Needless to say we are all ready to “dive” into this season, so I started early - - right after the last season was over.
This exhibition homestand features the A's on Monday April 2nd at 7:15 and again on Wednesday April 4th at 12:45. The A’s have a fine young pitching staff, the new Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes in left and Coco Crisp in Centerfield. This is a weird series because the A’s will have already opened their season (in Japan; they play two real games against the Mariners this week but then come home for another exhibition series. I don’t know how that is going to work (do they get to add new players for the Exhibition?). For the Giants, these two games will determine who starts the season and who goes to Fresno. I’d be there except that I have to be in Vegas with the wholesalers next week.
Last year I predicted a Giants division victory. I hadn’t counted on Posey going down in May and Freddy Sanchez going down in June, or that the Giants would stop hitting completely (even with Carlos Beltran). Of course the lowest batting average of all major league teams, the lowest percentage of hits with runners in scoring position, the fewest home runs, the fewest runs scored and the fewest RBI’s probably played a part.
My end of the year predictions were that Burrell and DeRosa would retire and that Torres, Ross and Whiteside would be gone. I was right about Burrell, Torres and Ross and the jury is still out on Whiteside (I still think that he’s going back to the minors to continue his Crash Davis gig). I predicted that Huff will be on the bench for much of this coming season and, given what Brent Pill and the Giraffe (Belt) are showing in spring training I am holding to that prediction.
This year the G-Men are once again clearly the class of the division from a pitching perspective what with Timmy on fire, Cain being Cain (Mr. Steady) and Bumgarner just plain looking and pitching like a stud. Zito got married in the off-season and maybe that will help him keep his pitches down (It hasn’t so far but he is doing a serviceable job). Vogelsong was the unexpected star of the pitching staff last year (and the Willie Mac award winner) but is having a hard spring getting over oblique strains. The big question is whether he will be ready to start or will be on the DL at the opening of the season. If Vogelsong doesn’t start then Eric Surkamp is next in line (although he got shelled yesterday). However possibly the most important event of the spring would be the signing of Matt Cain to a long term (five years is the rumor) contract for right south of $95 million. Cain deserves it and the Giants have the money.
The relievers are super. Wilson looks like he is back to his old self (spending most of his time talking about working on his arm slot), Romo is simply the best set up man in the league, Javier Lopez is a winner (and a very cool guy) and the rest of the bullpen is back almost intact, including Affeldt, who will probably never try to make his own hamburger ever again.
Let’s do a straw pool: is it time for the beard to go?
The position players are where Bochy is going to be challenged. It’s rare for the Giants to have so much potentially good hitting, and nowhere to put them all. Angel Pagan (left field) came over from the Mets and Melky Cabrera (center field, is it a major league rule that a guy named Cabrera has to be on every team?) came over from the Royals in the trade for Jonathan Sanchez - - end of an era there . Both Melky and Angel are quality players, with speed and good defense (although Pagan isn’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball in Spring Training). However this is the year that the G-Men attempt to go to a speed game, and those two can do it. They already have more stolen bases in the spring than the G-Men had almost all last year.
The biggest news in spring training is a young man (28, not really that young in baseball years) named Gregor Blanco, who has been in baseball for several years but has been injured. He was the MVP of the Venezuelan League this winter, is batting something like .430 with power, may be the fastest man on the team and is playing great defense. He will be pushing Schierholtz in right field (who will probably start, but nothing is for sure), and is almost a lock to make the team.
The real story, however, is the infield. The Panda is set at third (although his hitting hasn’t been exactly off the charts, his weight is where the team wants and he looks, well, Panda like).
Crawford is set at short (he has been hitting much better this spring but Bochy is going to slot him 8th to take the pressure off and would be ecstatic with a .250 season).
Second base looks like Burriss is finally going to get his shot because he has been playing and hitting great. Freddy Sanchez is most likely going to open the season on the DL but is getting very close. Rumor has it that Fontenot and Theriot (who came over in the off-season from the Cardinals) are on the trading block but both are late season injury insurance unless they get traded. Both are utility infielders. Remember that the Giants let Jeff Keppinger go in favor of keeping Fontenot (because Fontenot has better defense) so if Mike is released that will be the last act in the trade last year of two of the Giant’s best young pitchers (Henry Souza was one) that got Keppinger from the Astro’s..
First base is really crowded. Huff is starting off on his usual contract season run, playing good. He says that he’s doing Pilates again. But the real story is Brent Pill and Brandon Belt. Both are really good defensive first baseman, both can back up in the outfield and both probably can’t make the team (unless Sabean works some magic). The question is who gets sent down. Most observers believe that it will be Belt because Pill is a right handed bat off the bench, which the Giants really need, and Pill is actually older than Belt.
Now we come to the real question: who is the back-up catcher? Posey is the starter and he looks like he is back from his injury last year (remember my Carleton Fisk analogy, I hold to it). Bochy says that Posey will also get starts at first so the back-up will play. Right now Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside and Hector Sanchez are competing for the job. As usual, Whiteside and Stewart are batting around the Mendoza line but Sanchez (who is young) is hitting over .300. My money is on the rookie Sanchez starting the season out as the back-up catcher. He has nothing to learn in Fresno and the G-Men need his bat.
The rest of the division has a lot of question marks. The Dodgers are for sale and continue to be involved in the McCort divorce and they have dumped a lot of payroll (although resigning Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw were really good moves). They are picked to finish fourth in the division because of all the drama, and a real pitching fall off after Kershaw.
The Rockies are looking good from a hitting perspective (as always) and Tulowitski is back (this year with Scutero) so the defense will be solid, but have shaky starting pitching. Colorado is picked to finish third in the division. The Padres have good young pitching, good defense and nothing to lose. However I still think that they are going to finish last in the NL West. Remember that the Padres have historically owned the Giants and let’s see if this year is any different.
The real story is the Snakes, who won the division last year. They have Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Paul Goldsmith, Kirk Gibson as manager (I’ve always disliked Gibson, ever since he was a Dodger, he’s a hot dog but he does motivate players – at least he’s not Steve Garvey or Steve Sax) and a lot of hitting. The Snakes are the favorites to win the division so every game against Arizona all year will be like a playoff game against the Dodgers.
Keep in mind that this is the year of the new playoff rule, where there are two wild card teams in each league who will play a one-game sudden death playoff at the end of the season. The G-Men, who are picked to finish second in the division, are one of the few teams with enough starting pitching to get though that kind of playoff scenario.
Every game this year should be like a playoff game and the G-men have now sold ALL available season tickets so getting into the park will be a challenge.
Ciao, and GO GIANTS!