3 Thoughts on Game 1 #WorldSeries #SFGiants #Royals

1. I’ll Take Bumgarner. I live in Boston and as I drove around yesterday, listening to sports talk radio, desperately hoping they would mention the WORLD SERIES, I finally got my wish during the last 5 minutes of an afternoon show. The guys discussed the “goodness” of the Royals’ story, shared their amazement at the Giants 3rd trip to the Series in 5 years, and wondered aloud about the lack of star power between these two teams.

Which is all fine. There are no Derek Jeter’s, Mike Trout’s, or Bryce Harper’s in this series. There are no Clayton Kershaw’s, or Felix Hernandez’s, or Justin Verlander’s.

One of the guys suggested that Posey is a “rising” star, and that this Madison Bomgardner (how they pronounced his name) was an ok pitcher, not really an Ace, but probably/maybe the best starter between the two teams.

I know that baseball is a regional sport at this point in time, and that guys in Boston may not know much about the Giants, but it is embarrassing that one could talk about sports as a profession and not know a THING about Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the five best pitchers in baseball right now. It’s unthinkable. I hope he gets to start again just so more people can see him pitch.

Of all the things that are amazing about Bumgarner (the scoreless streaks, the postseason wins, etc) this one takes the cake for me: He is STILL younger than Tim Lincecum was when the Giants won it all in 2010. Unreal.

Bumgarner did what he needed to do and more in this game. For the Giants to win this series they need(ed) to win Bumgarner’s starts, get out in front, and take the wind out of the Royals sails. This series could not have started any better for them.

2. Pence and the Law of Averages. One of the reasons I favored the Giants coming into this series is because the Royals have gotten above average play from almost everyone in their lineup. With the exception of Salvador Perez (who promptly homered last night) and Billy Butler, most of the Royals are hitting better than normal (especially in terms of power).

Now, the postseason is short and guys can get on weird power surges (hello Cody Ross), but one could reasonably expect the Royals to come back to earth a bit in this series.

On the other side, the Giants went 8-2 through the first three rounds with exactly zero home runs from the middle of their order. Posey, Panda, and Pence have all had nice enough postseasons, but no extra base hits for Posey and no home runs for any of them. Even though none of those guys is a true power hitter, it is difficult to imagine the Giants playing 14-17 postseason games and not getting a home run from any of those three.

Cue Hunter Pence. While I still fully expect to see some power from both Panda and Posey, Hunter Pence is the kind of player who when he gets hot, he gets ridiculously hot. Pence could carry the offense in a series like this. We’ve yet to see that in two postseasons with Pence, but it is entirely possible.

I’m not saying that is going to happen, but it easily could. And even if it doesn’t I do expect to continue to see these three guys get some big hits in this World Series.

3. Wherefore art Thou, Timmy Lincecum. I texted my dad after Bumgarner came out that we would see Timmy in this game.

We did not.

Which means that we now know, without a shadow of a doubt, why he is on the postseason roster. Lincecum is here because the Giants staff does not trust the 2-4 starters. He’s not here to be a 6th inning bridge. He’s not here to be a late inning strikeout weapon. He is simply an insurance policy.

Some people have criticized the Giants for using him in this way. Why waste a roster spot on a luxury insurance item when it could be used more practically? Why handcuff yourself to a 24-man roster, when you don’t need to?

Here’s a scenario for you, though. Let’s say, win or lose, Peavy pitches well enough to get through 6 innings, and Bochy doesn’t have to use Petit in Game 2. And let’s say that in the second inning of Hudson’s Game 3 start something goes terribly wrong: his hip flares up and he has to come out, or he doesn’t have it and he’s getting hit around the yard. Petit comes in and does his hero act, saving the day (and the bullpen) by pitching 4 strong innings.

That’s all wonderful, but he’s not going to be available the next day when Game 4 rolls around and Ryan Vogelsong’s got nothing left in the tank. Now where do you go? Jean Machi? Hunter Strickland in the 4th? Javy Lopez for a couple of innings? Nope. It’s Tim Lincecum time.

Again, the Giants don’t have enough confidence in their starting pitchers to keep Lincecum off the roster. They obviously hope they never have to use him, but they need him around just in case.

