The 2013 season opening schedule for the World Champion San Francisco Giants looked like it was put together during a blind tasting of Walmart brand vodkas.
That might explain why the winners of the 2012 World Series, a) opened on the road in Los Angeles (I suppose because Modesto doesn't have an MLB team); b) were almost immediately sent on another road trip, this time to the frozen north (Chicago and Milwaukee); and, c) have an early stretch of 19 games and one off day.
Welcome to the top of the MLB heap. Now pick up your gear and walk through the snow to the visiting dugout.
The good news is the Giants converted their first 13 games into a 9-4 record thanks in large part to being on the right side of 6 games decided by 2 runs or less and throwing three shutouts at, variously, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, and the Rockies.
As the ancient cliche goes, great teams are made in large part by dominating lesser teams throughout a given season. Play the real good teams head-to-head and hope for the best, but pound the bad teams to pad your win column.
There are few teams in the game worse than the Chicago Cubs (61-101 in 2012) and the Colorado Rockies (64-98 in 2012). In fact, I'll go out on a limb and openly identify the Houston Astros as the only team worse than the Rockies and Cubs. (Although the Miami Marlins are on a mission to make the Cubs look good.)
San Francisco played 7 of their first 13 games against Chicago and Colorado and came out the other end of those contests 6-1. Put a check next to "old baseball cliche".
They got shut out by Clayton Kershaw in the season opener in LA then proceeded to teach the Dodgers the Giants Way in the final two games of the 3 game set. Put a check by next to "must beat the Dodgers".
That made losing two of three at home to the St. Louis Cardinals palatable. Especially considering Barry Zito's brilliant 1-0 home opener win-- Zito went 7 scoreless innings giving up 3 hits and 3 walks with four strike-outs.
Three other highlights at the start of the 2013 season should be noted:
> Madison Bumgarner's dominating win in LA-- 8 scoreless innings pitched, 2 hits, no walks and 6 SOs;
> Hunter Pence in the batter's box at top of the 9th inning in Chicago. Giants down 7-6, with two outs and Pence down two strikes. Pence then hit a home run to tie the game, which the Giants went on to win in the 10th 10-7;
> rookie Nick Noonan's two-run single in the 6th inning of the same game against the Cubs that gave San Francisco its first lead of the day.
As always, "runs produced" will be the #1 critical measure of this team throughout the season. San Francisco put up a nice two week offensive burst with 61 runs scored, placing them the middle of the NL pack at 7th overall.
The question will be, can the Giants average at least 4.5 runs per game to keep their dominating pitching in play. In the first 13 games of the season they're averaging 4.69 runs per game; in 2012 San Francisco averaged 4.43 runs per game.
Somewhere in between those numbers lies a very important category: Just Enough to Win.no comments
Nick Noonan's journey from 1st round pick in the 2007 amateur baseball draft (32nd overall) to getting his first Major League start as a San Francisco Giant this week could be described as circuitous.
A star shortstop out of Parker High School in San Diego, Nick Noonan was San Francisco's 4th overall pick (a pitcher named Madison Bumgarner was 1st). Known as a very good contact hitter with speed, after signing with the Giants Noonan soon found himself on a minor league roller coaster ride in the field and at the plate.
It's unclear whether the Giants' organization simply didn't know where they wanted to play Noonan and 2006 1st round pick shortstop Emmanuel Burriss in the infield, or that the front office wanted both players to get experience at multiple positions. Because for some reason the decision was made to turn Noonan into a second baseman and Burriss into a shortstop.
For Nick Noonan, the switch seemed to have a negative effect on his hitting. In 2007 he hit .316 with a .809 OPS in 52 games (first as a shortstop then a second baseman). His numbers dropped in 2008 (.279/.730), then the bottom fell out.
From 2009 to 2011 Nick Noonan's hitting regressed : 2009-- .259 AVG/.727 OPS; 2010-- .237/.584; 2011-- .229/.621. Particularly crazy was Noonan's 2011 season in professional baseball which found him at three different levels playing three different positions:
24 games at Single A+ San Jose as a third baseman, 3 games at second, 1 game at short. Then 71 games as a shortstop at Double A Richmond, and finally 13 games at shortstop for the Triple A Fresno Grizzlies. (At this point I just took a break to figure out where the hell I was in this piece.)
The turnaround came in 2012 when Noonan put up an improved slash line of .296/.347/.763 playing mostly shortstop for the Fresno Grizzlies. Then came Spring Training 2013.
