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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Opening Day Preview: Giants vs. Dodgers

We've finally arrived back at the starting point! After a memorable season in 2010, one no Giant fan will ever forget, the Giants are back for more in 2011. The 2011 regular season starts Thursday night for San Francisco, as they travel into LA to play the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. Here is the projected Opening Day Lineup for both teams with some game preview notes to follow:

San Francisco Giants w/roster

Lineup:

1. Andres Torres CF
2. Freddy Sanchez 2B
3. Aubrey Huff RF
4. Buster Posey C
5. Pat Burrell LF
6. Pablo Sandoval 3B
7. Brandon Belt 1B
8. Miguel Tejada SS
9. Tim Lincecum P
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LA Dodgers


1. Rafael Furcal SS
2. James Looney 1B
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Andre Eithier RF
5. Casey Blake 3B
6. Juan Uribe 2B
7. Jay Gibbons LF
8. Rod Barajas C
9. Clayton Kershaw P

Both teams start their hopes for a positive 2011, but the Dodgers have a lot further to go. Casey Blake will be a game time decision and if he's out, that means Uribe's hitting 5th and Jamey Carroll is starting at 2nd base. Hardly the powerhouse you want to display on opening day. On the other hand, they will be bringing their best in Clay Kershaw, and Giants batters need to be on and get to him early and rattle him. It will be the 21 year-olds first Opening Day assignment and you know he's going to have some jitters. Torres, Sanchez and Huff are the perfect set to lead things off against him as they all are patient and know when a pitcher is struggling to find the zone. I think the Giants get to an early lead on a nice rally but probably no home runs. With these two starters, runs will be hard to come by, so a 4-2, 3-1 final wouldn't surprise me. Huff has been hot, so has Posey, and I think Pablo has a nice splashy return to his former self, all with multi-hit games and RBI's. Also looks like Belt will get the start, as he's on the roster and I don't think he's there to observe.

If something goes wrong, it will be because Lincecum gets in trouble by allowing a runner or two then the big 3-run bomb that takes the life out of the team (Matt Kemp should be intentionally walked in such situation). Otherwise, the Giants are the clear favorite, and I expect a comfortable win to start 2011.

Note
- It's official, as if anyone expected otherwise, the Bearded Ninja will not be available opening day and has been placed on the DL. Wilson is expected to miss 2 weeks with the oblique strain. So in the final roster move of the spring, they didn't go pitcher, they didn't decided to go versatility and a bring on a guy who's probably better out at short than Tejada is right now but surprisingly, he wasn't picked for his hot bat. Wouldn' that be something, though, if young Ryan Rohlinger comes in and plays short like a young Richie Aurilia. I don't know the Rohlinger move is absolutely final, but the trust colleagues over at YAHOO! SPORTS have him on there and everyone who shouldn't, not. I like the pick. Could also eventually force Fontenot useless if only Rholinger can just be mediocre (.260, 8-10 HR, 40 RBI, 3B/SS/2B average to above average defense), teen wolf may have a battle on his hands. Good move all the way around... Though Corners, goes for outfield too, go to DeRosa.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Day Is Near: What Spring Taught Us?

At the beginning of the spring, way back when pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale in mid-February, I did a post on the biggest three focuses of the spring for San Francisco. And, as the Giants get set to take on the Dodgers Thursday to start the season, here's what we got from the questions:

1.) IS BRANDON BELT READY: Ah, in a word, YES! He didn't exactly tear up Cactus League pitching, but he showed exactly why the Giants are so fond of him and why he's going to be so good in this league. He's patient at the plate, clutch, drives in runs, has power, can hit to all fields, and even is slick over there fielding first base. Belt hit .279 with 3 HR and 13 RBI. The injury to Cody Ross further increased his chances of making it, but at the same, the Giants have other options too. I'd like to see him up there to start with, but when it's all said and done, I have a feeling he'll end up in Fresno, a la Posey in '10. It that's indeed the case, he won't be down long, like Posey was. I just think Boch and Sabes will feel more comfortable with the veterans under the pressures of opening day and the first 6-8 weeks of the campaign. A: YES (should be up and at 1B with Ross on DL)

2.) WHICH SANDOVAL WILL SHOW UP? Well, we still need to wait a few weeks into the season to find that out, but so far, so good. Sandy's weight's down, and he's been tearing it up in the Cactus League hitting .313, with 3 HR and 16 RBI while leading the team in hits. His defense is improving too. The one area I worry about, is him trying to overcompensate for last year, and if he goes through a rough stretch, it could spell trouble. I'm seeing a .290/20/85 version of Panda this year though. If he doesn't live up to expectations, I'd move to plan B, and it's a good one in Mark DeRosa. A lot better than Mike Fontetnot was in the Playoffs last year, much better hitter. A: '09 Version (so far)

3.) WHERE'S EVERYONE GOING TO PLAY? Things were a little more crowded coming into spring than they are now, but there are still some decisions to be made. It's obvious Mike Fontenot is the back-up shortstop and will be on the roster. And for the time being, it looks like nothing really changes besides Schieholtz/DeRosa out in right instead of Ross for 2 weeks (unless Belt plays). They got pretty good health throughout the spring besides Ross, and closer Brian Wilson, who's still unclear on his status for the opener. If he can't go, they should be OK cause he shouldn't be gone longer than a week. In which case, Javy Lopez and Santiago Cassilla close. So, no un-foreseeable changes to the lineup yet, though that could change if Belt is inserted, which is still at 50-50! A: Huff in RF, Belt at 1B, Burrell in LF (rest the same w/o Ross)
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Notes
: The Giants won round 1 of the Bay Bridge series vs. Oakland on Monday night, beating the A's 4-3 behind a big game from Aubrey Huff. Speaking of the Giants first basemen, he's had a ridiculous spring, as he know has 6 homers and 18 RBI. Buster Posey collected 2 hits and Pat Burrell drove in a run with a base-hit as well to give the Giants just enough support behind Matt Cain. Matty wasn't great, but he wasn't horrible either. He'll tell you he stunk, but he went 5 1/3 with 6 K's but did allow 6 hits and 3 runs. Still, it wasn't a bad final tune-up for Matt who will throw Friday in LA then pitch Monday's Home-Opener in San Francisco, when the World Series Flag is dawned and raised!

-Check back tomorrow for an in-depth preview of the Giants/Dodgers Opening Day tilt, including lineups, quotes and analysis, as the Giants start the marathon on the road to defending their crown!-
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Giants Arrive Back In San Francisco

It's not quite regular season yet, but we're just 4 days away from the opener, and the Giants, along with the rest of baseball, has migrated north to their home towns as they prepare to play the final few exhibition games of the spring at big league stadiums.

For the first time since the 2010 World Series, the Giants will take the field at AT&T Park, although we probably won't witness the same lineup that will take the field Thursday in Los Angeles. But these next 2 days are essentially the last day of the spring for the regulars, so we should see at least a few of them out there tonight. In fact, if I were Boch, I'd try out a projected opening day lineup tonight, and let then take it easy Tuesday and Wednesday. Without Cody Ross out 3 weeks, it's unclear who will start the year in right. I've been advocating for Aubrey Huff moving out there while Brandon Belt handles 1st, and if there's ever a day to try that out, it's tonight. Huff would get a taste of the AT&T right field winds and trickery, and hopefully give him confidence to handle it for a few weeks, off and on. We'll likely see Nate Schierholtz out there Monday night, but I'd try the Huff option first. No matter who's in right, I think we will see Brandon Belt at first, not just Monday night, but over the last 2 spring games after this one too. I still don't think there's a decision made right now regarding Belt, but I do think a lot should be taken into account how he plays at AT&T, and that means tonight especially. I say they use their projected opening day lineup today for 6 innings, then just give each key player an at-bat over the last 2 pre-season games.

