The Run to the Playoffs, Starting with the A's

Welcome to the 2nd Czar’s blog of 2017 celebrating the end of Spring Training and the true beginning of 2017, when baseball comes back to the City by the Bay.

 

The G-Men return home to AT&T on Thursday (with a 40 man roster – who will be voted off the island? That is the question that may be answered below) and play Thursday and Friday this week before a game in Oakland on Saturday and then off to Arizona for the Snakes home opener next Sunday – the true beginning of the season.

What does the team look like coming out of Arizona?

Answer: Pretty healthy, except for Will Smith’s upcoming Tommy John (out for the year), Williamson’s leg (really?) and Morse’s hamstring.

Pitching staff: The pitching staff is coming together well and the competition there has been the real story of the spring – especially when we are talking about Matt Cain. He is in the last year of his big contract and will earn $18 million while pitching himself out of a job. He also may be this year’s answer to the annual Barry Zito trivia question about who has the worst contract on the team.

The Starters: Bumgarner is once again the stud of the rotation, although he is being pushed by Cueto for the cool factor (is there anyone more relaxed than Cueto on the mound?). While Moore’s ERA is in the 5’s and Samardzija and Cain are in the 8’s, Moore is looking game ready, Samardzija is throwing very hard and Cain is getting rocked by leaving balls over the plate.  He is not fooling batters..

The big story is the young guys, especially Ty Blach and Beede, both of whom are pitching like starters in waiting.  Blach and Cain are locked in a fight for the 5th starter (versus long reliever) spot and Blach is winning. The story will play itself out at AT&T on Thursday and Friday.  Expect both to pitch in the series.  Beede on the other hand is probably a lock for the River Cats even though he deserves to be up here. $18 million does that to a front office.

The Relievers: Guarrin, Law and Kontos will be in middle relief, perhaps joined by Strickland on occasion, Melancon (the big off-season acquisition) will be the closer.  The battle right now will be between Okert and Osich for the remaining spot.   With Lopez retired and Sergio having scuttled off to LA like a cockroach in the off-season (although you can’t blame him for wanting to play, and he did give us a lot of good years) the relievers will have a different look this year, hopefully better than we saw in Game 4 against the Cubs (shudder).

The Infield is acknowledged to be best in the NL 

Belt (who is hitting really well and with power) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Nunez at 3rd, Crawford at short (did you see Craw in the WBC? my God that man put on a show – he is no longer going to be fooling anyone) and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and the best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this group.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  Buster and Brandon look (after the WBC) to be in mid-season form.

The remaining spots include Gillespie (pretty a lock as back up third base), with Aaron Hill versus Kelby Tomlinson and Jimmy Rollins for the remaining spots.  The money is on Gillespie and Hill (who have both played well) making the team, and that Tomlinson (who has options left) goes down along with the surprising Korean utility fielder Hwang. Who wants to take money on Jimmy Rollins retiring?  Who wants to take a bet on Hwang making the team if the Giants take one less pitcher?

Outfield: The bottom line is that the outfield is healthy and ready for the season. Hunter Pence is Hunter Pence. Denard Span is showing what he can do when he’s healthy but the real contest has been between Parker (who probably has the job locked after hitting the cover off the ball this spring), Williamson (with both a bad leg and options – can you say River Cats?) and a new face, Chris Marrero.  Remember that name. The guy can hit. Gorkys Hernandez is the fourth outfielder (in the traditional Blanco spot).

Again, no real surprises after spring training, which is a testament to the consistency of the Giants front office and coaching staff.  Bruce Bochy is the best manager in the game today, no question.

One question? Will old age affect the G-Men? Posey is 30, Pence is 33, Melancon is 32, Cueto is 31 and Crawford is 30.That’s long in the tooth for baseball and it’s a really long season.  Look for the young guys (like Austin Slater) warming up if the season doesn’t go well. 

The Coaching Staff: Usually this isn’t an issue with Rags and Bochy in the dugout but there are two new base coaches this year.  Billy Hayes is gone at first and replaced by Jose Alguacil (who got beaned really bad in Scottsdale) and Phil Nevin is replacing Roberto Kelly (who stunk last year) at third.  Look for a better running game.  Nevin is a manager in waiting.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  

While this will be mostly a two-team race (Dodgers, and the Giants), the G-Men face an uphill battle all the way.  The Rockies are stockpiling pitchers but are still playing in Denver, the Padres are rebuilding and Arizona is a mess.

That said, here is what the Dodgers (who are no doubt a strong and arrogant ream led by all-world Clayton Kershaw) are saying about the Giants.  This is one of their team report to the fans:

The Giants aren’t that good. You really shouldn’t be worried about them. Don’t get me wrong or misunderstand what I am saying here. The Giants will be competitive in 2017. They’ll be the Dodgers primary obstacle to the division title. But are they pennant contenders? I’m going to say no.

The report goes on to diss the entire Giants team as weak and over-rated. I can’t wait to be at the first Giants-Dodgers game this year at AT&T (that will be April 24th) and see if we can’t shove these words down their throats. Where is Candlestick Park when we need it on a Friday night?

And thus it begins.

Now it is time to get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2017 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar