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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Giants Offense Quieting Down With Spring

As Spring Training winds down and we enter the last week of Cactus League play, it's almost as if the Giants bats have already migrated north, and have been near non-existent of late. Perhaps their most ugly outing of the Spring came this week when the 49-year old Jamie Moyer no hit them through 4 innings.

That exposed an area that the Giants are still working to improve, and again, a big reason why I wanted Cody Ross re-signed. The Giants just don't have a lot of natural righties in their lineup, outside of Buster Posey. Sanchez will start the year on the shelve and it's really anybodies guess as to when he may debut, and until then, the Giants are short one of their better right-handed bats. Left-handed starters have been giving this team trouble all spring, but they've managed OK vs. righties, when all their switch hitters (Melky, Panda, Pagan) hit from their more natural side. It's also a reason why I'd like to see Brett Pill's right-handed stick make this roster, if as a pinch hitter only. He can hit lefties, and the Giants don't have many of those types. Huff and Belt are each left-handed, which leaves the Giants with Posey as the only RH option at first base, so on days when he catches, and they're facing a tough lefty, it sure would be nice to be able to have both Posey and Pill in the lineup. And, if Angel Pagan doesn't turn it on once games start counting for real, then they may be down yet another switch hitter and add another lefty in Gregor Blanco, who's stood out in Cactus League, leading the league in steals, and carrying a tremendous OBP. Marty Lurie and Larry Kruegar, each very in-tuned with the Giants, suggest that the team could make a move before opening day for a Marlon Byrd or Austin Kearns just to get another right-handed thumper onto the roster.

Speaking of roster spots, one guy that know has guaranteed his spot on the roster, and quite possibly the opening day nod at second base. Burris has gotten extensive PT this spring with Sanchez down, and he's responded. Burris is carrying a .353/.421/.490 line through 53 spring at-bats and he's looking like he's really settling in at 2nd. He doesn't lack talent, as he was a supplemental pick in the '06 draft and still has upside at age 26, but this is the year he really has to break through and make his mark. I talked a bit about him a few posts back about his solid 2008, then sophomore slump in 2009, injury in 2010 and mostly rehabbing in the minors in 2011. So this is the bounce back year for him as he's healthy, in shape and is locked in at the place. The move which ensured Burris' stay was the releasing of Mike Fontenot, who was his main competition for time at 2nd in Sanchez's absence. Now it appears all Burris, who's equally comfortable from both sides of the plate and actually was a natural righty coming up, so maybe he'll help out vs. lefties, but the Giants still need right-handed thump. The Giants made it official with Ryan Vogelsong Friday, placing him on the 15-day, enabling him to make his debut for April 15th's tilt. The fact they've yet to do so with Sanchez makes me wonder a bit whether they thing he'll either be ready in a week or 2 (which is doubtful), or he'll likely be out longer than 15 days. Either way, it's good to see Burris getting his chance and thriving, hope to see it carry over.

Matt Cain Watch: Well, the Giants still haven't locked up Matt Cain like they had planned to before the season, and all signs point to negotiations carrying over into the season, and I'm so bored talking and hearing about it that until something good to report comes in, I won't be discussing Cain's contract situation here after this. Cain is so focused that I don't anticipate this being a distraction for him, but it may be for his teammates, not knowing if their horse will be here beyond 2012, or maybe even July. As I've said all offseason, unless Cain and Lincecum are on this team beyond 2014, the Giants' blowing this window of opportunity with the two in-tow will wind up being a colossal mistake. I mean, if Cain leaves them high and dry after the season, the Giants will basically have lost two valuable pitching commodities in as many years (Zack Wheeler) while basically getting nothing out of them. They have to get this guy locked up, whatever it takes. I say 5 years/$110M w/option for 6th year at $25M. That would keep Cain in a Giants uni through his 33rd birthday. It would also give Cain another window to earn another decent payday after those 5 years, as he'd be just 33. In next winters pitching market, he could get 6 years/$150M, easily (which is why he'd be open to seeing what's out there and can you blame him?). Hopefully he never has to go there and the Giants get it done. Heck, I'd even give him $100M for 4 years if he'd take it, and try to back-load it so he gets most of it after Zito's deal expires in 2 years (which is just one year into that proposed deal). Even a 5 YR/$115M would be acceptable in my eyes. Hard to go beyond 5 years with a power arm who's accumulated tons of innings, though, and Cain has said to want 6-7 years. Again, I don't think it's the money that's the holdup, but the years.
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Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 Playoff/Award Predictions

As we always do upon completing our divisional previews here at the Giants Blog, we like to take our guesses as to who wins the league's major awards, including MVP, Cy Young, Batting Champion, HR Champ, Comeback player of the year and Manager of the Year. Then taking our best guess as of late March as to how things will shake out in the playoffs come October.

AL Awards

MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: With the ultimate protector behind him know in Prince Fielder, he'll be seeing a lot more lefties late in ballgames, and much better pitches to hit than when he was being protected by Magglio Ordonez. Probably goes for .340/45/140/1.500 OPS. Runners Up: Albert Pujols, LAA; Josh Hamilton, Tex; Robinson Cano, NYY.

Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia, NY Yankees: The big lefty is in his third season in the Bronx, and they say the third is the charm. I foresee huge things not only for Sabathia, but the rest of the Yankees, as long as they keep their left-sided of their infield healthy. Sabathia could very well make it to 25 wins this year and always has the era around 3 or below and over a K-per-inning to verify his dominance. Runners Up: Jered Weaver, LAA; Justin Verlanded, Det; David Price, TB.

Home Run Champ: Jose Bautista, Toronto: The dude has been on an unbelievable streak since 2010 started, and I don't see it coming to an end any time too soon. AL pitchers just can't get the guy out as he's been compared to a right-handed version of Barry Bonds. With an improved Blue Jays Lineup, He may reach 55 this year, in a park that is equal to pitchers and hitters. If he played in a small yard like in Cinci, Houston or Texas, he'd probably hit 75. Runners Up: Prince Fielder, Det; Mark Teixiera, NYY; Evan Longoria, TB.

Batting Champion: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston: He plays in a hitters yard, in a good lineup and is one of the better selective power guys in the game. He's always around .330 and this year, his 3rd in the AL, should have him around .350. Runners Up: Migeul Cabrera, Det; Michael Young, Tex; Jacoby Ellsbury, Bos.

Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn, Chicago: The Big lefty has hit some mammoth shots this spring, but again is hitting for a low batting average, but I have a hard time seeing him not improve upon his 11 HR and 44 RBI in 2011. He's never been a great average guy, but he should at least be around .240-.250, and will return to the 30 HR category, likely collecting 100 RBI's on the way. He's just to good (very selective) and strong (40 HR per-year in Cinci every year as starter) to have another down year without big production. Runners Up: Kendrys Morales, LAA, Chone Figgins, Sea.

Manager of the Year: Ned Yost, Kansas City: Yost has been a big part of the Royals big leap in the last two seasons, helping players like Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer become instant stars. This year, in a weaker Central division, the Royals look to stand out even more, so much so that an injury here, or a bad break there for Detroit could have them as the default favorites in the Central. Most impressive, perhaps, is that he makes this team competitive with Bruce Chen as it's ace. Runners Up: Mike Scioscia, LAA, Jim Leyland, Det; Bobby Valentine, Bos.

NL Awards

MVP: Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Probably a year to late, as Kemp for all intent and purposes, should have won the award last season. This year, he's talking about his goal being a 50-50 season, which has never been done in baseball before, and I wouldn't put it past him. Maybe not 50-50, but I think another 45-40 year with a good .330 average will again be expected and reached by the 27 year-old center fielder. Don't forget he plays center field at a gold-glove caliber. Runners Up: Hanley Ramirez, Mia; Justin Upton, AZ; Joey Votto, Cin.

Cy Young: Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins: If this guy stays healthy for his full 30 starts, it's hard to find a better arm than Johnson. He's been dominant this spring, showing now ill-effects from the injury, and is throwing in the high-90's with ease and no pain. All this, with an improved Marlins team, could lead to 20 win season and if your looking for a possible sub-2 era, this guy may have the best shot. Runners Up: Clayton Kershaw, LAD; Tim Lincecum, SF; Adam Wainwright, Stl.

Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Was: This kid is going to be a monster when he arrives, and I look at the impact Posey had on the Giants upon his arrival, and see much of the same with Harper. He'll start in the minors, but Washington will want him sooner than later, and even in 400 at-bats, he's got 25-30 HR potential, with speed, good defense and a good average to boot. Runners Up: Yonder Alonso, SD; Drew Pomeranz, Col.

Home Run Champion: Jay Bruce, Cin; Bruce is coming into the year with some quiet hype behind him. He's got raw power and now has a couple of good years under his belt and could be ready to explode. I think 45 homers would be easily reachable in that yard for Bruce. Runners Up: Matt Kemp, LAD; Giancarlo Stanton, Fla; Ryan Braun, Mil.

Batting Champion: Ryan Braun, Mil: Plenty was made of Braun's overturned suspension, which I personally did not agree with, especially with the scrutiny coming with "steroid era". That aside though, Braun can hit. Losing Fielder will hurt a bit, but he's always around .330, so a boost could put him in the catbird seat for this crow. Another guy, like Kemp, who could compete for that triple crown. Runners Up: Matt Kemp, LA; Jose Reyes, Fla, Joey Votto, Cin.

Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, SF; The Giants catcher has looked good and ready this spring and looks like he can't wait until he gets to play on a near daily basis when the season starts. He may take it easy behind to plate initially, maybe catching 3-4 games and playing a game at first with 2 off days per week, to start the year. But once he gets his legs back under him, probably by mid/late-April, look for the production to start piling up. The Giants need him, and I expect him, to put up something close to a .290/22/80 line and playing 135+ games. If he does play in 135+ games, he's going to produce and the Giants lineup will be better, period. Runner Up: Johan Santana, NY

Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, Mia: I don't particularly care for the mouthy manager, but you can't argue with the success he had early with Chicago, and I can easily see that translating in Miami. They have a lot of Latino players on their team and Guillen should have those kids thriving, and despite his reputation as a hard-nosed guy, he really is more of a players manager then most people know. I think he was a perfect fit for Miami. Runners Up: Davey Johnson, Was; Dusty Baker, Cin.

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AL Playoff Results:

Wild Card Round:
Rangers over Red Sox

AL Divisional Round:
Yankees over Rangers
Angels over Tigers

ALCS:
Angels over Yankees (7 games)


NL Playoff Results

Wild Card Round:
D-Backs over Braves

Divisional Round:
Giants over Cardinals
D-Backs over Marlins

NLCS
Giants over D-Backs (7 games)

World Series

Angels over Giants (6 games)
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 MLB Previews: NL West Extended Edition

Well, since it's the Giants home division, I thought I'd stretch each preview out just a bit, including adding the team's set-up man and closer, and giving a little more in-depth scouting report on each club. After all, these are the teams the Giants will be facing for the majority of their games.

NL West Prediction

1st Place, San Francisco Giants

Lineup:
CF Angel Pagan
LF Melky Cabrera
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey
1B Huff/Belt
RF Schierholtz/Huff
2B Freddy Sanchez*
SS Brandon Crawford

* Sanchez may miss up to a month, Burris/Theriot replacing

Rotation/Bullpen
RHP Tim Lincecum
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Ryan Vogelsong
LHP Barry Zito
SU: Sergio Romo
CL: Brian Wilson

If the Giants could just get Freddy Sanchez healthy and on the field, their offense wouldn't be in too bad of shape. However, Pagan has struggled, and may be moved to the bench with Huff to left and Belt, finally, to first. That would place Cabrera in the leadoff spot, but this is the way they'll probably start things (with Burris and Fontenot at 2nd until Freddy returns) and they're hoping Pagan turns it on in April so they have that dynamic duo at the top. Wherever he hits though, I expect another big year out of Melky Cabrera, as good or better than last, and that, coupled with the return of Buster and the likely improvement of Huff and Crawford, should have SF's offense on the upward trend. Their staff is again amongst the top-3 in baseball, from their starters through to their closer, all of their arms bring it, save for Barry Zito on most occasions. Lincecum and Cain should be their dominant selves as the Giants try and get Cain extended (FA after season). Also, Bumgarner should further establish himself as one of the NL's top-5 lefties, and it's a good group. Vogelsong may come back to earth a bit as he did in the 2nd half, but a good 13-15 wins, and a mid-3 ERA would be perfectly fine and acceptable. They boost one of the best set-up men in the game too in Romo, though he's had some elbow issues off and on. As long as they can get some more offense than they did a year ago (hard not to!), then this division should be theirs. Also, Sabean has shown he's not afraid to go out and make an add if he thinks it'll get them over the hump come mid-season.

2nd Place, Arizona Diamondbacks (Wild Card 2)

Lineup:
SS Willie Bloomquist
2B Aaron Hill
RF Justin Upton
C Miguel Montero
CF Chris Young
LF Jason Kubel
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Ryan Roberts

Rotation/Bullpen
RHP Ian Kennedy
RHP Danial Hudson
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Trevor Cahil
RHP Josh Collmenter
SU: David Hernandez
CL: J.J. Putz

*SS Stephen Drew likely out till May/June

It's a real tough choice between Arizona and San Francisco this year, but with the Giants improving offense, and the continued health concerns of one of the D-Backs young cornerstones, leadoff hitter and shortstop, Stephen Drew, make the D-Backs tougher to back for this division. I like their rotation, though their top-3 doesn't sniff SF's, they do have a nice 1-5 overall, and a very good bullpen led by Putz and Hernandez (who was brilliant in Putz's absence last year). However, I don't expect Putz to post another sub-1.00 WHIP again and I expect Kennedy to come back to earth a bit after that 21-4, 2.41 ERA, 2011 season. That said, if that's just a taste of things to come for the young rightie, and youngsters Hudson, Cahill and Collmentar continue to ascend, the Giants better watch out. Even without Drew, the D-Backs have the upper-hand offensively, and if Drew's back by May 15th and 100%, then the D-Backs may again be the ones to beat. Juston Upton is vastly underrated, so much so that I think he's a true MVP-candidate this season. He's the guy I'd choose if I were starting a team from scratch and had the first pick. Maybe not Matt Kemp numbers yet, but not far off! The East with their depth, will get one WC, but the other will come out west, whether it's AZ or SF, barring catastrophic injury, both should be in the postseason. Like Sabes, GM Josh Byrnes is a dealer too and will look to upgrade at short if Drew is indeed down for months, or possibly get better at third.

3rd Place, Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup
SS Dee Gordon
2B Mark Ellis
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
LF Juan Rivera
1B James Loney
3B Juan Uribe
C A.J. Ellis

Rotation/Bullpen
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Chad Billingsley
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Aaron Harang
LHP Chris Capuano
SU: Kenley Jansen
CL: Javy Guerra

Now, if Uribe plays like he did in '10, Ethier like it was '09 and Loney like '07, Juan Rivera like it was '06 and Chad Billingsley like he was anything before 2011, the Dodgers win the west. Odds of all those happening in synch though, are very unlikely. This team, will surprise people though, I think. A rebound for Eithier in his walk year is virtually inevitable, and I think Rivera is a great bargain for 20 HR/80 RBI in that lineup. Gordon is a true specimen at the top as he's hit for power this spring, to go along with mind blowing speed and tremendous defense. He looks like a young Rafael Furcal in a lot of ways. But their prizes are their center fielder Matt Kemp, who again will contend for the MVP, and 2011 Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw. They have an aging pitching staff though, led by two young arms but again, they need Billingsley's ERA back below 4 and him pitching like he can. Lilly should be solid, while Harang and Cap are pretty much your standard 4-5 guys, but still better than a lot of teams have. Their young bullpen is also on the rise, with closer Guerra and the impressive Kenley Jansen. Again, if the Dodgers get some rebound seasons from a few key players and Kemp and Kershaw repeat their 2011's, then they'll be right their with AZ and SF in September.

