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Giants take two-game World Series lead

The San Francisco Giants find themselves in a position that they have not held thus far in the playoffs: they are holding a two-game lead. After coming back from 2-0 deficit against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS and and a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants are up 2-0 on the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Manager Bruce Bochy gave Barry Zito the Game 1 start after his dominant showing in Game 5 of the NLCS. As Joe Buck commented on during the game, Zito was never mind-blowing, but he was extremely effective. Despite being pulled in the fifth inning with two men on, two out and the ALCS MVP, Delmon Young, at the plate, Zito continued to pitch at the top of his game. His fastball only reached the mid-80s, but the east to west movement made it hard to hit. He also had a wicked 12 to six curveball that befuddled the Detroit batters. He left the game after allowing six hits and one run. Lincecum continued to perform better in relief, pitching two shutout innings and striking out five batters.

The real story from Game 1 was the Giants offense. Pablo Sandoval went 4-for-4 and joined the ranks of the Albert Pujols, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth, as one of the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game. Two of his home runs were off of All-star and former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Marco Scutaro extended his playoff hit streak to 11 games as he went 2-for-4. Zito also contributed to the offensive end, adding an RBI single and extending the streak of Giants pitchers driving in runs to four games. Giants won 8-3.

Game 2 was much more of a pitchers duel than Game 1. Madison Bumgarner was given the start in Game 2 against the impressive Doug Fister, and he pitched more like the Bumgarner from the 2010 World Series than of the Bumgarner from the 2012 NLDS and NLCS. His control was on and he was hitting his spots a lot better than in his previous outings. He pitched seven innings and had eight strike outs. The Giants defense, which has been outstanding in the playoffs, provided the most important play of the game. In the top of the second, Prince Fielder, who was on first after being hit by a pitch, was sent home on a double to the left field corner. Gregor Blanco missed the cutoff man, but Scutaro, who was positioned right behind the cutoff, caught the ball and fired home to Posey, who tagged Fielder right before he tagged the plate.

Fister pitched five innings and was pulled after allowing a lead off single in the bottom of the seventh. Drew Smyly relieved Fister and walked the first batter he faced, Brandon Belt. Gregor Blanco reached first and advanced the runners after he lay down a bunt that the Tigers infield waited to roll foul, but stayed fair. Brandon Crawford hit into a double play, but Pence scored the Giants first run. In the bottom of the eighth, the Giants scored an insurance run off a sacrifice fly by Hunter Pence. Scutaro went 0-for-4 and snapped his 11-game hit streak. The Giants won 2-0.

Ryan Vogelsong will face off against Anibal Sanchez in Game 3 is Saturday, Oct. 27 in Detroit.

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Bay Area baseball teams force Game 5

The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics came back from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 5 in each team’s respective Division Series.

The Giants normally dominant pitching has been sub-par against the red-hot Cincinnati Reds. Pitchers Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito never made it past five innings. Cain, the Giants’ new ace, allowed five hits—including two homeruns—and two earned runs in just five innings in Game 1. In Game 2, Bumgarner allowed seven hits and four earned runs in just over four innings. Vogelsong had the Giants best outing in Game 3, allowing just three hits and one earned run in five innings. Zito had the team’s worst outing in Game 4 allowing four hits, two earned runs and four walks—including one walk that forced a run home—in just over two innings.

Despite the Giants’ poor pitching, the team was able to scrape by on an error to win Game 3 and extend their season one more game. Joaquin With two men on base, Arias pitch hit in the top of the 10th inning and hit an infield grounder to third baseman Scott Rolen, who bobbled the ball. Arias beat out the throw to first and Buster Posey scored, giving the Giants a 2-1 victory.

The Giants offense finally picked up in Game 4. After scoring only four runs on 12 hits in the first three games, the Giants scored eight runs on 11 hits. The Giants had the least number of home runs of any team in the league this season, but put up home runs by Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval. Tim Lincecum gave the Giants its best showing by a pitcher thus far in the series pitching four and one-thirds inning relief, allowing two hits, one run and striking out six. Lincecum, who will not be given any starts in this series, has pitched more innings than any other Giants pitcher thus far. He also made an appearance in Game 2, where he pitched two shutout innings.

