Author: D.J. Short

Alex Rodriguez

Video: Alex Rodriguez hits his second home run of the spring


Alex Rodriguez hit his second home run of the spring yesterday, an opposite-field shot against Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon. Check it out below:

The Yankees team Twitter account was mysteriously silent after A-Rod’s first spring home run, but they were quick to acknowledge it this time around. I knew those two crazy kids would eventually get back together:

Rodriguez is batting .269/.367/.538 across 30 plate appearances in Grapefruit League action.

2015 Preview: San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner ,Buster Posey

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 2015 season. Next up: The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Will they do it again?

The Giants came roaring out of the gate last season and looked like one of the best teams in the majors early on, but they stumbled through the middle of the year before playing better in August and September (and getting some help from the collapsing Brewers) to secure a Wild Card spot with 88 wins. Of course, we all know what happened after that. They beat the Pirates in the Wild Card game before upsetting the Nationals in the NLDS and the Cardinals in the NLCS. On the strength of one of the best individual postseason performances of all-time from Madison Bumgarner, the Giants beat the Royals for their third World Series title in the past five years.

“Will they do it again?” is the operative question for any defending World Series champion. The Giants have looked like a mess in spring training, but I’m not going to dismiss them outright because 2015 is an odd-numbered year. It’s cute to joke about it, but there’s no such thing as an odd-year jinx because jinxes aren’t real. We’re all adults here. We can admit it, right? However, I will say that the path back to October has its share of challenges.

After fan favorite Pablo Sandoval signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the Red Sox, many wondered if the Giants would use the cost savings to make a big splash in free agency. It didn’t happen. They re-signed Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, and Sergio Romo while adding Nori Aoki to their outfield, but that was about it. Chase Headley was briefly mentioned as a possible alternative to Sandoval, but the Giants ultimately acquired Casey McGehee from the Marlins. Not the most exciting offseason, but Brian Sabean has a knack for keeping the band together and winning the offseason isn’t everything.

I can spend a lot time talking about the greatness of Bumgarner and Buster Posey here — and man, are they are great — but what the Giants get from some key rebound candidates will likely tell the tale about where this team goes. Matt Cain didn’t pitch after July 9 last season due to an elbow injury which eventually required surgery. He also had ankle surgery in September. The 30-year-old owns a 4.06 ERA over his last 45 starts dating back to the start of 2013? Can he revert to his old form? Angel Pagan was a key to the team’s World Series run in 2012, but he has been limited to just 167 games over the past two seasons and is coming off back surgery. He’s currently shut down with more back discomfort. Can the Giants count on him at this point? Brandon Belt might be a better bet than those first two. The 26-year-old had some tough luck on the injury front last year, as a fractured thumb and concussion issues limited him to just 61 games, but he has looked great this spring and should produce if healthy. His best baseball is likely still ahead of him. The Giants don’t have a lot of pop, so it would be helpful if 2015 is that year.

What else is going on?

  • The rotation has a bunch of questions even beyond Cain. The workload for Bumgarner last year (270 innings between the regular season and playoffs) can’t be ignored altogether. Tim Hudson is 39 and is coming off surgery in January to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. Peavy has avoided arm problems for the past three years and should benefit with a full year in a pitcher-friendly ballpark in the NL, but he’s going into his age-34 season and has a major injury in his past. Tim Lincecum is getting another shot in the starting rotation despite a 4.76 ERA (73 ERA+) over the past three seasons.
  • If things don’t work out with Lincecum (and it’s hard to believe it will, as fun as a sudden revival would be), Yusmeiro Petit is someone to keep an eye on. With his lights-out curveball, the 30-year-old compiled a 3.69 ERA with an excellent 133/22 K/BB ratio in 117 innings across 12 starts and 27 relief appearances last season. He’ll likely begin 2015 in Bruce Bochy’s consistently-excellent bullpen along with the likes of Vogelsong, Jean Machi, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Romo, and Santiago Casilla, but he deserves a long look in that rotation. I’m guessing he’ll get it one way or the other.
  • Hunter Pence has been one of the game’s most durable players since entering the league, but he suffered a freak injury earlier this month when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left forearm. He’s likely to miss most or all of April. We should see a lot of Gregor Blanco in the meantime and potentially guys like Travis Ishikawa, Justin Maxwell, and Juan Perez too, especially if Pagan’s back keeps acting up. It’s only a month, but Pence’s production will be missed in this lineup.
  • Hey, remember when the Giants had Dan Uggla play a handful of games at second base last season? That was fun. Fortunately, rookie Joe Panik eventually emerged and proved to be a solid contributor down the stretch and had some big moments during the postseason. What does the 24-year-old have in store for his first full season in the majors? There’s still some question about how much he’ll hit, but between him and Brandon Crawford, it looks like the Giants might not have to worry about their middle infield for a while.

Prediction: There are definitely ways I can see this working out, but I have too many doubts about the rotation and I don’t think there’s enough power in this lineup. It’s going to be close with the Padres and the numerous other teams in the Wild Card race, but I’m going with…Third place, NL West.

This is awesome: Every game on the final day of the MLB regular season will start at the same time

Yadier Molina, Daniel Descalso

Well, this is awesome. According to Bill Shakin of the Los Angeles Times, MLB has scheduled every game on the final day of the regular season to start at the same time. The idea with this new little wrinkle is to ramp up the drama leading into the playoffs:

“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said Tony Pettiti, MLB chief operating officer.

“If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”

All games on Sunday, October 4 will start at 3 p.m. ET.

In addition to all the drama, excitement, and nail-biting which will surely commence on that afternoon, it might also change how some teams approach things. The Pirates lost on the final day of the regular season last year, which clinched the NL Central for the Cardinals. The Cardinals had a later start and were able to scratch Adam Wainwright at the last minute and rest him for Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Teams won’t have the luxury to wait on decisions like that anymore. You’re going to have to go for it.

It’s hard to see a negative with this idea. If anything, the hardest part will be trying to keep up with everything that might be going on. Of course, that will be a fun problem to have for baseball fans. Bring on the chaos.

Rusney Castillo could be ready for Grapefruit League action on Saturday

Rusney Castillo AP

Rusney Castillo came into spring training with his eyes on the starting center fielder job for the Red Sox, but he has been sidelined for most of the month with a left oblique strain. However, there’s some good news to pass along, as Ian Browne of reports that he could make his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday against the Pirates.

Castillo is nearly ready to go after participating in minor league games over the past two days with no issues. The plan calls for him to get playing time in center field and right field once he’s cleared for Grapefruit League action, but he’s running out of time to make his case over Mookie Betts.

Castillo, who signed a $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox, batted .333 (12-for-36) with two home runs, six RBI, and three stolen bases over 10 games during his first taste of the majors last September.