4th Place, Colorado Rockies

Lineup
CF Dexter Fowler
2B Marco Scutaro
SS Troy Tulowitzki
LF Carlos Gonzalez
RF Michael Cuddyer
1B Todd Helton
C Ramon Hernandez
3B Casey Blake

Rotation/Pen
RHP Jeremy Guthrie
RHP Jholys Chacin
RHP Juan Nicasio
LHP Drew Pomeranz
RHP Guillermo Moscoso
SU: Matt Belisle
CL: Rafael Betancourt

The Rockies, who notoriously field young teams, got quite a bit older this winter. They lost their 29 year-old closer, Huston Street, and replaced him with the 37 year-old, yet effective Betancourt. Also, Helton's another year older, and they added Hernandez (36) and Blake (37) to the starting lineup, two guys on the downside that they're hoping Coors Field will give a kick-start to. As long as "TuLo" and "CarGo" stay on the field though, this team will compete, even with their green-as-grass pitching staff. Their ace is a notorious loser, Jeremy Guthrie, and why they didn't get a better veteran to lead them this offseason, or aren't banging down Roy Oswalt's door, is quite surprising. I like Chacin and Nicasio though, as those two can be electric, but are still inconsistent. Pomeranz is supposed to be a stud, and Moscoso, from what I saw in Oakland, looks like a strong #5. They seem to have the makings there in Denver, but I think they need to finally say good-bye to Helton, ship him to a contender, and get Blake the heck out of the starting lineup. I don't see the upside in playing him whatsoever.

5th Place, San Diego Padres

Lineup
CF Cameron Maybin
2B Orlando Hudson
3B Chase Headley
LF Carlos Quentin*
1B Yonder Alonso
C Nick Hundley
RF Will Venable
SS Jason Bartlett

Rotation/Pen
RHP Tim Stauffer
LHP Cory Luebke
RHP Edison Volquez
LHP Clayton Richard
RHP Dustin Moseley
SU: Andrew Cashner
CL: Huston Street

*Quentin is out until late April/early May

I was a big fan of the deals the Padres made this offseason, acquiring Carlos Quentin, Edison Volquez and Yonder Alonso, all three under-3o years of age and have big upside. This may not mean much for 2012, but going forward, those guys will make a mark. They lost Bell at closer, but replaced him with a more than admirable arm in Street, and set-up man Cashner sported a Romo-like 1.69 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in 2011. The Padres still lack the talent needed to match up with the rest of the division, but if Alonso breaks out with a ROY campaign, Volquez is the 17-win Volquez, and Quentin is in MVP talks, then the Pads will roll, but I just don't see it happening for them this season. They are on the right path though, and Alonso, Headley, Maybin and Hundley (even Quentin if they keep him long-term) give them a bright young core to build around.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 MLB Previews: NL Central

The NL Central lost two of it's bigger stars this offseason, but it really shouldn't change the balance of power in that division too much. It's a division on the rise, but likely won't end up with a Wild Card team.

NL Central Prediction


1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

Lineup
SS Rafael Furcal
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Lance Berkman
3B David Freese
CF Jon Jay
C Yadier Molina
2B Tyler Green

Rotation/Closer
RHP Adam Wainright
RHP Chris Carpentar*
LHP Jamie Garcia
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Jake Westbrook
CL: Jason Motte
*Carpentar out indefinitely to start season (at least 4-8 weeks)

The Cardinals, despite losing Albert Pujols, which is a huge loss, but softened a bit by the addition of Beltran and the likely improvements of youngsters like Jay, Freeze and Allen Craig, who was a postseason hero for them last year. Their pitching staff is a little iffy with Carpentar slated to start the year on the DL, and I could definitely see them make a move for Roy Oswalt if they think it's something serious. The Cards will roll out the impressive rookie Lance Lynn in Carpentar's spot and should be OK in the pitching department if Carpentar were to miss a month or 2. That said, I expect a big rebound out of Furcal, who will play a whole year (presumably) in a hitters yard for the first time in his career. If he's healthy, he'll be a force at the top of the lineup and although he and Beltran aren't spring chickens, they're still smart, good veteran hitters who know the game well. Also, this now puts the spotlight back on Holliday, where he thrived with it in Colorado, and I expect the same type results. A .300/30/100 season is about what I'm expecting. I also like their young bullpen and the young leftie Garcia.

2nd Place, Cincinnati Reds

Lineup
CF Drew Stubbs
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Ryan Ludwick
SS Zack Cozart
C Ryan Hannigan

Rotation/Closer
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Mat Latos
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Mike Leake
LHP Aroldis Chapman
CL: Sean Marshall

The loss of Madson really hurt the depth of this pitching staff, as it could eventually take Chapman, a potential dominant starter and a guy I'm expecting a huge breakout from in 2012, out of the rotation and back in relief. Either way, they need to decide if he closes or starts, and stick with one of them and stop bouncing this kid around. I like the starting idea... They dealt away Edison Volquez and bright youngster Yonder Alonso because they felt Latos would be a good fit in their yard and I agree with them. I think they overpaid a bit to get him, but I think Latos will take over as the team's true ace, even if he doesn't start the opener. The lineup will again put up runs and has good balance of speed and power, youth and veterans and also have a strong bench. With Pujols out the division, the Cards aren't clear cut favorites, so if this staff has a good year and Bruce and Votto each put up years they're capable of while Stubbs gets his average up over .250, then the Reds will be back in the playoffs.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

Lineup
2B Rickie Weeks
CF Nyjer Morgan
LF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Corey Hart
1B Mat Gamel
SS Alex Gonzalez
C Jonathan Lucroy

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

It's a shame the Brewers couldn't keep Fielder, cause it likely would have placed them in the catbird seat of this division for the foreseeable future. They have Braun locked up, they have the good young top-3 starters and great bullpen. They have the speed, power and youth, but they lost that huge left-handed bopper in the middle of the lineup and I just don't think Ramirez will fill the void. He was a nice add as a panic replacement for Fielder, but the only way they make up for his loss on offense is if Gamel plays like he was hyped up to a few years back. This kid was a top prospect for a few years, but never really broke through. I'm a little surprised the Brewers didn't add Carlos Pena, who sat on the Market into February. They could go after Derek Lee, who's still free, but they don't exactly need another right-handed bat.

4th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

Lineup
LF Alex Priesley
RF Jose Tabata
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
1B Garrett Jones
3B Casey McGehee
SS Clint Barmes
C Rod Barajas

Rotation/Closer
RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Erik Bedard
RHP Kevin Corriea
RHP Jason McDonald
RHP Charlie Morton
CL: Joel Hanrahan

The Pirates put together some impressive stretches last season as they, the Brewers and the Cardinals really fought for that Central tittle down to the final weeks. That was a pleasant surprise to Pirate fans who haven't seen a winning club in years, but they lost more than they added this winter, and unless Pedro Alvarez plays like he's supposed to and those two speed-demons at the top of the lineup go crazy in front of McCuthchen, and he gets some protection, then the Pirates are still looking way uphill at the Brewers, Cards and Reds. They have a nice bullpen and are putting together a nice young core, but they should have retained 29 year-old lefty Paul Maholm (3.66 era in 2011). I have a feeling he's going to come back to bite Pittsburgh in the rear, as he was their ace last season and left for a measly one-year deal with Chicago. Their pen, lead by Hanrahan is solid, but they're again, to young and lack enough talent to be winners this season.

5th Place, Chicago Cubs

Lineup
RF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
1B Bryan LaHair
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
3B Ian Stewart

Rotation/Closer
RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Matt Garza
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Chris Volstad
CL: Carlos Marmol

The Cubs are still one of the worst $100M+ payroll team in baseball, as at least the Dodgers have Kemp and Kershaw. The Cubbies are still under the horrendous deals of Soriano and Dempster which combine for nearly $30 million, but if memory serves, Dempster is free after this season, which should give them a little wiggle room. Also, if Spring Training is any indicator, Soriano is in for a big season, as he leads the Cactus League with 6 bombs and a .444 average through 38 at-bats. Spring or not, that's seeing the ball and raking. If he's the 30 HR, .300 average Soriano, that would certainly help. Also LaHair looks like the real deal, Castro is the real deal and Marmol is one of the better young closers in the game, despite last seasons early nightmares.

6th Place, Houston Astros

Lineup
CF Jordan Shafer
2B Jose Altuve
LF J.D. Martinez
1B Carlos Lee
RF Brian Bogusevic
SS Jed Lowrie
3B Jimmy Parades
C Chris Snyder

Rotation/Closer
LHP Wandy Rodrigeuz
RHP Bud Norris
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Jordan Lyles
CL: Brett Myers

I think moving Myers to the closers spot was the best thing the Astros did all year. He simply wasn't getting it done as a starter, despite wicked stuff, so why not let him go all out for just one inning? It should work and if it does, there will be plenty of teams asking for him come July, with his ability to start as well. I don't know why they still have Rodriguez on the roster, but he'll surely be a July casualty as well as he's likely the Astro with the most value outside of the young power rightie, Norris. They have to get two good young prospects for him, one pitcher and one position guy, preferably an infielder where they're ridiculously thin and are using outfielders like Jason Bourgeois at 2nd and 3rd. They need to make a deal with him like San Diego did with Latos and the sooner the better, although teams will be desperate come deadline time.

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Giants Notes: The Giants had their opening day battery working on Monday, as Tim Lincecum threw to Buster Posey, as a final tuneup for the upcoming opener next week! Each Timmy and Buster did fine in the losing effort, and all the talk was about Buster, who seems to really be coming along nicely with no hitches in his rehab. He's still likely to see no more than 4-5 games per week at most behind the plate, at least in the first month of the year, so the backup catching spot(s) will be vital. Also making positive health strides is Giants 4th starter, Ryan Vogelsong, who may actually be in line to make his first scheduled start, which would allow the team to not pitch Zito, or whoever they decide on as the fifth starter, until halfway through April. That too, though, could take a roster spot away from the guy I was hoping would make the squad, Brett Pill. I'm still hoping there's a spot for him, who knows, maybe Zito starts on the DL and throws in the minors as a "rehab" assignment. We'll see, but there's still a bit to determine in this last week of Cactus League play before the team breaks north.
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Monday, March 26, 2012

GBB Interview with "C70 At The Bat"


I was recently approached by a popular Cardinals site, www.cardinal70.com, aka "C70 At The Bat" and a group of us Giants Bloggers answered a few questions for the upcoming season. I thought I'd share that with you guys here and you can click on the link above to view the rest of the article and all the answers from different Giants Bloggers. This was done about a week ago but was edited and just added to their site today!


1) What was your opinion of the team’s offseason?

Trevor Cole: I was hoping they'd be more aggressive towards re-signing Carlos Beltran. After giving up their top prospect for him, they got just 6 weeks of actual playing time out of Beltran, as he missed some time immediately after the deal with a wrist problem. He did finish the year strongly though and I thought the deal he signed with St. Louis should have been matched by San Francisco but Sabean seemed to dismiss the idea of bringing he and Cody Ross back, all the way back in October, despite the fact that both stayed on the market for a long time and there's no reason those two shouldn't have been re-visited. However, I really did like the Melky Cabrera deal. I think this guy is the real deal as he's started his spring terrifically and hopefully can fill up some of the void that Beltran left behind. I wasn't quite as high on the Angel Pagan deal as the Cabrera deal, not because of I don't like Pagan, but I just was hoping the Giants would get a legitimate power hitter to play in the outfield like Carlos Quentin or Josh Willingham to play alongside Cabrera and Schierholtz. Pagan's track record is better than Torres' though, and he's by far superior offensively and a much better base-stealer. Defensively, Torres was very good, and only time will tell if Pagan can match that level. Those were their two big moves, but the two under-the-radar moves that could really pay off for this team was bringing in Ryan Theriot and Gregor Blanco on the cheap.

2) Is Buster Posey fully healthy and what are the expectations for him this year?

TC:Buster has pretty much come full circle since his injury last May, and is starting to catch more and more in Cactus League games. He'll be out there behind the plate on opening day, barring some kind of set-back over the next couple weeks, but theGiants will ease him back into action with him getting some time over at first base early in the year. So to answer the question in a word, yes, Buster is fully healed and ready, but is so important to this team that they'll take every single precaution as they ease him back into his full catching load. My expectations for him this season are high, as he's looked healthy and strong so far this Spring. As long as he can play 140+ games, and stay healthy, I see big things for Buster in what hopefully will be his first full season as a Major Leaguer. I'd expect something similar to his 2010 output with a little more production due to increase in at-bats. A .300 average, 20-25 homers and 85+ RBI should definitely be reachable for the talented backstop as long as he avoids any set-backs or other injuries in 2012.

3) What would be the most pleasant surprise for the coming year, if it happened?

TC:Well, I guess the most pleasant surprise, and the best thing for this team, would be if Brandon Belt hit his way into the starting lineup and became the team's starting left fielder. Aubrey Huff looks primed for a comeback season, which if happens, would limit Belt's time at first, so left field becomes his likely destination if the Giants want him in the lineup on a daily basis. As it stands now, it looks like Cabrera will be in left, Pagan in center and Nate Schierholtz in right, but I've always liked Nate as a 4th outfielder and a versatile guy who can do a bunch of stuff offensively and defensively. If Belt could earn a starting spot in left, it would shift Cabrera over to right, which may not be the best defensive outfield, but would certainly be the best offensive lineup the team could field. Another, more realistic surprise would be if the other Brandon, shortstop Brandon Crawford, actually becomes an asset or at least average rather than the black hole he was at the plate for much of 2011. He's got gold-glove caliber defense, so if his bat keeps him in the lineup, he should win that honor, that's the kind of game-changing defender this kid is. And he's done just that this spring, working hard on his hitting and it's paying off as he's sitting around .400 halfway through the Spring.

4) Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

TC: There are two guys that I think have a chance to make this team at some point this season, depending on how they do in the minors and how the teams is performing at the big league level. The Giants top prospect, speedy outfielder Gary Brown, looks like he's getting very close to being ML ready, and he could become an option in the 2nd half of the season if the Giants need help in the outfield. Also reliever, Heath Hembree, who's the Giants best minor league reliever, should make his major league debut this year, whether it's in April or September, and could serve as an insurance policy in case Brian Wilson's arm troubles aren't yet behind him.

5) Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

TC: I think they finish 2nd in the NL West, but luckily for the Giants, MLB is adding the extra wild-card team in each league, and it's hard to think that the Giants, if healthy, won't finish amongst the top-5 teams in the National League and earn a playoff spot. The thing I'd say I'm most excited about is seeing the return of Buster Posey, and finally getting to watch Buster and Pablo, the Giants' future core positional talent, play together regularly for the first time. Also, I look forward to the new element of speed this team added in Cabrera and Pagan. I think that plays well with the ballpark they play in and should help them manufacture more runs than the their 2011 putout, which ranked last in the National League and the 2nd worst, in terms of runs scored, in all of baseball behind only the Seattle Mariners.

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Note: More bad news on the injury front for the Giants as Eric Surkamp had to be shut down and go see an arm specialist for a throbbing elbow. This is rough for the Giants as Surkamp was out-pitching Zito this spring by a good margin and would have likely made a tough decision for the Giants regarding that spot in the rotation. Zito's era after his last start ballooned up to nearly 7 on the Spring, he's given up 25 hits in 16 innings, 5 of which have left the park, and has walked just a few less than he's struck out. In other words, he's fooling absolutely nobody and again, looks poised for another 5+ era and horrid record should he get a sizable amount of starts. It's even sparked some "Go for Oswalt" chatter amongst Giants faithful across internet boards and bay area sports talk stations. I haven't talked about him much lately, but I mentioned Oswalt earlier before spring as a possible bargain if he doesn't find a home, and he's yet to find a home while the bottom half of the Giants rotation struggles with injury and in-effectiveness. Anyway, losing Surkamp pretty much assures Zito will be the guy to start the year and for a while after. Hopefully Vogey can come back strong quickly and ease the pain somewhat.

*Apologies for the weird font, don't know what happened with the pasting of the interview into the post, but it came out awful weird and won't allow me to post pictures. Anyway, back to normal posting tomorrow!
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 NL East Preview: Plus Giants Going Young?

