The Rites of Spring

Welcome to the 2nd Czar’s blog of 2016 celebrating the end of Spring Training and the true beginning of 2016, when baseball comes back to the City by the Bay. The G-Men return home to AT&T today and play tomorrow and Friday before a game in Oakland and then off to Milwaukee for the Brewer’s home opener.

 

What does the team look like coming out of Arizona?

Answer: They look healthy and ready to play!

Pitching staff: The pitching staff has a high spring ERA but then again, they always do,  Spring is the time for pitchers to test pitches and get back in condition.  The good news is that the staff is healthy and the starters and relievers have pitched well over the last couple of weeks. The bad news is that the Spring ERA’s look pretty pathetic.

The Starters: I suspect that Bumgarner is not going to have a 11.12 ERA for long but we will see him on Monday against the Brewers. Peavy is at 7.62 for the spring but is starting to look very tough, Cueto is at 9.58, Smardzija is at 7.20 and Cain is at 12.15. The starters obviously need to suck it up now that the season is starting.

The Relievers (who have for the most part pitched much better than the starters): Heston, Osich and Kontos will be in long relief, Lopez and Romo (who has looked exceptionally tough) will be specialists, and Strickland and Casilla will be fighting it out as closers.   The G-Men are going to carry 13 pitchers so it looks like Cody Gearrin will get a shot (but maybe Jake Dunning will replace him – the last position battle going on).

Does all this sound familiar?  It should.  This is exactly how it looked going into Spring Training

The Infield is acknowledged to be best in the NL 

Belt (who is hitting really well and with power) at 1st, Panik at 2nd, Duffy at 3rd, Crawford at short and Buster Posey, the best catcher (and the best player) currently playing baseball, behind the dish.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  The defensive metrics for this group when they are together are off the charts.  Moreover they are hitting the snot out of the ball (the most home runs during spring training of any team in baseball).  Of course that is spring training but let’s see what they look like at AT&T this week.

Kelby Tomlinson (Clark Kent) made the team as the back-up infielder and Adrianza has been a real surprise. He hit the weight room in the off-season, gained 14 pounds (with no loss of speed) and his hitting (.333) has been solid.  Needless to say he made the starting 25.

One surprise.  Susac (he needs to get his wrist healthy) got sent down and Trevor Brown made the team as the back-up catcher.

Outfield: The bottom line is that the outfield is healthy and ready for the season. Hunter Pence is back (.471 and 6 dingers!). Denard Span is showing what he can do when he’s healthy but the eye opener has been a good-looking Pagan in left field (.395 with power – can you say “contract year” for Pagan?). Blanco is the fourth outfielder (which may all the outfielders that are carried early on – but Belt can play outfield in a pinch). Maxwell and Williamson both went to Sacramento, along with Conor Gillespie (who had a good spring and Gorkys Hernandez, another spring surprise).

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

One question? Where’s Timmy?  Complete silence from the Lincecum corner.  I keep expecting something but who knows.

The NL West – what’s happening there?  

While this will be a three-team race (Dodgers, Giants and Snakes), the April ball-games will tell a lot.  The G-Men face the Dodgers (7 games), Rockies (3 games), Snakes (4 games) and the Padres (3 games) in April. That’s 14 games against the NL West alone.  Factor in a series against the Brewers and Marlins and it’s a very tough few weeks, with almost no days off.  That’s why Bochy is carrying 13 pitchers.  Let’s see how fresh the G-Men are after April.

The Dodgers are beset with injuries but the Snakes are playing well in the spring, as are the Padres. It is really too early to report without some games under our belt. We will have a much better handle on the NL West after April is over.

The next blog post (probably early next week) will offer tickets to the first homestand, and there will be tickets available, so make sure the blog post email gets through!

Now it is time to get the glove ready for AT&T and enjoy baseball – 2016 style!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

Giants versus Dodgers

Welcome to the 4th Czar’s blog of 2015 celebrating our World Champion San Francisco Giants!  The rules are below. 

 

Hunter Pence is back and we are in awe of Brandon Crawford

This has been a good road trip for the G-Men. A split with the Astros and taking three out of four against the Reds, a team that usually hits the snot out of the ball at Riverfront stadium, except that for this series the Giants were the big boppers, with multiple HR’s and double digit scoring for the first time this season. The Giants really like Riverfront and a lot of guys (not named McGehee) got very healthy there.

The biggest news of the road trip was Hunter Pence coming back from the DL and his broken arm (early for the Saturday game) and raring to play.  The storyline was that Hunter was hitting the ball hard in Sacramento for the Rivercats and texted just about everyone on the team (including Bochy) telling them that he was an “offensive machine” and ready to go.  He was not lying: 2 for 3 on Saturday night and 2 for 4 with a dinger today.  How long he can stay at .500 with a 1.000 slugging percentage is anyone’s guess but welcome back Hunter Pence – he is energy personified.

Hector Sanchez went back to Sacramento when Pence came up (good, Hector needs to play and Susac is the better catcher right now) and Maxwell went to the bench where he will be a dependable power bat in pinch-hitting situations. This is a much more well- rounded team than it has been for the last month without Pence.

Good hitting is contagious.  Belt (“Mr. Streaky Hitter”) suddenly got hot, hit three HR’s in Cincinnati and is batting .321.  But the real story is Brandon Crawford, .285 BA, 6 HR’s, 8 doubles, running away with the team lead in RBI’s with 25 and playing all-star caliber shortstop. It does seem that that a couple of grand slams helps the RBI totals.  Let us not forget Aoki, Pagan, Duffy and Panik - all doing well and playing solid baseball. Buster, as always, is in a league of his own – and he does own Riverfront.

The bullpen continues to be the strength of the Giants, who have played in (and won) more one-run games (usually low scoring – this trip was an aberration) than any other team in MLB. Casilla’s three K’s today in the 9th inning on 9 pitches was about as inspiring as a bullpen can get, especially after watching Chapman blow 102 mph heaters past the Giants hitters and still getting touched for hits. The starting pitching is also coming around.  Bum is rounding into mid-season form and the other starters (including Heston who had a complete game in Texas but got knocked out in the third inning today) are delivering 5 or 6 good innings, which sets up the bullpen.  We are seeing the beginning of a pattern that might hold throughout this season. I still don’t trust Vogelsong but he has looked real good in his last two starts.

Right now though, it’s all good.

Good Defense, good pitching, timely hitting and above .500 in second place in the NL West

The mantra of the season will be good defense, good pitching and timely hitting.  While it seems like we should care a lot more about the obscene number of runners left on base in scoring position, or the low team BA, or (until the recent series and ignoring Buster Posey) the incredible lack of power, the fact that the G-Men are two games over .500 and behind the Dodgers in second place the NL West is something that would have seemed like a pipedream three weeks ago  And, as noted below, the LA team is coming into town on Tuesday night for a 3-game series (which will culminate on Thursday with another Bumgarner/Kershaw shootout).

The two biggest lingering questions that I see right now are: (1) what is going to happen when Cain comes back and will he be the Matt Cain of old, and (2) when is Bochy going to get fed up and lose all patience with McGehee, who is still hitting below the Mendoza line and is on track for the all-time MLB record for hitting into double plays. Even when he hit his grand slam on the last home stand (nice to be sure) he followed it in the same game with two more double plays.

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t think that Matt Duffy (the “Duff Man”) shouldn’t be our starting third baseman?

The Upcoming Series against the Dodgers – early season at the OK corral?

This may be the most important early three game series of the year. First the G-Men swept the Dodgers at home in April to break the losing streak and start what is now a really impressive winning streak but then lost two out of three at Chavez Ravine.  These three games will either tighten up the NL West and show the Dodgers what a world series championship team can do when clicking on all cylinders, or it will showcase the powerful offensive Juggernaut that is the team that shall not be named and further separate them from the pack. Get ready for fireworks.

After this series the G-Men go on the road to face the Rockies (will they – or can they? - trade Troy is the question there) in Colorado and then onto the Braves in Atlanta for another Tim Hudson homecoming.