The Giants had targeted 28 year old Tony Abreu as the guy they wanted to make the team out of Spring as a back-up infielder. Abreu, signed as an amateur free agent by the Dodgers in 2002, had six years of MLB experience at second, short and third base for the Dodgers, Arizona and Kansas City Royals. And Giants GM Brian Sabean already had Abreu on his radar for several years looking for the right opening.
After only two Spring ABs Tony Abreu went on the DL with strained quadriceps, the other back-up candidates faded somewhat, and Nick Noonan stepped up. In 27 games and 68 at-bats Noonan put up a .796 OPS. Most important of all for the Giants, Noonan's minor league experience at short, second and third were just what the team needed from a back-up.
In the end, being on a defensive merry-go-round for six years and sticking with it paid off for Nick Noonan.
And how, you ask, did Noonan's first career Major League start go? On Thursday April 11, 2013 Nick Noonan was the starting second baseman for the San Francisco Giants against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Giants won 7-6 and Noonan went 3 for 5.
Twelve days into the 2013 season he has five hits in 11 at-bats-- which slashes out at a nice .455/.500/.455 start.no comments
The newly purchased Los Angeles Dodgers started the 2013 season by rolling up to their home stadium in a fleet of high end BMWs, Lamborghinis, and Porsches.
Three games later the San Francisco Giants had those vehicles tagged, towed and impounded in the 2013 National League West cellar. And while it's not likely the Dodgers will continue to lose two of every three games, San Francisco sent a clear message about real high end value: having truly great starting and bullpen pitching is priceless.
In game one of the three game set San Francisco quietly took their latest loss at the hands of Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw 4-0. Kershaw has something in common with SF Giants' Principal Partner Charles Johnson-- they both own a big piece of the Giants.
San Francisco will be getting regularly scheduled visits from Kershaw throughout the next decade, and they will be extremely annoying.
Luckily these games tend to come in threes, and the Giants took the next two games 3-0 and 5-3.
Of special note in game two was Madison Bumgarner's eight inning, no runs, no walks masterpiece against the Dodgers' newly purchased South Korean starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Bumgarner also hit a run scoring single and Giants closer Sergio Romo earned his first save of the season.
The final game against LA was a series of all out battles. It was Tim Lincecum battling the Dodgers, Lincecum versus his catcher Hector Sanchez, and Lincecum trying to wrestle down his wild fastball. It wasn't pretty but fans certainly got their money's worth:
Tim Lincecum pitched 5 innings, threw 91 pitches, walked 7, struck out 4, did not give up an earned run, and knocked in one of the Giants' five runs.
When the dust settled, third baseman Pablo Sandoval had a two run homer off of recently purchased Dodger starter Josh Beckett in the 3rd inning and Hunter Pence added a solo shot in the 6th. Angel Pagan followed the script for the evening by scoring a run and knocking in an RBI without getting a hit.
Particularly sweet in this first meeting of the season were the performances of LA's two big sluggers: center fielder Matt Kemp went 0-10 in the series, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez went 1-9.
But don't be fooled-- this will be a challenging season for the San Francisco Giants.
Many smart baseball writers picked the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the National League West title. Monster teams like the Washington Nationals, the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves are out there waiting for their turn to tame the 2012 World Champions and grab the 2013 National League pennant.
But they should be careful where they park their fancy cars on game days.no comments
It's like stepping in a large pile of deja vu on the sidewalk. All over again. On April 1, 2013, the San Francisco Giants lost their 6th season opener in the last ten years.
Will anything get this off my sneakers?
Before the Giants met the newly diamond-encrusted, gold leaf festooned Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday at Chavez Ravine word on the streets was, SF's gonna take this thing. Unfortunately the names of those streets were Market, King, and 3rd.
It all looked so good. Staff ace and human equine Matt Cain was getting the first season opening assignment of his career. LA shortstop and petulant pre-teen Hanley Ramirez was out of the line-up with an injury.
So it appeared San Francisco might have a chance against the world's ultimate Giant killer-- LA starter Clayton Kershaw.
In the stage directing words of Dom Deluise in the film "Blazing Saddles", "WRONG!".
Kershaw hit a home run, pitched a complete game shutout, and continued work on his doctoral dissertation in the dugout between innings.
I think he also prepared the after game meal spread, choosing a delightful 2010 Domaine Tempier Bandol to go with the braised pork.
Watching Clayton Kershaw on the mound he seems pretty calm out there, but he just might be upset with the 2013 MLB schedule-- apparently the Dodgers only play the Giants 19 times.
In the last three seasons Clayton Kershaw has put a win next to his name seven (7) times against San Francisco.