With Ross also out, it mixes up the lineup a little bit, and again, that will rely entirely on who plays and who sits. Right now, I'm going to go ahead and say Belt makes the team out of spring in light of the Ross injury, and ends up in the opening day. Now, I'll have my opening day Giants preview coming up on Wednesday full the final version of the OD lineup, but right now, I'd say Belt needs to be there and hitting 6th right behind Pat Burrell and right before Sandoval and Tejada. I like Schierholtz, but he's never hit enough to warrant any long-term stint in the starting lineup, so you get an idea of the depth of the Giants right there. They also could decide to keep things as are with "The Bat" in LF and Huff at first and start out super utitlity guy Mark DeRosa out in RR. My first choice is Belt, but if he's in Fresno, it shouldn't mean Aaron Rowand enters the lineup. If Schierholtz did start, you could just drop him down to eighth then everybody up a spot. I was looking forward to a full year out of Da Boss, but hopefully he gets this out of the way early. Like I've said many times here, he reminds me so much of Jeff Kent, just with a more positive attitude on the field. The way he's always been pretty solid until he's hit his prime (29-30) and moved to SF then took fire, now let's just hope it keeps going like it did with Kent in 1997!

GBB Schedule
: Between now and Opening Day, we'll be plenty busy, so check back everyday for updated posts here at The Giants Baseball Blog:

Tuesday- Pre-Spring Training Answers; Giants notes, Monday re-cap
Wednesday- Opening Day Preview, Lineups, News, Analysis and more
Thursday: Opening Day! Giants vs. Dodgers @ 5PM! Post Game coverage
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 MLB Awards and Postseason Predictions

Here is our picks for the major National and American league post-season awards, as well as the playoff tree and how we think things will transpire this October.

American League Awards

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NY- He's looked terrific this spring and says he feels as healthy as ever. A .330/40/130/1.000 version of ARod is more of what I'm expecting, as long as that healthy holds up all year. Plus, the Yankees should be in the playoffs too, which will certainly help his case. (Others To Watch: Adrian Gonzalez, Bos; Joe Mauer, Min)

AL CY YOUNG: Jon Lester, SP, Bos.- He's quietly been getting better and better as the season's go on, and he's still mighty young at 26. After his 19-9, 2.72 era, 222 K performance in '10, I expect another step in the positive direction for Lester, who with that Boston team, could easily win 22 games this year with increasing strikeout numbers and a further dropping era. (Others to Watch: David Price, TB; Justin Verlander, Det)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Hellickson, SP, TB- I'm not the only one who's high on this youngster, who most people have as their favorite for rookie of the year. He's already 4-0 with a 3.47 big league era and has really impressed in his 4 big league starts. He seemingly a ton of big league experience for a rook already, plus, he's starting the year off with the big club, which a lot of other candidates won't have the luxury of doing. (Others to watch: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Min; Mike Moustakas, KC)

AL BATTING CHAMP: Joe Mauer, C, Min- With his protection (Justin Morneau) returning to full health, and guys developing around him, Mauer will see more pitches to hit this year than ever. I fully expect a rebound to the .350+ range, while Morneau and Delmon Young help lead the Twins past the ChiSox in the Central. (Others to Watch: Josh Hamilton, Tex; Robinson Cano, NY)

AL HOME RUN CHAMP: Adam Dunn, DH, Chi- The former NL home run beast makes his switch to the AL, a league much more suited to his style of play, and I'm expecting him to flourish. Now that he doesn't have to worry about playing the field, 50 home runs is entirely possible, as Dunn has been one of the most prolific home run hitters not linked with the steroid era. Plus he more protection now than he ever had in Washington with Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin surrounding him. (Others to Watch: Adrian Gonzalez, Bos; Nelson Cruz, Tex)

MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Bob Geren, A's- I really think the A's are in for a nice season, and Geren should get a lot of credit as he's been instrumental in bringing these young players along. As long as he gets good health, I think he has enough to work with to win the AL West, especially with that strong young staff. Plus, if they need a hitter at the deadline, there aren't many better than Billy Beane to go searching for one? (Others to Watch: Ozzie Guillen, Chi; Ron Gardenhire, Min)


COMEBACK P.O.Y.: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Bos- After an injury cut Ellsbury's season down to just 18 games, the 27 year-old looks primed for a breakout, comeback season. Not only do I expect this to be a great bounce-back year for him, I'm expecting it to be the best season of his career to date. I'm looking for 15 HR, .315 avg., 120 R, 70 RBI, 75 SB season out of the center fielder. The BoSox have a stacked lineup and Ellsbury will be setting the table for guys like Carl Crawford, AGon, Big Papi, Youkilis and Pedroia. (Others to Watch: Grady Sizemore, Cle; Brian Roberts, Bal)


National League Awards

NL MVP: Ryan Braun, OF, Mil
- Braun has had 4 really good seasons so far, and he's only 27 years old, so just think of what the next 4-8 years will bring? I think this year he takes a big step forward in the power department after hitting just 25 jacks last year. Look for something along the lines of .325/40/125 with 20+ stolen bases and terrific on-base/slugging numbers. He's also getting better in the outfield too, becoming a true 5-tool player. It won't hurt that the Brewers have a pretty nice club to make a postseason run too. (Others to Watch: Buster Posey, SF; Carlos Gonzalez, Col)

NL CY YOUNG: Tim Lincecum, SP, SF- I'm trying not to be biased, though I'm sure it appears I am a little with this pick, but Timmy looks great right now, and looked very good in the postseason. Plus, now he has the best Giants team around him he's had since he arrived in 2006, so 20 W - 2.50 era - 240 K's looks very reachable again as long as he stays healthy and avoids another month long stretch where he can't find the plate. (Others to Watch: Roy Halladay, Phi; Josh Johnson, Fla)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Brandon Belt, 1B, SF- I think it's going to be a tight battle between Belt and Atlanta's first-sacker, Freddie Freeman. Belt has looked better this spring, but Freeman is guaranteed a job out of Spring, whereas Belt may not play everday until June. Still though, like Posey did in 2010 and Sandoval did for 6 weeks in 2009, I expect Belt to arrive on the scene ready to contribute, like he's shown this spring. (Others to Consider: Fred Freeman, Atl; Aroldis Chapman, Cin)

NL BATTING CHAMP: Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Col- This guy really is something else and I think he's going to win himself an MVP or 2 before his playing days are done. He can essentially do it all. Hits for power (36 HR) Avg. (.336) has speed (26 SB), as a matter of fact, he's probably your best bet at triple-crown in 2011 if you ask me. Very well could be in the MVP race too if the Rockies are in the thick of things late into the season. (Others to Watch: Joey Votto, Cin; Albert Pujols, Stl)