On we move to the NL East, which, with the Phillies injuries, the Marlins and Nationals potential improvement and the Braves pitching make up one of the more intriguing and deepest divisions in all of baseball.

NL East Preview

First Place, Miami Marlins

Lineup:
SS Jose Reyes
CF Emilio Bonafacio
3B Hanley Ramirez
RF Giancarlo Stanton
LF Logan Morrison
1B Gaby Sanchez
2B Omar Infante
C Joe Buck

Rotation/Closer
RHP Josh Johnson
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Annibal Sanchez
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Carlos Zambrano
CL: Heath Bell

I'm not drinking the Marlin's kool-aid as much as I just don't see Philly being healthy enough, with their team age getting up there and two best hitters starting the year on the DL and missing a substantial chunk of time. That leaves this division wide open early for the Marlins, Braves and Nats and I think Miami will ride the wave of their new-look team, uniforms and new stadium to success. I mean, the lineup has 3 legit MVP-candidates in Stanton, Ramirez and Reyes, and a lot of good young talent surrounding them. Logan Morrison is one of the best young outfielders in the game as well, and that pitching staff has looked dominant this spring with ace Josh Johnson throwing 100% pain-free for the first time in a while! Their bullpen also lacks no depth, as they have an ace closer in Bell and a solid arms leading up to him, though that is an area, like with most teams, that they could improve upon. I look for Big Z to have a bounce back season under Ozzie Guillen and although I don't particularly care for him, I think Guillen can easily win manager of the year with this bunch! Add all that together, with health, and this team will ride the wave of excitement to October!

2nd Place, Atlanta Braves (Wild Card 2)

Lineup
CF Michael Bourn
LF Martin Prado
3B Chipper Jones*
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
1B Freddie Freeman
RF Jason Heyward
SS Tyler Pastornicky (R)

Rotation/Closer
RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Tommy Hanson
RHP Brandon Beachy
LHP Mike Minor
RHP Tim Hudson*
CL: Craig Kimbrel

I even think the Braves enter the year in better position than Philly right now, with their young talent, bullpen and strong rotation. Both Chipper and Hudson will miss the first few weeks of the year, but should both be back by May 1st and Chipper especially, should be motivated for his farewell tour through the league. They are a little left-handed heavy and could have used an upgrade at shortstop, but I expect big things out of Jason Heyward, despite the slow spring, and Freddie Freeman looks like the next in line of great NL First Basemen. And, as I said, that pitching staff is so strong, even with Hudson sidelined, that they should be able to tame just about any offense when they're on, and I'm talking every single arm in that rotation! Then the bullpen, led by the Kimbrel/Venters close-out is one of the toughest to beat in the game.

3rd Place, Philadelphia Phillies

Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley*
RF Hunter Pence
1B Ryan Howard*
CF Shane Victorino
LF John Mayberry
3B Placido Polanco
C Carlos Ruiz

Rotation:
RHP Roy Halladay
LHP Cliff Lee
LHP Cole Hamels
RHP Vance Worley
RHP Joe Blanton
CL: Jonathon Papplebon

*Utley and Howard each expected out until June

The Phils, even with the strong pitching staff still, just don't do it for me this year. Howard is making strides and could be back in May sometime, but this Utley knee thing is something that looks like will stick with him all year, even when he does make his debut. He hasn't played a lick in Cactus League and doesn't even have a timetable, whereas at least Howard will be back by June 1st, barring a big set-back. Only way they gain control of this division early without their 3-4 hitters, will be if their pitching carries them, which is entirely good enough to do so and still has most pundits picking them to win this division. Then if they got Howard back early enough, and Utley soon after, then maybe Philly has enough to overcome the early injuries, but they may need to make another move. It's rare you see a contender do as little as they did this whole offseason, knowing the case with Howard and Utley. They didn't add a left-fielder to replace Ibanez, and there were a lot of options, so Mayberry will be counted on heavily this year. Ty Wiggington will also be a regular with Howard and Utley shelved and Mayberry at first until Howard returns, which places another aging player in the lineup, Juan Pierre in left. Just not good vibes coming out of Philly camp right now, but things could change. They have dominant pitching and it's only spring.

4th Place, Washington Nationals

Lineup:
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos
CF Roger Bernadina

Rotation/Closer
RHP Steven Strasburgh
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Jordan Zimmerman
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP John Lannan
CL: Drew Storen

Now, a lot of people are picking the Nats as this years sleeper in the East, but I'm buying more into Florida. I love the top-3 starters the Nats have lined up, but they have too many question marks for a contending team heading in. They complicated things even more by deciding against starting Bryce Harper in center to start the year, which would have drastically changed the face of their lineup, but instead, we likely won't see the kid until June, as the Nats want to avoid messing with his arbitration years. Still though, this team's top-two hitters combined for a .229 average last season, and that's just not cutting it. The Nats certainly have a bright future, but they're still an offseason away I think from being real players in the East. They also need to get Morse back on first and find one more outfielder to flank Harper along with Werth for the next few years, or find a better first basemen, cause LaRoche barely cut it when he had it going, now he's been down and out for years and I don't expect much from him. I know about the arbitration issue with Harper, but he's a difference maker now and fact is, the Nats aren't fielding their best team to start the year. It may just cost them an early shot to get a leg up while the Phills (Howard, Utley, Holliday struggling) struggle, the Braves heal (Jones and Hudson) and the Marlins get their feet under them with just about everything new about the franchise, from the team name, manager, players, to the stadium they'll play in.

5th Place, New York Mets

Lineup:
CF Andres Torres
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
LF Jason Bay
RF Lucas Duda
C Josh Thole
SS Rueben Tejada

Rotation/Closer
LHP Johan Santana
RHP Jonathan Niese
RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Mike Pelfrey
RHP Dillon Gee
CL: Rank Francisco

The Mets are really in a bad place right now. They have all kinds of money tied up into players that can't stay on the field (Wright, Bay, Santana), but they're hoping that all changes in 2012. They moved in the fences in what was a hitters graveyard to try and bolster Bay and Wright's numbers a bit and give them confidence, but they are a long ways away from contending again and I don't think it would be a bad idea for them to try and cash in on David Wright and turn him into some legit prospects or young players. Even if Santana is the pre-injury Santana, the rest of the rotation is average, and their bullpen is average. Their lineup is average, everything about this team is just average, barring Ike Davis, their lone bright spot. And in the toughest division in the NL, just average leaves you last!

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Giants Could Go Young: Well, as April is quickly approaching, the Giants are running out of time to make key roster decisions as the team gets ready to break north. Still undecided are the backup catchers spot(s), how the infield will shake out with Freddy likely starting on the DL, and who fills out the Giants bench. As I said in our last post, with Vogelsong and Sanchez slated to start the year on the DL, it opens up two roster spots that I assume will assure Manny Burris and Brett Pill's spot on the 25-man roster. The Giants have 9 games before they'd need Vogey back and he should be ready to go by then, but the Giants are at a bit of a crossroads with a lot of players. For instance, Hector Sanchez has had a torrid spring, and likely deserves to make the team to back up Posey, but he's young, green and not quite the defensive rocks that Whiteside and Stewart are. Here, the Giants need to decide whether to go with a clearly superior hitter, and give up some defense, or if they stick with the old, "know what your going to get backups"? For the first time in years, the Giants have a chance to really instill young talent onto the big league roster and I hope they do it. I've said all spring long I'd love to see Pill at second if he could hang there, and certainly like Burris' upside to Fontenot's downside. If Hector Sanchez doesn't cut it as backup catcher, then fine, send him down and bring up Whiteside, but give the kid a shot, it's what they did with Panda when he was begging for one and look how that turned out! Also, nothing new on the Matt Cain contract front, as both parties are still trying to get something done before the season
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Preview: AL West; Giants Notes

On we move to the AL West, where the top two teams, LA and Texas, are legit contenders and expected to make the playoffs. Then there's a large, gaping gap between them and the following two squads in Oakland and Seattle, who again will bottom feed in the division and American League.

