Springtime Storylines: Can the Giants repeat?

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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.

Felix Hernandez will miss 3-4 weeks with shoulder bursitis

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Mariners’ right-hander Felix Hernandez is looking at a 3-4 week recovery period, the team announced on Friday. Hernandez has been officially diagnosed with bursitis in his right shoulder after getting pulled from his last start against the Tigers on Tuesday.

It’s not the first shoulder issue the 31-year-old righty has dealt with during his career. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times notes that Hernandez was previously diagnosed with bursitis during a minor league stint in 2005, several weeks prior to making his major league start for Seattle. This time around, however, the injury is coupled with a few years of not-so-sharp stuff, waning velocity and career-low numbers, and while it’s certainly not a worst-case diagnosis, it seems like greater cause for concern.

Without Felix, the Mariners will keep rolling with James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo and Chase De Jong in their rotation. They’ll also keep Ben Gamel in right field, with starting right fielder Mitch Haniger expected to miss 3-4 weeks after sustaining a Grade 2 strain in his right oblique on Tuesday.

Rays acquire RHP Drew Smith from Tigers

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The Rays acquired minor league reliever Drew Smith from the Tigers on Friday, per a team announcement. The move will close the loop on the trade the two teams began in January for backup outfielder Mikie Mahtook.

Smith, 23, pitched his first full season in Single-A West Michigan in 2016, turning in a 2.96 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 11.5 SO/9 in 48 2/3 innings. The right-hander is still several levels away from making any impact on the Rays’ major league roster, but appears to be progressing steadily in two seasons of pro ball and has delivered two runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in his first 11 2/3 innings at High-A Lakeland this season. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that he’ll be reassigned to the Rays’ High-A Charlotte this week.