NL HOME RUN CHAMP: Albert Pujols, 1B, Stl- Speaking of triple crown candidates, outside of Gonzalez, this man is your best bet. He doesn't have quite as good of team surrounding him this year, and I think opposing pitchers will approach him a little more carefully, but you can still bet he'll get his 40+ jacks and have his .300 avg at years end. (Others to Watch: Ryan Howard, Phi; Prince Fielder, Mil)

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
: Dusty Baker, Reds- He really should have won it last year, talking a Reds team that had been in the dumps for the better part of the past 15 years, and made them a playoff team with a less than spectacular roster. However, those players proved to be something, as Bake, known for getting the most out of his talent, certainly was pushing the right buttons then, and I expect the same in 2010. I also think the Reds make their 2nd straight postseason appearance. (Others to Watch: Ron Roenicke, Mil; Fredi Gonzalez, Atl)

COMEBACK P.O.Y.: Jason Bay, OF, NY
- There are a lot of different guys who could go here, but Bay had to be the most dissipointing in 2010, and I think he'll be much better in '11. He had injury problems all year, like most of the Mets regulars, but looks healthy and primed to return to form this year. (Others to Watch: Carlos Beltran, NY; Edison Volquez, Cin)
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AL Playoff Bracket

ALDS
Red Sox over Twins (in 5)
Yankees over A's (in 4)

ALCS
Red Sox over Yankees
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NL Playoff Bracket

NLDS
Giants over Brewers (in 4)
Reds over Phillies (in 5)

NLCS
Giants over Reds (in 6)
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**WORLD SERIES 2011**

Red Sox over Giants (7 games)
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I think the BoSox are the best in the AL and the Giants are the top dogs in the NL. Although I hate to do it, the Sox, with the addition of Crawford and Gonzalez to go with incumbents Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury and that ridiculously good pitching staff may be a little too much for the Giants to handle. The Giants beat the Rangers last year, but the Sox have a better offense and better pitching than Texas, but the Giants are improved too. It would be one helluva series, and I certainly hope my pick is wrong, and it's the Giants in 7. Either way, when looking at things like we have over the past few weeks, getting to know all the different teams around the league, I have more confidence than ever in the Giants making it back to at least the NLCS.
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Back to Giants Talk: Finally, we've completed all our season previews, and for the final 5 days of spring, we'll be fully devoted to getting ready for the Giants upcoming season, including answers to our pre-spring questions, coverage of the Bay Bridge Series with the A's (Springs final tune-up), the Giants projected roster and opening day lineup, as well as LA's (injuries included), and of course, full Brandon Belt coverage between now and the March 31st opener. We may take 1 day off, but look for us to be posting daily, as we've been lately, up through opening day, and probably through the season's first week or so before we return to the every-other-day schedule. There's just so much excitement around this team right now, there is too much to talk about and way too much going on. It's like the holiday season and Christmas eve is just a few nights away, as I certainly can't wait for the World Series Ring Ceremony!
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 NL West Preview

We're a week away from opening day, and we've finally reached the last installment of the divisional previews. The West looks to be really a two-horse race between the Giants and Rockies, but the Dodgers could creep into the picture as well. Plus, with so much going on, we have installed another "double-post" today, so scroll on down for the Giants News portion!
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1st Place - San Francisco Giants

Lineup:
CF Andres Torres
2B Freddy Sanchez
1B Aubrey Huff
C Buster Posey
RF Cody Ross*
LF Pat Burrell
3B Pablo Sandoval
SS Miguel Tejada

Rotation/Set-up/Closer
RHP Tim Lincecum
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
LHP Madison Bumgarner
LHP Barry Zito
SU: Javier Lopez
CL: Brian Wilson*

* Will start year on DL

Whether or not they hit that hot streak at the end of the year again remains to be seen, but the Giants have a better team entering 2011 than the team they won the World Series with last fall. They have more depth with a healthy Mark DeRosa ready to actually contribute, and rookie phenom Brandon Belt knocking the door down. If Ross is on the DL to start the year, Belt needs to make the team out of the gate and start at first with Huff moving to RF. Their rotation is one of the best in baseball and 4 of the 5 starters are 28 years-old or younger, so they're just entering their prime. Even Barry Zito looks like he's ready to contribute with the way he's throwing this spring. They're going to score runs, they have a deep bullpen, and we know about the rotation, the only part I'm somewhat worried about is their infield defense. Miguel Tejada and Pablo Sandoval hold down the left side and neither of those guys have great range. As long as they don't run into any serious health problems though, they're the clear cut favorites in this division, and anything short of another playoff appearance would be considered a failure.

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2nd Place - Colorado Rockies

Lineup:
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Seth Smith
SS Troy Tulowitzki
LF Carlos Gonzalez
1B Todd Helton
3B Ian Stewart
C Chris Ianetta
2B Jose Lopez

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
RHP Jason Hammel
RHP Esmil Rogers
SU: Rafael Betancourt
CL: Huston Street

The Rockies have a few nice young chips in their lineup and a nice 1-2 punch at the front of their rotation. They just aren't as deep as the Giants, pitching wise or offensively. Their pitching fell off a bit towards the end of the year last season and need to last the whole 6 months if they're going to stick in the race. They have some healthy question's in the bullpen too, where closer Huston Street seems to have a glass arm. The Rockies could have added more this winter, but they didn't do much to improve their squad from last year, and even though they'll get improvement from some of their own players, they don't have enough to make the playoffs with this current roster.

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3rd Place - Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup:
SS Rafael Furcal
RF Andre Eithier
CF Matt Kemp
1B James Looney
3B Casey Blake
2B Juan Uribe
LF Jay Gibbons
C Rod Barajas

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Chad Billingsley
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Jon Garland
SU: Hong-Chih Kuo
CL: Jonathan Broxton

The Dodgers are another team that lost a lot over the winter. No more Manny Ramirez or Russell Martin and even though they didn't have great years in 2010, they both were centerpieces of that ballclub, and weren't adequately replaced. The pitching staff isn't particularly impressive. Kershaw is going to be great, but Billingsley has flaws and the rest of the rotation is very hittable. The bullpen is very much the same, where they are pretty thin outside of closer Jonathan Broxton.

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4th Place - San Diego Padres

Lineup:
LF Will Venable
SS Jason Bartlett
1B Brad Hawpe
RF Ryan Ludwick
3B Chase Headley
2B Orlando Hudson
CF Cameron Maybin
C Nick Hundley

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Mat Latos
LHP Clayton Richard
RHP Tim Stauffer
RHP Aaron Harang
LHP Wade LeBlanc
SU: Mike Adams
CL: Heath Bell

I think the Padres will be a little bit better than people are anticipating. Although they lost their big slugger Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, they are developing some young players who should help cushion that loss. They have really built the team around pitching, defense and speed, and they have plenty of all three. Even their bench looks pretty solid. Mat Latos is a true ace, and Clay Richard and Tim Stauffer both came into their own last year. Their bullpen is their real strength, led by Adams and Bell but surrounded with many quality arms. They won't battle the Giants like they did last year, but they aren't that much different than the team that took the World Champion Giants all the way to the final day of the season to knock off. It wouldn't surprise me to see them finish as high as 2nd place like it would a lot of baseball people, but they will need some of their veterans to bounce back (Ludwick & Hudson) and a few youngsters to take flight (Maybin, Headley & Kyle Blanks)

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5th Place - Arizona Diamondbacks

Lineup:
SS Stephen Drew
2B Kelly Johnson
CF Chris Young
RF Justin Upton
1B Russell Branyan
3B Melvin Mora
C Miguel Montero
LF Gerrardo Parra

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Ian Kennedy
RHP Daniel Hudson
RHP Barry Enright
RHP Armando Gallaragha
SU: Juan Gutierrez
CL: J.J. Putz

The D-Backs had a nice young core going as recently as 2009, but they haven't been able to keep it together. They lost the heart and sole of their pitching rotation in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren last winter and have yet to make up for the loss. Their rotation is led by a guy who sported a 9-17 record last season and their bullpen is being anchored down by a rejected closer and a bunch of live, un-proven arms. The front four of their lineup is nice, but then it falls off mighty quickly after Justin Upton in the cleanup spot. Upton is their franchise player though, and whatever they do, they must hang onto him if they want a base to build around.
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Ross and Wilson Both Headed For DL

The Giants are getting a better idea on what they're dealing with in their two injured players, Cody Ross and Brian Wilson, and it appears both will be in tennis shoes for the March 31st opener.

The Giants made it pretty clear Thursday that they expect both Ross and Wilson to start the season on the DL, which comes to a surprise to very few. Neither are dealing with serious injuries, but both are nagging issues that if not taken care of early, could hamper them all year long, so if it's a matter or losing them for the first few weeks of the year vs. having them try to play opening day in pain, I take option A. Ross will be sidelined for at least 3 weeks which means the earliest he returns would be mid-April. Since that seems to be the case, it looks like it will open up a roster spot for Brandon Belt to make this team, and quite possibly be in the opening day lineup. It's a matter of who Boch will feel comfortable with out in right field in place of Ross. Offensively, it would be best to place Huff in RF and move Belt into his place at 1B, but if they want defense, it will be Nate Schierholtz starting in right field. No matter what, I hope it doesn't end up with Aaron Rowand in the starting lineup and Brandon Belt down in Fresno. Another option could also be to use Mark DeRosa out in RF, a guy who went down in May last year but has looked 100% this spring. Sure, they'd rather have Ross out there, but this team is good enough and deep enough to overcome that loss for a few weeks.

The decision on Ross is more clear than the one with Wilson, who is still holding out some hope to pitch on opening day, but I don't expect it and I actually hope it doesn't happen. Wilson is so key to this team's success that they cannot toy with his health. He had the similar injury during his rookie year with the Giants, tried pitching around it and ended up costing him a month of the season. Not too mention, limited his ability when he actually did return. So Sabean and Bochy cannot take any chances and should let Guillermo Mota or Felix Romero start the year in the bullpen until B-Willy is 100%.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

GBB's NL Central Preview

The NL Central is another division that is going to be a tough one to pick. There are 4 teams that are pretty could finish within a handful of games of each other, largely depending on health. Here's how I think it will go down in 2011:
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1st Place - Milwaukee Brewers


Lineup:
2B Rickie Weeks
CF Carlos Gomez
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart*
3B Casey McGee
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
C Jonathan Lucroy

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Zach Grienke*
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Shawn Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
CL: John Axford

*DL'ed till end of April

If the Brewers can get that starting rotation healthy and keep it that way, they should beat out the Cardinals and Reds, but it's going to be a tight race. They have a the front-end rotation to pitch in a playoff series, and have a nice lineup, not quite as good as Cincinnati's but better than the Cardinals'. I'm banking their success on their bullpen, starting rotation and defense to separate them from the other two teams (the Cubs too if they're healthy and contending). As long as Zach Grienke returns strong early in the season, and they can sustain good health in their rotation, I think they have the slight edge over Cinci, but if those things don't happen, the Reds have too much young talent to hold off, and they will take the division. Braun and Fielder are like the post-steroid era "Bash Brothers" and Weeks and Hart are both finally living up to all their potential.

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2nd Place - Cincinnati Reds *NL Wild Card*

Lineup:
CF Drew Stubbs
2B Brandon Phillips
RF Jay Bruce
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
LF Johnny Gomes
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Paul Janish

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Edison Volquez
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Jonny Cueto (DL until late April)
RHP Homer Bailey
LHP Travis Wood
CL: Francisco Cordero

After years and years of rebuilding, the Reds finally have a product that is ready to compete year in and year out, and look primed for their 2nd consecutive postseason appearance. They have speed and power in a young lineup that it's just getting better with time. Bruce and Votto will both be perennial MVP candidates and you can't ask much better table setters at the top than Stubbs and Phillips. Same can be said for the starting rotation, stocked with talented young arms like Volquez, Cueto, Wood, Bailey and Mike Leake waiting in the wings. Francisco Cordero leads a solid young bullpen where he has future closer and 103-mph throwing Aroldis Chapman setting him up. The Reds will be mighty tough to beat when they have leads going late into games, and with that lineup and solid staff, that should be quite often.

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3rd Place - St. Louis Cardinals

Lineup:
2B Skip Schumaker
CF Colby Rasmus
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Lance Berkman
3B David Freese
C Yadier Molina
SS Ryan Theriot

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Chris Carpentar
LHP Jaime Garcia
RHP Jake Westbrook
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Kyle McClellan
CL: Ryan Franklin

I think this is going to be the first off-year the Cardinals will go through in quite a while. The loss of Adam Wainwright hurt them badly, and that's 22 wins gone from the starting rotation. Filling in his place is a career reliever, albeit a solid one in McClellan. However, if the Cardinals start strong, and the good version of Kyle Lohse shows up this season, they could go out and add an arm or two in-season to help them even up with Cinci. In-fact, John Mozeliak should get on the phone with Andy MacPhail in Baltimore and make a play for Brian Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie. They need a move like that, otherwise, even with the all mighty Pujols, and that solid lineup around him, I don't see them beating out Baker's bunch. Especially if they can't get the top of their lineup going, which they had trouble doing in 2010. I'd go ahead and slot Rasmus into the leadoff spot if Schumaker starts slowly again.

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4th Place - Chicago Cubs

Lineup:
RF Kosuke Fukudome
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Aramis Ramirez
CF Marlon Byrd
1B Carlos Pena
C Geovany Soto
2B Jeff Baker

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Carlos Zambrano
RHP Matt Garza
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Carlos Silva
CL: Carlos Marmol

The Cubs have been marred with bad injuries over the past years, and have had some bizarre luck with psuedo-ace Carlos Zambrano. If everyone in the lineup, like Soriano, Ramirez, Pena and Soto, play like they're supposed to, and Zambrano pitches like he did pre-2009, then the Cubs will win some games and be in the race, but all those things happening together just aren't likely. They also need to find a leadoff hitter, and I don't think Fukudome is the answer. I'd put Soriano back there, maybe it would kick start his game (.250 avg. last 2 seasons). Their bullpen is solid, where they have Mariano Rivera 2.0 in closer Carlos Marmol, but I'm not sure how much it will help if the Cubs don't have leads late in games. Their rotation just isn't good enough and their lineup is too inconsistent.

