Tim Lincecum

Springtime Storylines: Can the Giants repeat?


Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  First up: it’s only appropriate that we start with the reigning World Champs, the San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants repeat?

Yeah, that’s a hacky question to ask — reeks of search engine optimization bait — but it probably is the question everyone wants answered anyway. At least Giants fans do. Indeed, when I was walking the mean streets of Scottsdale a couple of weeks ago (note: there are no streets less mean than those in Scottsdale in the entire United States), it was what most Giants fans wanted to talk about.

The answer: no.  And that’s not to hate on the Giants. Indeed, that’s the stock answer I give every single year when someone asks me “can they repeat.”  The odds always favor “the field” over a repeat. It’s been over a decade since the last repeat winner. Only two clubs — the threepeating Torre Yankees and the Cito Gaston Blue Jays — have repeated in over thirty years.  It just doesn’t happen much, so even before looking at anyone’s roster, the smart money always favors saying, no, there will not be a repeat this year.

But what of these Giants on their own terms?  Personally, I like them. Teams with strong starting pitching have a leg up in my mind because the season is long damn haul and whoever can match up best day-in, day-out do better than teams that can beat you into submission.  People have fretted about Tim Lincecum’s durability for a while now, but until I see him break down I’m not going to be similarly concerned. Matt Cain is a horse. Madison Bumgarner seems to have improved his velocity this spring and should be better prepared to go full-bore this year. And for as bad as Zito’s contract is, he’s durable and reliable and is better than what a lot of teams throw out there on Day 5. Jonathan Sanchez is the only guy who gives me the willies, and I’m probably basing that on a couple of bad postseason starts rather than his true value.

But the rotation doesn’t make them a slam dunk.  I think they’re a playoff caliber team and, if they make the playoffs, Katie bar the door, because they showed last year that they are not to be trifled with in a short series. But it must be remembered that they didn’t even clinch the playoffs until the last day of the season, so anyone presuming them to be the favorite to win it all is drinking some orange Kool-Aid.  There are flaws here.

So what else is going on?

  • I really don’t see both Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell each posting an OPS of .850+ this year. There will be some dropoff in those corner positions, and I’m not sure that there is enough room for improvement elsewhere in the linuep. And to be honest, given the presence of stud 1B prospect Brandon Belt at AAA, it may be better for the Giants if, rather than a middling falloff, either Huff or Burrell completely craters, opening up a slot for the youngin’.
  • One area where I do see improvement, however, is with Pablo Sandoval. The reports of his weight loss are not exaggerated. And it’s not just cosmetic: he has seemed downright frisky so far this spring, both on defense and at the plate.  If he returns to 2009 form or even comes close, that will help the Giants weather inevitable Burrell/Huff backslide much better.
  • The defense scares me. While Sandoval is friskier, it doesn’t mean he’s better. He may get to more balls, but a lot of them will clang off his glove. Likewise, if I were a Giants pitcher I’d be very wary of Miguel Tejada’s glove at short. No, Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria were not gold glovers last year, but Tejada is downright calcified at this point. A lot of balls will get through the left side.
  • Brian Wilson anchors the bullpen and Sergio Romo is pretty studly himself. Santiago Casila was fantastic last year too, but it was also a year unlike anything else he had shown before. Is he a late bloomer or was last year fluky?  A good bullpen, but one, it must be remembered, which had an awful lot to do with that whole “torture” meme last year.  They bent but didn’t break. If they bend any further this year, it could be trouble.

So how are they gonna do?

The World Series win made a lot of people forget just how much this team struggled until mid-season. They were seven games behind in July and required a pretty spectacular swoon on the part of the Padres to catapult them back into the race.  I don’t think they’re as bad a team as we saw early in 2010, but I don’t think they’re as good as they seemed when hoisting that trophy. I mean, who is?  And while the Padres won’t be a factor this year, I think both Colorado and L.A. will be improved.

But not quite enough.  In some radio interviews and podcasts I have been flippantly saying that the Rockies are my favorites this year. But it was just this past weekend that I really sat down and studied the matter.  It’s a close call for me, and I think the race will be close all year long as well, but I think the Giants have to be picked to win the NL West.

Even if they don’t always look pretty doing it.

Nationals fire reigning Manager of the Year Matt Williams

Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams looks on from the dugout during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Matt Williams was voted the National League Manager of the Year on November 11, 2014, receiving 18 of 30 first-place votes from Baseball Writers Association of America members.

Today the Nationals fired him following a season full of disappointment, reports of clubhouse discontent, and Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout.

Williams went 179-145 (.552) in two seasons in Washington, which is an excellent winning percentage, but when you take over a stacked team the expectations are extremely high and there was seemingly nothing anyone could point to about his actual managing that suggested he was doing a good job.

His in-game tactics and particularly his rigid bullpen usage patterns infuriated fans. His dealings with the local media became increasingly antagonistic. And even setting aside two players literally fighting in the dugout there’s ample evidence that Williams lost the clubhouse a long time ago.

Williams was far from the only thing wrong with the Nationals this season and he’s hardly the primary person to blame for their disappointing record, but it’s also hard to make a strong case for his sticking around–meaningless, beat writer-voted award or not–and general manager Mike Rizzo predictably acted quickly to move on.

Now we’ll see who gets to take the next crack at managing the Nationals to play up to expectations.

Dan Haren plans to retire after the playoffs are over

Dan Haren
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Dan Haren, who said two months ago that he was leaning toward retiring after the season, reiterated those plans following the Cubs’ regular season finale Sunday.

At age 34 he started 32 games for the Marlins and Cubs with a 3.60 ERA and 132/38 K/BB ratio in 187 innings, so Haren would have no problem finding work and a solid paycheck for 2016.

However, he’s not expected to part of the Cubs’ playoff roster and told Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:

That was it for me. If I have to pitch in the postseason, I’ll be ready for sure. Happy the way the last few starts have gone. Being able to contribute to this amazing team. I’m just thankful to be a part of it. If I don’t pitch in the postseason, that’s it. It’s been fun. Hopefully there’s a lot more games to go. … If my name is called, I’ll be ready.

Injuries has lessened Haren’s overall effectiveness in recent years, but he’s remained a solid mid-rotation starter and has pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues with a 3.75 ERA in 2,419 innings. He made three All-Star teams and earned more than $80 million.