2015 Baseball is Here

Welcome to the 1st Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!

First, some history to get you ready for 2015 baseball, Giants style

2010 – a season never forgotten, a rally thong from a veteran and Buster Posey as rookie of the year. 

2012 – we are the champions, Zito pitches for the ages, Lincecum comes through and the Panda destroys Detroit.

2014 – Ishikawa’s channels Bobby Thompson, the most electrifying baseball moment most of us under 90 have ever seen.

A short offseason, a spring training that did not look good and the last position battles

The G-Men went to Arizona. 19 losses, 9 wins and 2 ties later the G-Men are ready to come home tomorrow night and Friday and then go on the road again for 8 games before they come home to start the regular season on April 13th.

What happened in Arizona?  Hunter Pence broke his arm (he got hit by a pitch) and is out through the end of April (the only saving grace is that it happened early in spring training, it was a simple fracture and Hunter continues to work out). The play was generally sloppy in Arizona and Bochy got on the players for it.  The good news is that the Giants started to play better about two weeks ago and are now looking like a major league team. Can they up the intensity now? That is the big question.

The question mark for the next four games (before the opener in Arizona against the Snakes) is who is going to finally make the team. There are only a few positions waiting to be finally decided, with the most important being the last utility infield position, which is between Adrianza and Matt Duffy. 

Duffy is batting .385, with 2 HR’s (including a 2 run shot today) and 13 RBI’s.  He got the players Barney Nugent Award for the most inspirational player in camp. Adrianza is batting .234 with no HR’s and 4 RBI’s. The difference between the two, however, is that Duffy has minor league options remaining and Adrianza doesn’t.  If the Giants try to send Adrianza down they might lose him. The betting position right now is that Sabean is on the wire trying to trade Adrianza.  Duffy not making the team would not be the end of the world but I think that we need him and losing Adrianza would not be the end of the world.  After all, we lost Ishi that way, and then got him back when he was released by the Pirates.

Other battles that are over include Justin Maxwell (perhaps the only real consistent HR threat besides Posey and Pence) beating out Juan Perez for the final outfield spot, Hector Sanchez beating out Andrew Susac for back-up catcher (not a bad thing, Susac should play every day and he can’t behind Buster) and Duvall being sent down again (he’s not ready is the consensus).

On the pitching side of things, Machi beat out Kontos and Strickland for the last spot in the bullpen, and Lincecum retained his starter role over Vogelsong with strong games over the last week.

The Team Right Now

The 2015 Giants look a lot like the 2014 Giants with the exception of Michael Morse going to Miami and the Panda defecting to Boston (where he gets to eat freely without being hassled).

The Infield

Around the horn in the infield will be Buster Posey (who is looking really good!) behind the dish and ready for a great year, Brandon Belt at 1st (also looking for a break-out power year after all the injuries last year), Joe Panik (who hurt his ankle today, but the reports are that it’s just a sprain) at 2nd, Brandon Crawford (who us trying to channel Ozzie Smith with trick plays – there is a great video of his trick plays on line) at short and newcomer Casey McGehee at third.

Casey is a respected and loved player wherever he goes. He was the comeback player of the year last year in Miami, hits for high average (lots of doubles), is a solid defender and a good teammate. He just should try not to keep hitting HR’s.  His story (from his days with the Brew Crew onward) is inspirational and he fits well with the G-Men.

The Outfield

In the outfield, Maxwell and Ishikawa will probably split time with Blanco at right, Pagan (if healthy) will be in Center and Aoki (a slick fielder and good hitter for average) will take left field. This is all waiting for the return of Hunter Pence to his place at the wall

I suspect that Maxwell will go down when Pence comes back but it depends.  If Ishikawa is cold and Maxwell is hot it could be Ishi reporting to the Sacramento Grizzlies. Pagan’s health is still a question, although he swears that his back is fine and the only reason he got the shot  in his back was so that he could sleep on a soft bed. We will see.

The Pitchers

The Giant’s front line pitching staff looks strong.  Bumgarner is the best in the game (and that is taking Kershaw into account). Cain is looking good after his recuperation from surgery. Is he the Matt Cain of old?  We will see but I’m betting that he is. Peavy is a question mark because he hasn’t looked good this spring but then again he didn’t look good last season until he did.  Peavy is a gamer. 

This is Hudson’s last year and Rags is going to coddle him I expect.  He will come out of games early for Vogelsong or Petit, which is just fine.  If he can give five innings of classic Hudson ball he’s worth it.

Lincecum is starting.  He worked with his Dad on his mechanics all winter and, as usual, sometimes he has them, and sometimes he doesn’t.  This is a contract year for Timmy and he wants to go into his next uniform (probably as a Mariner) wrapped in glory.  We are all counting on him doing exactly that.

As for the bullpen, the G-Men have the best and most experienced pen in the game. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Lopez, now joined by Machi, Vogelsong and Petit are an experienced and awesome crew.

The Intangibles

Bruce Bochy, Ron Wotus, Dave Righetti, Billy Hayes. Roberto Kelly and Brian Sabean (not necessarily in that order).  Tim Flannery retired and there has a little shifting of responsibilities, but not much.  This is a tested group of coaches led by the best manager and the best General Manager in the game.  This is one of the main reasons why the Giants win, and why the G-Men are going back to the playoffs in September (you heard it here first J).

The Division

The NL West may be the toughest division in baseball this year. The scribes generally pick the G-Men to finish third at .500, with the Dodgers first and the Padres second. The Snakes and the Rockies have their strengths but obvious weaknesses (pitching in the case of both teams).

The Padres are loaded (they got power up the yin-yang with Matt Kemp, Maybin, Quentin, and Upton in the outfield and a solid infield) and then they picked up James Shields to bookend Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy (always a Giants killer).  I think that if the G-Men don’t take the division the Padres have a real shot. They are the real deal.

The Dodgers are once again the best team that money can buy with Kershaw as the face of the franchise, followed by Puig (he of the infinite mustard). They picked up Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, Adrian Gonzales is one of the best and Andre Ethier (now free from the shadow of Kemp) is hitting the stuffing out of the ball.  Their new centerfielder (Joc Pederson – very LA, three letter first name, sounds like he should be playing for a prep school or someplace like USC) looks like he may in fact be the second coming of Mike Trout, as advertised.  The only question marks on the Dodgers are the pitching. Ryu is on the DL, Kenley Jansen hurt himself and after Kershaw there isn’t a lot to talk about.

26 of the first 30 games (and the first 23) are against division rivals so we will know pretty quickly how the Giants stack up against the real opposition. The key to the division might be in the first series in Arizona,  If the Giants can handle the Snakes, then they get confidence going into the first home opening series against the Rockies and the Snakes, followed by the Dodgers.

Meanwhile, the last two exhibition games against the A’s (who are looking VERY good) loom large as a test, starting tomorrow.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar