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Monday, April 27, 2015

Giants could make big statement in LA

Obviously it's been a bit of an up-and-down first few weeks of the 2015 season for the San Francisco Giants, but they were able to get back on track last week vs. the Dodgers at AT&T Park with a much needed 3-game sweep. They now get LA for another three, this time in Southern California, and their hoping for similar results as they climb their way back towards .500.

Another Big Start for 55
With the rain-out in Sunday's rubber match in Colorado, it pushed Tim Lincecum's start back a night, which I think is a big deal. Not only did Timmy avoid throwing in the light air in Denver where he's been lit up in recent seasons, but this now allows Madison Bumgarner's start to be pushed back from Monday night to Tuesday when he'll be opposed by Clayton Kershaw, a much more reasonable matchup on the Giants end than having Kershaw go up against Vogey. Still, Vogey won't get an easy matchup in the finale as he takes on Zach Greinke, but I think the Giants will take the matchups they've gotten now rather than the ones they were scheduled to have. That being said, it's another big start for number 55, as he opposes Brian Anderson, a guy the Giants were able to rough up last week at AT&T (4 IP, 9 hits, 4 ER). So, with the Giants sitting at 8-11 and the Dodgers at 11-7, another 3-game sweep could bring the Giants to within a game of the their SoCal rivals, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Hopefully Timmy carries over the good vibes from his last outing vs. these very Dodgers, when he threw 6 strong, allowing just a run and 5 hits with 5 punch-outs.

On the other side of things, although they still don't have Hunter Pence back and Casey McGehee grounding into double plays on the regular and hitting just .175, the offense has been holding their own the last few games. One guy who can take a lot of the credit for the teams offense showing some signs of life is new outfielder Justin Maxwell. We mentioned J-Max a few times during spring as a potential right-handed power bat off the bench, but so far in the early going, he's providing much more than that. He's ousted Gregor Blanco from the starting lineup and has entrenched himself into the middle of the Giants order with a .303/.400/.615 slash line through his first 40 at-bats. Now, 40 ab's is hardly a fraction of a seasons worth, but he's come up with some clutch hits and is showing no signs of slowing down. He's big and powerful and can drive the ball out of the ballpark, plus he also plays the heck out of right field. He's making so much noise in fact, that the Giants may be forced with the task of possibly platooning he and Nori Aoki a bit once Hunter Pence does return from the DL.

Maxwell Carrying Offense
Pence's return is still roughly 2 weeks away, but eventually some decisions are going to have to be made, and Justin Maxwell has been about as valuable as any other bat in the lineup thus far. Boch said Sunday in Colorado after the rain-out that Pence's return will not push Maxwell back to a full-time bench role, but opened the possibility of doing sort of a three man rotation in left and center between Maxwell, Aoki and Angel Pagan. I mean, we're three weeks into the season only but between he and Aoki, I'd say the Giants hit on their two bargain outfield free agent pick-ups this winter and together those guys aren't even making $7M. In any event, having a jam-packed outfield is hardly a problem Bochy is fretting about. It's been a while since the Giants had the kind of depth they seem to have put together this season as Maxwell has filled in for Pence with flying colors and Matt Duffy has eased some of the pain of Casey McGehee's struggles.

Extras: On a medical note, Matt Cain, who hasn't thrown in a big league regular season game since last July, will give it another go as he'll begin to throw again over the next week. At this point, I'm not sure what the Giants are expecting out of Cainer, but I do fear that Tommy John may be inevitable and if that's the case and they want him back for any of hte 2016 season than that decision has to be made sooner than later. I just have a bad feeling with Matty right now and fear that we may not see him on the field for quite some time. Boy how I hope I'm wrong and he's back in the rotation by the end of May, but something still feels off with the former horse of this staff.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hunter Pence is on his way back, and should most certainly be back with the big league squad within two weeks, if all goes as planned. He's been able to stay in shape and on his feet, but his biggest obstacle will be getting his timing down at the plate. He didn't have but a handful of at-bats in March and will likely need at least a weeks worth of rehab games in Sacremento, I'm guessing... Jake Peavy, out with back spasms will hopefully be back, healthy and ready to go when he's eligible to come off next week.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Giants still searching for clutch hits

Well, much like the issue in San Diego, the Giants were again unable to get any kind of scoring going against the Rockies number 4 starter.

The Giants managed  to get 12 guys on base throughout the game, but the problem with that is that only 5 of those guys got on via base hit. That just gives you an idea of how tough it is for this team to come by hits right now, which with their lack of power is crucial. That's how you get 12 base-runners and don't score, you simply don't hit. Angel Pagan, who I admit I still like in the three spot, really failed miserably today, leaving 5 guys on base including once with the bases jammed. Also, Gregor Blanco, who for some reason was hitting 6th instead of Matt Duffy, left three runners stranded. They applied the pressure but just could cash in when need be, and that's a worrisome trend here early on in the season. I know it's gonna help a lot to get McGehee and Pence back eventually here but the concern coming into the season has clearly been the issue through the first 8 games.

On the other side of the coin, once again Chris Heston was very strong. The newly-turned 27 year-old right-hander yielded 7 hits, 2 walks and just 2 runs along with 5 punch-outs over 7 innings. Another quality, plus start for Heston, who got the tough luck loss, but you can obviously see why the Giants are so high on the right-hander. He's always posted respectable, yet underwhelming numbers in the minors, but had great spring and now has an 0.69 ERA over 13 innings pitched, allowing 10 hits, 4 walks and has struck out 10 batters. Obviously a small sample size of just two starts, but he's out-pitched even MadBum thus far, and looks like he's a guy who may be here to stay. The Giants have been pretty hush hush on exactly when Cain is set to come back, but something tells me we could see someone else (Jake Peavy could be a candidate if he can't get things going here in his next few outings). You'd have to assume Cain is going to need a rehab assignment, and that hasn't even been brought up yet so we can only hope for an April debut from their horse. Heston's performance will allow them to take it cautiously with Cainer, but they need that guy back out there and helping this team.