As for the Giants, their 4-6 record the past ten years in season openers (including three in a row thanks to yesterday) does have a solution. Two of their four wins over that time came against the Houston Astros, who were told last year to either leave the National League or take a ride with Clemenza and a bag of cannoli.
It's clear to me we need to petition Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to have his blue ribbon Oakland A's relocation committee also study the feasibility of moving Houston back to the National League. Preferably by the All Star break this season.
As far as getting over another Giants' bitch-slapping from Kershaw, let's everybody step in from the 45th floor ledge of the building and take a long, deep breath. As KNBR sports talk broadcaster Marty Laurie often says, "Thanks for the call Mentally Disturbed Bill from Vallejo, great call... that was just a great call."
But if LA manages to beat Madison Bumgarner tonight in game two of the 2013 season, I am prepared to officially start following the Fargo Timberdevils of the North American Indoor Grizzly Bear Wrestling League.no comments
The economics of Major League Baseball ownership has come a long way. Nothing illustrates this better than the recent contract extensions of the Giants' catcher Buster Posey, pitcher Justin Verlander of the Tigers, and Texas Ranger's shortstop Elvis Andrus.
Contract extensions on top of existing multi-year contracts in baseball has become a template for ownership. And for one very good reason-- soaring MLB team values and revenues.
Although extensions are inevitably cheaper than losing yearly arbitration awards or standing in the free agent line with five other teams bidding on your own star first baseman, many owners still had a chronic fear of economic commitment.
But now all franchises up and down the team value scale have an even bigger incentive to pay 2013-2015 prices for six, seven, eight or nine year contracts: they actually have the money to do it.
Today, thanks to a series of MLB national media megadeals and other revenue generating investments, there are no "small market" teams in the way we used to think of them.
For instance, every MLB team gets $50-55 million dollars a year as their slice of the national TV pie. And that doesn't count local TV and radio revenue (the Red Sox have an $18 million a year radio deal, the Texas Rangers pull in another $150 million a year from local TV broadcasts).
Additional income comes to all 30 teams from various other MLB investments and lower earning teams also receive revenue sharing.
Much of this is guaranteed income no matter how smart or incompetent a team's executives may be. Which means that if a baseball owner can simply manage to not totally screw up the other aspects of running their franchise they can realize staggering annual revenues.
"Large market" and "small market" haven't been valid measures of any MLB team's worth, spending power, or ability to make money for almost a decade.
Twenty years ago there were actual large market and small market teams and many of the best players gravitated to East Coast clubs where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox opened their vaults each season and took their pick of the best available free agents. Now we see teams up and down the economic spectrum signing free agents and offering long-term contracts to their star players.
Take the recent Forbes magazine 2013 MLB team valuation list. The 30th ranked team, the Tampa Bay Rays, is worth $451 million and generates revenues of $167 million a year.
Forbes ranked the San Francisco Giants 7th overall in value at $786 million. The Giants also have the 6th highest payroll in baseball ($140 million) with three mega-contract players: Buster Posey, 9 years $167 million; Matt Cain, 6 years $127.5 million; and Barry Zito, 7 years $126 million.
Leading the Forbes' most valuable franchise list, of course, were the New York Yankees ($2.3 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($1.6 billion). But the change in every team's ability to sign players to multi-year contracts is bad news for the former "big market" big spenders like Boston and New York.
In the past the Yankees and Red Sox would cherry pick talented players at will from teams that didn't have the money for long-term contracts. Now the so-called "low payroll" teams like the Tampa Bay Rays are signing their best players to big long-term contracts.
Maybe the best example of this is Rays' third baseman Evan Longoria.
Longoria is exactly the kind of player Boston or New York would have pounced on 10-15 years ago when he hit his first arbitration or free agent year. Tampa would have had to trade Longoria just before his free agent years hit to get some value back for a player they drafted and developed but simply couldn't afford to keep.
But under the new MLB economics Tampa was able to sign Longoria to a six year contract in 2008 and recently extended him for another 6 years. He will make $131 million between 2013 and 2022.