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5th Place - Houston Astros

Lineup:
CF Michael Bourn
SS Clint Barmes
RF Hunter Pence
1B Carlos Lee
3B Chris Johnson
2B Bill Hall
LF Jason Michaels
C Humberto Quintero

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Brett Myers
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Bud Norris
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Nelson Figueroa
CL: Brandon Lyon

It wasn't too long ago that the Astros and Cardinals were the only 2 contenders in this division, and would battle it out for first place each year. However, over the last couple of seasons, the Astros have really fallen off the map. They made a few bad financial decisions and draft choices and it's burned them. Brett Myers looks like he's found a 2nd wind here but their rotation is weak, and could crumble any which way after Wandy Rodrguez in the 2 spot. Their lineup isn't much better, where they're being anchored down by the $18 million man Carlos Lee who had a .246/24/89 line last year and has to improve big time. The one bright spot in this lineup is 27 year-old Hunter Pence who has 30-30 potential. Their bullpen is also below average led by closer Brandon Lyon but surrounded with very little depth.

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6th Place - Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup:
CF Andrew McCuthchen
LF Jose Tabata
1B Lyle Overbay
RF Garrett Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Neil Walker
C Chris Snyder
SS Ronny Cedeno

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Kevin Corriea
RHP Jason McDonald
RHP Charlie Morton
CL: Joel Hanrahan

The Pirates are putting together a nice young lineup, led by Andrew McCutchen, who could be an all-star as soon as this season. I also like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, even Jose Tabata and Ronny Cedeno are playing well for the Bucs. It doesn't matter how well they do though, cause the pitching staff is hideous, by far the worst in baseball. All 5 starters sported an era over 5 last season and 4/5 had double digit losses. I just can't fathom why they can't draft pitching? They have a good yard to pitch in, but none of their arms have seemed to pan out since they moved to PNC Park. They could use a makeover for their whole pitching staff for that matter. Their bullpen is only marginally better than their rotation, but still grossly below average. Worst team in baseball in 2011!

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Giants Note
: The Giants got some more bad news Wednesday, as Cody Ross will be joining Brian Wilson in the trainer's room over the next few days, and appears questionable for the March 31st opener in LA. Ross strained his calf chasing down a line drive in the first inning of Wednesday's game, just hours after Brian Wilson cut short his first throwing session since he strained his rib-cage last week... What was really a seamless spring up until this point is starting to cause some un-easiness, and I think everybody is ready to break north. It wouldn't surprise me to see Boch really slow it down with the key regulars at least until they go back to the Bay Area for A's games next week.

We'll have more on the Ross situation, as well as the Wilson situation as we hear it. Both are huge pieces to this team as Giants fans well know. Ross projects to hit 5th in the lineup and looks to be a prime candidate to breakout offensively this year after his success in the 2010 postseason. It wouldn't surprise me to see Boch try Huff out in RF while Ross is out just he can't start the year (not the way the Giants want Brandon Belt to make the team).
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GBB's NL East Preview

Finally onto the National League where in the East you don't need to be a hardcore baseball fan to know the Phillies are the clear-cut favorites. However, there are some other clubs in this division who have the ability to make noise and push the injury-riddled Phillies. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for Tuesday's "Giants Notes".

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1st Place - Philadelphia Phillies

Lineup:
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
2B Chase Utley*
1B Ryan Howard
3B Placido Polanco
LF Raul Ibanez
C Carlos Ruiz
RF Ben Francisco

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Roy Halladay
LHP Cliff Lee
LHP Cole Hammels
RHP Roy Oswalt
RHP Joe Blanton
CL: Brad Lidge

The Phills don't quite have the offensive firepower they've had in years past, as they lost 5th place hitter Jason Werth, and didn't add anyone to replace him. They're banking on rebound years out of Rollins, Victorino and Ibanez which if happens, will mitigate the loss of Werth. Plus, that pitching staff is so darn dominant, they only need to score a couple runs a night to be in pretty good shape. Any time Roy Oswalt is lining up as a 4th starter, you know you have something. No longer do the San Francisco Giants sport the best rotation in the NL, but Philly's arms are aged, and must endure the rigors of the long season which is certainly no given. They also will be without Chase Utley for the first few weeks of the year, possibly longer, so even though they have the best team on paper, they do have some internal issues to fix up.

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2nd Place - Atlanta Braves

Lineup:
LF Martin Prado
CF Nate McLouth
3B Chipper Jones
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
RF Jason Heyward
SS Alex Gonzalez
1B Freddie Freeman (R)

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Tommy Hanson
RHP Jair Jurrgens
RHP Kris Medlen
CL: Craig Kimbrel

The Braves are set to play 2011 without Bobby Cox at the helm for the first time since the 80's, but he left this team in very good shape. They have that nice mix of up-and-coming youngsters (Heyward, Freeman, Hanson, Jurrgens and Prado) and productive veterans (Uggla, Chipper, AGon, Lowe and Hudson). They aren't quite up to par with Philly, but they should be right in the thick of the NL Wild Card race. I'm expecting a big sophomore year out of Heyward and a nice rookie year out of Freeman, but they'll need those vets like Jones (injury), McClouth (off-year) and even Brian McCann (drop-off from years past) to rebound from forgetful 2010 seasons. They have a nice starting rotation that could be great if healthy and Craig Kimbrel should be just fine closing out games.

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3rd Place - Florida Marlins

Lineup:
CF Chris Coghlan
2B Omar Infante
SS Hanley Ramirez
1B Gaby Sanchez
RF Mike Stanton
C Joe Buck
LF Logan Morrison
3B Wes Helms

Rotation/Closer
RHP Josh Johnson
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Chris Volstad
CL: Leo Nunez

The Marlins, like they always do, have some very nice young pieces on their roster, they just can't keep them over the course of a few years. Mike Stanton looks like the next in line as far as young stud hitters to come up through their system as the 21 year-old hit 22 homers in less than 400 at-bats in 2010. Hanley Ramirez is one of the top-5 players in the game today, just doesn't get the credit cause he plays for the Marlins. Same can be said for ace Josh Johnson, who when healthy, can pitch with anyone in baseball. I liked the addition of Vazquez for basically nothing, and the trade of Uggla brought back some nice pieces as well. In a lot of other divisions, the Marlins could have a shot at the playoffs, but not in this tough NL East.

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4th Place - Washington Nationals

Lineup:
LF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jason Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
CF Rick Ankiel
C Ivan Rodriguez
2B Jerry Hairston Jr.

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Livan Hernandez
LHP Jon Lannan
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
LHP Tom Gozelanny
RHP Jason Marquis
CL: Drew Storen

For the first time since their arrival in Washington, the Nationals have a foundation to work with. They have some building blocks in the lineup with Ryan Zimmerman and now Jason Werth (Bryce Harper's waiting in the wings too). Pitching wise, they'll be without ace Stephen Strasburg this year as he recovers from Tommy John, but he should be back in '12 as strong as ever. In his absence, the Nats will be counting heavily on fellow youngster Jordan Zimmermann, who returned to Washington late in 2010 and finished strong. They have the ageless Livan Hernandez leading the staff, who isn't flashy, but just keeps on getting the job done, and young lefty Jon Lannan has some nice upside behind him, but there's a big drop off after their 3rd starter. I think they're just a year away from becoming at least a .500 club.

