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Cold bay: Phillies vs. Giants series preview

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The Phillies may not be hot, but neither are the Giants

MLB: APR 26 Yankees at Giants
Pablo Sandoval and the Giants have not been hot
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before the last series against the Giants, I mentioned that they were playing above their talent level, and it didn’t seem like they should have a winning record. Since I wrote those words, the Giants have gone 2-7, so it looks like I might have been right about something.

San Francisco Giants

Record: 56-58, Third place in National League West

The last time they met

A little over a week ago, the Giants visited Philadelphia for a three-game set, and the Phillies prevailed in the first and third games of the series.

Unfortunate timing

It would have been better had the Giants’ cold streak not come when they were playing the Washington Nationals. That three-game sweep didn’t help the Phillies in the standings.

Didn’t expect to see you

Madison Bumgarner will start the first game of the series, which is a bit surprising considering there had been season-long speculation that he’d be traded. Did the Giants’ surprisingly good performance through July convince management that they needed to hold on to him?

Regardless of the reasoning, Bumgarner is still a Giant. In the past, facing him in the opener of a series seemed daunting. But these days, he’s nothing more than a solid mid-rotation pitcher. And he’ll have the misfortune of facing Aaron Nola, so Bumgarner will need to be very good if the Giants want to win that game.

Keep ‘em in the park

The Phillies’ pitching staff has been notoriously prone to surrendering home runs this season, but they should have an easier time of it this weekend. The Giants are second-to-last in home runs this season, and their leading home run hitter is noted power hitter Kevin Pillar (13).

I’m aware that the Giants did hit several home runs against the Phillies the last time they played, but it’s not that hard to homer in Citizens Bank Park. They’ll have a much tougher time in Oracle Park hasn’t been a haven for home runs for the Giants this season.

Sorry, Giants: He’s back

Bad news for the Giants: Drew Smyly is scheduled to pitch this series. While Cliff Lee 2.0’s last start wasn’t the best of his career, the Giants are probably still shaken by his dominant effort against them the last time they met up. Since it seems inconceivable that Smyly would have two sub par outings in a row, we can probably expect more dominance this time.

The mystery of the Kung Fu Panda

We’ve never been able to properly rate Pablo Sandoval, and I doubt we ever will. Part of the problem is that he suffers from Craig Claxton Syndrome, in which a cool nickname causes people to overrate a player. (Other Philly examples: Victor “Macho” Harris and Hank “Honey Buns” Fraley.)

Sandoval was dubbed “Kung Fu Panda” in 2008 by teammate Barry Zito because of his deft avoidance of a tag at the plate:

At that point, he looked like an emerging star. His career peaked in 2012 when he was World Series MVP with the Giants, but things went downhill quickly. He was never slender to begin with, but after signing a huge deal with the Red Sox, he got even bigger. Sandoval and the Red Sox made a very big deal about telling people that he wasn’t actually that fat.

He was eventually released and returned to the Giants where he continues to be not that good, but the fans seem happy to have their pudgy World Series hero back.

Flashback of Ineptitude: John Bowker

In 2008, the Giants called up rookie John Bowker to play first base. Bowker hit home runs in each of his first two games with the club, and unfortunately for him, that turned out to be the highlight of his career.

After two years of not hitting, the Giants traded him to the Pirates in exchange for reliever Javier Lopez. You may remember Lopez from his effective relief work in the 2010 NLCS where he appeared in five games, helping to carry the Giants to victory.

Bowker himself ended up on the Phillies in 2011, when the Pirates pretty much just gave him away because the Phillies asked nicely. He was supposed to be a left-handed threat off the bench, but he ended up going 0-13 with seven strikeouts.

It gets worse. When the Phillies traded for Bowker, they essentially passed over minor leaguer Brandon Moss. Annoyed by the snub, Moss left as a free agent, and went on to become an All-Star in Oakland.

Prediction

The Phillies traditionally don’t play all that well in San Francisco (4-12 over the past five years), but with the Giants gone cold, I think they’ll at least be able to manage a split of the four games.