Apr 6, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy during the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bay Area Buzz 4/18: Bruce Bochy, Blake Griffin, The Amazin' A's


Bochy is a master at his managerial craft

The Giants have played six consecutive one-run games, winning four of them. If you’re looking for a really simple way to explain Bruce Bochy’s genius, there it is.

Am I oversimplifying?

Absolutely.

Bochy is going to the Hall of Fame, and you can look it up. Those two World Series championships validated a 20-year managerial career in terms of the ultimate honor.

But long before the Giants had those champagne celebrations in 2010 and ’12, Bochy was universally respected for his leadership and communication skills, for his honesty and for running a game — lineups, matchups, balancing the demands of a long season — better than almost anyone.

Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean have done things at such a high level for so long that we at times take them for granted. It’s maybe the ultimate compliment that when they do something that raises eyebrows — for instance, giving Tim Lincecum a two-year, $35 million contract — few second-guess them.

In other words, if they did it, it must be the right thing to do, because their track record is so solid.

Still, in a lot of ways, it’s how Bochy uses and organizes his bullpen that sets him apart. No one — and I mean no one — is better.

To sit back and watch Bochy work his way through the late innings of a game is a thing of beauty, and plenty of people in the game do just that.

The Giants won their third straight one-run game on Wednesday to run their record to 10-5. They’re doing it despite a starting rotation that has been nothing special.

Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong might be the keys to the entire season, and both have had moments when they’ve looked very good, and other moments when last season’s problems have resurfaced.

But San Francisco is 10-5 because first baseman Brandon Belt has led the team’s offense to a nice start, and because its bullpen has done extraordinary work.

Bochy has coaxed a 1.78 ERA from his relievers, second in the big leagues only to what Ron Roenicke has done with the Brewers. Best of all for the Giants is that those relievers have worked only 50 2/3 innings, tied for fifth most in the National League.

It’s one thing to get the best from a bullpen. It’s another to manage the workload of a seven-month season.

As Tony La Russa famously said, “When you’re managing the first half of a season, you’re also managing the second half.” He meant that overworking players in April and May would come back to a bite a team in August and September.

Back to Wednesday at AT&T Park, as the Giants and Dodgers were locked in a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. Vogelsong got the game into the seventh for the first time this season, and so it was on Bochy’s shoulders.

When the first two Dodgers reached base, Bochy went to work. He would use four relievers to get the final nine outs, using this matchup and that one again and again.

First, Bochy summoned 32-year-old right-hander Jean Machi to pitch to Matt Kemp.

Jean Machi? The Giants are his fifth organization. Machi has spent all or parts of 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues. When Sabean signed him as a free agent two years ago, there were few headlines.

But last season, Machi emerged as a reliable late-inning pitcher, appearing in 51 games. He’s off to another great start this season, and plenty of baseball people probably are asking what San Francisco saw in him.

For one thing, a tremendous changeup, which isn’t always the easiest pitch around which to build a resume. Machi threw Kemp four changeups in a five-pitch at-bat and struck him out on the last one.

Andre Ethier beat out an infield single to load the bases, and Machi might have saved the game by getting Juan Uribe to pound another changeup into the ground for an inning-ending double play.

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval singled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, but Bochy still had to get six outs.

The Dodgers got the tying run in scoring position in the top of the eighth, but Bochy played the matchup game nicely. Right-hander Santiago Casilla used 94 mph fastballs to get the first two outs, then Bochy went for left-hander Javier Lopez, who got Carl Crawford, a left-handed hitter, to ground out to end the inning.

By that time, Bochy was down to his closer, and Sergio Romo got the Dodgers in order in the ninth to preserve the 2-1 win.

–Richard Justice, MLB.com

Blake Griffin faces different kind of challenge vs. Warriors

Blake Griffin’s primary challenge in the Clippers’ opening-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors might not involve scoring, rebounding or playing defense.

It might be how well he responds to the Warriors’ physical tactics and their attempts to get under his skin.

Thursday afternoon, Griffin preferred to skirt the subject, although he conceded he had heard comments made this week by Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who compared the Clippers’ forward to “a bull in a china shop.”

Griffin’s response: “This isn’t my thing. I play basketball. I don’t want to get into a back and forth. I think we’re ready to play, and it sounds like they are too.”

Undoubtedly, both teams are. The Clippers and Warriors are very much rivals, and Griffin has become a lightning rod for what is clearly a mutual animosity.

The Warriors apparently don’t like Griffin’s style, which has resulted in jostling and shoving with Andrew Bogutand Draymond Green in previous games this season. And center Jermaine O’Neal, who will likely start in place of the injured Bogut (broken rib), had issues with Griffin both during and after the teams played March 12.

Neither was willing to discuss the root of their staredown and postgame discussion in the hallway at Staples Center, but Thompson may have given a clue about how Griffin is perceived when he told a San Francisco radio station that Griffin “flails his arms” and throws “a random elbow or something that doesn’t rub off too well on guys.”

He also said, “And then you do see him flop sometimes, and it’s like, how can a guy that big and strong flop that much? So yeah, I can see how he can get under people’s skin and be frustrating to play against.”