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5th Place - New York Mets

Lineup:
CF Angel Pagan
SS Jose Reyes
3B David Wright
LF Jason Bay
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Ike Davis
C Jose Thole
2B Luis Hernandez

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Mike Pelfrey
LHP Jonathan Niese
RHP Chris Young
RHP R.A. Dickey
LHP Chris Capuano
CL: Francisco Rodrigeuz
DL: LHP Johan Santana (out until August)

If you want a definition of bad luck in baseball, look no further than the Mets. They have a payroll that sits in the top-5 in baseball, yet they are quite possibly the worst team in their division heading into the 2011 season. They will be without ace Johan Santana until August at the earliest, and without him their rotation is terrible. So bad that it makes the Nationals starting 5 look stable. Their lineup is getting healthy though, for now. They'll score some runs as long as Beltran and Reyes can avoid the DL and Jason Bay can find his Pittsburgh/Boston form. Still though, that starting rotation is so bad, I have a hard time seeing them win more than 75 ballgames.

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Giants Notes: Well, with opening day nearly a week away, the Giants are making their final roster cuts and decisions, but there is still a few yet to be determined. Mainly the backup infield spots. New shortstop Miguel Tejada has been a disappointed in spring training so far, and it's causing some close to the team concern as to whether he's ready for another full season at shortstop. Again, the Giants failed to add a true backup shortstop this winter, so if Tejada is struggling, it would appear that the job would fall to Mike Fontenot. There is still some time left to make a deal outside of the organization to obtain another shortstop, but there really aren't any gleaming options that jump out right now. Also, the Giants already have enough of a headache on determining who will fill out their bench. Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand (unless dealt) will have their spots, and Eli Whiteside will fill the backup catcher role again, leaving 2 spots open. Mike Fontenot will get one of them because of his ability to play shortstop, so that leaves Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa as the two guys fighting for the last bench spot.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brian Wilson Could Miss Opener

The Giants got their first taste of bad news that they've received all spring on Saturday, after All-Star closer Brian Wilson strained his ribcage. The 2010 MLB saves leader will be sidelined for the rest of the Cactus League schedule and may end up starting the season on the DL, but it's still a little too early to make that assumption.

The loss of Wilson for any extended period of time would definitely be a catastrophic hit to the reigning World Champs, but it looks like they're being cautious, so it really wouldn't surprise me to see Wilson miss the first week or 2 of the regular season, just to assure he's 100% healthy when he does start pitching again. If that's the case, and Wilson is forced to miss regular season action, the Giants would then have to go to a Plan B to close out games. Right now, the plan B would appear to be Javier Lopez. The lefty was nearly untouchable in the postseason and really was a force in the Giants bullpen the moment he dawned the Orange and Black after coming over from Pittsburgh. I'd have no problem with him closing out games in Wilson's absence. If there is a tough right-handed lineup due up in the 9th inning, Bochy could also use Santiago Cassilla. The 30 year-old is coming off a breakout year in which he sported a 1.95 regular season era, followed up by a 1.93 postseason mark. Sergio Romo is another guy who could get a look, but I just don't trust that guy in situations with the game on the line, he's more of a 7th inning-type reliever.

If Wilson starts the year on the DL, that would also open up another roster spot that would likely go to a reliever because every other are of the team is clicking right now. In the starting rotation, every body's getting healthy and turning on their game at the right time. Matt Cain returned from his injury this week, and Barry Zito, who was causing a lot of concern early in the spring, has looked very good over his last few outings, including a 6 inning, 2-hit, 1-run outing vs. the Royals on Saturday. Tim Lincecum is throwing well and looks ready for the opener, and Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner are both quietly pitching well as they prepare for what should be big years for both lefties. Even their offense is putting up crooked numbers with regularity. Rookie Brandon Belt is really coming alive and is now hitting .283, with 7 extra-base hits and 10 RBI while carrying a mature plate approach which could land him on the opening day roster. I know, it's only spring training, but even so, It's much better to see the team succeeding and playing well in their preparation than tanking. With only 11 days until the opener, the goal for the Giants is simple and clear: Stay Healthy. They can't afford any more set-backs like they have with Wilson. The Giants are a very good team, but they aren't a very deep team. If they lose a few key players, things can go down hill very quickly.

Note: Today was a "double-post" day for the Giants Baseball Blog, so scroll on down for part 2 of our post and the continuing of our Divisional Previews!
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GBB's AL West Preview

And, for Part 2 of our Double-Post, we move to the AL West Preview which looks to be one of the tighter divisions in the American League. There are 3 teams with a legit shot at winning the division, and it wouldn't surprise me to see 3 of the 4 teams finish with .500+ records.

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1st Place - Oakland Athletics

Lineup:
RF David DeJesus
CF Cocoa Crisp
1B Daric Barton
DH Hideki Matsui
LF Josh Willingham
C Kurt Suzuki
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
2B Mark Ellis
SS Cliff Pennington

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Brett Anderson
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Brandon McCarthy
CL: Andrew Bailey

I'm picking Oakland strictly because of their pitching and defense. They aren't going to out-slug many teams, but I think they have just enough offense to get by with that great pitching. The additions of Matsui, DeJesus and Willingham will help and I expect improvement out of Barton and Suzuki. They essentially have 2 aces in Cahill and Anderson, and two solid #2 candidates in Gonzalez and Braden. If Rich Harden can regain his health and contribute, they'll be that much better. Their bullpen is the best in the AL too, but there are some questions surrounding closer Andrew Bailey's health heading into the year. If he misses time though, they have 2-3 other solid options to fill the void.

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2nd Place - Los Angeles Angels

Lineup:
SS Eric Aybar
3B Maicer Izturis
DH Bob Abreu
1B Kendrys Morales
RF Torii Hunter
LF Vernon Wells
2B Howie Kendrick
C Jeff Mathis
CF Peter Bourjos

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Jered Weaver
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Ervin Santana
LHP Scott Kazmir
RHP Joel Pinero
CL: Fernando Rodney

The Angels have more thump than the A's and their front 3 in their rotation match up pretty well with Oakland's, but they're bullpen is really in shambles right now. Fernando Rodney is closer at the moment, but is very un-stable, and he's surrounded by question marks. Give them the A's bullpen and they'd be something, but I don't think they're a complete ballclub right now. Still, that said, they have more than enough talent to win the division, and if the A's suffer more injuries to their starting rotation, then the Angels would become the immediate favorites. Another race I see coming down to the season's final days.

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3rd Place - Texas Rangers

Lineup:
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Mitch Mooreland
C Mike Napoli
CF Julio Borbon

Rotation/Closer:
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Colby Lewis
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP Derek Holland
LHP Matt Harrison
CL: Neftali Feliz

The Rangers still have that powerful lineup that carried them to the World Series last fall, but they lost the heart and sole of their pitching staff in Cliff Lee and failed to replace him. They have the offense to keep up with anyone in the league, and have a few young bright arms in Feliz, Holland and Wilson. Their front-6 of their batting order all have All-Star capabilities. They also have the rehabilitating Brandon Webb aiming for a May-June return and if he comes back strong, that will definitely help, but that's a big "if". Again, there really isn't a lot separating these top-3 teams, and a lucky break for one team or an injury could really swing the momentum of this division.

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4th Place - Seattle Mariners

Lineup:
RF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Chone Figgins
LF Milton Bradley
1B Justin Smoak
2B Dustin Ackley
DH Jack Cust
C Miguel Olivo
CF Franklin Gutierrez
SS Jack Wilson

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Doug Fister
LHP Erik Bedard
RHP Michael Pineda
CL: David Aardsma

The Mariners are the lone team in the division who truly have no shot at making a playoff run. They had one of the worst offenses in baseball in 2010 and didn't add anything to it this winter. They also sport a pitching staff with a bunch of question marks. Outside of Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, their other 3 starters combined for 6 total wins in 2010. Their bullpen isn't much better. They're toying with the idea of using Brandon League in the closer spot, but I think David Aardsma is clearly the best option for them and could give them a nice trade chip come July if he's pitching well. Just look what he did over his last 10 outings and what he's done the last 2 years for Seattle, and they're questioning his ability as closer?
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

GBB's AL Central Preview

Onto the AL Central, where only two teams really have a legit shot at competing on a larger scale. In my opinion, this is the weakest division in baseball this year.