It's tough, but like I said in our previous post earlier today (or yesterday at this point I guess), they're going to put it together sooner or later and be better than the 3-5 start they've gotten of to. I don't know if this team, as is, is a playoff level team unless, Although that changes if Sabean adds the right piece or two at the deadline. However, I do think they're a +.500 team, as is, and should be winning at least slightly more than they lose, not the other way around.

Josh Hamilton: Worth the Risk? I don't know how many of you guys have been paying attention to the Josh Hamilton situation, but I feel like the way the Angels are handling it is terrible. The outfielder obviously has an illness and something that will be a life long issue, and he did the right thing in going to MLB for help, and now Arte Moreno and Co. are punishing him for it, removing his locker from the home clubhouse for the opener and openly trying to get out of the remaining $83M Hamilton is due over the next three seasons (even though if they do deal him, they'll have to eat maybe half of that salary). With that said, the guy is 34 years old and if he can get his shoulder right and his offseason slip-up is behind him, he's still an offensive force and perennial all-star with MVP capabilities... Anyway, it probably has about a .01% chance of happening, but how cool would that be to see Josh Hamilton in a Giants uni in Left Field!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, April 13, 2015

Giants hoping for some home healing

The 2015 season started just like the 2014 postseason ended, with Madison Bumgarner leading the squad over Arizona. However, since that opening day win, the Giants are just 2-4, and are hoping that coming home will cure some of their woes.

One of the issues that have haunted this team early have been nagging injuries. On the plus side, they did finally get Brandon Belt back for the first time since opening day on Sunday, however Casey McGehee went down with a knee strain on Saturday, so the Giants still won't be at full strength for Monday's opener. What the Giants need to do on this homestand is get their guys back. Hopefully Belt is back for good now, and McGehee's knee bruise will keep him down no more than another game or two, but there hasn't been much chatter on Hunter Pence, who was striving to be ready by the end of the team's first homestand, but that doesn't appear likely at this point. At the very least though, they should have their opening day lineup back in-tact at least within a few days. That is, of course, if they avoid anyone else going down which at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Aoki .400/.455/.467 Wk. 1
Now, in terms of assessing the team's performance after that first road trip, obviously things could have gone better than 3-4, but based on how poorly the team's starting pitching continues to look, they're lucky it's not worse. 2 of those losses were 1-run games too, which easily could have gone the other way and had them at 5-2 coming into Monday's home opener, but that's baseball. The bats looked pretty good in Arizona, but definitely cooled off in San Diego, where they only scraped together 7 runs over the 4-game set. Getting on the board early needs to be a priority for them to take some pressure off the starters right now. Unfortunately, not too many guys are swinging a hot bat right now and one of the guys that was off to a nice start, McGehee, won't be out there today. Nori Aoki (.400) has been a stud in the leadoff spot and Buster Posey and Angel Pagan are each north of .290, but everyone else in that lineup is down around .200. I'd like to see Joe Panik get hot again, as he's been quiet since his 3-hit opener, plus Brandon Belt needs to make his presence felt ASAP. Without Pence out there, the Giants middle part of their order is much less imposing, so each of those guys need to step it up until Hunter gets back.

I think coming home will be a nice boost for the club. They are facing a team off to a great start in Colorado, but Chris Heston is coming off a brilliant outing in Arizona and I think he's ready for his Home Opening assignment and hopefully those bats can get a shot in the arm back in front of their home crowd. I know things haven't started out terrifically, and people were plenty skeptical of the team coming in already, but all it's gonna take is them pitching up to their capabilities and getting a few more guys going in that lineup for them to shift this thing into the proper direction. Again, a few different bounces this last week and we're looking at a 5-2 start.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Bumgarner, Pagan Lead Giants in Opener

Just like they did the last time they took the field for a meaningful game, the Giants walked away with a tight, one-run victory. They ended up jumping out to an early lead and beating the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona at Chase Field, 5-4, in a tight ballgame that came down to Casilla fanning Goldschmidt for the final out.

It was a little different out there without Hunter Pence, and seeing seeing a face at third base other than Pablo Sandoval for the first time since 2008 when Jose Castillo opened the year at the "hot corner". Also new was a the leadoff man, Nori Aoki. New or old, most all worked out for the Giants on Monday night, starting with Madison Bumgarner. The Giants' ace, while not quite as dominant with the strikeout, picked right up where he left off last fall, with 7 strong, allowing one run on 6 hits along with a walk and 3 strikeouts. So it wasn't necessarily the lights out start by MadBum numbers wise, but you could just feel that he had control of the game out there. His strong start helped set the tone and allow enough room for error in the Giants bullpen, which they ended up needing. Jean Machi and Sergio Romo had Giants fans nervous there in the 8th inning allowing a 5-1 game to become a 5-4 game, but Jeremy Affeldt came in and managed to strand the tying run at second. Then, in typical Santiago Casilla fashion shut the door down 1-2-3 in the ninth, including a 3-2 strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt to end the ballgame.

So, outside of Jean Machi and, to a lesser extent, Sergio Romo getting slapped around a bit, there really weren't any complaints in the pitching department, as everyone did their job (although Javier Lopez failed to get Ender Inciarte and was charged with that run). On the offensive side of things, the Giants did exactly what they'll need to do in order to be successful, especially while Hunter Pence is out. They made the Josh Collmenter work, not offering at every single pitch even though they were playing on a nice night in a hitter friendly yard. Just looking at the newcomers games', Nori Aoki looked like a natural fit for the Giants in the leadoff spot, taking pitches and putting the ball in play in all 5 plate appearances, going 2-5 with a run scored. Casey McGehee meanwhile, reached base 3 times in 4 plate appearances, going 2-3 with a walk and run scored. One bat in particular really stood out to me was the one he had fifth when there was a runner on third base with two out and he took a walk. Brandon Crawford followed that up with a 2-out, 2-run double that ended up being the difference in the game. All I thought to myself was that Pablo would have never taken a walk in that situation. It showed me that while the Giants lost a lot of production in Morse and Sandoval, they gained two professional hitters that are far more polished in the strike zone than the recently departed.