If there’s a feud involving the two teams or Griffin and anyone else, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he doesn’t expect it to be a factor in the best-of-seven series. Each game is too precious and too critical to do something that could result in a technical foul or an ejection.

Besides, Rivers said, a lot of teams have tried to incite Griffin this season.

“Blake is going to be second or third in MVP voting, so whatever teams have tried has not worked,” Rivers said. “And that’s on Blake. Whatever it is, Blake is still playing basketball.

“At the end of the day, (he) should look at it as a compliment: Guys are trying anything to stop me. They tried it with Shaq, they tried it with LeBron, and they’re trying it with Blake.”

Even if he’s right, the game within the game will bear watching. But at least on the surface, Griffin seems to be ignoring any attempts at gamesmanship by Golden State players.

–Michael Martinez, FOX Sports West

The A’s way means being in first place yet again

So, the Oakland A’s, the team I picked to win the AL West, were in first place in the AL West, right where I picked them, and still I thought, “Huh, the A’s are good again.”

Two starting pitchers on the disabled list, murky closer situation, decent enough lineup, somewhat hazardous home working conditions, long early road trip and, yeah, they have the best record in the American League.

Because, well, because of course they do. Because, and this is about the most A’s-ish thing ever, they just spent three games hitless with runners in scoring position – 23 at-bats in all – and won all three. Because the only A’s players on a leaderboard after 2 ½ weeks are Brandon Moss, who has 15 RBI and is as appreciative of his big-league experience as anyone in the game, and who a couple years ago was contemplating going home to be a fireman or something, and Alberto Callaspo, who is batting .357, a good 80 points over his career average.

Because they’re 3-1 in extra-inning games and 3-1 in one-run games, and their best starting pitcher is 24 (Sonny Gray), and their next-best starters are a journeyman reliever (Jesse Chavez) and a fairly recent Sugar Land Skeeters alumnus (Scott Kazmir).

And here’s the thing about the A’s: They sleep off a Justin Verlander hangover every winter, get whacked by the Tommy John scythe that’s going around, their ballpark acts up, they draw Felix Hernandez twice (and lose to him twice) before April is half over, and by Thursday morning they’d won four of five, eight of 10, and despite a regretful 12th-inning loss here Wednesday night, were a healthy 10-5.

In some ways – how they pitch, how they stack and attack their at-bats – they remind you of the St. Louis Cardinals. In others – how they make the most of their market – they remind you of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Still, maybe, you’re a little surprised they’re this good, and then you’re surprised you’re surprised, because this is how the A’s win games, and win division titles (and, admittedly, lose in October), and you ought to be accustomed to it by now.

Scott Boras, the super analogist, has compared the A’s to goulash, as the ingredients can be something of a mystery – a dash of Cespedes, a half-cup of Donaldson, a sprinkle of Doolittle, and throw some Coco in there – and it may have a curious aroma, but, hey, it’s not bad.

 

The A’s gave away a late lead Wednesday night, and appeared defensively vulnerable, and were a pitch or two from sweeping the Angels. Instead, they got beat. They wore that in manager Bob Melvin’s postgame curtness, particularly as it related to sorting through his ninth-inning options (“I’m tired of answering these questions every day,” he snapped. “I’ll let you know.”), and in a clubhouse pleased with a 7-2 trip through Minnesota, Seattle and Anaheim, but wholly bummed with the past four hours and 19 minutes.

They’d lost at their kind of game, the kind that wanders toward midnight and wears out the hinges on the bullpen door, that feels like somebody’s going to lose a pint of blood before it’s done. The air turns cold and the crowd thins and there go the A’s again, not pretty, not fancy, and unwilling to take a step backward. They win more of those than they lose.

“It’s a grind,” Josh Donaldson said, and he grinned. “All of our games are grinds. You come in knowing it. We’re in those so much, we’re used to it.”

It has been said the A’s prosper because they understand who they are, and therefore accept who they are, and that’s probably true. They do tend to run a little smarter than most on the baseball operations floor, and you’re free to debate whether that’s nature or nurture or just plain desperation. In the end, or by 7 o’clock every night, they put a pitcher on the mound who’ll at least compete and often dominate, and a team in the field that’ll find the couple inches it’ll need to win, and as of Thursday that’s with very few of their regulars being extraordinary.

“It’s hard to articulate it,” assistant general manager David Forst said Thursday morning. “We don’t have a lot of great individual performances in the books yet. Other than the starting pitching, the numbers don’t jump out at you.”

Down Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, who together won 26 games in 2013, A’s starters have a league-best 2.48 ERA. Only the New York Yankees’ rotation has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. As currently constructed, their five will cost the A’s $9,292,500 in salaries this season, $7 million of that to Kazmir. The Yankees’ rotation will plow through $10 million by late April.

None of that matters, of course. What does matter is today, and the three hours that are coming, which the A’s make more of than most. They take the wins where they find them, and chase down the wins that don’t come as easy, and sneer at stuff like Wednesday night, one lousy game at the end of an entirely proper two weeks.

“Well, look,” Melvin said, “I mean, we battled hard again. You’re not going to win ‘em all. At the end of the day, you move on.”

–Tim Brown, Yahoo Sports

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Tags: Bruce Bochy Golden State Warriors NBA Playoffs Oakland Athletics San Francisco Giants