We know this because last night was the perfect time to give a guy a chance (in low pressure World Series situation) to show the team that he can be trusted in a bigger spot later on down the line.

Bochy gave that chance to Hunter Strickland (who handled it extremely well and demonstrated that against this lineup he is a great 6th or 7th inning option).

If you were wondering why Tim Lincecum is still here, now you know.

Looking Ahead: As good as we all feel coming out of Game 1, and we should feel good because that was the best possible outcome, the series changes dramatically today. From here until Game 5, the starting pitching matchups are very even and, especially for the Giants, very difficult to predict.

Will Peavy pitch like he did in Game 1 against the Nationals, or Game 2 against Cardinals? Can these old dogs make it more than two times through the Royals lineup?

The Giants starters are more likely to pitch like Bunmgarner did in Game 1 than any of the Royals’ guys, but they also are more likely to implode. We are dealing with volatile stocks here!

Hoping for good Peavy tonight, and more dingers!

Go Giants!

-SB

Trying to Predict the World Series #SFGiants #Royals

Here is the final chapter in this amazing postseason drama. I went 0-4 in DS round, but came back with two correct predictions in the LCS. I also continue to predict longer series than they turn out to be.

Which leads to the challenge in predicting the World Series. These two teams are so evenly matched it seems destined for the Series to go 6 or even 7 games (haven’t had 7 games since 2011, and before that since 2001 and 2002). However, both teams tend to grab a lead and never let go, so it is entirely possible that one team runs away with it in 4 or 5 games (though they would be close games).

I think the Giants should win the World Series. They have some decided advantages: the better manager, the true Ace in Madison Bumgarner, the once-in-a-generation player in Buster Posey (perhaps Eric Hosmer will be this for the Royals but even with his strong postseason he has a way to go to earn that kind of label, despite being drafted ahead of Posey).

They also have some subtle advantages. A lefty heavy lineup, a flexibility to their roster and bullpen that either the Royals don’t have or don’t utilize, and a wealth of postseason experience to pull from.

If the Giants are going to win the World Series I think they need to win it the way they beat the Cardinals: in 5, by staying a step ahead and constantly putting the pressure on the Royals to deviate from their game plan.

Game 1: Shields vs. Bumgarner. I wrote way back when this all started that the Giants must win every Bumgarner start, and then changed my tune for the Cardinals series. I’m back on this tune. James Shields is a very good pitcher, but this is the one match up where the Giants have a clear advantage. They must win when Bumgarner takes the mound.

This is a critical game for the Giants. The Royals haven’t lost. They win Game 1 and they continue to think they will never lose. Immediately put them in the hole, though, and the whole mindset of the Royals, and the complexion of the series, changes.

My guess is the Giants will be able to score some runs, maybe 3, and Bumgarner shuts down the Royals offense. Giants 3-1.

Game 2: Ventura vs. Peavy. Yordano Ventura throws hard and has good stuff, but he’s not as dominant as one might think. He will be at some point in his career, especially if he keeps his velocity, but right now he can be had. Peavy will be coming off a lot of rest and so should be good to go and feeling strong. Much like the Cardinals series, this game will go to the bullpens early and be there for the taking by either team. The Royals will pull it out, and pull even. Royals 4-3.

Game 3: Hudson vs. TBD. This will likely be Tim Hudson going against another wiley vet in Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie is the kind of guy who would be a good starter in the NL West. He doesn’t strike out very many guys, has twice led the league in loses (on bad Orioles teams), has allowed the most hits in the AL once, and is the very definition of slighty above average pitcher (think Zito in his best years with the Giants). In other words, he’s exactly the kind of guy who would give the Giants fits if he played for San Diego.

A couple of other factors to consider in this game. First, the Royals will be without Bully Butler. There is no room in the field for their portly DH so he goes to the bench. Even thought Hudson is not a great hitter, the Giants gain an advantage with the Royals subtracting a DH and adding the pitcher to the lineup. Second, this will be Hudson’s first World Series start. He’s going to treat it like it might be the last time he ever pitches. I think he will pitch well enough and the Giants will have one of their better offensive games of the series: Giants 5-3.