As far as the returnees, all but Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco got in on the action, and Buster Posey only went 0-4 although he did drive in a run with a sac-fly. The fact the Giants were able to put up five runs while getting very little out of their 4 and 5 hitters is very encouraging. The reason being, the top of the order was so darn successful. Between Aoki, Panik and Pagan they combined for an 8 for14 night with 4 runs scored and 3 extra-base hits. I was a huge advocate for hitting Pagan third, dating back to the day they signed Aoki, and it showed why today. I already mentioned how right Aoki looks in the leadoff spot, and while Pagan is no slouch as a leadoff man himself, he's got the ability to be a solid number 3 hitter. It makes sense for the Giants to try because if that's the case it stretches this lineup out nicely. Plus, all Pagan did on day one in his new spot was go 3-4 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI and a run scored. He may not be a prototypical three-hitter from a power standpoint, but think along the lines of Jacoby Ellsbury. Not saying Pagan is at that level and will steal 40 bags, but outside of that I don't think the two are that far apart. If he hit 3rd all year, a .285/12/70/.775 line with 20+ swipes is within reach and would be just fine in front of Posey, Pence and Belt..

All in all, in terms of the game, I really liked what I saw. I didn't like how the D-Backs nearly erased a 4-run lead in a matter of minutes but that's what happens in a place like Chase Field sometimes. However, the Giants' worries were off the field before the game. News surfaced before Monday's opener that Matt Cain is experiencing forearm tightness, which had everyone worried about those three little words that are a pitchers nightmare: Tommy John Surgery. Now, the Giants hope that's not the case, and did get some encouraging news later on Monday evening, but nonetheless, Cainer seems destined for yet another DL-stint with a flexor-tendon strain. Best case scenario is Cain is back in the rotation wihin two weeks. That said, I doubt the Giants will trot him out there until they're certain he's not in danger of aggravating anything. They have too much invested in him that an extra week or two is well worth avoiding a possible season-ending issues.

Notes: Matt Cain isn't the only Giants' starter battling injury issues, as Jake Peavy's back has pushed his season debut back to at least this weekend and he too could be destined for a DL-trip should he not be ready by then. We all knew the Giants were going to need Ryan Vogelsong and/or Yusmiero Petit at some point this year, but I don't think anyone expected to need them both to start the year. I sure didn't. I think the Giants may as well take the safe route and just let Petit and Vogey make a couple starts for Cain and Peavy to start the year. Why not? It's not like Peavy and Cain were lighting the Cactus League on fire or anything... Boy would this be the year of all years for Tim Lincecum to redefine his career. Imagine if Timmy all the sudden was 2009 Timmy again. That's what opening day does, poses endless possibilies, although I highly doubt the latter is realistic...

Also, another little piece MLB news hit the wire Monday as Carlos Quentin was DFA'd by Atlanta before even suiting up for a single game, making him available via trade and then possibly free-agency. I don't know what his health situation is like right now, but he did have 40 spring at-bats and at least appears healthy. I remember posting about him possibly fitting a Pat Burell-type role after the Padres stocked their outfield, but of course only if it's low-risk and Atlanta eats 80/90% of  his $8M salary. The only thing is I don't know about his attitude and if he'd have a problem coming off the bench. This is a guy who was on pace for 25-30 HR/90 RBI seasons in both 2012 and 2013 before injuries wiped out half of each season and is a two-time all-star still with plenty left at just 32 years old... Just food for thought on a guy very attainable right now.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, April 06, 2015

2015 Giants Roster and Player Predictions

Well folks, the 2015 MLB season is finally upon us, and the Giants have set their opening day roster with their first game vs. Arizona just moments from getting started. Here is there projected lineup (including Pence, with player predictions) along with the starting rotation and bullpen and bench (with player predictions for the starting rotation only).

CF Nori Aoki: .294 avg, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 89 Runs, 13 3B, 21 SB, .727 OPS
2B Joe Panik: .267, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 74 R, 28 2B, .695 OPS
CF Angel Pagan: .281, 10 HR, 64 RBI, 72 R, 18 SB, .741 OPS
C  Buster Posey: .318, 24 HR, 95 RBI, 78 R, 35 2B, .929 OPS
RF Hunter Pence: .276, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 72 R, 19 SB, .858 OPS
1B Brandon Belt: .286, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 69 R, 13 SB, .804 OPS
3B Casey McGehee: .285, 10 HR, 73 RBI, 61 R, 36 2B, .727 OPS
SS Brandon Crawford: .253, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 56 R, 29 2B, .688 OPS

LHP Madison Bumgarner: 219 IP, 3.02 ERA, 211/46 K:BB ratio, 1.07 WHIP
RHP Tim Hudson: 185 IP, 3.87 ERA, 123/42 K:BB, 1.22 WHIP
RHP Matt Cain*: 165 IP, 4.14 ERA, 147/68 K:BB, 1.18 WHIP
RHP Jake Peavy*: 178 IP, 4.02 ERA, 159/49 K:BB, 1.29 WHIP
RHP Tim Lincecum: 157 IP, 4.54 ERA, 160/76 K:BB, 1.34 WHIP
*Cain/Peavy will start year on 15-day DL or miss at least their first starts of the year but Peavy avoided the DL and Cain is expected back before end of April.

