Craig Calcaterra

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, right, throws the ball to starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija before the team's spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Associated Press

2016 Preview: San Francisco Giants


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 2016 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

If the Dodgers have questions about their rotation, the Giants sure don’t. At least at the top. San Francisco made a concerted effort to upgrade the pitching over the winter, signing star right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. They’ll join Madison Bumgarner atop what looks to be a devastating 1-2-3 combo for opposing hitters. At least if Bumgarner’s aches this spring prove to be minor. Which, at the moment, they seem to be. Depth could be a concern, though. Matt Cain‘s continued injury woes have pushed Chris Heston into the five-spot behind Jake Peavy at four, and beyond those guys, there are not a lot of reinforcements should any of the horses pull up lame.

The lineup is likewise solid. As always, things start with a Hall of Fame-bound catcher Buster Posey. The biggest non-Posey factor in the lineup may be Brandon Belt, who was terrific during the 137 games he played in 2015, hitting .280/.356/.478 with 18 homers and 68 RBI. The most curious part of Belt’s 2015: 18 homers, which came alongside his lowest fly ball percentage of his career (37.9%). His contact and his talent is such that, if that fly ball rate was an anomaly, Belt could be find himself having a breakout year some point soon, pairing that nice uptick in on-base and slugging with a bunch of extra long balls too. Beyond those two, the supporting cast of Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy were all excellent last year, giving the Giant a well-rounded lineup. If Hunter Pence can shake off his injury-plagued 2015 and return to form this season, that lineup goes from well-rounded to downright scary.

As is the case with the rotation, depth may be the offense’s only weak spot. Denard Span was signed to a three-year contract to serve as the club’s leadoff hitter, and he’s a good on when healthy, but he missed a lot of time last year. If he and Pence are on the DL again this year Gregor Blanco can definitely fill in, but Angel Pagan showed some serious decline last year so Blanco may be better-used to replace him in left than to fill-in for injuries. A bigger question is the catching corps behind Posey, which has been racked with injuries this spring. Finding a way to keep their star fresh without the DH is a challenge Bruce Bochy is used to, but one which is still kind of annoying.

The Giant are an excellent team on paper. And hey, it’s an even year and they always win the World Series in even years, right? The biggest x-factor for them is what to do if and when the injury bug hits, which it always does in some way, shape or form. They have a front office which has, in the past, done well in finding replacements on the fly, however.

I’m bullish on San Francisco. Depending on the injury situation, they could easily beat the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even if they don’t, they have enough talent to be in the playoff mix all season long.

Prediction: Second place, N.L. West, but it will be not at all shocking if they win the dang thing.

The Tigers turned a triple play yesterday

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The Detroit Tigers pulled off a triple play in a split-squad game against the Braves.

Atlanta’s Willians Astudo lined a shot to Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, who got it on a bounce and flipped the ball to second baseman Ian Kinsler, who (a) tagged the runner who had been on second; (b) touched second to force the runner coming from first; and (c) then fired to first baseman Miguel Cabrera to complete the triple play.

Kinsler said he didn’t even know how many outs were made on the play until it was over. It went by too fast, he said.

“It was just a line drive, I touched the base and threw to first. It was the perfect storm,” Kinsler said.


2016 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws during a spring training baseball workout Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Associated Press

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 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

There are always so many expectations when it comes to the Dodgers. Expectations attributable primarily to the team’s payroll, but not solely. You could, if you really tried to, put together a bad $200 million team I suppose. The Dodgers have put together a pretty good one for a few years in a row now, and those good teams have won three straight NL West titles. There have been flaws, of course, and their continue to be flaws, but it seems like the Dodgers will continue to be relevant, if not favorites, in the West for some time.

The lineup returns fully intact from the end of last year, and there is talent there, but the Dodgers will need some underachieving players to live up to their potential and some younger players to take a step forward.

The core of veterans — Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner — were solid and at times spectacular last year, but they are all getting up there in years. That means that the younger talent is more significant than ever. If Yasiel Puig isn’t healthy, productive and distraction-free, L.A. is already in a hole. If Joc Pederson doesn’t show that his miserable second half from 2015 was an anomaly there are bigger problems. The biggest change will be Corey Seager replacing Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. He is widely considered to be the top prospect in all of baseball and lived up to the hype in his September call-up last season, hitting.337/.425/.561 with four homers, 17 RBI and a pair of stolen bases in 113 plate appearances. He doesn’t need to be that good for the Dodgers to win the division, but he needs to be solid. He probably will be.

The upside of this lineup is pretty spectacular and there is a lot of depth there in the form of Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke, Enrique Hernandez, Chase Utley, and A.J. Ellis. It will give new manager Dave Roberts a lot fewer headaches, however, if he can count on Puig, Pederson, Seager and Gonzalez to carry the load.

Indeed, everyone in that lineup needs to be solid because there are some serious questions in the rotation right now. Best Pitcher on the Planet Clayton Kershaw is not one of them, obviously, nor is closer Kenley Jansen. Losing Zack Greinke, however, was a major blow, as was the rash of injuries suffered by other starters. Brett Anderson is gone for months. One of the guys counted on to be in the rotation, Mike Bolsinger, will start the year on the DL as well. Brandon Beachy has experienced some elbow problems and given is health history that has to be scary. Scott Kazmir was brought in to shore things up, but he was shaky in the second half last year and some have questions about his durability. At some point Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy will return, and newcomer Kenta Maeda is an intriguing addition, but in the meantime it will Kershaw and four days of — wait, it never rains in southern California.

There’s a new attitude in L.A. with Dave Roberts in camp. There is oodles of talent on this roster. But the rotation beyond Kershaw is a concern and betting on all of the Dodgers’ young players to step up while the older guys experience little if any decline is not exactly a sure thing. I think the Dodgers will be a good team this year, and for now I think they’re still the favorites in the division, but they’ll be in a battle with the Giants and the Diamondbacks all year long.

Prediction: First place N.L. West, but expect a dogfight.