Quite a lot has happened since I last posted, far too much to cover!
My goal is to keep this going for another year, so stay tuned.
Let’s start with a quick preview/keys to 2016. I’m not saying anything new here, but want it in writing before we get too deep into it. Here we go:
- Health: this goes without saying, and yet it must be said. The Giants have a nearly perfect roster right now. Most everything fits, it all makes sense. But, lose one or two or (gasp) more, for an extended period of time, and it quickly stops making sense. Guys are going to get hurt, of course, but let’s hope for nothing devastating.
- Matt Cain. This is both personal and logical. On the personal level, there’s an almost desperate longing for Matt Cain to be good again. And even if he’s not good, to be healthy and contributing in some way. To the logical: if Matt Cain is good again, the Giants go from pretty good to potentially great. Like one of the best Giants’ rosters of all time great.
- Brandon Belt. Belt is sort of the Cain of the lineup: a guy I root for on a personal level, but also a guy who could potentially transform this team. As it stands, the Giants’ lineup is very strong. There are no holes, and as I said, everything fits nicely right now. If Belt realizes his full potential (30 homers, 150 starts, .850+ OPS), then the team goes into elite status. The front office clearly has confidence in him too, given the extension he just signed this weekend.
- Winning at home. The Giants have had a winning record at home every year since their recent run of success started in 2010. But they have not won 50+ games at home during that window (their highest total was 49 in 2010). That’s good consistency, but it’s not dominating in your home ballpark. Because the Giants’ pitching is so strong, they’ve traveled well and won a lot of road game, but this is a roster that could/should win 50-55 games at home.
- Integrating the new guys. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span sure do look good in the Orange and Black. And it’s great to have such quality reinforcements. But will they really integrate into a tight clubhouse culture? One good sign already: Samardzija was right in the middle of the scrum after Crawford’s walk off home run the other night. It’s one thing to be a good pro and show up and do your job, it’s another to fit into the chemistry and character of the team. We’ll see how they do.
I believe this is a 95 win team, and a team that can compete in the post-season. The five NL teams who make it into the tournament this year will be very quality teams, meaning this may be the most challenging post-season for the Giants ever, assuming they can get there.
On to the week in review: 2 of 3 from Milwaukee, and 3 of 4 from LA, and the Giants are 5-2 with an early season 1 game NL West lead.
Hitter of the Week: Every single opening day/regular starter hit a home run this week and two of the bench guys and one the pitchers chipped in with dingers too. It may be that this is the first year where picking this award is harder than the pitcher of the week. Kind of a fun new challenge!
I’m going with Matt Duffy this week. Every year Sports Illustrated comes out with its predictions for the season, and the last two years they’ve added a “Scout’s Thoughts” section in the preview. The scout is from a rival divisional team, and it’s anonymous. Last year the “scout” said Brandon Crawford would never be a good major league hitter and then he went out and had an incredible year, winning the silver slugger and cementing his reputation as the best SS in the national league.
This year the “scout” deemed Matt Duffy a fluke, in particular harping on his bat speed and lack of power. He went out and hit two home runs this week and leads the team with 7 rbi’s. Maybe there’s some weird SI voodoo at work here. I’ll take it.
Pitcher of the Week: Cueto and Bumgarner went twice, each turning in a vintage performance and then a gutsy-stick-it-out-and-save-the-bullpen-and-still-get-a-win start. Samarzija and Peavy left a lot to be desired, and Matt Cain turned in a quality start.
Given what I’ve already written, I’ll go with Matt Cain this week if no other reason than there had to be a moment on Friday, around the fifth or the sixth inning, where he thought to himself: “I’m back, I have good feel for my pitches, I haven’t been perfect, but I like the results, and, of course, our juggernaut offense is getting no hit by a rookie in his first game. Perfect.”
The more things change…
Looking Ahead: Two important things to keep an eye on. First, it will be wise for Giants’ fans to have some patience with Jeff Samardzija. He’s on his fourth team in three years. This means four different pitching coaches, four different organizational philosophies, four different sets of catchers. My sense is it will take at least 8 starts for him to fully absorb Dave Righetti’s message, and to get used to working with Posey. I would predict/hope that sometime around mid-May it starts clicking.
Second, the most interesting bullpen development of 2016 will be watching how Bruce Bochy handles Hunter Strickland. He should be the closer (and I’ve thought this before Saturday’s Casilla meltdown). But, he’s also the biggest weapon in the ‘pen and so there’s something to be said for using him in the most high leverage situations whenever they come. Let’s see how this all plays out!
Off to Denver and LA. I think we’ll be sick of the Dodgers by next weekend for sure.