RHP Ryan Vogelsong
RHP Yusmiero Petit
RHP George Kontos
RHP Jean Machi
LHP Jeremy Affeldt
LHP Javier Lopez
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Santiago Casilla

C Hector Sanchez
IF Matt Duffy
IF Joaquin Arias
OF Justin Maxwell
OF Gregor Blanco* (will be in lineup until Pence is back at which time I expect Kontos to be sent down)

So there you have it! Your 2015 San Francisco Giants and the 25 guys they're set to defend their tittle with. Obviously there's some major question marks all over with this club, mainly in the starting staff, an area which has been pretty well locked down over the last 6-7 years. Huddy and Peavy are both battling aging/in-effectiveness issues that bit them hard in October, but the real concern here and the guy they really need to be himself is Matt Cain. There is a major scare with the right-hander right now with his opening start on Wednesday up for question as he's experiencing tightness in his forearm. Apparently he's having some symptoms that have previously led to Tommy John Surgery for many pitchers, so all we can really do as fans is cross our fingers and just hope it's some cramping or some slight strain or something. With Vogey and Petit waiting in the wings, the Giants will have options, but if Matt Cain needs Tommy John, it's going to be a major, major blow to this team.

Then there are the offensive question marks, where the Giants have very little power, and not a single player who hit over .300 last season. Now, they've proven able to win without having huge thumpers up and down their lineup, but they've always had more power than they do with this team so I have a feeling Sabes is going to do all in his power to find that big offensive bat in July if need be. On the positive side, a full year out of Brandon Belt could yield some very fruitful results, and could help make up some of the lost run production from Pablo and Michael Morse. They also will have a second basemen for the full season and are expecting both he and Crawford to improve further at the plate. So they do have some guys who are still improving, but for the most part, they just need everyone to stay on the field in order for them to have any hope at retaining their spot atop the baseball world.
The Giants Baseball Blog

MLB Award Predictions

Now this is where we really get to have our fun as we go through each major award for each league and then pick the batting tittle winner, home run winner and ERA leaders for each league. And yes, although we're halfway through opening day by the time this gets posted, we have taken no stats from the few games played thus far into account. So, here are the guys we think will take home the individual hardware at the end of the 2015 season.

American League Awards

AL MVP: Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle: I think year two is going to be the year Cano pays off big time in Seattle, and with Nelson Cruz now giving him some protection. He may not hit 30 home runs but he'll still hit his 20+ and could hit .350 in that spacious yard. I don't think anyone else is picking him, that I've seen yet at least, but I think he's a forgotten man on a team that should be very competitive in 2015 against a division with some of the lesser pitching staffs in baseball (Texas and Houston especially). (Runner-ups: 1B Jose Abreu, OF Michael Brantley, OF Mike Trout, RF Jose Bautista)

AL Cy Young: David Price, LHP, Detroit: I just see him thriving with that supporting cast and throwing half his games in spacious Comerica Park. He struck out 270 batters last year and I think he's in position to improve on that incredible 2012 season he had so long as he stays healthy and on track. And though the division is improving drastically, throwing in the Central still is preferable to pitching in the AL East, so he'll have that going for him to. I just can't wait to see him for a full year outside of that joke of a Major League stadium that is Tropicana Field. (Runner-ups: LHP Chris Sale, RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Yordano Ventura, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Sonny Gray)

AL R.O.Y.: Rusney Castillo, OF, Boston: He's not going to start the year in the bigs, but he's expected up sooner than later and the Red Sox are going to give him a shot cause they paid him handsomely. This is a tough one to pick though cause so many top choices are starting in the minors (Runner-up: OF Steven Souza, P Carlos Rondon, OF Dalton Pompey)

AL Comeback P.O.Y.: Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas: So long as Prince stays healthy, he's going to put up monstrous numbers in Texas. He's looked as good as ever this spring and appears hungry to regain his status as one of the premiere first basemen in baseball.

AL HR Leader: Jose Abreu, Chicago
AL Batting Champion: Robinson Cano, Seattle
AL ERA Champion: Felix Hernandez, Seattle
AL Strikeout Champion: Corey Kluber, Cleveland

National League Awards

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami: I think this is the year for Stanton. Had he not missed the last month of 2014 may have hit 45+ with 115 RBI or more. Plus he's just 25, can run and hit for average along with that mammoth power. Plus I think the Marlins are going to make some noise in 2015. (Runner-up: Yasiel Puig, Andrew McCutchen,  Buster Posey, Byrce Harper, Matt Kemp)

NL CY Young: Johnny Cueto, RHP,  Cincinatti: Cueto has really found his grove the last couple of seasons and I think if he puts up another 20-win campaign with an ERA in the 2's and plus-200 strikeouts, I think it could be his year (Runner-up: Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Zach Grienke)

NL R.O.Y.: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago: The only guy I think can push him is Joc Peterson. The NL does have some other impressive rookies coming up this year too, but Bryant is a guy who could be in MVP talks had he started the year in the bigs. (Runner-up: Peterson, Jorge Soler, Yasmany Tomas)

NL Comeback POY: Matt Harvey, RHP, New York: He didn't throw a pitch in 2014, but you probably couldn't tell by how he threw this spring. Looks as good as ever, maybe even better, heading into the year and should be the clear-cut favorite here if he stays on the field. (Runner-up: Brett Anderson, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Gonzalez)

NL HR Leader: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
NL Batting Champion: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
NL ERA Champion: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
NL Strikeout Champion: Max Scherzer, Washington
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 05, 2015

2015 MLB Playoff Predictions

I know the season has just got underway, but we had our playoff tree and awards already picked out long before the first pitch was thrown and were not swayed by any of the couple of games that have taken place so far.