AL West Preview


First Place, Los Angeles Angels

Lineup:
SS Erick Aybar
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Albert Pujols
DH Kendrys Morales
RF Torii Hunter
LF Vernon Wells
C Chris Iannetta
3B Alberto Callaspo
CF Peter Bourjos

Rotation/Closer
RHP Jered Weaver
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Ervin Santana
RHP Jerome Williams
CL: Jordan Walden

The Angels made the biggest splash of the offseason by not only inking the market's top hitter in Albert Pujols, but also the markets top LHP in C.J. Wilson, a left-hander this rotation badly needed. This team is so strong that they have guys like Mark Trumbo (runner up for ROY in 2011) and Macier Izturis slated to ride the pine to start the year. They should each see plenty of time though, as this is a deep, talented squad. And if Hunter and Wells each play to their capability, then this just may be the best team in the American League. The one slight question they have surrounds young closer Jordan Walden, who the Angels appeared to have wavering faith in last season. However, there were tons of closers on the FA market this winter and the Angels didn't add any insurance. Scott Downs is coming off a career year as well as set-up, so the Angels appear confident in their late-inning relief.

2nd Place, Texas Rangers (Wild Card 1)

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

Rotation/Closer
RHP Yu Darvish (R)
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Colby Lewis
RHP Neftali Feliz
LHP Matt Harrison
CL: Joe Nathan

The Rangers made the commitment of moving Feliz back to the rotation, where he pitched most of his minor league career, by inking former Giant Joe Nathan to close out games. They also have Alexi Ogando as the kind of, do-all artist, as he could close if Nathan struggles, or move back to the rotation should Feliz hit a bump. The Rangers also have a big question at the top of their rotation in Darvish, who's making his rookie tour through the big leagues this season. He should be good, but I'm not sure he's an ace and that could be asking too much of the 27 year-old in his first season in America. Their rotation has some definite questions, but none that can't be solved, and that lineup just seems to keep getting better and better, so they'll be in the playoffs yet again.

3rd Place, Seattle Mariners

Lineup:
3B Chone Figgins
2B Dustin Ackley
RF Ichiro Suzuki
1B Justin Smoak
LF Mike Carp
DH Jesus Montero
C Miguel Olivo
SS Brendan Ryan
CF Franklin Gutierrez

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Kevin Millwood
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (R)
RHP Blake Beaven
CL: Brandon League

The Mariners made an odd trade this winter that head just about everyone wondering why they didn't get more in dealing bright young starter Michael Pineda to the Yankees for DH Jesus Montero. I mean, they should have at least required Phil Hughes or one of the Yankees young arms in return, but they didn't do that. Anyway, it does improve the offense, but only marginally, and it leaves a rotation that was really setting up as one of the better young ones in the league, with a ton of question marks. Hernandez and Vargas will be fine, but after that, it's a crap-shoot. I do like their bullpen though, led by underrated closer Brandon League.

4th Place, Oakland Athletics

Lineup
2B Jemile Weeks
LF Coco Crisp
CF Yeonis Cespedes
DH Manny Ramirez
1B Brandon Allen
C Kurt Suzuki
RF Seth Smith
SS Cliff Pennington
3B Josh Donaldson (R)

Rotation/Closer
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Bartolo Colon
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Jarrod Parker (R)
LHP Tommy Milone (R)
CL: Grant Balfour

The A's had one of the oddest offseasons I've ever seen a professional sports team go through. Something about Oakland, the Raiders, A's and Warriors always making such bizarre moves. After looking to initially clear payroll, they signed un-proven Yeonis Cespedes to a huge contract and traded for Rockies outfielder Seth Smith. However, they just don't have enough in that lineup, even if Cespedes rocks and wins ROY, and the rotation sorely misses Brett Anderson who hopefully will be ready by May. To make it short and simple, it will surprise me more if Oakland doesn't lose 100 games this season than if they do!

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Giants Notes: Injuries could be forcing the Giants hand regarding the opening day roster. They announced this week that they expect Vogelsong to start the year on the DL and the Giants likely won't carry a starter in his spot as they won't need a 5th starter until the middle of April, so the Giants can ease Vogey back. The 34 year-old did throw an inning in Thursday's game, and looked and felt good, but he's still a ways behind the rest of the rotation. Also, even though he made his debut in the field in a minor league game Saturday (now hearing he didn't play in the field, further questioning his timetable), Freddy Sanchez appears destined to start the year on the DL as well. That opens up two roster spots that will likely go to two youngsters vying to make the team. My guess is that this locks Brett Pill and Manny Burris onto the opening day roster. They also could use one of the openings to carry Hector Sanchez as a third catcher and power bat off the bench, but I think they want him playing everyday in Fresno.... I've also noticed that the Giants have started to use Huff in the outfield more, and with all his major league experience out there, he makes the more logical choice than Belt. Angel Pagan has struggled to get it going this spring and some suggest that the Giants may use Huff in left and shift Cabrera over to center if those struggles carry into the regular season. Anyway, as I said, I think that until Vogey and Sanchez return, it means 25-man roster spots for Pill and Burris and will give them a brief window to make the decision very hard on the Giants when those guys do heal up and return!
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Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL Central

On to what I believe to be the worst division in baseball heading into the year, and also happens to be one of the hardest to pick. Literally, every team in that division is alive, even the Twins have a shot if the stars align and Mauer, Morneau and Liriano all perform and avoid DL-time. Anyway, here's how we see the AL Central shaking out this year:


AL Central Preview


First Place, Detroit Tigers

Lineup:
CF Austin Jackson
RF Brandon Boesch
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
LF Delmon Young
C Alex Avilla
SS Johnny Peralta
DH Don Kelly
2B Ryan Rayburn

Rotation/Closer
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Rick Porcello
LHP Andrew Oliver (R)
CL: Jose Valverde

In perhaps the weakest division in baseball, the Tigers, with two MVP candidates in the lineup and the reigning AL Cy Young award winner atop their rotation look very strong. The Fielder addition was one that should put them over the top in this paper-thin division and look for Fielder and Cabrera to provide one of the best 3-4 punches in the game and the Tigers to have this thing locked up by early September. The only question with them lies at the end of their rotation and with the depth of their bullpen, but both are strong enough in this division to hold off the other teams. When they get to the postseason, that's when they could get exposed.

2nd Place, Kansas City Royals

Lineup:
LF Alex Gordon
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
RF Jeff Francoeur
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Johnny Giavotella
C Bryan Pena
SS Alcides Escobar

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Bruce Chen
RHP Luke Hochevar
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
RHP Luis Mendoza
RHP Felipe Paulino
CL: Jonathan Broxton

The Royals have already suffered a catastrophic loss in young closer Joakim Soria, but they have the young rotation, bullpen, and enough young talent in their everyday lineup to help overcome it and give KC their best team they've seen since the turn of the century! All their young hitters are having strong springs, but there are some questions surrounding their starting rotation, where they have no true ace. Chen will fill that role, and they're hoping Hochevar and Sanchez each pitch to their potentials, which would give KC a strong front-3 even without that true ace. Their closer will likely be Broxton, who if healthy should be just fine in Soria's place. They're still not playoff material yet, but the Royals are rising in a weak division. They should be all over Javier Vazquez and Roy Oswalt!

3rd Place, Chicago White Sox

Lineup:
CF Alejandro De Aza
2B Gordon Beckham
RF Alex Rios
1B Paul Konerko
DH Adam Dunn
SS Alexi Ramirez
3B Brent Morel
LF Dylan Viciedo
C AJ Pierzynski

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Jake Peavy
LHP John Danks
RHP Gavin Floyd
LHP Chris Sale
RHP Phillip Humber
CL: Matt Thornton

The White Sox are banking on just about everybody besides De Aza and Konerko to have bounce-back seasons in 2012, or in some players cases like Morel and Viciedo's, build on 2011's brief success. The guys they need to rebound and hold the key to their success in 2012 are: Dunn, Beckham, Rios and Peavy. If all those guys play like they're capable of, and shown in the past, then the White Sox will be OK. If that doesn't happen, it's going to be another long year on the South Side.

