The Week Ahead: Timmy to the rescue?

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lincecum_090913.jpgTim Lincecum will take the mound for the San Francisco Giants on Monday after missing his last start with “spasms and inflammation” in his back. His return couldn’t come any sooner.

This is a huge week for San Francisco, a surprise contender this season that is currently on the verge of dropping to the fringe of the playoff race.

The Giants enter the week at 77-66, 7 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, and 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the NL wild-card chase.

With three games at home against Colorado followed by three more in Los Angeles against the Dodgers this week, the time — Giants fans — is now.

Lincecum will go against Colorado’s Jason Hammel on Monday. Then, if everything goes well, he would likely start again on Sunday against the Dodgers’ Jon Garland.

While these will be huge starts for Lincecum, the Giants will also need help from other sources if they are to make up ground. And Lincecum knows it, saying before Sunday’s game that recently acquired Brad Penny was the guy to do it. (He did, indeed, do it, beating the Dodgers on Sunday).

“He’s that guy. He wants to rile people up in the dugout, he’s big on rah-rah and spirit. He wants to get everybody awake. We’ve been pretty lax the last couple of days. I think it’s time for something to kick us in the butt and say, ‘Hey, do you realize it’s frickin’ September?’ We have to turn something on. This is where it counts.”

Well said.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rockies at Giants, Sept. 14-16:
As stated above, Tim Lincecum returns to the mound in a key game for the Giants. Actually the whole series is key as Colorado tries to maintain its hold on the NL wild-card spot.

Marlins at Cardinals, Sept. 14-16: Florida enters the week 5 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race, which makes this a poor time to catch the mighty Cardinals in St. Louis. Suffer a sweep, and that just about does it.

Angels at Red Sox, Sept. 15-17: The Red Sox have had the Angels’ number in the playoffs in recent years, so Los Angeles would be smart to do what it can to keep Boston out of the postseason altogether. Also, some wins would be good with the Rangers lurking 5 ½ games back in the AL West.

Angels at Rangers, Sept. 18-20: Speaking of the Rangers, this series is key for them. The division title might not be realistic, but with the wild card in play, there is plenty to shoot for.

Giants at Dodgers, Sept. 18-20: It’s already a rivalry. Throw playoff implications into the mix, and you’ve got a doozy of a series to watch.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Angels at Red Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.: Rockies at Giants (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Twins (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: Angels at Rangers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cubs at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Jeurys Familia’s domestic violence suspension to be announced today

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Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the announcement of Jeurys Familia‘s domestic violence suspension is expected some time today.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Billy Witz of the New York Times reported Monday that the suspension is “almost certain” to be lighter than the 30-game suspension Aroldis Chapman received one year ago. However much time Familia misses, the Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.

2017 Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

Let’s look first at the strengths. There’s Mike Trout, the undisputed best player in the game. That’s always a good start. I could bore you with a bunch of stats and historical comparisons here but we’re friends here and, let’s be honest, we don’t need or even want that. The guy is good, ’nuff said.

Indeed, I had an impulse to simply photoshop Trout’s head on this poster and be done with the entire Angels preview:

 

You could almost stop reading now and know what’s up in Anaheim this year.

But honestly, Trout isn’t the only strength here. The Angels have the best defensive shortstop in the league in Andrelton Simmons and a lot of other good defensive players as well, from Kole Calhoun in right, Cameron Maybin in left, Luis Valbuena at first (or wherever he’s slotted once he comes back from a hamstring injury) and Danny Espinosa at second. Their catching corps — Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez — are solid too. When you lack team depth and have pitching challenges like the Angels do, not kicking the ball all over the field is a good thing. The Angels have kicked the ball a lot in recent years but they’ll be pretty good with the leather in 2017, and that can make up for a lot of faults.

But I ain’t gonna lie, there are a lot of faults here.

Garrett Richards is back from a UCL injury that sidelined him most of last season. He didn’t get Tommy John surgery — he went with stem cell treatment — so the recovery time is lower. Still, it seems like a lot of guys who go the rehab route end up going under the knife eventually anyway, so everyone will have their eye on the Angels’ ace as the season goes on.

Beyond Richards the rotation is suspect. Matt ShoemakerRicky NolascoTyler Skaggs — also coming back from injury — and Jesse Chavez do not, as a group, strike fear into anyone’s hearts. I guess the hope here is that Nolasco’s pitching after he came over from Minnesota is more indicative of what he can do than what he did earlier in the year. Or, for that matter, for the past three seasons. If Richards is healthy he’s an ace. The rest of these guys are basically average at best.

The pen has issues. Cam Bedrosian had a fantastic 2016, but it was definitely a huge step up for him and may have been an aberration. closer Huston Street did not have a fantastic 2016, is recovering from a strained lat now and it’s fair to ask whether he’s got what it takes to close in the bigs anymore. Even if that’s too pessimistic an assessment, he’s missed a lot of time this spring. Andrew Bailey, like Nolasco, pitched well after coming to Anaheim last summer but poorly before that, with the poorly looking more like his true level than the well. Otherwise Mike Scioscia has a lot of young arms but not a lot of particularly good ones. Look for his bullpen to feature a cast of thousands.

As for the lineup: Trout is Trout. Albert Pujols is recovering from yet another foot issue. He still has old man strength and can hit some dingers, but he’s a shell of his former self and it’s fair to ask how many lower body maladies a guy whose primary value is tied up in power can tolerate. Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron are useful and predictable, even if they’re not game-changers. The Angels were 10th in offense in the AL last year. It’s hard to see them making a big leap from that level this year, even if they’re not likely to be too much worse either.

Ultimately, there’s not enough pitching here and there’s not a scary enough secondary or tertiary offensive threat behind Trout to make the offense difficult to deal with. If you play the Angels you’ll score some runs and you can pitch to everyone who isn’t wearing the number 27. That’s not gonna cut it in the AL West this year.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League West.