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2013 Preview: San Francisco Giants

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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 2013 season. Up next: The World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants hold off the Dodgers in the National League West?

Fresh off a magical run which led to their second World Series title in the past three seasons, the Giants have mostly kept the band together. Giants general manager Brian Sabean pulled it off by retaining three key contributors from the 2012 team. Marco Scutaro, who batted .362 after coming over from the Rockies and played the role of hero during the postseason, is back on a three-year, $20 million contract. Angel Pagan, who thrived in his first season with the club, was re-signed for four years and $40 million. Jeremy Affeldt, who owns a 2.73 ERA over four seasons with the Giants, was brought back on a three-year, $18 million contract.

It’s a little much to ask Scutaro to replicate what he did down the stretch last season, as it was fueled by a .366 batting average on balls in play. He’s also 37 years old and has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Hunter Pence batted just .219 with seven home runs in 59 games after coming over from the Phillies last season, so the Giants need him to bounce back in his walk year. 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey is the best bet in the lineup, but he plays the most demanding position in the sport. It would be nice if Pablo Sandoval managed to play a full season while staying in the Giants’ good graces from a conditioning perspective.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have the potential to be one of the best 1-2 combos in the game, but getting a rebound season out of Tim Lincecum would provide a huge boost to the starting rotation. His 5.18 ERA last season was fourth-highest among qualified starters while his walk rate has jumped from 2.7 BB/9 to 4.4 BB/9 since 2009. The good news is that the strikeouts were still there last year. While Lincecum has received plenty of attention this spring for his new haircut, he’s hoping that an offseason strength and conditioning program will pay dividends on the mound. Don’t rule it out. He pitches in a great home park to facilitate a rebound.

It’s a little odd to see a team which won the World Series be overshadowed by a division rival, but that’s exactly what happened this winter with the high-spending Dodgers. On paper, they are a serious threat to take the division. But we have seen spending sprees backfire in baseball before, so it’s hardly a guarantee of success. Still, the margin for error figures to be smaller than last year, so Bruce Bochy’s squad needs a lot of things to go right to have a chance at a repeat.

What else is going on? 

  • With Brian Wilson out of the picture, the Giants are set to give Sergio Romo a chance at the closer role. The 30-year-old right-hander boasts a brilliant 2.20 ERA for his career and was dominant down the stretch last year and during the postseason, so it’s hard to find a more deserving candidate. However, the Giants have always been extra careful about his workload because he relies so heavily on his knockout slider. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Affeldt also figure to get save chances.
  • The Giants never considered bringing Melky Cabrera back following his 50-game suspension for synthetic testosterone, so they are hoping that a combination of Gregor Blanco and a returning Andres Torres will be able to hold things down in left field. Defense shouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t the most inspiring combination offensively. If there’s a spot where the Giants could look for an upgrade during the season, this is it.
  • Barry Zito is entering the final guaranteed year of his infamous seven-year, $126 million contract, as the Giants can buy out his 2014 option for $7 million. With a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA over six seasons with the club, there’s no disputing that he is one of the biggest free agent busts of all-time. But his surprising postseason heroics have at least assured him of a special place in franchise history.
  • Could this be the year that Brandon Belt breaks out? The 24-year-old has shown good patience and a penchant for spraying line drives, but he has just 16 home runs over his first 681 plate appearances in the majors. That’s quite a contrast to what he did in the minor leagues. The Giants will have to hope that his strong performance down the stretch last year and hot hitting this spring is a harbinger for things to come.

Prediction: It will be close, but I have the Giants repeating as the NL West winners.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30:  Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets celebrates after retiring the side in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox  during their game at Citi Field on May 30, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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There were a lot of complete games and a lot of non-complete games that nonetheless saved tired bullpens yesterday. It’s not like it was 1973 all over again or anything, but it was pretty notable all the same. Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 1, White Sox 0: Matt Harvey is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 6/1 since deciding to not talk to the media. Clearly avoiding the press is a good move for him and he should continue to do so.