4th Place, Cleveland Indians

Lineup
CF Michael Brantley
LF Grady Sizemore*
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
C Carlos Santana
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Travis Hafner
1B Shelly Duncan
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Jack Hannahan

Rotation/Closer
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Josh Tomlin
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Kevin Slowey
CL: Chris Perez

Injuries to the rotation forced the Indians to add Derek Lowe this offseason, and I think it will wind up being a nice addition to a young staff. Masterson and Jimenez should be solid atop, but Slowey is questionable in the five-slot and could be expendable. They have a under-appreciated closer in Perez, and some very good young pieces in their lineup like Cabrera, Santana and Brantley, but will need Hafner, Choo and Sizemore to avoid major DL time to have any hope of contending. In this division though, an injury here or a hot streak there could really change the shape of things, and it wouldn't surprise me the least of any of these top-4 teams win the division. The one team I'm pretty certain wont win the division...

Fifth Place, Minnesota Twins

Lineup:
CF Denard Span
SS Jamey Carroll
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Josh Willingham
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Danny Valencia
LF Trevor Plouffe
2B Alexi Casilla

Rotation/Closer
RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jason Marquis
RHP Nick Blackburn
CL: Matt Capps

The Twins, out of every team in baseball, are most likely the team every batter would like to face. Their pitching staff, from top to bottom, just isn't that strong and doesn't look to be a whole lot better in 2012. Liriano should be a bit better, but any time a team is trotting out a 9-13 pitcher with a 1.34 ERA on opening day, you know it's in trouble. From Pavano, down through Marquis, Blackburn and even in their closer Capps, these guys just don't scare anyone, don't strike people out and have a hard time getting hitters out in general. Also, their best two hitters, the J.M.'s, are as fragile as they come and need to spend more time on the field than the DL. Those two were batting champion and MVP candidates just 2 years ago, hard to believe they both completely lost it at the same time? But the Twins, for a team with a new yard should be drawing up more hype and spending more money and they just aren't making good decisions.

Giants Notes: As far as the Giants notes go, there really isn't a whole lot new to talk about. Their was some good things going on Thursday though, as both Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson each had outings in a minor league game and looked solid doing so. Wilson is still being babied because of the arm problems he had last season. He's still on target to start the season as the Giants closer and I don't foresee that changing... Still waiting to see how Ryan Vogelsong does though after missing much of the Cactus League so far... And of course, nothing new to report on Freddie, other than it looks inevitable that he starts the year on the DL, opening up another infield spot, most likely for Manny Burris, but I'd expect to see Fontenot out there for the opener.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 MLB Previews: AL East, Plus Cain Notes

It's about that time of year, getting towards the end of Spring, when we like to make our predictions and preview the league for the upcoming baseball season, starting in the AL East and ending at home in the NL West, saving the best for last. Don't worry though, we'll still save some room in the division preview posts for Giants news, including today's topic on Matt Cain's contract situation.

AL EAST PREVIEW

1st Place, New York Yankees

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

Rotation/Closer:
LHP C.C. Sabathia
RHP Michael Pineda
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Andy Pettite
CL: Mariano Rivera

The Yankees again sport one of the premiere offenses in baseball, and should be even better this year with a healthy and motivated ARod. They also deepened their bench by adding Raul Ibanez. However, the biggest move for the Yanks this offseason, their stealing of Michael Pineda from Seattle, should be the one that gets them over the hump and wins them this division!

2nd Place, Boston Red Sox (Wild Card 2)

Lineup:
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Alex Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
LF Carl Crawford*
RF Cody Ross
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Mike Aviles

Rotation/Closer
LHP Jon Lester
RHP Josh Beckett
RHP Clay Buchholtz
RHP Danial Bard
RHP Vincente Padilla
CL: Andrew Bailey

The Red Sox got weaker, in my opinion, this winter after their big offseason last year. Carl Crawford had surgery on his wrist in January and will likely be out till late-April. They also lost star closer Jonathan Papelbon, although they did get a decent replacement in Bailey. Still, their lineup isn't up to New York's standard, and their rotation isn't as strong either. They'll still should be right their battling for one of the 2 wild card spots though!

3rd Place, Tampa Bay Rays

Lineup:
LF Desmond Jennings
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
RF Matt Joyce
DH Luke Scott
SS Sean Rodriguez
C Jose Molina

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

The Rays are another team, much like Boston, that didn't help themselves out a whole lot this winter. They did add Carlos Pena, and they have a surprisingly strong young rotation, but failed to grab a true closer in a market completely stocked with them. That, coupled with their horrid bottom third of the lineup has them looking way up at Boston and New York. However, they have young players who could help push them, like Jennings did in '11.

4th Place, Toronto Blue Jays

Lineup:
SS Yunel Escobar
LF Eric Thames
RF Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
3B Brett Lawrie
DH Edward Encarnacion
CF Colby Rasmus
C J.P Aaroncibia
2B Kelly Johnson

Rotation/Closer:
LHP Rickey Romero
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Henderson Alvarez
RHP Dustin McGowan
CL: Sergio Santos

In any other division in baseball, besides maybe the NL East, the Blue Jays are players. They have a strong young nucleus with good hitters and good young arms, and they have more on the way. They have depth in the bullpen and rotation as well as good young positional players on the rise. Look for them to keep getting better and possibly contenders by the 2013 season!

5th Place, Baltimore Orioles

Lineup:
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
3B Mark Reynolds
C Matt Wieters
LF Nolan Reimold
DH Wilson Betimit
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino

Rotation/Closer:
RHP Tommy Hunter
RHP Jason Hammel
RHP Jake Arrieta
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Chris Tillman
CL: Matt Lindstrom

The Orioles are the same old Orioles, and haven't seemed to figure out how to put together a team since the turn of the decade 12 years back as they've been one of the worst teams of the 2000's. They look like they have a bright future in their rotation with three star prospects, but those guys have been hyped for a few years now and haven't yet broken through, so who knows? All I know, is they're the black sheep of this division and will be lucky to win 70 games.

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Giants Notes: As I said at the top of the post, I wanted to talk a bit about Matt Cain's situation. Apparently, the hometown discount, every Giants fan as well as Giants' management were hoping he'd give the club, can be thrown out the window. Cainer won't be signing a Jered Weaver-type deal that puts him a tad below market value to stay in San Francisco and says that he does want to stay, but at the same time, wouldn't mind testing out the market. As I said with Lincecum back before the locked him up, if they don't get Cain signed long-term, this offseason's approach and failure to add free agents will come back to bite this team in the rear. I'm still holding out hope that Cain gets a deal done before the season starts, but if he doesn't, things will likely stall for a bit, and who knows, if the Giants don't play well, he very well could be dangled out there as bait. The Giants need to figure that if they can't get anything done before the season, chances of getting something done in season aren't likely, and they'd face the very real possibility of entering next offseason with Cain ticketed for free agency. It's been said Cain is seeking a deal closer to the $20M+ range while the Giants were trying to get him on a similar deal Weaver signed, 5 year/$75M. It's something to keep a close eye on over the next couple weeks before opening day.
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Giants Spring Notes: Sanchez Still on Mend

Giants fans who were worried about Freddy Sanchez's health coming into the season are still holding their breath a bit, as Bruce Bochy admitted this week that Freddy still isn't quite where he needs to be health wise.

The Giants manager alluded to Sanchez's hesitancy throwing the ball from second as the one straw holding the former NL batting champ back. So as we enter the second half of the Cactus League schedule, the Giants still haven't been able to put together their expected opening day lineup, all together in the field at once. If you recall, I was worried about this very thing becoming an issue back in January, after it was announced that Sanchez "expects to be ready for the opener". I was thinking that after missing all that time, he'd be 100% by February, but here we are going into late March and he's still having problems. It's one of the reasons I was so pleased with the Ryan Theriot signing, but really wanted the Giants to go after Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston's a good defensive 2nd basemen and is a solid hitter and would have been the ideal utility guy and insurance policy for Sanchez, but Sabean waited to bargain shop and got lucky to end up with Theriot. Still though, Theriot's natural position is shortstop, and putting him at 2nd base would be putting him out of position. The Giants have Brett Pill taking grounders over at third base, but, again not the first time I'm suggesting this, I don't see why they aren't using him more at 2nd base? He's played there during the minor leagues and if he could be manageable at 1st, 2nd, 3rd and left field, it would up his odds of making the opening day roster, something I think needs to happen!

