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 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. Brewers, Giants v. Orioles

The G-Men are now 50 and 61 and 12 games back in the NL West  The season to date (at least since about May 15th when Pagan went down) has been gruesome. Like I said in the last blog, if you can’t score runs, play defense or pitch you are not going to win ball games.

Sabean did not make any trades at all at the July 31st deadline and is standing pat with the team he has. I like the attitude. The biggest moves that have been made were to bring Francoeur in from the Royals, to promote Pill (who is almost out of minor league options) and Kieschnick from Fresno and to get Casilla back from the DL. They did get Arias back from his burst appendix last week and Vogelsong is back on Friday against the Orioles.

The Positives

How about: they can’t get any worse?

On the pitching side, Bumgarner may be the best pitcher on the team and Timmy continues to improve with every start. Vogelsong returning, along with Gaudin continuing his very serviceable starts (a no-decision tonight against the Brew Crew but he still only gave up 2 runs), should give the pitching a shot in the arm. Affeldt went on the DL but Lopez continues to be a stud.

It is clear that the pitching staff is doing much better. The trouble is that the Giants can’t score runs to support the good pitching they are starting to get.

Buster Posey and Scutaro are both batting over .300 and Pence is on an 8 game hitting streak. For this series the batting order is getting shook up; with Scutaro hitting leadoff, Crawford second and Pence in the three slot. It worked tonight. Rumor has it that Pence might hit lead off tomorrow.

It also looks like the Panda has lost a lot of weight. Now we are worried that he is losing power. What do we want? A powerful fat guy or a slim singles hitter? I go with the Fat Man (who remembers Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon?)

 The Negatives

How about: too many losses? The G-Men finished the last road trip 3 and 3 (against the Phillies and the Rays) and they lost two games to the Rays that they could have won if they could hit with men on base. That’s certainly improvement over the last disastrous home series against the Snakes, Reds and the Cubs (swept by the Cubs? Wow, that’s a low point).

Popular wisdom has it that the stress of the post season last year, followed by the World Baseball Classic in March (in which the Giants had more players than any other team) basically wore out the Giants pitching staff. That may be, but hitters don’t get worn out and that doesn’t explain the woeful deficiencies in the batter’s box.

What Can the Giants do? Is there any hope?

Yes, there is hope but it is fading fast. 12 games down can be made up and the G-Men are only a game behind Colorado and a game and a half behind the Padres. We fully expect that those two teams can be passed. The question is the Snakes, and the Team that Shall Not be Named. There can be a run but is has to start now. The G-Men have done against the AL East, and the series against the Orioles and the Red Sox are coming up. Before we get to the Pirates (leading the NL Central) at the end of the month.

Right now Giants fandom is split between seeing if the Giants can actually pull of a stretch run and giving it up, going for a six-man pitching rotation and seeing what the young guys can do for 2014.

We will know in the next two weeks whether or not September will bring a run, or will bring a relaxing month of playing the spoiler (a role that the Giants relish).

I will refrain from mentioning Brian Wilson – the pain is too fresh.

 The Series to come

The Brewers are practically the only team that is currently worse than the Giants, 20 games out in last place with their MVP (Ryan Braun) probably out for the year (or more) with a PED suspension. This is by all rights a series that the Giants should take, especially with Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum lined up for the next three games.

The Orioles have dropped to 61 and 51, 10 games over .500 but 6 games behind the Red Sox and in third place in the AL East, right in front of the Yankee’s. They just picked up Bud Norris from the Astros and have a 40 HR guy in young Chris Davis, a real slugger. Another test for the G-Men.