Braves 5, Giants 3: Mike Foltynewicz gave up an early homer to Brandon Belt but then buckled down and allowed only one run over six innings. Mallex Smith hit a three-run triple. If you squint a little you can imagine those two starring in games that actually matter for Atlanta one day.

Red Sox 7, Orioles 2: Steven Wright allowed two runs on four hits in tossing a complete game. It was his third of those on the year. In 2015 the league leaders in complete games in both the NL and the AL notched four each. Will White had 75 of them in 1879. People always talk about Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak as being baseball’s ultimate unbreakable record. I got my money on Will White’s CG mark. If you insist on going post-deadball era I’ll take Bob Feller’s 36 in 1946, which I’m pretty sure is equally unbreakable.

Cardinals 6, Brewers 0: Carlos Martinez struck out eight in eight shutout innings — he needed that — and Matt Carpenter had four hits. Martinez has owned the Brewers so far in his career. He should be getting quarterly reports and have his own parking space at Miller Park.

Athletics 3, Twins 2: Kendall Graveman had an uncharacteristically solid start. Coco Crisp led off the game with a homer. He also added to the difficulty of a nice Chris Coghlan catch on a sac fly in the fifth, providing a body block of sorts. We’ve still never seen a heel-turn in a major league baseball game, but this is how one would start. They’re more creative now, but back in the 80s all the good heel turns started with some minor accident or miscommunication during a tag team match or something, causing the newly formed heel to believe his friend had turned on him when he really just made a mistake. If Coghlan was getting a push as a new heel, this is how it’d go. I doubt it will happen because MLB’s bookers really aren’t on top of things, but I’m gonna watch the next A’s game anyway to see if he hits Crisp with a metal chair during a standup interview with whoever the A’s version of Gordon Solie is.

Mariners 9, Padres 3Kyle Seager and Dae-Ho Lee homered. It wasn’t too long ago that the two teams combined in a Mariners-Padres game might not score nine runs in a whole three-game series. Or at least it felt like that. Seattle has come a long way.

Reds 11, Rockies 8: An 11-8 game with 28 hits and seven home runs that featured a big lead blown and a big rally that had its momentum maintained by a walk to a pitcher? Let me guess: Coors Field? *checks* Yes, I guessed correctly. Two homers from Adam Duvall who has 11 on the year somehow.

Astros 8, Diamondbacks 3: The offense was nice for Houston but a big game from Collin McHugh, going the distance the day after the Astros bullpen got sapped, was huge for them too. Jason Castro drove in three. Houston has won six of seven. I told y’all they’d come around eventually.

Cubs 2, Dodgers 0: Jason Hammel had to leave the game after two shutout innings with hamstring cramps. All the Cubs bullpen did was toss seven perfect innings. Not seven shutout innings. Seven perfect innings. Dang. One hit and one walk in the game for the Dodgers, each off of Hammel.

Rangers 9, Indians 2: Nomar Mazara’s hit a homer — a long homer —  in the fourth innins. He now has five home runs and 12 RBI in his last 11 games. The Astros may be turning it around, but the first place Rangers have won eight of 10 so it’s not like they’re gaining much ground.

Nationals 4, Phillies 3: Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer, singled, doubled and drove in three. He’s at .395/.426/.621 on the year. That’ll play. Bryce Harper had to leave after getting hit on the knee with a pitch, but he shouldn’t miss much time.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 2: The Jays have taken five of six. Marco Estrada allowed three hits and struck out six in eight shutout innings. Just a ton of strong pitching performances yesterday. Not crazy Kershaw-style things, but a lot of “the bullpen was tired after the weekend and we need you to eat innings” kind of gutsy performances, this one being no exception.

Pirates 10, Marlins 0: OK, I take that back. Jeff Locke had a dominant performance with a three-hit shutout. Although he only struck out one dude, so that may or may not qualify depending on your definition of dominance. 105 pitches and no walks is pretty dang spiffy either way, though. Gregory Polanco hit a grand slam. Guy is hitting .315/.393/.565 from the 7-hole.

Royals 6, Rays 2: Eric Hosmer hit a three-run bomb in the Royals’ four-run eighth inning. Four wins in a row for the champs.

Angels 5, Tigers 1: Justin Verlander and Jhoulys Chacin traded zeroes until the eighth inning when Verlander ran out of zeros. The Angels rallied four five runs that inning, four charged to JV, and Chacin kept cruising, finishing the game with 10 strikeouts and allowing only one run in a complete game.

Chacin wins duel with Verlander, Angels top Tigers 5-1

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Over the first 4 1/2 innings at Angel Stadium, Jhoulys Chacin and Justin Verlander retired all 27 batters they faced. They kept trading zeros deep into the eighth inning of a scintillating pitchers’ duel.

After the Los Angeles Angels finally cracked Verlander, Chacin kept pushing all the way to a breakthrough victory for his new team.

Chacin threw a four-hitter, and Cliff Pennington‘s tiebreaking RBI single during a five-run eighth propelled the Angels to a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

With shadows on the field for an early holiday start at Angel Stadium, nobody could get a hit off Chacin (1-1) or Verlander (4-5) until C.J. Cron‘s single leading off the fifth for Los Angeles.

Chacin lost his own perfect game bid on Andrew Romine‘s two-out single in the sixth, but the veteran Venezuelan right-hander persevered all the way to his third career complete game in his fourth start for the Angels.

“It felt great, and I’m really happy,” Chacin said. “I feel like my arm is just getting stronger, and hopefully it can stay like that the whole season.”

Los Angeles acquired Chacin from Atlanta earlier this month to bolster their injury-battered rotation. In his fourth start on the West Coast, he struck out 10 while throwing the Angels’ first complete game of the season.

“There’s no doubt he was hitting his spots,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He got a lot of called strikes and some ugly swings from some really good hitters. His command was terrific. I don’t even think he threw 20 pitches (while) behind in the count. It was unbelievable.”

Chacin’s dominance was invaluable after the Angels’ bullpen was taxed in a 13-inning loss to Houston on Sunday, their fourth defeat in five games. Facing Detroit for the first time, the veteran right-hander threw his first complete game since 2011.

He fell just shy of the second shutout of his career when J.D. Martinez doubled and scored on Victor Martinez‘s long fly in the ninth, but Los Angeles had already given him plenty of room for error after eight nail-biting innings.

Chacin’s satisfaction was likely as large as the frustration felt by the Tigers, who wasted a gem from Verlander.

“When we don’t do anything offensively, it seems like it’s a lineup epidemic,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “When you’re in a 0-0 game, there’s no room for error, as you saw.”

Verlander, who threw eight scoreless innings last week against Philadelphia, gave up only one hit in the first seven innings while retiring the first 12 Angels he faced. He got no support from his teammates in Detroit’s fourth loss in five games.

“It’s tough for everybody here,” Verlander said. “You never know with our lineup. We can put up runs in a hurry, so you just kind of keep waiting for the big hit. Just keep going out there and plugging along, and hoping that it happens.”

BIG RALLY

Verlander sat down eight straight Angels shortly after Cron’s hit, but the bottom of their order finally beat him. After Johnny Giavotella and Rafael Ortega opened the eighth with back-to-back singles, Pennington failed on two bunt attempts before confidently lining a single to left.

Gregorio Petit then grounded to short, but Romine’s throw home was too late to get Ortega, and James McCann‘s subsequent throw to first skipped into right field, scoring Pennington.

HOLIDAY PAY

Albert Pujols and Cron added RBI singles off Buck Farmer in the eighth. Pujols has 20 career RBIs on Memorial Day, the most among active big leaguers. He is batting .363 with 32 RBIs against Detroit in his career.

FIELD OF SCREAMS

Detroit has lost 18 of its last 22 games in Anaheim since 2009, including eight straight and 14 of the last 15.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Tigers: Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann went through a pregame workout at Angel Stadium, and he’ll throw a bullpen session Tuesday in hopes of returning later this week from a groin strain.

