Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Giants (7/24)

Nationals at Giants: Thursday, July 24 at 3:45 ET
Before getting into today's game, I wanted to pass along an observation on Balester. Mike Krukow, the excellent color commentator for the Giants, pointed out what he described as a "hump" in Balester's curveball, meaning that it appears to rise early out of the pitcher's hand, making it an easy pitch to identify. Second, he noticed right away that Balester struggled with command out of the stretch. That would explain some of his terrible 56% LOB rate going into tonight. Bottom line is that he really does need to be able to throw that change up for strikes. He barely touched it in the first start against the Marlins, but he's used it more and was able to get outs with it against the Giants.

The Nationals try to avoid their second sweep of the season at the hands of the Giants with an afternoon tilt. Make sure you have your headphones in the cubicle. Here's my take on Game 3.

Pitching match-up

Matt Cain: Warning--if you aren't interested in hearing nice things about the opposition, just skip ahead. As I've said, I have a soft spot for young power pitchers. Cain is one of my favorites. First, he has overpowering stuff. His fastball hits 96, and his curve, a second plus-pitch that he can throw for strikes on any count, comes in 15-20 mph slower. Throw in an improving change and a slider, and when he's on, batters have no chance. This year, he's striking out 8.6 per 9, with half as many walks. But beyond his electric ability, he's a class act all the way. He came up at age 20 in the midst of the Bonds circus and was completely undistracted. He listens to vets. He doesn't stomp around the mound when he gets squeezed by umps. Last year, early on, he was asked what his goals were, and he said, "200 innings and an ERA under 4." He didn't say all-star game. He said his goal was to do the least glamorous but most important thing he could do to help his team.

Cain can lose command, however, and has a tendency to run up pitch counts trying to strike out everybody. He's also a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, and if you're walking guys and 50% of your balls in play are flyballs, a few of those will drift out, and you're going to get hurt. But if Cain is even close to on, an overly aggressive, slap-hitting Nationals team will have very little chance. Cain just doesn't give up enough hits to string together 3-4 singles to score.

Tim Redding: He throws a fastball, slider, curve, and an occasional change. He's a slight flyball pitcher, and his HR/FB rate has been a bit below league average, so that could cause his ERA to rise in the second half, even if he pitches exactly as well. His pattern has been 5-6 innings of decent pitching, and no more.

What To Look For

The Nationals' approach at the plate. If they're not taking and getting ahead of Cain, they're toast.

Related, I'll be watching Cain's command and pitch count. If they can run him out after 5-6, they'll have a much better chance.

Redding's trade bait, so it would help us for him to pitch well out of the break. He was hit hard in his last start versus Atlanta.

Felipe has hit Cain extremely well, and Zimmerman has a HR in 10 AB. Everyone else, not so much.

Is Wil Nieves ever going to get in a game? I mean, probably not. Why would he? How's Manny supposed to use four catchers? Just wondering. Maybe JimBo has a suggestion?

Finally, the bullpen had been real solid since the all-star break. But without Rauch, it's Ayala, who's really struggled all year, in the 8th, and he blew it last night. How long till Saul gets the 8th?

Fearless Prediction
Anyone notice my prediction for last night? 6-4 Giants. This time: Cain, lights out. The Gentle Giants sweep the series with a 5-1 win.

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