Game 4: Vogelsong vs. TBD. Once again we don’t know who will start, but in all likelihood the Giants are looking at facing off against Jason Vargas. And, just like the Cardinals series, I see this being a boon for the offense and early exits for the starters. Game 4 is Yumeiro Petit time. Once again, the advantage goes to the Giants here, with Petit bailing the team out for the third time. This could also be a walkoff game, so we’ll say Giants 4-3 walking off in the bottom of the 9th.

Game 5: Repeat Game 1 starters. The story of Game 5 will be Madison Bumgarner putting the finishing touches on a remarkable postseason run. He will put his home field issues behind him and drive the nail into the Royals coffin. In the end, the story will be that Bumgarner was too good, and the Giants never allowed the Royals to settle into their preferred rhythym of playing ahead and relying on the bullpen. Giants 3-0.

Having said all that, there is very little that could happen in this series that would be shocking. The Royals could sweep. The Giants could sweep. It could go the full 7. I don’t know! About the only thing that would surprise me is one team completely falling apart: bad starting pitching, no help from the pen, no hitting. I expect every game to be competitive, to be close and tense, and to add some more gray hairs to my head.

About the only constant this postseason has been the completely unexpected, so buckle up and get ready for a wild ride! I’m going with the Giants in 5 but look forward to all the twists and turns this series will undoubtedly take.

One Final Thought: Who is the key player in this series for the Giants? In many ways it is Madison Bumgarner because he’s the ace, and the one significant advantage either team has at its disposable. In many other ways it is Buster Posey because he’s the Giants leader, he plays such an important position and, again, is the one, true once-in-a-generation talent in this series.

But in a very practical sense I think the most important player for the Giants is Brandon Belt. The Royals are extremely dependent on their right-handed power pitching out of the bullpen. If Belt (or any of the lefty swinging Giants) can get hot and establish themselves as a dangerous presence, it will force Ned Yost to think about mixing and matching, rather than sticking to the script. And once you see Yost mixing and matching, then you know the Giants are in his head. Watch for that.

Go Giants!!!

-SB

Early Thoughts on the World Series #SFGiants #Royals #2014WorldSeries

1. Pitching

Both the Royals and the Giants can pitch as well as anyone in the game. There are plenty of serviceable starters and some really nasty options in the bullpens.

Two critical differences. First, and no offense to James Shields, but Madison Bumgarner is the best pitcher in this series. The Royals will start four really good guys, but they have no one to match MadBum.

Second, the Royal bullpen is so, so good. They’ve been good all year. But, they deploy their weapons in a fairly rigid manner: Frasor (if needed in the 6th), Herrera in the 7th, Davis in the 8th, and Holland in the 9th. All of those guys are right-handed. There is very little mixing and matching, or deviating from that pattern (although Ned Yost did use Herrera for a few extra outs in Game 4 of the ALCS).

One of the things the Giants do so well is put extreme pressure on the opposing team to match up properly. Matheny got it right a few times in the NCLS, but he also got it wrong several times. Matt Williams got it wrong several times, and he got it wrong by going with the formulaic, “that’s out 7th inning guy,” thinking, when using his actual best pitcher would have been a much better move. That tends to be how Royals manager Ned Yost approaches games.

The truth is, the Royals guys are so good they may not need to do any mixing and matching. But, with a Giants lineup featuring 5 left handers (and I think Bochy will spread them out in Kansas City), there is going to be pressure put on Yost to figure out how to use guys in ways he didn’t have to against the Orioles (who used 6, 7, or 8 right-handed batters).

Meanwhile, Bochy is a genius at mixing and matching. He did not use his relievers in the same pattern in any of the 5 games in the NLCS. That backfired a bit in Game 2, but it also worked beautifully in the 4 wins. I’m sure Giants’s fans would take a similar result this time around.

2. Offense

Much like the Cardinals, the Royals are acting a bit out of character this postseason, hitting home runs at a much higher rate than the regular season. The Giants, on the other hand, are hitting home runs at a lower rate, even with the 3-home run breakout in the clinching Game 5 performance.

My initial thought here is that this favors the Giants. The Giants continue to score and win despite not hitting the long ball, and that always bodes well in the postseason. I also think it means they could be due to break out the home runs in the World Series. Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have yet to go yard in the playoffs. One would think that has to change.

The uptick in home runs for the Royals makes me think they are playing over their heads and have to come back down at some point. That could be in March, or it could be in this series.

I do think the power will be suppressed playing in two pitcher’s parks, but the Royals are able to score runs in a lot of different ways, and so even if the power disappears they can still put pressure on the pitchers and defense with their speed and contact game.

3. The Managers

Most people consider Ned Yost one of the worst managers in the Major Leagues. I don’t know if that is totally fair, and even if he is, he’s on a hot streak right now, and if you’ve ever played poker you know sometimes a bad player can beat you if they get the right cards. Yost may just have the right cards right now.

Most people consider Bruce Bochy one of the best managers in the Major Leagues. I tend to agree with that assessment.

The biggest issue (and I’ll say more about this in a moment) is that Yost hasn’t really had to second guess himself, nor has he been forced to deviate from his game plan. Bochy almost always seems to do better when he is forced off course. I don’t know that Yost has the ability to make those kinds of adjustments, especially if this series goes deep. I get the impression that he will just do the same thing over and over and hope it keeps working.

Bochy will never do that, and it’s his ability to adapt and change based on each series and each game that makes him so valuable in the postseason.

4. The Experience Factor

I haven’t really seen anyone write about this yet, although I’m sure someone will, but the Giants are far and away the more experienced club. Yes, they have more older players, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.

The Giants have 7 (8 if you count Tim Lincecum) players for whom this will be their third World Series in the last five years. Some of those guys are pretty young (Posey, Sandoval, Bumgarner). Those players are 8-1 in the World Series (which is a VERY good record).

Beyond that the Giants have another 7 guys (Ishikawa, Blanco, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Arias, and Vogelsong) who are playing in their second World Series with the Giants. (Plus Peavy who was just in the Series last year with the Red Sox). That’s 16 out of 25 guys with quite a bit of experience at this stage.

Then think about guys like Michael Morse and Tim Hudson who have never been here before and are old enough to realize they may never get back. That’s makes for one hungry, but experienced group.

This Giants’ team knows how to handle this, knows how to finish, and senses the opportunity to pull off the truly unbelievable feat of 3 championships in 5 years.

The Royals are young and hungry, but have only 2 players who has been here before (James Shields and Omar Infante, he of the losing 2012 Detroit Tigers).

5. Momentum

Here, I am not referring to the mystical idea of destiny or that some teams get on a role, grab the moment right out of the air, and ride it victory (although there may be some of this with both teams).

But, what is most interesting coming into this series is that each team has been able to get ahead in its series and never let go. The Giants won the first game in both the NLDS and NLCS. The Giants got out to a critical 2-0 lead in the short series, and the critical 2-1 lead in the longer series. The Royals of course have won every game.

One of these teams, I can actually guarantee this, will start the series off with a loss and be in a 0-1 hole. Neither have had to face this predicament this postseason.

Both teams have been able to play out in front, put the pressure on their opponents, and then but the proverbial boot to the proverbial neck and end it.

Again, one of them will not be able to do that in this series and so will have to play catch up for the first time.

Playing catch up could benefit the Giants because they’ve done it before. The core of this roster has won 7 straight elimination games. However, the 2014 Giants seem to be following the script of the 2010 Giants: yeah it’s close and tense, but they are the aggressor putting their opponents on their heals and forcing them to be perfect (which they have not been able to do).

It would seem that it would continue to benefit the Giants to jump in front.

The Royals haven’t been behind much in this postseason either (the obvious exception being the Wild Card game). Since they’ve been so in control for so long it could really rattle them if they lose Game 1 and the Giants start turning the screws.

On the other hand, the Royals are young and loose and confident, and might be one of those teams that’s too dumb to know it should be scared. They may thrive on being behind.

My sense, though, is that Game 1 is huge, and whoever can jump out to the lead in this series is going to be well on their way to another party when it is all said and done.