This is how we see this October playing out, hopefully I'm wrong and the Giants are included, but here's what we have entering the year:

MLB Playoffs

American League:

Wild Card Game: Indians over Orioles

Mariners over Indians
Tigers over Red Sox

Tigers over Mariners (6 games)

National League:

Wild Card: Padres over Marlins

Nationals over Padres
Dodgers over Cardinals

NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers (6 games)

Nationals over Tigers (7 games)

The Nationals just have it all. If they don't set records with that rotation this year I'd be quite surprised. They have the lineup, they have speed power and depth and with the addition of Max Scherzer, now sport the best rotation in the planet and basically throw three true legit aces at you in Strasburgh, Scherzer and Z-Man. They're set up beautifully for a playoff series and I think they're gonna be tough to get through with that bunch of arms and those hitters. While the Dodgers, Padres and Cardinals do come close to matching up with them, talent wise and on paper, but I think they clearly have the edge with those five very good-to-great starting pitching. Over in the AL things are a little tighter knit. I really do like Seattle this year with their growing home-grown talent mixed with a few huge free agent signings, but the Tigers almost have the offensive equivalent to Washington's rotation, and their own rotation isn't too shabby themselves whatsoever. They have two closers now too, so they can keep Joe Nathan fresh for the stretch run. They have it all, power, speed, defense, pitching and if Verlander can put things back together eventually this season, they're clear-cut favorites. Seattle, Boston (should they figure out their rotation), KC, Baltimore and possibly even every one's "Cinderella" pick from the AL, Cleveland, could all be right in the mix should Detroit suffer some major injuries/bad luck.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, April 04, 2015

2015 MLB Previews: NL West

Finally, onto the division that really matters. What in the world is going to happen in the NL West in 2015 you say?

It's a tough division to pick as all have question marks heading in. Will the Giants make up for the loss of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse (plus Pence for the first couple weeks of the year) on offense and will that rotation stay healthy and effective all year long. With LA, they still have some issues with their outfield, where Andre Either seems the odd man out and isn't happy about it. They also will be without closer Kenley Jansen through at least April and Hyun Jin-Ryu for perhaps the season (which could sway some momentum). Then there's new-kid-on-the-block Padres who added a lot of talent, but they have so many new faces and what not it's going to be a challenge for all of them to come together. The top-three teams are all right there, neck-'n-neck and going to be in it till the very end (barring major injury to one of them). Here's how we over at GBB see the West breaking down in 2015:


1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig Ready to Make MVP-Run

SS Jimmy Rollins
RF Yasiel Puig
CF Joc Peterson (R)
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Howie Kendrick
C Yasmani Grandal
3B Juan Uribe
LF Carl Crawford/Andre Ethier

LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zach Grienke
LHP Brett  Anderson
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Chad Gaudin/LH Hyun-Jin Ryu*
SU: RH Juan Nicasio
CL: RH Kenley Jansen*
*Jansen out at least first month of season; Ryu still undetermined timetable, out at least 1-2 months possibly 4-6

Key Reserves: OF Scott Van Slyke, IF Justin Turner, OF Andre Ethier

I see them getting off to a bit of a slow start, but once everyone is back, I'm a bit afraid they're gonna sky-rocket. I originally was thinking of placing them third when Ryu's injury was first reported as a possible year-ender, but apparently the Dodgers believe his absence will be closer to a weeks rather than months. Plus, if Jansen (who's already making significant progress and said to be ahead of schedule) is back when he's expected at the start of next month, they shouldn't miss a beat. Now if they don't get Jansen and Ryu back by May, things could shuffle a bit for sure.

There is nobody better than their 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Grienke at the top, but Brett Anderson's never pitched anywhere close to a full big league season in over half a decade and McCarthy's posted ERA's of 4.73 and 5.33 over last two seasons in the NL West though he did look dominant at times in 2014. The one area that really scares me though is that the Dodgers now have some actual leadership in the clubhouse outside of the coaching staff (something sorely lacking there the last few seasons). Kendrick and J-Roll may not be quite the offensive threats they were 5 years ago, but they're still more than adequate and should play huge roles in the clubhouse. No doubt, those guys aren't going to make up the offense they lost in losing Kemp, Gordon and HanRam, but the Dodgers believe young guys like Puig and Peterson are ready to be stars while J-Roll and Kendrick are still no slouches at the dish.

I like Puig's game and abilities probably two-times more than I hate his antics, which is really saying something (he's gonna be right in the thick of the MVP race), and Joc Peterson's a stud and if he's the next Mike Trout like everyone in SoCal is hyping him to be, that 1-5 is going to be sick and the Dodgers are going to be better off without those departed starts. Even that bottom won't be too shabby if Crawford and/or Ethier lock down a spot and have a nice healthy year.

It's really gonna come down to their pitching, which outside of Kershaw and Grienke (which is the best 1-2 punch in the game) things take a mighty fall and that bullpen has questions up and down the line too. Just too much going on in LA with injuries and question marks right now. If they would have come in healthy, they would have been favorites. Rollins, Kendrick and McCarthy are all proven vets with big clubhouse presences that will bring much needed leadership. If, of course, Ryu and Jansen are both back May 1st and everyone, for the most part, stays healthy then move them ahead of both SF and even the revamped Padres and it's not even close (on paper that is, they'll still have to prove it). Just because of that pitching front end and guys like Puig, Peterson and Gonzo, they still have the most impacting talent in the division. If I were them though, I'd try and showcase Ethier and flip him for some starting pitching depth. We all know they'll get one if they really need one eventually so count on it. Plus, I think Justin Turner may be a better daily option at third at this point should 36 year-old Juan Uribe continue to slow down this year (0 HR, .535 OPS in 50 spring AB's) although he did hit .311 last summer. At the least, Turner provides one of the better utility infielders in the game and, again, Ethier is a starting outfielder and 2-6 hitter one half the lineups in baseball, or more. Certainly the Giants'. With Scott Van Slyke and A.J. Ellis, these guys have depth out their rear-end, just adding to their toughness over a full season.