And the New York Yankees? Prior to the start of the 2013 season the Yankees signed 34 year old journeyman Kevin Youkilis to a one year $12m contract to play third base.no comments
OPENING DAY 2013 MLB NEWSPAPER HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE NATION
TO AVOID POTENTIAL WAR, U.S. AGREES TO NORTH KOREA’S TOP THREE DEMANDS
Tim McCarver to Retire After 2013 Season, Oreos Will Now Have Additional Outside Creme Coating, Houston Astros Moved Back to National League
REMAINING NEW YORK YANKEE STARTING PLAYERS INJURED DURING PRESEASON PEPPER GAME
Yogi Berra, Outfield Monuments Pegged to Start in Bombers’ 2013 Home Opener
COMMISSIONER SELIG’S BLUE RIBBON OAKLAND A'S COMMITTEE ISSUES FIRST RULINGS
A’s Owner Lew Wolff “No Longer Allowed to Even Visit San Jose”, 37,000 More Seats at the A’s O.co Coliseum To Be Tarped Off, Coco Crisp Given 30 Days to Pick New Name
SF GIANTS CITE LEGAL PRECEDENT IN DETERMINING TEAM’S TERRITORIAL RIGHTS
Team COO Larry Baer Says His Reading of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Gives Giants Rights to “Much of the US Southwest”
HOUSTON ASTROS 2013 PAYROLL DIPS TO $4,321.10
Stadium Vendors To Spilt Playing Time With Parking Attendants and Several Players Released by Chicago Cubs
PITCHER BARTOLO COLON WILL JOIN 2013 OAKLAND A’s AFTER FINISHING MLB SUSPENSION
Baseball Cited the Elderly Hurler for Testing Positive for PEDs, Continually Leaving Right Turn Blinker on While Driving
Let's talk 2013 Giants, and let's get some comments and analysis from a number of other Giants' bloggers.
Each year Daniel asks a number of MLB team bloggers a set of questions about the teams they cover, and he features their answers in a series he calls "Playing Pepper".
SF Giant bloggers participating in this endeavor included M.C. O'Connor of Raising Matt Cain, Craig Vaughn of THE San Francisco Giants Blog, Bryan Rosa at Around the Foghorn, and Ronnie Redmond at Garlic Fries and Baseball. Check out their comments and check out their San Francisco Giants blogs.
Also participating, of course, were The Giants Cove staff of researchers, writers, and media broadcasters. And while I'm covering all of these positions myself at this particular time, I expect my CraigsList Brazil ad will change all that soon ("Wanted: string swimsuit model, age appropriate, must be able to replace ink jet cartridges on discontinued HP printer").
Anyway, here is the naked, acoustic version of the Giants Cove Playing Pepper 2013:
1) How would you grade the offseason?
The Giants organization’s goal was to reassemble the 2012 World Championship team, and in that they succeeded spectacularly.
Signed were free agents Angel Pagan (center field) and Marco Scutaro (second base); avoiding arbitration was right fielder Hunter Pence in a one year $13.8 million deal; and the team’s stellar bullpen was kept intact via a series of extensions. Chad Gaudin will replace the departed Guillermo Mota in the pen (an upgrade) and lefty mid-season acquisition Jose Mijares is back.
All five starters (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum, and Ryan Vogelsong) begin the 2013 season under previous multi-year deals, as does third baseman Pablo Sandoval. National League MVP Buster Posey was extended in a one year $8 million deal, but expect the Giants to tear that up and sign Posey to a multi-year mega deal before the All Star break.
The biggest off-season negative was San Francisco not addressing their need for a run producing left fielder. Amazingly, former Giant Andres Torres was signed for $2 million to platoon in left with light hitting Gregor Blanco. Torres, who is 35 years old, is coming off two terrible seasons with the Giants (2011) and the Mets (2012), and has never been a defensive standout. The left field issue weakens an already shaky offense, which means GM Brian Sabean will have to fix that problem at some point in the 2013 season.
2) Will Brandon Belt have a full time job this season?
Brandon Belt is the team’s first baseman. Last season Buster Posey played 29 games at first, both as a break from catching and to face left handers. But expect to see Posey a lot less at first because this team still needs a lot more offense and Belt is coming into his own as a run producer. If anything, Bruce Bochy may sometimes use Belt in left field to keep his bat in the line-up for 150+ games.
3) What are the chances Marco Scutaro regresses?
The Giants signed Scutaro to a 3 year $20 million deal, and of course the 37 year old Scutaro will regress over the life of that contract.
But think of Scutaro’s signing this way: year #1 is to see if Scutaro recreates his production at the plate for another run to the postseason. Year #2 is for Scutaro to come off the bench as a pinch hitter and to mentor minor league hitting machine Joe Panik. And year #3 is the team’s “thank you” for Scutaro’s amazing 2012 performance in leading the World Champions.
4) What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?
Outfielder Francisco Peguero looks like he’s ready to bring his power and speed to AT&T Park in 2013. The best case scenario for the Giants is that Peguero blossoms and takes over left field when the Torres-Blanco tandem fails. Peguero could be a difference maker in a 2013 drive to the playoffs. If one of the Giants starters falters or is injured, look for either Chris Stratton or Kyle Crick, two of the team’s minor league power righties, to get a shot in a move that could kick start their development.