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1st Place - Minnesota Twins


Lineup:
CF Denard Span
2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
LF Delmon Young
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel/Jim Thome
3B Danny Valencia
SS Alexi Casilla

Rotation/Closer
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Brian Duensing
RHP Nick Blackburn
RHP Scott Baker
CL: Joe Nathan

This is one of the tougher divisions to pick in all of baseball due to the fact that 3 of the 5 teams are so darn evenly matched. The Twins have a better overall pitching staff than the Sox do, but I just don't think they have the offensive firepower to keep up with them. The Japanese import Nishioka looks very good, and Mauer and Morneau both should be healthy by opening day, and that always means the Twins offense is in good shape. Joe Nathan has looked strong this spring in his comeback, which will be a huge relief for the bullpen. I'm picking the Twinkies, but it also wouldn't surprise me to see this division come down to the final few games and I certainly wouldn't bet on any team in this bunch.
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2nd Place - Chicago White Sox

Lineup:
LF Juan Pierre
2B Gordon Beckham
1B Paul Konerko
DH Adam Dunn
RF Carlos Quentin
CF Alex Rios
SS Alexei Ramirez
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Mark Teahan

Rotation/Closer
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP John Danks
RHP Gavin Floyd
RHP Jake Peavy
CL: Matt Thornton

Chicago is going to put up some runs, no doubt about that. Question is, will they be able to keep teams off the board themselves? Now, Jake Peavy is the wild card for this team in my opinion. If he gives them 25-30 starts, the ChiSox could very well leap-frog the Twins, they have that much offense. They have a very deep lineup that knows how to make the opposing pitcher work. They can also take you deep and steal bases. The problem for them right now is in the pen where they're a little thin, led by first-time closer Matt Thornton, who's been a career mid-reliever, albeit a good one.

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3rd Place - Detroit Tigers

Lineup:
CF Austin Jackson
LF Ryan Raburn
DH Victor Martinez
1B Miguel Cabrera
RF Maglio Ordonez
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Brandon Inge
2B Scott Sizemore
C Alex Avila

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Brad Penny
RHP Rick Porcello
RHP Phil Coke
CL: Jose Valverde

The Tigers didn't do a darn thing to improve their team this winter and are returning the same bunch that disappointed in 2010. Miguel Cabrera is great, no doubt about that, but he's going through some personal issues and outside of him and Vic Martinez, that lineup is paper thin and will struggle to score runs. They have some nice young arms in Scherzer and Porcello and a strong ace with Verlander, but aren't deep enough to compete with the Twins or ChiSox.

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4th Place - Cleveland Indians

Lineup:
CF Grady Sizemore
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Travis Hafner
1B Matt LaPorta
C Carlos Santana
LF Austin Kearns
3B Jason Nix
2B Orlando Cabrera

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Fausto Carmona
RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Carlos Carrasco
RHP Josh Tomlin
RHP Mitch Talbot
CL: Chris Perez

The Indians have a few nice young bats in the lineup, but their pitching staff is unproven. They don't have a particularly strong bullpen either, but young closer Chris Perez certainly sticks out in the group. Sizemore, LaPorta, Choo and Santana are all keepers, but everyone else in that lineup would be bench players on solid clubs.

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5th Place - Kansas City Royals

Lineup:
2B Mike Aviles
CF Melky Cabrera
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
RF Jeff Francoeur
3B Wilson Betemit
1B Kila Ka'aihue
SS Alcides Escobar
C Jason Kendal

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Jeff Francis
RHP Luke Hochever
LHP Bruce Chen
RHP Kyle Davies
RHP Vin Mazzaro
CL: Joakim Soria

It really seems like the Royals are getting worse each year. This offseason they lost one of their best hitters, possibly their best, in David DeJesus. Then they dealt away Zack Grienke, their franchise player and ace of their staff. It could pay off in the next few years, but right now, they look like a glorified AAA team. There are 2 players on the roster I listed above who I'd entertain taking and those two are Billy Butler and Joakim Soria. Young shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Alex Gordon could still turn out to be decent, but neither have shown it yet.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

GBB's 2011 AL East Preview

Well, with Opening Day now exactly 2 weeks away, it's time to start our traditional MLB Preview, in which we go division by division and predict how we see the divisions lining up this year! But don't worry, we'll still be mixing in plenty of Giants talk along the way. Like always, we'll start in the AL East and end in the NL West, so here we go:
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1st Place - Boston Red Sox

Lineup:
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Carl Crawford
3B Kevin Youkilis
1B Adrian Gonzalez
DH David Ortiz
2B Dustin Pedroia
RF J.D. Drew
SS Marco Scutaro
C Jason Varitek

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Jon Lester
RHP Josh Beckett
RHP John Lackey
RHP Clay Bucholtz
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
CL: Jonathon Papelbon

It's going to be another neck and neck battle all year long between the Sox and the Yanks, but after the addition of Crawford and Gonzalez, the Red Sox really revamped their offense. All they need is health in their starting rotation (mainly Matsuzaka and Beckett), and they'll be a tough train to stop. Still sport one of the best closers in the game in Jon Papelbon.
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2nd Place - New York Yankees *AL Wild Card

Lineup:
LF Brett Gardener
SS Derek Jeter
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Jorge Posada
C Russell Martin

Rotation/Closer:
LHP C.C. Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Sergio Mitre
RHP Ivan Nova
CL: Mariano Rivera

The Yankees didn't add a whole lot to their squad that disappointed last year by losing to the Rangers in the ALCS. Still though, in any other division in this league, they're the clear favorites. Their core (Jeter, ARod, Mo and Posada) is getting a bit older though, and they need those young guys like Gardener, Granderson and Cano to really step it up. They also have some questions in their starting rotation, where they could really use Andy Pettite to pull a "Brett Favre" and return from retirement.
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3rd Place - Tampa Bay Rays

Lineup:
LF Johnny Damon
CF B.J. Upton
3B Evan Longoria
DH Manny Ramirez
RF Ben Zobrist
1B Dan Johnson
2B Sean Rodriguez
SS Reid Brignac
C John Jaso

Rotation/Closer:
LHP David Price
RHP James Shields
RHP Jeff Niemann
RHP Wade Davis
RHP Jeremy Hellickson
CL: Kyle Farnsworth

The Rays have lost a lot over the last 2 years and are now just a shadow of the that magical '08 squad. They still have Upton and Longoria, and have added a few productive vets in Ramirez and Damon, but their lineup after the first 5 is pretty abysmal. I think they're going to miss Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett a lot more than they expected too. Especially Crawford, who was an iron man for that team.
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4th Place - Baltimore Orioles

Lineup:
2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
1B Derek Lee
DH Vladimer Guerrero
3B Mark Reynolds
LF Luke Scott
SS J.J. Hardy
C Matt Wieters

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Brad Bergesen
RHP Justin Duchsherer
CL: Koji Uehara