Angels: Closer Huston Street was activated from the disabled list before the game. He hadn’t pitched since April 23 due to a strained oblique muscle.

UP NEXT

Tigers: Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 6.04 ERA) is winless in four career starts at Angel Stadium.

Angels: Hector Santiago (3-3, 4.58 ERA) got ejected in the third inning of his last start in Texas.

Cubs ‘pen perfect for 7 innings in 1-hit win over Dodgers

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CHICAGO (AP) Travis Wood and three other relievers combined for seven perfect innings after starter Jason Hammel left with cramps, and the Chicago Cubs held the Los Angeles Dodgers to one hit in a 2-0 victory Monday.

Hammel exited after his right hamstring cramped while warming up for the third inning. Wood (3-0) pitched four perfect innings in his longest stint of the season.

Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon pitched one inning each for the Cubs, with Rondon getting his ninth save. He has converted 20 straight save opportunities dating back to Aug. 14.

Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to a career-high-tying 16 games. He singled leading off the fifth and reached third when right fielder Yasiel Puig misplayed the ball. He scored on Jason Heyward‘s infield single.

Anthony Rizzo drove home Heyward with a double to right.

Zobrist has reached base in his last 35 starts, the longest streak by a Cub since Starlin Castro‘s 40 in 2011.

The Cubs (35-14) have the best record in baseball and are a season-high 21 games over .500. They have won six straight since dropping eight of 12.

They entered Monday 6 1/2 games in front of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.

The Dodgers had won six of seven entering this Memorial Day matinee. The Dodgers arrived at their Chicago hotel at 3:30 a.m. following a 4-2 win over Mets on Sunday in New York, but manager Dave Roberts said before the game that his team had no problem with the quick turnaround.

“It makes it a lot easier after you win a game like we did last night,” he said. “To be here (at Wrigley Field) in this environment, it’s pretty exciting. But it’s kind of business as usual.”

Dodgers starting pitcher Alex Wood (1-4) gave up two runs on seven hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking three. His normal turn would have been last Friday, but he injured his left triceps swinging a bat in his previous start, May 21 in San Diego. Nineteen-year-old Julio Urias started in his place Friday.

MEMORIAL DAY LAMENT

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his father, uncles and grandparents served in the military – and that his Uncle Buzz was a POW.

“The one regret I have in my own personal life is the fact that I never did serve,” Maddon said. “At the time, it was very unpopular. The Vietnam War was going on, and I was in college. At the time, you really thought you were very fortunate not to have to do that. But retrospectively, that would be the one life experience that I missed out on. I wish I hadn’t.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson, who left Saturday’s game in New York with lower back soreness, was 100 percent and available off the bench, according to Roberts. He’s expected to start in left field on Tuesday. … OF Carl Crawford, pulled from Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury, started in left Monday. “I just wanted to give him (Thompson) another day and give C.C. an opportunity,” Roberts said. “C.C. is a quick healer. I like the matchup of him and Hammel.” … RHP Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John surgery) was scheduled to throw to hitters at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

CUBS: Maddon did not start center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has a sore heel. Maddon said he hoped Fowler would return to the lineup Tuesday. Maddon moved Jason Heyward from right to center, shifted Ben Zobrist from second to right, and inserted Javier Baez at second. Zobrist also took Fowler’s leadoff spot. Fowler entered Monday’s game with a six-game hitting streak.

UP NEXT

CUBS: RHP Jake Arrieta (9-0, 1.72 ERA) will try to become the major league’s first 10-game winner. He is the first Cubs starter to win his first nine decisions in a season since Kenny Holtzman in 1967. The only Cubs starter with a longer season-opening streak was Jim McCormick, who started 16-0 in 1886. Arrieta is 20-0 with a 0.98 ERA in 22 starts since Aug. 1, 2015.

DODGERS: LHP Scott Kazmir (4-3, 4.84) pitched for then-Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon’s 2008 World Series team. He has a 1-0 career record and 2.53 ERA in two games against the Cubs. Kazmir is 3-1 in May with a 4.13 ERA.