Giants 2012 v. Padres, Marlins and Brewers

The Positives: The 2012 Giants are hitting the ball very well generally, just not with runners in scoring position. The G-Men just finished a 7 game road trip where they took 3 out of 4 from the Mets, and dropped 2 out of 3 to the Reds., overall a winning 4 win, 3 losses road trip. That puts them 2nd in the NL West to the smoking hot Dodgers (who are fattening up on the likes of the Padres, Pirates and Astros but who play the NL East leading Nationals this weekend). This is a team that is finding itself and playing more confidently every game.  The Panda is awesome, is batting .333, and is going for a team record 19 game hitting streak to open the season tonight. He has played every inning of every game so far. Angel Pagan hit a 9th inning 3-run dinger yesterday to take a game from the Reds and looks good.  Posey is quite simply stunning and is leading the team with a .362 average.  If anything Posey looks better than last year. So far Posey is having an MVP caliber year. Schierholtz has found his groove, and is 2nd on the team in RBI’s (behind the Panda).  Nate the great is going to be a mainstay in right field. He looks really good. Other notables include Cabrera, who is 3rd in team batting average and a really dependable hitter. Up until he hurt his arm in NY (more below) Crawford was making daily highlight reel plays at short and Burriss looks like the 2nd baseman that we all thought he could be. The Crawford-Burriss double play combo is like watching than the MLB plays of the week videos daily. It’s hard to believe that the team leader in ERA is Zito (with Cain close behind – Cain has been lights out and if he keeps it up he is cruising straight for a Cy Young this year), and MadBum leads the team in W’s. This is a team that is jelling quite nicely and the fact that (after a very rough start) the G-Men are above .500 is a really good sign. The Questions: Huff is on the DL with “anxiety” issues.  That was after he missed covering 2nd base in the Mets game (when Bochy ran out of players), which cost us the game.  Huff is hitting.182 and looking generally lost.  He might be done. If so that opens the door for Pill and Belt, two good young players.  Yesterday the Giants called up Joaquin Arias from Fresno to take Huff’s roster spot and Arias, a good young player, might end up replacing Ryan Theriot when Freddy Sanchez (in the minors right now doing rehab assignments and hitting very well) comes back. Hard to say because Bochy likes veterans and Theriot is the very definition of a grizzled veteran. I don’t think that there is any question but that the choice of Hector Sanchez as the back-up catcher was the call of the season so far.  I just hope that Crawford’s elbow is OK.  We will see tonight if he starts. The biggest question continues to be “who will close”?  Wilson is out for the season and Casilla has done well so far in limited action but hasn’t been really tested.

The Negatives: There are very few that I see. Bochy and Sabean are doing a good job and the team is balanced well. It is true however that Timmy has yet to get really untracked, hits with runners in scoring position are hard to come by and the bullpen situation is really troubling.  The G-Men have good arms but there have been melt-downs. Generally speaking this might be the strongest Giants team since 2002 and that team went to the big show.

The Division: The NL West is looking very tight (with one exception) right now, with the Dodgers on top (after, as noted above, fattening up on weaker teams), the G-Men in 2nd and the Rockies and the Snakes right behind and hovering around .500.  Only the Padres have been out of it, but that might be because Petco is such a miserable place to play. I was down in San Diego this week and the word there is that they are very seriously considering bringing in the fences to help the stadium play smaller.  When even the home team has a losing record in its own stadium you know the team is in trouble. The division race will go down to the wire.  The other series to watch this weekend is the Dodgers versus the Nationals (who are red-hot and leading the NL East).  That will tell us whether or not the Dodgers are for real..

The Series:  The Padres are in town Friday through Sunday, the Marlins are in town from Tuesday through Thursday and the Brewers are here from Friday through Sunday. Even though the Padres are in last place they traditionally play VERY well against the G-Men (in fact they have owned the G-Men historically) so this weekend is a major opportunity for the G-Men to prove that they have overcome a historical problem. If the G-Men take the series from the Padres it will be a good weekend. The Miami Marlins (no longer the FLA Marlins) are struggling big time, and are last in the NL East. If the Giants play up to their potential they should take this series also. The Brewcrew are the real test.  The Brewers are 2nd in the NL Central behind the torrid Cardinals (can you all believe what Beltran is doing? They are not missing Pujols there). The Brewers will be the real test.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

The Czar

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