The Oakland A’s won Game 4 and forced a Game 5 in dramatic fashion. The game came down to the A’s final at bats. The Detroit Tigers headed into the top of the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead. After the Tigers pitching staff had kept the A’s relatively quiet, Tigers closer, Jose Valverde, one of the leagues’ best closers, came in to end the game and the A’s hopes. With no outs, right fielder Josh Reddick started the rally by singling to right field. Third basemen Josh Donaldson doubled to deep left center, while Reddick moved to third base. Designated hitter Seth Smith, who had struck out twice, doubled to deep right center scoring Reddick and Donaldson and tying the game 3-3. The A’s next two batters fouled out and struck out. Center fielder Coco Crisp stepped to the plate, with the memory of a dropped pop fly that scored two runs in Game 2 on his mind. Crisp drove a single to right field scoring Smith and wiping his error in Game 2 from the minds of A’s fans everywhere. The A’s beat the Tigers 4-3 in the top of the ninth to force a Game 5.

The Giants and A’s will continue to fight for a spot in the NLCS and ALCS, respectively.

Is Matt Cain the Giants’ new ace?

As an avid sports fan, it’s somewhat surprising that I’ve never gotten into fantasy sports before now. But a few weeks ago, one of my best friends convinced me to join his fantasy baseball league. Being a complete newbie to the fantasy baseball process, he ended up giving me tons of tips regarding drafting strategy, how to set my team each week, how to manage my DL list, and how to drop and sign new players. But the best advice I received came from my dad, an hard-core baseball fan (and someone who has never participated in fantasy baseball either). The day before my league’s draft, my dad said to me, “Don’t draft Tim Lincecum, draft Matt Cain.”

I’m a huge Giant’s fan, and Tim Lincecum has been my favorite player the past few years. With two Cy Young Awards under his belt, he was easily the Giant’s No. 1 pitcher. The Freak had an ERA of 2.74 in 2011, just 0.46 behind LA Dodger Clayton Kershaw who won the 2011 Cy Young Award. Lincecum’s 2012 Spring Training numbers weren’t great, but it didn’t alarm Giants fans because he had a history of not producing great numbers during Spring Training.

So why did my dad advise against drafting Lincecum? Perhaps it was a hunch, or perhaps it was because the Giant’s had just signed Cain to a $112.5 million deal over five years with $5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million buyout in 2018 (obviously the Giant’s office management and manager Bruce Bochy saw something in him). This deal makes him the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history.

Thankfully, I listened to my dad (which doesn’t happen as often as it should). Currently, Lincecum has an ERA of 5.74 (after starting the season with an ERA of more than 10), while Cain boasts a 2.37 over four starts (30.1 total innings). In his second and third games, he pitched 18 scoreless innings, including a one-hit shutout against Pittsburgh, and a two-hit nine inning stretch in a game that went into extra innings. My brother’s friend Max dubbed him Matty “No Runs” Cain. (In case you were wondering, I picked Cain as my second starting pitcher, after the Tiger’s ace, Justin Verlander).

Lincecum has been under scrutiny because his velocity has dropped. In 2011, he averaged 92.2 mph, while he averaged 90 mph in his 2012 debut. My dad said his size forced him to have different pitching mechanics to reach the same power and speed as some of the stronger pitchers in the league, and his mechanics were finally catching up with him. According to Tristan H. Cockcroft on ESPN.com, “In his defense, four times since 2009 he averaged a lower number than he did on April 6, and in four of his first eight starts of 2010 he averaged beneath 91 mph.” The season is just beginning, which gives Lincecum time to adjust, settle into the season and bring his ERA down.

For now, the Giant’s No. 1 pitcher is Cain, who is 1-1 with 26 K’s and 0.63 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). In his four starts he’s allowed eight earned runs, 14 hits (including 4 home runs), and five walks.

If Lincecum can improve his pitching, and if manager Bochy can deal with the loss of closer, Brian Wilson, the Giant’s are poised to have a better year than last year, especially now that they have better offensive support In 2011, they were ranked 29th (second to last) in the majors with 570 runs over 162 games (3.5 runs per game), while this year they are ranked 17th with 90 runs in 22 games (4.1 runs per game).