Bogaerts hit streak at 23 as Red Sox beat Orioles 7-2

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BALTIMORE (AP) Xander Bogaerts did the damage early, extending his hitting streak to 23 games and driving in two runs.

From there, Boston used the long ball to pull away from the Baltimore Orioles in a matchup between the top two teams in the AL East.

Jackie Bradley put the first-place Red Sox ahead for good with a sixth-inning homer, and David Ortiz and Marco Hernandez connected in the eighth to seal a 7-2 victory Monday.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright (5-4) pitched a four-hitter, striking out seven and walking five in his third straight complete game.

Mookie Betts scored twice, courtesy of Bogaerts, before Bradley connected off Tyler Wilson (2-4) leading off the sixth. Bradley’s 29-game hitting streak, which ended last week, is the only one this season longer than Bogaerts’ career-best run.

“I’m just trying to go up there and get hits, you know? If it happens, it happens,” Bogaerts said. “Just trying to be me, and not trying to be someone who I’m not.”

Ortiz led off the eighth with his 14th home run and Hernandez added a three-run shot to send many in the crowd of 43,926 up the exit ramps. Hernandez’s first major league homer came in his 10th game.

Wright, meanwhile, threw a 122-pitch masterpiece by mixing a fluttering knuckler with a vastly contrasting fastball.

“It was a challenge,” Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo said. “He had great stuff today. It never ended up where it started. You can’t really predict where to swing. You just hope that you get one that maybe doesn’t move quite as much.”

Ryan Flaherty doubled in a run and scored one for the Orioles, who have lost six of eight.

Wilson gave up three runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings in losing his third straight start.

Limited to an infield hit over the first four innings, Baltimore temporarily solved Wright’s knuckler in the fifth. Nolan Reimold tripled, Flaherty doubled, Caleb Joseph snapped an 0-for-19 skid with a single and Adam Jones delivered a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2.

“They’re a very aggressive team. They’re all really good hitters,” Wright said. “In that inning they scored the two runs, I think I kind of got caught up in the same speed.”

The deadlock lasted only until Bradley crushed Wilson’s third pitch of the following inning.

Boston got a first-inning run when Betts scored from second base on Bogaerts’ dribbler down the third-base line. Bogaerts was thrown out, but neither Wilson nor Joseph, the catcher, got back to cover the plate. Replays indicated the ball bounced off Bogaerts’ foot in foul ground, but such plays are not reviewable.

Bogaerts knew the ball should have been called foul, but learned from experience to run it out.

“We had a play back at home, same play. I stood at home, the ball hit me, and they threw to first, out,” he said. “I told the umpire the ball hit me, and he said, `No, you’re out.’ This time I’m running, you know. And it worked out for RBI.”

Bogaerts hit an RBI double in the third following singles by Betts and Dustin Pedroia.

DOUBLE DOWN

Red Sox: Bogaerts’ two doubles increased Boston’s major-league leading total to 133, but Ortiz’s career-high run of six straight games with a double came to an end.

Orioles: Flaherty’s fifth-inning double was his second in 61 at-bats this season and produced his second RBI.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Red Sox: Placed on the concussion list May 20, utility man Brock Holt has ramped up his baseball-related activities. But there is no timetable for his return, manager John Farrell said. … Ortiz returned after sitting out Sunday’s game in Toronto with a sore left foot.

Orioles: RHP Yovani Gallardo (shoulder tendinitis) will begin his rehabilitation assignment on Thursday and with 40-60 pitches in a minor league game. … SS J.J. Hardy (broken foot) will have a CT scan Friday. He hopes to be cleared to begin baseball-related activities. Joseph was taken to the hospital for observation after getting struck in the groin by a foul ball.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez (right knee) comes off the disabled list to make his season debut, starting on the mound Tuesday night against the organization that drafted him. Rodriquez went 0-3 in five rehab starts with Triple-A Pawtucket. After the game, Boston sent reliever Heath Hembree to the minors to make room for Rodriguez.

Orioles: Starting for the eighth time this season, Kevin Gausman (0-2, 3.24 ERA) makes another run at his first win.