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. Diamondbacks, Giants v. Reds

The G-Men are now 43 and 51 and 6.5 games back in the NL West Greetings to all of our friends who love the two-time World Champion SF Giants! This is it, the second half of the season. The last two months (since about May 15th when Pagan went down) have been the worst Giants baseball since the mid-1980’s. 2 and 18 in the last 20 games before taking three out of four from Padres on the road in San Diego (which included Timmy’s no-no), probably the worst BA in the majors, the most men LOB, the worst defense and the most inconsistent pitching. If you can’t score runs, play defense or pitch you are not going to win ball games.

Why was this happening?  Injuries are one factor. I talked about this in the last blog. Scutaro’s back and finger, Crawford’s finger, Pagan’s hamstring (maybe Pagan will be back in September?), Panda’s weight, Casilla’s oblique, Aria’s hamstring and Sanchez’s whatever.

Well, in the second half we expect Casilla back (on Sunday), the Panda has been looking a bit slimmer (maybe it was an optical illusion but he played some really good D in San Diego), Crawford looks back to normal and has started hitting, Scutaro is steady and we expect Vogelsong back at the end of July.

Another factor (besides healing up) is that the Giants play most of their second half games at home, where they are still 5 games over .500.

In my view the next ten games will tell us whether or not the G-Men are buyers or sellers at the July 31st trade deadline.  Sabean has already said that he isn’t trading Timmy (who has the most value of the Giants) and Cain and Bumgarner are untouchable.  Lopez on the other hand is vulnerable if the price is right (Atlanta is desperate for the left-handed reliever – who is in their farm system?).  The Panda also has value but only for a good starting pitcher to replace Zito (of course if Vogelsong comes back strong Gaudin could back to long relief).

If the Giants lose the three upcoming series (the Snakes, Reds and Cubs), or even two out of three, I suspect that Sabean will go into rebuilding mode.  However if the G-Men play over .500 (maybe 7 out of 10?) then they might be buyers. Sabean has made moves at the trade deadline before. In 2011 he got Keppinger and Beltran and last year he got Pence so expect something to happen.

So, these games are incredibly important and I expect each one to be a sell-out.

The Positives

The Giants have made some good moves. They brought up Tanaka, who is a really smooth player and who might be a factor because he is so versatile.  He looks and plays like Ichiro and was a Japanese All-Star (he’s 32 and hungry and he gave up a big contract in Japan to try to make it in the show – you have to love the attitude and confidence) . He is certainly a better player than Shinjo (remember him, of the neon orange armbands?). They also picked up Jeff Francoeur who, while well-traveled (Atlanta, the Mets and then the Royals) is a really solid defensive player who has hit for power in the past. He sucked with the Royals but maybe the change in scenery will do him good.  I’ve always liked him and he allows Boche to platoon Torre and Blanco in center, which plays to their strengths.

All in all this makes for a solid team.

On the pitching side, Bumgarner is money and Timmy seems to be finding his groove. Gaudin has been solid (the Las Vegas arrest notwithstanding) and with Casilla back in the 8th inning maybe Affleldt will relax.  The G-Men bullpen is actually pretty good but has been overworked.

When they are clicking the infield of Crawford, Scutaro and Belt is solid. Tanaka is listed now as the utility infielder, which is pretty cool because he looked good in left field also. Belt has been hitting with power and may finally be coming into his own and Pence (as wildly streaky as he has been) is capable of carrying a team if he gets hot.

Finally, Buster Posey.  He is one hell of a player and worth coming to watch all by himself.  He’s Bonds without the attitude.

The Negatives

Matt Cain looks lost.. Maybe he can find his groove in the second half but he lasted on one inning in his last start at home. Barry Zito cannot win outside of AT&T.  Thankfully most of the second half games are at home but, regardless, this is his last year as a Giant.

The biggest negative is bad attitude. If the Giants believe that they can win they will. It starts with Boche. Keep your fingers crossed.

What Can the Giants do?  Is there any hope?

Yes, there is hope.  This team won 2 out of the last 3 world series.  That alone earned them the right to be watched no matter what else happens.  I’ll take finishing out of the playoffs every other year for a world series in the other years. The Giants of 51 came from 13 games down on August 15th of that year to tie the Dodgers, win a sudden death playoff and go to the world series.  The 62 Giants did the same thing.  Last year this same team won two sudden death playoff series when they were down to their last game, and then swept the world series. Until the G-Men are mathematically eliminated, they are in it.

Also, I have to point that the Dodgers are getting back into their insufferable mode; arrogant, testy, full of themselves and, what’s the word for it?  Oh yes, assholes (especially that hot dog Puig, there isn’t enough mustard in California for that guy). At the very least if we keep the best team that money can buy out of the playoff’s the season will have been worth it. Rooting for the Dodgers is like rooting for Voldemort.

The Series to come

The Snakes are In first place in the NL West. If the Gigantes sweep, they will be 3 ½ out. If they take 2 out of 3, they will be 4 ½ out. Arizona is steady.  They are 5 games over .500 and won 6 out of their last ten games.  They are 23 and 25 on the road so they are vulnerable. Who comes out of the gate hungrier will decide this series.

The Reds are 11 games OVER .500 but still in 3rd place (5 back) in the incredibly hot NL Central. They are full of All-Star hitters (Joey Votto and Jay Bruce among them) and pitchers like Homer Bailey (who no-hit the G-Men earlier this month).  The Reds are the real test and Dusty Baker likes nothing better than doing it to the G-Men at home.

The Cubs are in 4th place in the NL Central (15 games back) and are going to be sellers for sure, so they will be showing off their trade bait, Matt Garza for sure and probably Soriano, Rameriz and, yes, Schierholtz. That will be an entertaining series, more important for the Giants than the Cubs I expect.

That's it. The clock is on.

Ciao, and GO GIANTS!

 

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