycle this season. Betts achieved it on August 9 while Yelich did it twice, on August 29 and September 17. Yelich also finished two home runs and one RBI short of the Triple Crown.

The BBWAA voters submitted their ballots before the start of the postseason, so the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series and that the Brewers made it to Game 7 of the NLCS had no impact on the award results. That the Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games during the regular season and the Brewers won the NL Central tiebreaker over the Cubs certainly could have been factors for many voters, however.