5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
San Francisco should go 96-66, and will take the NL West Division as the Dodgers stumble under the weight of too many flawed former superstars.
6) What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?
One of the most compelling stories in all of baseball to start the 2013 season is Tim Lincecum’s performance.
Two Cy Young Awards, then two terrible seasons (13-14 in 2011, 10-15 in 2012). But then came the 2012 playoffs, and Lincecum was a performance powerhouse coming out of the Giants postseason bullpen. He’s starting the final year of a 2 year $40.5 million deal so there’s a lot at stake all around.no comments
A relief pitcher's one inning line in a single mid-March Spring Training game boxscore would hardly seem significant. But veteran right-handed hurler Chad Gaudin may look back at an inning he put up this week that may have been one of the most important of his 10 year Major League career.
Because his 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 SO, 0 BB performance against the Cincinnati Reds at their Goodyear Ballpark Spring home on Wednesday March 13th likely assured Gaudin the final open spot in the World Champion San Francisco Giants' 2013 bullpen.
In a preseason camp with few open roster spots and little controversy, the twin battles to determine who will be the extra outfielder and who will be the 6th man in the bullpen at first seem as important as the salad forks at a ten course banquet.
But on manager Bruce Bochy's teams everyone in the bullpen has a critical role to play throughout the season. And as far as the Giants' "extra" outfielder (or infielder), a quick look at the contributions made by Joaquin Arias and Ryan Theriot during the 2012 season makes the word "extra" seem, well, off base.
One of the reasons the Giants have won two of the last three World Series is they present a full team attack; unlike a number of other MLB teams, there are no "extra" players on their 25 man roster. You might argue that without a core of power hitters in the middle of their line-up, San Francisco has no other choice. And you would be absolutely correct.
Certainly there's a lot of Spring Training left to play (we're just hitting the half-way mark). Chad Gaudin could collapse, another reliever could suddenly excel and we'll have to erase the blackboard and start all over. But so far Gaudin's Spring numbers are good-- 13 hits allowed in 11.1 IP with 3 walks, 7 SOs, and 3 ER.
Most importantly for the Giants, Chad Gaudin's resume fills a critical role for the 2013 team: a true "long man" in the bullpen who also has the ability to start a game if needed.
Which brings up the other moment this Spring that seriously goosed Gaudin's stock: his March 7th emergency start for Tim Lincecum against the Cleveland Indians. Gaudin went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and no runs with 2 strikeouts. And it's that ability to start that separates Gaudin from the other pitchers battling for the final 2013 bullpen slot, including the otherwise excellent home-grown lefty Dan Runzler.
During his ten year career, Chad Gaudin put in two years as a full time starter-- he had 34 starts in 2007 with Oakland, and 25 starts in 2009 with San Diego and the Yankees. That flexibility and experience is something the Giants have not had in many years.
Guillermo Mota filled the "long man" role by default from 2010-2012 for San Francisco, but Mota hasn't started a single game in his fourteen year career. Contrary to the expert opinions often heard on sportstalk radio, selecting a relief pitcher at random to make an emergency start can potentially create a poopstorm domino effect that will screw up a bullpen for weeks.
It will be fascinating to follow Chad Gaudin the rest of this Spring. Gaudin is on track to not only fill Mota's role as a strong-armed inning eater, but also to provide the Giants with an additional level of last minute starting pitching depth. And that's something that may come in handy for a team looking to play some baseball in October.no comments
I will not be in Scottsdale, Arizona this week for San Francisco Giants Spring Training. And it's killing me.
Because this Thursday March 7, 2013 Tommy Bahama's Restaurant is hosting "Tommy Bahama Presents an Evening with Willie Mays" at their restaurant at 15205 North Kierland Blvd in Scottsdale-- a cozy meet-and-greet with the greatest baseball player in the history of the game.
Sure, there's great food and drink, but there's also Mr. Willie Howard Mays in person. Talking baseball, posing for photos, and handing out autographed baseballs for dessert.
To complete this fantasy evening, the inimitable Marty Laurie, Bay Area sports media star and baseball history maven, will conduct a question and answer session with Mr. Mays about his life and about baseball. That alone is worth the price of a ticket.
There's apparently room for only 75 people (they have to expand that somehow) so if you're up for a once in a lifetime baseball experience like no other, check out the information on the flyer.
[Phone to reserve tickets at 866.986.8282]