Friday, April 9, 2010

The Wild West

Ok... So everyone always jots down the 'keys to the season.' they are always relevant, but really there are endless keys to the season. Usually people will tend to pick one player or two players, and say they need to have a good season (and/or stay healthy) for their team to contend and fulfill their playoff aspirations.
Specifically for the Giants, I'm hearing often that Zito must have a good first half in addition to his usual quality (if not stellar) post mid-summer classic. I'm hearing that Jonathan Sanchez must become what he's capable of: a swing and miss, dominant left handed pitcher who can steady the back of the rotation. Freddy Sanchez must get healthy, stay healthy, and produce. Finally, getting more macro, they must score more runs than 2009 and catch the ball better than experts are predicting they will. 

I'm going to think a bit outside the box. Sure, all of the above has been said and makes a bunch of sense. But, even if they can accomplish that, it may not be enough. This is a tough division. Colorado's lineup is a nightmare of speed, patience and power. They’re so good up the middle (where it counts), with Troy Tulowitzki and Dexter Fowler covering all that ground. Their rotation could be at the least quite good, if not very good. Ubaldo Jimenez is basically the hardest throwing starting pitcher in the league... He may even be the hardest throwing pitcher period in either league. De la Rosa gave everyone fits in the second half last season. Aaron Cook has been very solid for them and his sinker is suited for their home yard. Jeff Francis is shut down, and if he gets back healthy he only bolsters their chances. Their bullpen is banged up with Street out, but when he's back is going to be very good.

All offseason was the talk of the Dodgers' ownership divorce proceedings. Well, they may not have gotten much better, but did they need to? They took the division wire to wire in 2009. They have an excellent bullpen, spooky lineup that could only improve with maturation from the Kemp-Ethier-Loney trio - and the always fearsome Manny. He may be looking aged, but he can still hit and can carry an offense for a month at times. Their rotation? It didn't look all that great last year, but was one of the NL's best. Don't assume it's not good again. Their bullpen will often bail out the starters by stranding inherited runners. They are the team to beat until proven otherwise.

The Diamondbacks are lurking and will take off if Webb returns and pitches well. Beware. The Friars are probably fried, but aren't terrible. Teams will have to earn their wins against them. They are rebuilding and may unload their prized left handed masher Adrian Gonzalez sometime this summer.

The Giants have looked good through 3 games. But you must take that with a grain of salt. On a positive note, the wins were on the road, something that was scarce in 2009. On the negative, it was against the Berkman-less Astros. They aren't slated to contend with Berkman. Take him out of the lineup and their just not competitive. It's as Neyer said: "they're rebuilding but don't know it yet."

My keys to the season go something like this:

1) Win the head to head games against the Rockies and Dodgers. Every game is worth double H2H. They don't (and obviously couldn't possibly) win them all. But they'll need to win more often than not. This may seem obvious, but it's so critical.

2) Even if it is enough to win the division, and I’m very skeptical, it won’t be enough to do anything in October. They need something to push them over the edge and it’ll likely have to come as an offense (and hopefully defensive) upgrade from outside the organization. The Giants have not pulled off an impactful deadline deal since … quite possibly Kenny Lofton in 2002. It’s been dud after dud since then. If Sabean wants to get out of my doghouse – and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to regardless of what he does – he’ll need to pull off one last successful deadline deal. If the Rays fall out of the race in the AL East – Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are going to get shopped aggressively. Adrian Gonzalez’s price will be too hefty (especially for an NL West team, but he’s still in the mix. Others will become available as the season unfolds and keeping an eye on the rebuilding franchises will be key; Grady Sizemore in Cleveland is a possibility. Sabean’s a former Executive of the Year, but he’ll need to actually earn his paycheck as that onetime honor has probably earned him his last extension.

3) Finally, Bumgarner and Posey are looming in Fresno. Posey is a slam dunk to unseat Whiteside and take over part time catching duties down the stretch. This is a very good thing. People assume the kid is just a bat – and he can hit – but that’s not the whole story. He barrels a lot of pitches and works the count. He’s got some pop for double digit dingers and will find ways to get on base. Defensively, he hasn’t gotten enough credit yet. He’s a confident, quiet leader who will be better at stopping the running game with a cannon for an arm and will provide energy and athleticism behind the plate. As he learns the game, learns the staff and matures – he’s going to be a defensive upgrade, a considerable one. Again, he’s not just a bat. If he was just a bat and couldn’t stick (and flourish) at catcher – he wouldn’t have been a top 5 pick and one that very well could have gone 1st overall. If Wellermeyer struggles – heck, even if he doesn’t – he may be displaced by Bumgarner. Once his mechanics settle down in Fresno, there’s reason to believe he’ll start dominating again. He needs to start missing bats again if he is every going to make good on the lofty Ace projections that surrounded him on draft day and as recently as last season. He’ll make his first start tonight for Fresno against the Reno Aces after the Giants’ home opener.

The year of the Chez (as in Jonathan Sanchez) begins at 1:35 PM – compliments of Murph and Mac.

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