-SB

LCS Predictions

I did terrible with my LDS predictions, so it is with some hesitation I share what I think will happen in this next round. Here we go:

Royals vs. Orioles

  • Offense: The Orioles have the more traditional offensive weapons, being able to hit home runs and all. That said, if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer keep hitting home runs, maybe we will hear less about all the steals and small ball that the Royals employ. The series will be an interesting contract in styles, but I have to give the edge to the Orioles over all because of their power hitting ways.
  • Starting pitching: The edge goes to the Royals here. I just don’t have very much confidence in the Orioles starters, which is why I picked them to lose. I think James Shields will get stronger the longer the Royals stay alive and the rest of their starting arms are pretty good too.
  • Bullpen: Again, a contrast in styles. The Royals like to get 6 innings from the starter and then go Herrera, Davis, Holland for the last three. The Orioles have several great arms in their pen and no fear of mixing and matching. For pure stuff I give the edge to the Royals, for strong utilization the edge belongs to the Orioles.
  • Manager: Huge edge here to the Orioles. Buck Showalter (who Jeff Passan is in love with) is the closest thing in the American League to Bruce Bochy, and Ned Yost will cost the Royals a game at some point in this series.
  • Pick: based on my simplistic breakdown I should be picking the Orioles, but the Royals are hot and have a little bit of that destiny feel to them. I wanted to pick them so badly last round, so I’m going with the Royals in 7.

Cardinals vs. Giants

  • Offense: Neither of these lineups are world beaters, but both are loaded with good hitters, any of whom could be a hero. THe Cardinals pound fastballs, which is good news for a Giants’ staff that doesn’t rely on the fastball the way other’s do. The only starter who seems vulnerable because of his reliance on the fastball is Ryan Vogelsong, but he’s pitched well against the Cardinals before. The Giants have a lot of left-handed hitters and the Cards will only start righties in this series so that bodes well for an uptick in runs. A couple of “ifs”: if Michael Morse is available and good, that’s a huge boost for the Giants. If the Cardinals power surge against LA is real then they become a much more dangerous opponent. I’m calling this a wash.
  • Starting Pitching: Coming into the postseason neither rotation was looked at as all that menacing. Both teams feature an ace (Bumgarner/Wainwright). After that there’s some mixing and matching. I’d give the Giants an edge with Peavy over Lynn, Hudson over Miller/(injured) Wacha, and Vogelsong over Lackey.
  • Bullpen: Both pens are very good. A slight edge to the Giants perhaps?
  • Manager: Mike Matheny was a rookie manager the last time these teams met in the LCS. His career trajectory suggests the Cards will win it all this year (LCS loss, World Series loss, World Series win), but despite his improvements the edge goes to the Giants and Bochy.
  • Prediction: this postseason is absolutely wide open a this point. There is no reason to be surprised at any of these four teams winning it all. In these kinds of scenarios we’ve seen the Giants take advantage. It’s an even-numbered year, they can do this. Giants in 6.

I will have a breakdown of how I see the NLCS playing out up tomorrow!

-SB

Thoughts and Predictions for the DS #MLBplayoffs

1. Tigers vs. Orioles. These teams are mirrors of each other. Baltimore hits home runs, plays great defense, and has a stellar bullpen. Detroit has the THE STAR and the starters. This is going to be the ultimate test of postseason theories: do you need strong starting, defense, bullpen, or home runs to win?

  • Prediction: Tigers in 4. The Tigers will not win the world series with that bullpen (we’ve heard this story before), but they have more than enough to get past an Orioles team that lacks dominant starting pitchers.

2. Angels vs. Royals. The Angels have the best record and offense in baseball. The Royals bunt and steal all the time and have the best bullpen in the postseason. Will this be bedlam in KC or Mike Trout’s national coming-out-party?

  • Prediction: I want to pick the Royals so badly. I really, really do. Oh, I want to pick them. In fact, a couple of months ago when I was sketching things out, I thought they might have the best path to the World Series in the American League. That, though, was based on them winning the division, which they did not do. Furthermore, that game against the A’s revealed just how clueless Ned Yost can be. Sometimes, and it is rare, a manager can help win a series, usually they are fairly neutral, and there are some times where they are an all-out liability, and I fear that is where Yost is. Yikes. Angels in 4.