It’s time for baseball!

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

The Mets, Nationals and Rockies

Murderer’s row?   The G-Men are in first place at 38 and 21 with the best record in the NL (the A’s have the best record in the AL). We are at least 7 games over the Dodgers and 8 1/2 over the Rockies.  This is simply the best Giants team I think that  I’ve ever seen and I’ve been watching them since 1958. Yes 2002 was a great team, so was 1962, 2010 (and for that matter 1989) was scrappy (and tortured) and 2012 was stubborn (they refused to give up – ever) but this team is like magic; good in all phases of the game, good hitting, great defense, good pitching, great bullpen, balanced, sane, playful, really well managed and capable of more two-out rallies than any team in baseball.   Then the G-Men go to St. Louis and take 3 out of 4 from the Cardinals (with…

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Giants v. Braves, Giants v. Marlins

How do you like our first place best in baseball G-Men?  

I’m live blogging Hudson’s start against Kershaw in LA right now and the G-Men are up 3 to 2 in the 8th. This last two weeks has been awesome, and a little bit unreal because the Giants haven’t been exactly blowing everyone away – they are just doing all the little things right and showing incredible balance in the process. The boys are 6 and 3 on the current road trip and if they beat the Dodgers today they would finish the road trip at 7 and 3. With a 10 and 5 home record and a 13 and 9 road record the Gigantes are 23 and 14 -  the best record in baseball (tied with the Brewers, who are beat the Yankees 6-5 today). The reasons are pretty simple: solid rotation, really good defense, timely hitting, great game management (I’ve never seen so many defensive shifts from the Giants that paid off) and a shut-down bullpen.

 

Probably the best part about this April to May run is that it’s been almost all against the NL West.  This will make September a lot more fun because everyone else in the division will be pressing to improve their divisional record while the G-Men work on just winning games.  It’s much too early to say that we are looking at a playoff team but I’ll go out on a limb and say that if anyone in Vegas bets against the Giants, they will lose their money.

 

Now we get down to the grind of the regular season where every game teaches us something more about the Giants, the NL West and the rest of the National League. Interleague has been fun (and sweeping the Tribe was a blast, not to mention sweeping the Braves in Atlanta) but the interleague games are still a sideshow.

 

The Players and the team so far

 

There are several issues that are cause for concern.  The bench is not hitting very well except for Hector Sanchez, who while hitting only .222 seems to get big hits and RBI’s in the clutch (15 RBI’s so far, for a bench player that’s pretty damn good). Tyler Colin was just brought up from Fresno to replace Belt but hasn’t had any real AB’s yet. The Panda continues to struggle, batting below the Mendoza line, and the worry is that his contract year is really getting to him. That might be the biggest issue to worry about right now but Bochy (who has Pablo batting 4th today) is doing his best to give him a chance to work through his struggles.  If the Panda starts to rake, May and June will be really fun. Pablo’s got 2 hits today, a good sign.

 

Posey on the other hand is back up to .300 and is just absolutely solid (someday when he gets into the HOF you will telling your grandchildren that you saw Buster play – two great tags at home plate today). Morse is the team leader in RBI’s (24) and is second behind Belt in HR’s with 8 dingers.  Morse is a force of nature. Crawford is making everyone forget Omar. Brandon is one highlight reel play after another, and with 4 HR’s, 17 RBI’s and a .263 BA. Speaking of the Brandon’s, Hicks is only batting .198 but has 6 HR’s, 12 RBI’s and is playing a stellar 2nd base (after starting out a little bit raw).  Hicks also hit a 2 run dinger against Kershaw, which put the G-Men ahead 3 to 2.  We like this young man J Stay tuned on this game.

 

I still love Angel Pagan, hitting .307 (tops on the team) with 3 HR’s (all to start off games), playing an awesome center field and being the straw that stirs the drink (speaking of Pagan, he hit a double off Kershaw in the 6th).  That said, Pence still has to get hot. When he does the offense will only get better.