Currently, the Giant’s are 12-10 (.545) and in second place in the National League west, but the season is still young. If the Giant’s can overcome the unexpected events that have happened so far this year, and if second basemen Freddie Sanchez comes back hitting as well as he did the last two seasons, San Francisco will be a Giant force to be reckoned with.

Case Study: MLB Fan Cave

In my social media class, my teacher asked us to complete three case studies of our choice. I decided to post my case studies on my blog because they are sports PR related, and therefore, relevant to my blog. I’m going to post them exactly as I turned them in to my teacher so please excuse the references to class lectures and readings. I’ll try to explain where I can, and anything added will be in brackets. Here is a case study I wrote about the success of the MLB Fan Cave.

Summary

In 2011, Major League Baseball struck social media gold when it implemented the MLB Fan Cave, a social networking hub for baseball fans at every level. The creators of Fan Cave created a site in New York City where two baseball fans, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner (who were selected from 10,000 applicants) would watch every baseball game from the 2011 season. In total, the two fans watched 2,429 games beginning March 31 and ending Sept. 28. Wagner and O’Hara used social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to connect with fans and create conversation. O’Hara and Wagner posted regularly to a blog and created video content for Fan Cave fans.

Issues at Stake

The sports social media market has its own long tail curve, but it has many micro markets–or what Chris Anderson calls fractal dimension–for each sport.

It would be hard for Major League Baseball to create a social media strategy and jump ahead of organizations such as the NBA or NFL. Each league and sport has its own micro market. The Fan Cave didn’t need to jump ahead of other major sports leagues and their social media, it just needed to jump to the forefront of baseball’s social media.

The biggest issue at stake for Major League Baseball was increasing the baseball conversation. The creators of the Fan Cave knew that social media was the way to go, but they wanted focus on more than a Facebook page or Twitter account. For them, it was about increasing conversation in an interesting way that would stay fresh and new for the six month season. The second issue was reaching a different generation of fans without losing the older generation of fans MLB already had. It was important to create a place for fans of every level to want to hang out and take part of.

According to an ESPN article, the average baseball fan was 45 years old. MLB wanted a way to reach younger fans and still keep older fans involved. According to the same ESPN article mentioned above, “The endeavor also allowed MLB to reach out to a more casual fan without alienating die-hards.”

To keep younger fans interested, the Fan Cave featured more than just baseball talk. O’Hara hosted Cave Chat, a short video segment with celebrity guest stars. O’Hara kept the chats to pop culture but tied baseball in by asking celebrities and guests about their favorite teams.

The Fan Cave also held parties with musical guest stars such as LMFAO and Sublime with Rome. By integrating pop culture into a social media hub that is centered around baseball, Fan Cave increased conversation around baseball, gained fans and maintained a level of entertainment and interest for six months. Despite integrating pop culture into the Fan Cave, it always came second to why O’Hara and Wagner were there: baseball. O’Hara and Wagner blogged about games, held healthy competitive discussions about games and welcomed 65 players from 24 clubs around the league to come into the Fan Cave.

Pros and Cons

It’s hard to find cons about a social media campaign that became so successful. According to the ESPN article (whose data came from the MLB), “45 percent of tweets about the Fan Cave have been positive. For league and team pages, the number of positive tweets tends to be about 15 to 20 percent. When it comes to engagement, a third of Fan Cave Facebook fans have liked content or posted on the wall. By comparison, on team and league pages, that number hovers around 5 to 10 percent.”

The Fan Cave made more than 100 million social media impressions between Facebook and Twitter. The Fan Cave Facebook and Twitter pages, and the official Twitter accounts of O’Hara and Wagner combined for 150,000 fans and followers. MLB executive vice President Tim Brosnan acknowledged that the Fan Cave accomplished what it set out to do. MLB became a significant part of the online social conversation and made social media impressions that the league did not have the year before.

In the 95 Theses [part of The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger], the first few theses note that markets are conversations between human beings.

The MLB Fan Cave held a contest to find real baseball fans, not PR or marketing professionals, broadcasters or sports anchors. The MLB Fan Cave hired two regular guys– baseball fans–to connect with other regular people and increase conversation, and it worked.