3. Dodgers vs. Cardinals. Of course they are playing each other, which means, if the Giants get through they will have to play their long-standing mortal enemies (the Dodgers, just in case you didn’t know), or the team Giants’ fans have learned to hate in recent years (the Cardinals, mostly for being the Cardinals). And even if the Giants don’t make it through it means one of these teams will play the Nationals (who we will then hate) in an absolutely awful NLCS. This is the most detestable of all possible matchups.

  • Prediction: Mattingly is horrible, the bullpen is shaky, and the non-Kershaw/Greinke starters are a major liability. Plus Puig will do something stupid at some point. Otherwise the Dodgers are basically unbeatable. The Cardinals had a surprisingly bad offensive season, some shakiness in the rotation (that seems to have been shored up), and are here mainly because the Brewers faded so badly. And yet, they are the Cardinals, the team, other than the Giants, most likely to play flawlessly in October. I won’t be the least bit surprised if the Cardinals win this series, but I’m going with the Dodgers in 5.

4. Giants vs. Nationals. The Nationals are the best team, in my opinion, top to bottom in this tournament. So, of course, the Giants get them in a short series. Awesome. That being said, the only result here that would be shocking to me is a sweep by either team. Mostly, though I just don’t see the Giants laying down. It’s going to go 5 either way. I’ll have a bigger preview tomorrow morning, but for now a couple of silver linings for the Giants: the Nationals have a lot of right-handed starting pitching. They are really good, so that part stinks, but the right-handedness plays into the hands of a lineup that is heavy lefty right now. Second silver lining: Matt Williams is a rookie manager, and only 4 times has a rookie manager won a World Series. The last one to do it, of course, was another ex-Giant, Bob Brenly, whose team won in spite of him, not because of him. Loved Matt Williams as a third baseball in the black and orange, but he might be a liability.

  • Prediction: The Nationals are too deep to go down to a Giants team lacking Angel Pagan, Michael Morse, and Matt Cain. Nationals in 5.

-SB

3 Thoughts on Today’s Wild Card Game #royals #athletics #mlbplayoffs2014

Maybe it’s because the Giants are in the Wild Card Game this year, maybe it’s because I know a lot of A’s and Royals fans, maybe it’s because I’m having a hard time getting into the football season, but whatever the reason I am pumped for two ridiculous baseball games here over the next two days.

Knowing as many A’s and Royal’s fans as I do I’m bound to tick off someone here, but I’d like to offer 3 thoughts on tonight’s game:

1. Big trades led to this moment. The A’s made several big trades this year, but the controversial move of sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester will only be able to be fully appreciated and evaluated in light of tonight. If Lester pitches the A’s through this game, and if the A’s go on to make some noise, perhaps even get to the World Series, no one will moan and complain about this trade anymore. They shouldn’t complain about it anyway. The irony of the A’s moves this year was that they actually built a roster that could succeed in the playoffs (as opposed to strong regular season teams that weren’t designed well for short playoff series). Now, it’s time.

The Royals traded Wil Meyers to the Rays for James Shields. There were other players involved, but this was the heart of the trade. Big Game James gets an opportunity to live up to his name and bring joy to Kansas City that hasn’t been felt there in a long time. Many people thought it was a bad trade, but it made sense for one reason: this moment. No one will question the trade if the Royals win tonight and go on to make some noise in the remainder of the playoffs.

2. Someone will be very sad. All season the Royals fans expected the “other shoe” to drop and the bottom to fall out. You can still sense their reluctance to give their heart to this team. One thing, though, about not making the playoffs for 25 years (as depressing as that is) is they haven’t faced the sadness that A’s fans have faced since 2000. The A’s have lost in every conceivable way in the postseason over the last 14 years, and losing this Wild Card Game would only bring a new level of misery to the east bay.

3. And the winner is…I wan to pick the A’s so badly, I really do. I can see a world where they win this game, and go on to exact their revenge against the Angels and Tigers. It would be so, so sweet. But, all year long I have loved this Royals team. They remind me in many ways of the 2010 Giants. Strong starting pitching, unbelievable bullpen, just enough offense at just the right times. I think the Royals get an early lead and their nasty bullpen makes it stand up.

3-2 Royals.

-SB

Windows of Opportunity?

There is much debate over the validity of “windows of opportunity” for major league franchises. Yankees fans will point out that their window is always open, and fans of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will roll their eyes as they’ve heard rumors of this proverbial window for two decades now but have yet to see anything like it.