 

On the pitching side, Hudson is money (ERA under 2, and 4 and 2) and is leading the team even with Bumgarner at 2.83 and 4 and 3. The rest of the staff is coming around.  Vogelsong (who you might remember I thought might be done) is back under a 3.93 ERA, Lincecum and Cain have both had consistent quality starts and what can you say about the bullpen except best bullpen ERA in baseball. It’s hard to pick anyone out.  Machi has 5 wins, Romo is 12 for 12 in saves and Casilla and Affeldt have been stellar.

 

The Injury Report

 

The injury report now includes Belt (broken thumb yesterday, soon to be replaced at 1st by Morse) as well as Scutaro and I think that Cain is still hurt (he couldn’t control his fastball yesterday because of the sandwich cut injury to his finger). Scutaro has apparently started rehab games in AZ but being placed on the 60 day DL is not encouraging.  The thing to watch on this homestand is how well Morse handles 1st (apparently Morse came up to the Majors as a 1st baseman, which is encouraging) and if the LF position can deliver some pop without Morse there.  Belt will be back in 6 weeks they say, which would be the end of June for the Padres and the Reds series.

 

This next six weeks will be a real test for the bench and we may see more action from Fresno if Colvin can’t cut it.

 

The Homestand, and the NL West

 

This seven game homestand against the Braves and Marlins will be followed by three games on the road against the Rockies, then home again for six games against the Twins (interleague) and the Cubs (always fun).

 

The Marlins and the Braves are both at the top of the NL East, with the Braves on top by one game (21 and 15).

 

The Braves are angry after the sweep they took at home.  This is going to be tense series of nail biters.  Look for Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman to be big hitters, with Teheran (1.71), Wood (2.87) and Santana (1.99) all with stellar ERA’s.  The Braves series will be all about pitching and defense I expect.

 

The Miami games, on the other hand, will be power and pitching. Hopefully the better defense of the G-Men will carry the day. Look for Giancarlo Stanton (.296 and 11 HR’s) and (of all people considering the ex-Brewer was in Japan last year) Casey McGeehe batting .307. The pitchers all have low ERA’s and in a stroke of luck I understand that we will miss the phenom - Jose Fernandez.  Trust me, that is a good thing.

 

A last word about the NL West. The Rockies are the surprise team, one game behind the G-Men, the Dodgers are playing down to their attitude (poor- though I must admit that the beach chair promotion was entertaining – no one could blow them up), the Padres are where they were expected to be and the Snakes are busy self-destructing. However with three teams above .500 (the G-Men, the Rockies and LA) the division is clearly one of the best in baseball.

 

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

The Czar

Giants v. Pirates

The G-Men are almost officially out of the race  

This is one of the worst seasons of Giants baseball that I recall. The G-Men are 18 games out of first place and seem to be mailing it in. Right now and through September the reason to be going to the games is to see the line-up shifts and to watch the young guys.

 

The Positives

 

There are a few good signs. Roger Kieschnick is one.  He looks good but he’s young. Brandon Belt’s power numbers are another. Pence is still playing every game and playing hard. Sandoval is losing weight, Scutaro is professionalism personified, Crawford is performing beyond expectations and Hector Sanchez (since coming back up from the DL) is looking good behind the dish and Vogelsong is looking good coming back from his broken hand.

 

The Negatives

 

The G-Men simply cannot hit with runners in scoring position (inning opening triples and stranding the runners in successive innings?). The outfield needs Pagan, badly. Blanco and Torres may be good guys off the bench but they are not front line starters. There are too many errors and too much sloppy play. Why?  Same players that won the world series and same coaches and management. Maybe it is fatigue from the extended season and the tension of last year, and the WBC.

 

What Can the Giants do?  Is there any hope?

 

Realistically, there is no hope. The Giants are now in the spoilers role beginning with the series against the Pirates that starts today. The surprising Pirates (led by Andrew McCutchen with a .319 BA and shot at MVP) are in first place one game ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central.  For the G-Men the games will feature line-up experiments and young folks (like Brent Pill in Left Field) before the September call-ups.

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