The Orioles have a lineup that can compete with anybody in the AL. They have speed, power, youth, experience and everybody from 1-9 is a threat with the bat. They also are finally putting together a young pitching staff that could turn out to be a solid one. Matusz, Arrieta and Bergesen are all 26 years old or younger and they have some nice mentors in Guthrie and Duchsherer. If they keep developing and JD can give them 30 starts, they could be a .500 ballclub on the rise.
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5th Place - Toronto Blue Jays

Lineup:
CF Rajai Davis
SS Yunel Escobar
2B Aaron Hill
3B Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
LF Juan Rivera
RF Travis Snider
DH Edwin Encarnacion
C J.P. Arencibia

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Rickey Romero
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Kyle Drabek
LHP Mark Rzepczynski
CL: Octavio Dotel

The Jays are putting together a nice young staff. All of their starters are under 28 years of age and all of them appear to have bright futures in this league. Their lineup, however, is a little thin, and doesn't match up with the rest in this division. I'm curious to see how Bautista does coming off his 50-home run year, cause I don't see that happening again. I do think Travis Snider breaks out this year and hits 25-30 homers, but that won't be enough to carry this team in a tough AL East.
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Giants Notes: The Giants play another night game Thursday night, taking on the Angels after winning again Wednesday when Tim Lincecum improved to 3-0 on the Spring. I think it's safe to say, he's ready, after striking out 7 in 5+ innings of work. Brandon Belt also put forth his best effort of the Spring, going 3-4 with his 2nd homer to go along with 3 runs and 2 RBI. There's still plenty of spring left and even though it was starting to appear that Belt would start in AAA, if he finds his groove like he did Wednesday, he may force the issue upon Bochy and Sabean yet.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Giants On Top in Cactus League Standings

The Giants have started 2011 a lot like they finished off 2010, as they sit atop the Cactus League with a 14-4 record heading into Monday's game. Granted, it's only exhibition season, the Giants look like they're completely on track with the season opener a little over 2 weeks away.

Matt Cain made just his second appearance of the Cactus League Monday, and looked very good vs. the Brewers, a team he's notoriously struggled against. Cain threw 3 shutout innings, allowing 3 hits while striking out one batter. I didn't watch any of his pitches, but from everything I've heard and read, it sounds like he had his good velocity and was right in the zone. It's good to see the zero in the walk column for Matty. A lot has been said about Cain this offseason, with the spotlight on the Giants, and about his ability to defy some of the logic in sabremetrics. People are just waiting for him to implode and his era to rise, but I just don't see it happening. Cain has always sported a rather high WHIP and allows a lot of balls to be put in play, but his career era is rock solid and he's considered one of the better pitchers in the National League. Now with him back in tow, the Giants rotation is at full strength with plenty of time to spare before their opener in LA. Not only is everybody healthy, but they're all throwing ridiculously well. I pointed it out in the last post but focused more on Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito and Jeff Suppan. Those guys have all been nails as has Jonathan Sanchez and ace Tim Lincecum. The rotation is already set, but Suppan could, and if he keeps this up, should make the team as a long reliever (just gave up 6 runs to Brewers which will not help his cause).

The bats aren't looking too shabby either. We talked a lot about Pablo Sandoval on Friday, and he continues to make headlines, hitting his team-leading 3rd home run and driving in his team-high 9th RBI on Monday. Aubrey Huff went deep as well, for the second time this spring, and went 3-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBI. It looks like Bochy is going to roll with the same front-4 to the lineup that won him the Series' last fall, with Torres-Sanchez-Huff-Posey making up the first half of the lineup. It's still not fully clear how the lineup will fall into place after that, but we know who will be there. If Pablo keeps hitting like this all the way up to opening day, I think Bochy needs to seriously consider re-inserting him into the middle of the lineup, and that would mean placing him in the 5th spot. If not Sandoval, It'll probably be Pat Burrell, but Boch looks for as many ways to get the R-L-R-L combo into the lineup that he can. As for the guy who everybody is watching this spring, Brandon Belt, I think it's safe to say he'll be starting the year in Fresno. He hasn't been bad by any stretch, but he hasn't stood out like he'd have to in order to make this team as a regular. As of Monday, he's hitting .263 with a homer and 8 RBI. Certainly producing, just not quite where the Giants want him yet.

The only disappointing thing so far this spring that I can think of is that there hasn't been a young player who's stood out or separated himself from the rest of the pack. Brandon Belt has, but he's been played like a regular this spring. Brandon Crawford, Thomas Neal and Darren Ford are the bigger name prospects in camp, and none of them have done much of anything (outside of Ford's 7 stolen bases).
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cain Healthy, Bumgarner Dominant

Well, being a Giants' fan, your no stranger to having high expectations of your starting rotation, and things are starting to fall into place for the reigning World Series champs. Matt Cain made his first appearance in a while after nursing some minor shoulder issues, Madison Bumgarner keeps improving each day, and even Barry Zito is looking halfway decent.

Things have really started to clear up over the last week or so though. Cain looks and sounds healthy again after throwing nearly 50 pitches in a simulated game on Wednesday. Then Madison Bumgarner gave the Giants even more reason to be optimistic as he turned in his best game of the spring so far against Cincinnati. MadBum got his first win of the Cactus League season by throwing 4 shutout innings, striking out six Reds' hitters and allowing just one base runner. Barry Zito, on the other hand, hasn't thrown particularly great, but he's certainly learning how to get by with the stuff he currently throws at you. He's thrown 10 innings over his 3 starts and has allowed just 6 hits with 5 K's, but has allowed 7 walks, a number that has to be reduced come April. Still, even with allowing all those base-runners, he's minimized the damage, allowing just 3 of those runners to cross home plate. The pitching has been so contagiously good that even newcomer Jeff Suppan is getting in on the action. Coming in as a long-shot to make the team in long-relief, Suppan has looked as good as anybody who's battling for a bullpen spot, and with his ability to start, he may have a leg up. He's thrown in 3 games (1 start), going 9 innings, allowing just 4 hits, 0 walks and 2 runs.

Offensively, things have been just fine as well. Even a little better than expected after the early return of Freddy Sanchez. All the regulars seem to have found some sort of rhythm. Andres Torres is hitting .389, Cody Ross is at .313 and Pablo Sandoval is alleviating concerns each day as he's led the team in at-bats while carrying a solid .303 average. Sophomore Buster Posey is really lighting it up, making the Cactus League look like the NCAA, hitting .526 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in just 19 at-bats. The only guy who's been there all spring and really hasn't been to noticeable is Miguel Tejada. The Giants are hoping the 36 year-old is just saving it for the regular season, but he is looking every bit his age so far in Spring (his bat especially). On the other hand, while Tejada hasn't quite hit his groove yet, Mark DeRosa has, and he looks 100% healthy again. I can't stress how important it is for DeRosa to get back on track, I stressed it all offseason long and now it's coming to light. The super utility guy has made a splashy return, hitting .400 with a homer, 6 RBI and a team leading 10 hits this spring. Now, DeRosa can't play short, but he can play seemingly everywhere else. Imagine if he were healthy during the World Series run last year and the depth he would have provided? Probably would have given some stability to third base at least, that's for sure.

Note: The Giants Blog was approached recently by Razzball.com to do a Giants Season Preview interview. Click here for the interview in full!
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