Their pitching can be great and they have more offense than the Giants and Padres, if healthy. As much as I wanna throw up to write it, if things go as planned for them, they should be the division winners.

2nd Place, San Diego Padres *NL WILD CARD*

Kemp Back in the Elite Class
CF Wil Myers
1B Yonder Alonso
RF Matt Kemp
LF Justin Upton
3B Wil Middlebrooks
2B Jedd Gyorko
C Derek Norris
SS Alexi Amarista

RHP James Shields
RHP Andrew Cashner
RHP Tyson Ross
RHP Ian Kennedy
RHP Brandon Morrow/*Josh Johnson
SU: Joaquin Benoit
CL: Craig Kimbrel
*Johnson recovering from TJ Surgery, out until roughly mid-season

Key Reserves: OF's Melvin Upton, Wil Venable, IF Wil Middlebrooks/Solarte

I was originally on the fence, but when I typed this I had the Giants finishing second and the second wild card team in the NL. However, after the Pads just went out and got Craig Kimbrel to now give them one of the best bullpens to go along with that strong starting five on the eve of opening day, it made my mind up for me. I can definitely see Bud Black working with this group of talent now. To me, this division is still going to be three-team race between the Pads, Giants and Dodgers but of all the teams in the NL West this off-season, I like what the Pads have done most, by far. For the Padres to take it though, they're gonna need to come together as a team early with all the new faces and have their new additions all perform up to their capabilities. So far, so good in spring, but spring is only spring, so lets see how things go when things start counting for real. The one issues with them is they have questions surrounding guys not in their outfield and their defense could hold them down a bit. Again though, love their new outfield and like the young core they have and the tremendous depth they've assembled (much deeper than LA and SF). Justin Upton and Matt Kemp are both very much in the prime of their careers and capable of breaking off MVP campaigns and both have incentive as Upton is a pending free agent and Kemp wants to show last seasons comeback was just the beginning. Then there's Wil Myers (former BA #1 prospect) who many expect this to be the year he breaks out and puts it all together being his third full year in the league, he just has to stay healthy.

The other Wil, Middlebrooks, also has huge potential and is entering his fourth year in the league. He had that great rookie half year in '12 (15/54/.288//.835) then still hit 17 jacks in '13 in just 94 games, although it came with a .227 average. Last year was his worst by far as he battled injury again and went just 2/15/.191/.522. If he's healthy though, he's gonna be counted on to protect Upton, especially if Gyorko struggles out of the gate again..

*(Note, this was written before Kimbrel trade)*
They have a nice young pitching rotation that acquired themselves a true ace in James Shields and have developed a true #2 in Andrew Cashner. Ross (13 W, 2.81 ERA) and Kennedy (13 W, 3.63 ERA 200 IP , 207 K) aren't too shabby themselves and will be three and four starters in this rotation. As always, like death and taxes, you can count on the Padres pen being solid again too, although they don't have the star power they've had in the past. Now without Huston Street,  Benoit will be full-time door-slammer and may even be a better closer anyway (based on his numbers over the last two seasons). They also have Corey Leubke, who was the talk of San Diego just two years ago when he was in his groove as a starter, who they expect back from TJ Surgery around mid-season too. Even if Johnson and Leubke don't come back strong, the Pads are gonna be tough, but if they do come back strong, look out! A few of their key hitters (Alonso, Gyorko, Myers) are coming off down seasons though, and if some of those guys and/or others struggle in that lineup and Kennedy and Ross each pitch like '12 and '13 instead of '14, they'll easily be leapfrogged by SF or LA, there's just no room for error in this division. With their aggressive approach to this year though, something tells me they aren't done dealing and will do whatever is in their power should they be short a player or two at the deadline. Shortstop and possibly first base are a couple places they could look to upgrade offensively, although both those guys are stronger defenders on an otherwise average defensive squad.

There one downfall could be their lack of a true lead-off guy. Myers may be able to get the job done, but ideally they'd probably like him down in the 5th or 6th spot protecting Upton and Kemp and have a true blue leadoff guy out there but that's not that case at the moment. Again though, I'm not putting anything past them as far as going out and getting what they need.

3rd Place San Francisco Giants
SF Needs Buster to be MVP-Like

LF Nori Aoki
2B Joe Panik
CF Angel Pagan
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence*
1B Brandon Belt
3B Casey McGehee
SS Brandon Crawford
*Pence to start year on 15-day DL, expected back by late-April

LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Matt Cain
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Tim Lincecum
SU: Sergio Romo
CL: Santiago Casilla

Key Reserves: OF Gregor Blanco, OF Justin Maxwell, IF Joaquin Arias

Speaking of banged up teams, the Giants enter the year, a team drastically low on impacting offensive bats, are going to be without Hunter Pence the first few weeks. That's more crucial than LA losing out on Jansen for a month cause Pence is an everyday, middle of the order guy. Assuming Pence is be back mid-April and Cain is closer to his  pre-2013 version, than the Giants should be just fine though. There is still some concern with Hudson turning 40 years of age in July and Peavy looking a bit tired in October last year and coming off a terrible Spring, they certainly have questions of their own in the rotation (that's not even mentioning the enigma that is Tim Lincecum). It's why Brian Sabean brought back Ryan Vogelsong. It wouldn't surprise me to see Romo close a little more to keep Casilla fresh though early in the year. The interesting part will be how Ryan Vogelsong will adapt to being in the pen full-time. On the positive side, they now have two guys in the pen able to step into the rotation and they're both legit options who are in most other teams rotations so there's depth there for sure. The pen will be nice, and the lineup should scrap together enough runs needed. Plus, you know they won't hesitate to go get that missing piece at the deadline if need be.