Perhaps the only con regarding this campaign was the level of thought and planning that went into the Fan Cave. The decision to create the MLB Fan Cave was last minute, and the site for the Fan Cave was not budgeted for. The creators of the Fan Cave moved on instinct rather than reviewing case studies and analyzing data, a risk that could have been fatal.

Recommendations

The MLB Fan Cave was a unique idea in 2011. With the second round of MLB Fan Cave coming in 2012, the idea is no longer unique. This is where the challenge lies. The Fan Cave crew need to continue to brain storm innovative ways to keep MLB in the social media conversation. MLB is in the process of finding new hosts for the Fan Cave, which will allow for new personalities to emerge. With these new personalities, new creative ideas will emerge. One suggestion I have is to use social media to create a competition for fans. For example, fans can use a Twitter hashtag to post predictions of games. Those who predict the most games in a row by the end of the season can win a jersey, hat or tickets to a game. Another idea for a competition would be for fans to post photos of themselves in their teams jersey around the United States or the world [the Portland Trail Blazers do something similar]. Every week, the Fan Cave hosts can select a photo to be displayed on the Fan Cave website. Creating conversation was the first step. Now, MLB Fan Cave must keep fans interested by giving them the opportunity to interact and be rewarded for their loyalty.

Despite Buster Posey injury, MLB should not change the rules

Last week, the San Francisco Giants endured a huge blow. Catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken ankle and torn ligaments in a home plate collision with Florida Marlin Scott Cousins. Posey was positioned in front of the plate waiting from the throw from right field. As Posey received the catch, he tried to make a sweeping tag on Cousins as he came home. Cousins collided with Posey at the plate, knocking the ball loose, scoring the game winning run, and breaking Posey’s ankle.

Immediately, Posey’s agent Jeff Berry contacted the Major League Baseball offices to protest collisions at home plate and the vulnerability that catchers face. Here are Berry’s major points:

1. Posey was in front of the plate and never blocked the plate, even after receiving the throw from right field.

2. As Cousins reached home, he crossed over the third base line from foul territory to fair territory and lowered his shoulder into Posey.

3. Posey leaves the plate exposed allowing Cousins to have a clear path to slide into the plate.

It’s obvious why Berry is freaking out. As a Giant’s fan, I’m freaking out. The Giants just lost their starting catcher, the National League Rookie of the Year, and all-around offensive machine. Posey will undergo surgery and most likely be out the rest of the season, possibly preventing the Giants from winning back-to-back World Series championships.

Although I’m upset Posey is injured, Major League Baseball should not change rules to protect the catcher. Collisions are part of baseball and have been for decades. Base runners running from first to second try to slide into the opposing player at second base to break up double plays; it’s part of the game. However, according to official MLB Rules and Regulations:

(e) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

I have seen many questionable slides into second base that have hindered the second basemen or shortstop (whoever is covering second base at the time) from completing the double play. But the base runner sliding into second is not always called for interference or obstruction. Rules should not be left up to the “judgement” of the empire. There should be a concrete rule with stricter guidelines so that the call is consistent. This rule does not mention base runners heading for home plate, and I don’t think it should. Base runners should be able to contend with the catcher to score runs.

As for the actual play at the plate with Posey and Cousins, Posey was posed in front the plate to receive the throw from Nate Schierholtz in right field. As Posey received the throw, he made a sweeping motion to tag Cousins. Cousins dives towards the plate and collides with Posey. As gruesome as the play was, it was perfectly legal. Cousins has every right to try to knock the ball out of Posey’s hand. There is no way that Cousins can tell if Posey has caught the ball or not. His goal as the base runner (game winning base runner, in this situation) is to make the play at home, and that means knocking the ball out of Posey’s glove to score. As Cousins collided with Posey, Posey’s foot got caught under him, causing his ankle to bend at an odd angle and break. This was an unfortunate accident, but Cousins should not be blamed.

No one likes to see an injury, especially a season ending injury to a great player like Posey. But it’s all part of the game. The Giants need to keep their head high and use this time to work with backup catcher Eli Whiteside or work on obtaining Benji Molina or Pudge Rodriguez to work as a backup.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball should refrain from making any drastic changes to the rules of baseball.

Here’s a link from ESPN blogger, Buster Olney. http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=6592602

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