That being said, there seems to be some validity to the fact that teams build towards something. My hometown Giants have been building a post-Bonds franchise around pitching and defense, suspecting their window to be 2010-2012 (an era where their young pitchers would mature and where some homegrown position players would emerge). They just happened to strike gold in the first year of that window. Even here in Boston, GM Theo Epstein controversially labeled 2010 a “bridge year” indicating that while the team could be competitive (and they likely could have won the division this year if healthy) they were really working towards making a splash and big push for 2011 and beyond (and boy was that the understatement of the decade).

So now we come to the hand-wringing over the Zack Greinke-to-the-Brewers trade. For some reason I know a lot of people from Missouri who grew up rooting for the Royals and they, to a person, seem to see this trade as “classic Royals.” “Just when we get a good, homegrown player who has had some success and who we like, the team trades them or lets them go in free agency claiming some future payoff down the road.” They will then cite the all-star team of players who were prospects with the Royals but played their prime years elsewhere: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, etc, etc.

There is also hand-wringing in Milwaukee, where some see this move as another overpay for a small window of opportunity (i.e. trading several prospects to Cleveland for three months of CC Sabathia in 2008 when they made the playoffs but got swept out of the first round). The window, they argue, is only for one year, and when Prince Fielder leaves after the 2011 season, others (Greinke, Marcum, Weeks) will soon follow leaving a few good players (Gallardo and Braun) with no prospects left to fill in the blanks. It’ll be ugly!

I would argue, though, that this is exactly the trade both teams should be making given where they are at in their “window” cycle. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect baseball trade in recent memory. This is not a small market team dumping a soon to be expensive player in the laps of a perennial powerhouse with resources to absorb the financial hit. Nor is it a mid-market team trying to make a foolish off-season splash to generate interest among its fan base. It is EXACTLY the kind of move each team should be making right now.

There are other articles out there on the interweb that explain each team’s situation better than I will here, but consider this while I build to the point I want to make about the Giants.

1) Milwaukee: There is a very good chance that they lose Fielder at the end of the year. I get that. However, even if they do they still will have three guys in their rotation who are beasts (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). They also will still have a middle of the order force in Ryan Braun. If 2011 even goes remotely to plan and they can get in the playoffs, the revenue bump should make keeping Greinke/Weeks/Marcum a whole lot easier especially if they DON’T go all in on Fielder (just think of the cheap and decent 1B options out there right now and it’s easy to see how they could deal with his loss). As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Brewers have every small and mid-market teams dream: a core of under 30 pitchers and position players together for a 1-2 season run at glory (possibly longer if they play this right). This is the window that every team in their situation is working towards and they should be commended for going for it even if 2013 could be awful.

2) Kansas City: Despite the track record, the Royals are actually doing things the right way behind the scenes. Drayton Moore has been building a farm system that is now the envy of baseball. Just as the Rays did from 2008-2010 and the Twins have done for years, the Royals are about enter into a phase starting in 2012 where they will roll out excellent young players at almost every position (and throughout the starting rotation). Nothing, obviously, is guaranteed, and my cynical KC friends will tell you that the Royals will figure out a way to mess this up, but they just added four pretty good guys to a mix that could flip the power structure of the AL Central around over the course of the next five seasons. This is exactly the kind of move the Royals should be making [note: some will point out that the Royals could have received better players from other teams who were interested, but it seems that Greinke would not have been a fit with those teams, either because of wariness on the part of other other team (Yankees), or Zack not wanting to go there (Blue Jays, Nationals)].

What does this have to do with the Giants? This is all about a team accurately assessing where it is at in its competitive window and being able to make shrewd moves given the current market situation. My argument is not that this was a good or bad trade vis a vis the players involved, but that it is the PERFECT type of trade given where each team is at in its window.

In my last post I debated whether the Giants have done enough this off-season. My conclusion (given the market and what was available to them in resources) is: yes. That being said, since they are right in the middle of their window of opportunity there is some logic to leveraging their situation and getting even better. I just don’t know that there has been as perfect a situation for the Giants as the one the Royals and Brewers just took advantage of.

(-SB)