I sure hope I'm wrong and they end this sill odd-year curse, but they are the lesser talented team of the three now I think, although with a healthy staff, I still think they edge out San Diego. They're gonna have to figure out how they're gonna put runs on the board with regularity after losing Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, but I think the two players they added (Aoki and McGehee) both have games that should translate well here. It's just that they don't have many guys who can get your 2 or 3 runs with one big swing of the bat and we saw how crucial it was in the playoffs last year with Morse's big jack and in 2012 when Pablo set the tone for the series with that three-homer game vs. Detroit in game one. One guy who can, Brandon Belt, needs to stay healthy for 150 games and the dude could have no problem knocking out 30 and hit .300. So long as they can scrap together some runs like they always seem to do, and Matt Cain and Jake Peavy don't dive off the deep end like Lincecum did in '13, then they should be OK. That is, of course, also assuming the core guys like Pagan, Posey, Pence, McGehee and Belt can stay off the DL for any prolonged period (Pence's used up his to start the year, hopefully that's it for him). If they're close enough by the deadline and need that extra arm of two or another bat, Sabean has shown more than willing to make the addition, so I always favor them when on the fence. Another area they have the rest of the NL West beat is that trade deadline as most their trades tend to work out. You can't say that about the rest of the division, especially LA (Jury's still out on SD's but those were off-season deals anyway so way different story). I see them slightly behind the improved Pads and a little more significantly behind a healthy Dodger team, but a deal here or an injury there could shift everything within these top-three.

Note: Obviously we'll talk much more in our Giants preview coming up when we preview each player and break down the 25-man roster that will enter the season prior to Monday's opener.

4th Place, Colorado Rockies
Top-3 Hitter In Game When On

CF Charlie Blackmon
LF Corey Dickerson
SS Troy Tulowitzki
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
1B Justin Morneau
C Wilin Rosario/Nick Hundley
2B D.J. LeMahieu

LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Jordan Lyles
RHP Kyle Kendrick
LHP Tyler Matzik
RHP Eddie Butler
SU: LH Rex Brothers
CL: LaTroy Hawkins

Key Reserves: OF Drew Stubbs, IF Daniel Descalso

As always, that lineup will be fun to watch and should score an ample amount of runs, and like always, that pitching staff is going to have their issues pitching half their games in a hitters paradise. Add that to the fact that they don't have many great arms and their pitching should again should be their weakness in 2015. Their bullpen isn't great, and their closer is 42 years of age (although he's still a pretty darn effective relief pitcher while usually pitching in hitters parks over the years). I've always like De La Rosa, and he's seemed to figure out how to succeed at Coors Field, plus there are high hopes for youngsters like Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzik. If those three all have good years, then the Rockies may be players in this division after all. I mean, they should have no problem whatsoever putting runs on the board, as two studs are both coming off injury shortened years and are starving to put together a full, healthy season. Those two guys are Tulo and CarGo and if those guys play 150 games apiece and others who broke out last season like Blackmon, Dickerson and Arenado further their development, then this may be one of the best offenses in the National League. That's a lot that has to go well though, and though it may happen, I have a hard time seeing them overtaking one of he big-three in this division.

5th Place, Arizona Diamondbacks
Top-5 Power Bat in MLB

CF A.J. Pollock
LF David Peralta
1B Paul Goldschmidt
RF Mark Trumbo
3B Yasmany Tomas*
2B Nick Ahmed
SS Chris Owings
C Tuffy Gosewisch

RH Josh Collmenter
RH Jeremy Hellickson
RH Ruby De La Rosa
RHP Chase Anderson
RHP Randal Delgado/LH Patrick Corbin**/RH Bronson Arroyo**
SU: RH Brad Zieglar
CL: Addison Reed
*Tomas will start year in AAA but expected in Arizona by May
*Both Arroyo and Corbin expected out until at least mid-season (TJ Surgery)

Key Reserves: OF Cody Ross, IF Cliff Pennington, IF Aaron Hill

The D-Backs just don't have near enough talent to keep up with the rest of the division, especially in the pitching department. Their bullpen is average at best and their closer goes through patches when he's easily beatable (but also has his dominant moments too). I mean, Collmenter's their opening day starter, so that goes to show you their rotational depth. Even if Corbin and Arroyo come back, they count on too much out of these guys until maybe late-season if their in the hunt, which is highly unlikely.

Goldschmidt is the real deal, and I like Hellickson, plus I can't wait to see what Tomas does in the majors cause I was totally on board with the Giants giving him a shot and he's come one strong of late. Aaron Hill declined majorly last season (costing him his job to start the year) and although Chris Owings looks like a decent young shortstop and was BA's #66 prospect pre-2014, he hardly seems like a game changing offensive presence. They just don't have the pitching (unless Arroyo and Corbin come back earlier and are strong from the get-go) and don't have quite enough offense to over the lack of it, even with Goldschmidt being a monstor and if Tomas proves himself. I think it's gonna be a long season in the desert.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, April 02, 2015

2015 MLB Previews: NL Central

Onto the tightly packed NL Central, where just about every team feels like they have a shot this year. The Cards seem to be perennial favorites each year, the Brewers are banking on a return to form by Ryan Braun and the Cubbies and Pirates are the up-and coming young teams with huge expectations. Here's how we see the Central breaking down over the next 6 months:


1st Place, St. Louis Cardinals

3B Matt Carpentar
RF Jayson Heyward
LF Matt Holliday
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolton Wong
SS Johnny Peralta
CF Jon Jay

RH Adam Wainwright
RH Lance Lynn
RH John Lackey
RH Michael Wacha
RH Carlos Martinez
SU: RH Jordan Walden
CL: RH Trevor Rosenthal

Key Reserves: 1B/3B/LF Mark Reynolds, OF Peter Bourjos

The Cards made a nice move getting younger in the outfield by bringing in Jayson Heyward for peanuts from Atlanta, and people are expecting a huge, all-star year out of Kolton Wong who many fell is a legit 5-tool guy. That lineup has tremendous depth, everyone in that order can take you deep, can work a count and can put the ball in play and get on base, making them a rough assignment for opposing SP's. Their rotation is sound, but extremely thin. If something were to happen to Wainwright or Lynn, then they could be in some serious trouble. Bullpen is nice though, with young star closer Trevor Rosenthal and former closer Walden working the 8th. They too have a nice bench with the combination of some power (Reynolds) and speed/defense (Bourjos). As boring as it is to keep on picking them year in and year out as the division champs, I have to roll with them again in 2015, again, barring some catastrophic injuries to that rotation.