Now, I want Pill on the opening day roster, but Brandon Belt has shown up this Spring and has done exactly what he's had to do to prove he deserves a spot with the big club. He's really closed up that huge hole that was the middle-in half of the plate, and had a very impressive, inside-out jack to left on an inside heater earlier this spring. At the same time, Belt is a guy who needs regular playing time and has to get his at-bats. If he's going to get 10 at-bats a week in the big leagues, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have him rot on the bench when he could be further tuning his game in Fresno. The one advantage that Pill has over Belt is that he is right-handed and offers a counter to the left-handed starting Aubrey Huff. Then again, Boch has made no bones about the fact that Buster Posey will be used regularly at first base, especially early on, and that could be Huff's right-handed counterpart. I guess to make a long story short, we're halfway through spring and the Giants really don't have much resolved. It looks like Buster is right on track to be the opening day catcher as he started again in Friday's game, but other than that, there are still questions surrounding Freddy Sanchez, and just exactly how the Giants bench will break down. There's good battles going at backup catcher, where Hector Sanchez may just hit his way onto the roster, then you got the Pill and Belt decision. It looks like Ryan Theriot, Gregor Blanco and Mike Fontenot are the only guys that have a spot locked in on the roster, though much can change in the next 2 weeks.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vogelsong's Back Healing, Melky Raking

Well, what looked like a temporary set-back for the Giants right-hander has turned into an injury that's nagged him all spring long and kept him out of Cactus League play.

Vogelsong threw a 45-pitch bullpen session Wednesday though, and all reports were positive coming out of it. Vogey apparently threw two sets of about 20 pitches and really impressed Giants brass that were looking on during the workout. It looks like he's close to making his return to rotation, and could start as early as this weekend or early next week, baring any set-backs. That's some positive news for the Giants, who just gave Vogey a two-year contract extension before spring. It looks like he's right back on track to be ready by opening day, I just hope this isn't an injury that becomes a season-long issue. Backs, especially for starting pitchers, can be tricky, and Vogey, while he hasn't accumulated a lot of innings at the big league level, is 34 years old and doesn't have the recovery ability he did 8-10 years ago, so again, there will be plenty of eyes watching the 2011 success story very closely. As far as another Giant making his comeback from injury, Freddy Sanchez, he still hasn't played out in the field in a spring game yet, but he has started at DH, which is a move in the right direction. Sanchez has DH'd in 3 games and accumulated 10 at-bats. I was hoping he'd be able to get in around 50 by opening day, just because he hasn't played in so long, and it looks like that very well may happen. I expect his rehab to intensify in this second half of the Cactus League schedule and I expect to see him out at 2nd base any day now!

Other than that, it has been extremely smooth sailing in Giants camp thus far. Perhaps the two most impressive springs thus far have come from the new outfield additions. Melky Cabrera has looked like a monster at the plate, hitting .481 with 3 HR and 9 RBI in 8 games and 27 at-bats. That's good for a 1.444 OPS as over half of his 13 hits have been for extra-bases. The only area of Cabrera's plate approach that needs a little work is his seductiveness. He's hitting .481 and has a .481 OBP, which means he hasn't taken a single walk this spring yet. One problem with the Giants offense last season was their lack of selectivity and their knack for making quick outs. Now, I've only seen some spring action, so I can't judge whether or not Melky's working counts and just keeps getting good pitches to hit or what, but I'd like to see him take some more pitches! The Giants center fielder, Angel Pagan, while just now getting it going at the plate has looked much better than his reputation as a center fielder coming in. The knock on him was that he didn't get good first steps on balls, but I saw him run down a ball in yesterdays game that even Andres Torres would have had trouble with, so as I suspected, Pagan's defensive "fall-out" rumors appear to be off base. I know he didn't have the best year with New York at the plate or in the field last season, but I think that was an exception, not the norm (he did have injury issues too he was battling through in 2011).

Other than that, Buster Posey's comeback has been slowed a bit, but he's still right on track according to Giants personnel. He's only had 5 at-bats this spring, which is a little surprising as I thought he'd be DH'ing nearly every game he could handle, but that hasn't been the case. Posey's the one guy I haven't yet seen take a live swing in a game yet this spring, so I'm hoping to get that chance at some point this weekend. With Posey still coming along, it's allowed time for other young Giants catchers to burst onto the scene and that they've done! Hector Sanchez and Tommy Joseph, two of the Giants top prospects, have had tremendous springs, combining to go 11-25 with 5 homers and 14 RBI. I know it's just spring, but these are young, 21 and 22 year-old catchers making a large impact. Joseph, who's never played above A-ball, has been especially impressive as he's playing against big league level talent without batting an eye. Sanchez is further proving my suggestion that he be the Giants backup catcher, or needs a spot on the 25-man roster if they carry three catchers. The dude's ridiculous spring, potential bat off the bench and ability to play 1B, should bode well for that.
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Giants' Sunday Spring Training Notes

Well, over the last few days, the Giants have seen the return of all of their key figures that were either battling injury, or recovering from injury coming into the spring. Closer Brian Wilson, who battled elbow problems towards the end of last season and was eased along this spring, made his spring debut Sunday and did so in typical B-Weezy fashion.

The game is still going on as I type this, but it's been such a positive weekend in Giants camp, that I couldn't wait any longer to talk about some of it. Wilson's return Sunday put the icing on the cake, and his outing was nearly flawless, as he got a strike em out, throw em out double play to end the 4th inning on Sunday. Oh yeah, the catcher to gun down Seattle's runner was Buster Posey, as he caught his longest game of the spring yet, going 4 innings before yielding to Chris Stewart. Before Brian Wilson came on and threw his scoreless 4th, the Giants got a very strong outing from Eric Surkamp, who really looks like a different pitcher this spring. He looked like he lost some confidence at the end of last year after his nice start with the Giants after his call-up, but he's picked that confidence right back up and turned in his second solid outing of the spring, throwing 3 strong innings allowing just 1 run on a couple of hits. That's yet another solid sign for the Giants as they are extremely thin as far as their pitching rotation depth is concerned. 1-4 they're as good as anyone, but they have Zito penciled into that 5th spot and no real backup plan besides Surkamp, so it's good to see him on his game and pitching like his minor league track record suggests he should. Again, I've said it plenty of times here before, the guy's path to the big leagues and pitching style really reminds me of Noah Lowry. Remember, Lowry didn't really break into the big leagues and establish himself until he was 25-26 and Surkamp is 25.

Now, as I said, Sunday's game is still in progress, but is now in the fifth inning and the Giants have a 2-1 lead. In this game, and really this whole spring, Gregor Blanco has again impressed, as his speed and ability to get on base has him in the drivers seat to make the roster as the 4th outfielder right now. I liked the deal when the Giants gave him the minor contract in December and thought it was a nice low-risk, potential high-reward signing. Playing a reserve role for Atlanta in 2010, the 28 year-old put up a .283 average and .360 OBP, and the Giants could really use that kind of production off the bench, as he also is quite possibly the fastest guy in Giants camp, outside of Gary Brown. Speaking of impressive springs, Tommy Joseph burst onto the scene in Saturday's split-squad matchup, as the 20 year-old catcher homered twice in the Giants home game vs. Milwaukee. With Posey, Joseph, Hector Sanchez, and 2011 first round draftee Andrew Sussac, the Giants may have baseball's best core of young backstops. Joseph is a guy I'm going to really watch closely this summer, as I ranked him very high in our annual top prospect post back in January. Also having a nice afternoon in the Giants away game vs. the Angels, and continuing his fine spring, was Aubrey Huff, who homered and went 2-3. Huff's strong start has quieted a lot of the demands for starting Brandon Belt at first base. I think Giants fans realize that Huff did have an off year in 2011 and is much more prepared and is certain to improve upon that this season. A motivated Aubrey Huff, like we saw in 2010, is a potential 25-30 HR, 100 RBI producer and that's the Huff the Giants are hoping they get this season and will give him every opportunity early on to do so.
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