2nd Place, Milwaukee Brewers

2B Scooter Gennett
C Jonathan Lucroy
CF Carlos Gomez
RF Ryan Braun
3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Adam Lind
LF Kris Davis
SS Jean Segura

RH Kyle Lohse
RH Matt Garza
RH Wily Peralta
RH Mike Fiers
RH Jimmy Nelson
SU: Jonathan Broxton
CL: Francisco Rodriguez

Key Reserves: OF Gerrardo Parra, OF Logan Schafer

Once again the Brewers have a lineup, granted Ryan Braun can shake that nagging thumb issue and produce more up to his capabilities this year, that is going to be incredibly fun to watch and could sniff the 800-run plateau in 2015. Just to give you an idea, they have a 25 year-old stud who hit over .300 (for most of the year) with 40+ steals and a dozen jacks just two seasons back hitting in the 8th spot, a guy who'd be a #1-2 hitter in 85% of lineups out there. Braun and Segura bouncing back are both huge, as is a healthy year out of Aramis Ramirez, but they have enough depth that runs shouldn't be a problem even if a few guys have off years at the plate. They have four guys that can easily be all-stars in that order for crying out loud (Braun, Lucroy, Segura, Gomez), they're gonna score. The issue comes into play with the pitching staff, however, where they lack a true ace, and their rotation ran into some health issues last season. Garza has been notoriously injury prone and Mike Fiers has yet to pitch a full season in the rotation during his three years in the big leagues.  So long as K-Rod and Brox both hold up though, you better not be trailing them after the 7th as that bullpen isn't great but strong at the end. If they stay healthy, they're deeper than the Pirates with more experience and could challenge the Cards again, but that may be asking a lot of this bunch. We'll just have to wait and see.

3rd Place, Pittsburgh Pirates

3B Josh Harrison
RF Gregory Polanco
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
LF Starling Marte
1B Pedro Alvarez
SS Jordy Mercer
C Francisco Cervilli

LH Francisco Liriano
RH Gerrit Cole
RH A.J. Burnett
RH Charlie Morton
LH Jeff Locke
SU: LH Tony Watson
CL: RH Mark Melancon

Key Reserves: 1B/OF Corey Hart, IF Sean Rodriguez

The Pirates have some crazy talented young studs that are fun to watch, led by Andrew McCutchen, but also my personal favorite Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, and the one they think could be as good as all of them, 23 year-old Gregory Polanco. I mean, I really like that young outfield they put together, all those guys could be all-stars this year. Plus Harrison is probably one of the most under-talked about, underrated player after he basically carried the Pirates on his back for many parts of 2014. Their lineup took what I think will be a bigger hit than many think though in losing Russell Martin. They needed that right-handed production towards the bottom of the order, so they have that to make up for. Also, their staff is aging, besides young stud Gerrit Cole, and Burnett doesn't appear to have too much left in the tank going off his spring and end of 2014. Liriano is not an ace either, maybe a #2 on a good staff or #3 on a championship one, but certainly no ace with those sort of inconsistencies. All in all though, that lineup has immense talent, and if they do their thing an the pitching can be good enough, then they'll be right there with Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, San Diego, LA or SF for those two Wild Card spots.

4th Place, Cincinnati Reds

CF Billy Hamilton
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Todd Frazier
RF Jay Bruce
LF Marlyn Byrd
C Devin Mesoraco
SS Zach Cozart

RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Homer Bailey*
RHP Mike Leake
RHP Jason Marquis
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
SU: RH Tony Cingrani/LH Sean Marshall*
CL: Aroldis Chapman
*Marshall has no ETA for 2015 debut, Reds hopeful by June

Key Reserves: UT Skip Schumaker, OF Jason Bourgeois

5th Place, Chicago Cubs

CF Dexter Fowler
LF Chris Coghlan
1B Anthony Rizzo
SS Starlin Castro
RF Jorge Soler
C Miguel Montero
3B Mike Ott/Kris Bryant*
2B Arismendy Alcantara/Javier Baez*
*Both Bryant and Baez expected up by May and could be the keys for Cubs 2015 season

LHP Jon Lester
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Kyle Kendricks/ RH Edwin Jackson
SU: RH Pedro Strop
CL: RH Hector Rondon

Key Reserves: OF Ryan Sweeney, IF Tommy La Stalla

The Cubbies are many peoples pick for the "Cinderella" team of the NL this year, but I think they're one year away from being serious powerhouses. Once Kris Bryant and Baez arrive for good and are producing, that lineup is going to be sick, and that rotation has a strong front-3, and depth at the back-end. Strop and Rondon are close to as tough as it gets in the 8th and 9th although there are some question marks outside of those guys in this pen. To me though, it's really on Bryant and Baez. If they're as advertised, this club could compete this year. Although Lester has had a forgettable spring, he's going to be the true ace Chicago hasn't had since Carlos Zambrano was good. They're just too young, in-experienced and shallow to really have a shot this year. A couple of right moves though could change that. I do, however, expect them to get better over the year, and add for 2016 when they could be NL favorites.

The Giants Baseball Blog