|One artist's depiction of the NL West Division Title race in 2010|
For the seven of us who still follow MLB, this is a very exciting time of year. We’ve seen how things are going in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, but we don’t really know if that translates to regular season success. We’ve seen the irresponsibly large contracts get doled out, but we’re not sure whether that actually means these players are on their way up or down (insert Barry Zito joke here). And we (again, all seven of us who are still paying attention) just can’t wait to learn the answers, because in baseball, it really is true that “Anything can happen.”
Don’t believe me? Well, I’m writing today to preview one particular team’s 2011 season: my beloved (*world champion*) Giants! Do you remember when they were 6.5 games behind the Padres with only a month to go in the season? Do you remember when they picked up a little guy named Cody Ross just to ‘play it safe’ and have a deeper bench? Do you remember when, with a bunch of free swingers, a 400-lb. stuffed Venezuelan panda bear, and a guy wearing a two-month-old thong, they made an unforeseeable championship run? Do you remember when this all happened while their only big-contract pitcher (in perfect health) watched in his sweatpants?! Do you think I need to drop the rhetorical questions thing?
Okay, so obviously I am a huge Giants fan and I hope they do well this year. But everyone always wants to know if last year’s champion can ‘pull it off again’, and I hope to be able to offer some realistic perspective. I don’t think I need to tell you that, last postseason, the Giants got some good breaks, guys happened to get hot at the right time, and it was, overall, sort of a miracle. If you’ve listened to the sportsyaks much, you’ve probably heard them saying this was the case, and the Giants will just be ‘pretty good’ this season. But I personally am going to make a case that they are still underrated.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not predicting a World Series repeat (not necessarily, anyway). I mean, how could you when you’re looking at this year’s Phillies squad? But I still think they’re legit, and people on the whole don’t realize the potential in this team. So let’s take a look at some of the changes and highlights of this team:
#1 Uribe out, Tejada in. Sports gurus won’t stop talking about this “big loss” of ours, no less to our biggest division rival. SERIOUSLY? Okay, look, Miguel Tejada was no upgrade – but he was definitely a better bargain! I love how every year, a team that gets hot in the postseason has a ‘clutch’ guy whom all the announcers fall in love with (yes, I’m looking at you Jayson Werth!). No need to look at the stats, gentlemen; no, don’t pay attention to those big whiffs in big situations. He hit two (TWO!) home runs in their 15 postseason games, so he’s clutch. Hey fellas, HE BATTED .248 LAST SEASON!!! But now, he’s a clutch, class-act world champion – so be my guest, Dodgers, open those wallets!
#2 Panda Express? This is a real inner monologue I had with myself this spring: “Sandoval hit a triple? And not in AT&T Park? Wait, what’s that? He STOLE a base?!? Must have been catcher’s indifference, and the spring training scorekeeper had fallen asleep in the hot Arizona sun. Wait, THREE stolen bases this spring?!!!” It’s for real – the Panda really did lose enough weight to significantly change his game. Not only that, let’s take a closer look at his declined numbers last season. The criticism I hear most about Sandoval is how he’s a “free swinger.” So surely he had more strikeouts last year, when his OPS dropped over 200 points, right? NO! He had fewer K’s in virtually the same number of at-bats. The actual cause of his decline was almost exclusively BABIP (batting average for balls hit into play, for those non-sabermetricians out there). In English, this means that he hit the same number of balls in play, they were just caught more. As for why such a stat would drop so sharply, some of it has to do with poor placement – specifically, he probably popped it up or drove balls into the ground more last year. But many people attribute this stat a lot to luck, too. Your job in baseball is to get the bat on the ball. Sometimes, you hit it right on the sweet spot, but a guy is there to make the catch. Sometimes, you hit it into a 421-ft. gap and you don’t quite make it to first, because you ate 12 chalupas for lunch. Your guess is as good as mine. But you heard it here first – if he stays in shape, Sandoval’s numbers improve significantly in 2011.
#3 Young Guns. I’m guessing you’ve heard the news – our pitchers are really good! This is something of a dream come true for me, having lived through the painful 2002 World Series run (ladies and gentlemen, your ace…… fat Russ Ortiz!). But why did everyone seem so shocked when our staff carried us through the postseason? Maybe they didn’t realize that Matt Cain has the most deceptive losing record of all-time, with average run support of 0.37 runs per game… or that the marijuana actually helps calm Timmy down for the big games… or that Jonathan Sanchez is the best pitcher in baseball when he doesn’t walk half the lineup… or that Madison Bumgarner doesn’t need a full season of experience to be a freaking stud… or that Barry Zito is most effective in the bullpen (no, not out of the bullpen – I actually mean SITTING IN the bullpen, as far as possible from the action!!!). Do I think this staff will one day experience the first-ever group session of Tommy John surgery? You bet! But one thing’s for sure – while they’re still young, and their elbows haven’t fallen off yet, they will dominate. This season, don’t be shocked if this unit on the whole even out-performs the Phillies’ staff (let’s not talk about the bats, though…).
#4 The Division. If the words “National” and West” inspire anything in the sports fan’s mind, it should be images of Mike Singletary with his pants around his ankles, Derek Anderson playing his heart and soul out, and a 7-9 team making the NFL postseason. Well, fortunately the NL West isn’t that bad, but I predict it won’t be as good (on the whole) as it was last year. The bits of hype I hear about Arizona are way premature – ‘nuff said. The Dodgers lost Torre, and oh, did I mention Juan Uribe? And my favorite, the Padres! This team had us all confused in 2010 – that is, until September, when they amassed a nice 10-game losing streak and the pitchers finally became their normal human selves. Look, good pitching is better than good hitting when it comes to postseason success. But their pitchers aren’t actually that good, and you do have to GET to the postseason, which you can’t do on 3 runs per game. And how are they going to overcome last season’s offensive woes with Adrian Gonzalez living the high life in Boston now? (As a Yankees fan, this has to be the only time I’ve ever been happy to see a good player screw his team over and go to Boston!) I do expect Colorado to be improved this season, so there’s one team to be concerned about. But overall, I think the divisional competition eases up a bit for the Giants in 2011.
#5 BUSTER POSEY!!!!!! Or as he’s become known around here, Twin Casey. This is a true story: when he was featured on ESPN.com as a top minor-league prospect last spring, I was reading about him and there was a picture of him on my computer screen. My wife glances over to me, does a double take, and looks very, very confused. She thought I had finally taken my baseball obsession too far and photo shopped my face onto a picture of a Giants catcher (I was a catcher in my day, too). My own WIFE couldn’t tell the difference! So, am I so proud of the fact that I look like Buster Posey that I’m bragging like an idiot on a sports blog? ABSOLUTELY I AM! Because he’s amazing! Mark my words – this guy is the real deal. In baseball, a sharp mind lets you continue to improve throughout your career. Listen to anyone who’s EVER known Posey – the testimony is consistent. This is a very mature and intelligent young guy with phenomenal potential. I think we’ve only seen the beginning. The future of the Giants lies in his hands.
To summarize, the Giants are a good team and my prediction is that they will contend again this season. I’m not so sure the rest of the world isn’t still just writing off last postseason as a ‘fluke’ or ‘Cinderella run’. Sure, our offense will still have its fair share of shutouts this season, and sure, we’ll have our ups and downs. But we have excellent pitching and some solid bats, and this team seriously has some of the best chemistry I’ve ever seen on a field (for whatever it’s worth during the long, exhausting season). Let’s just hope that chemistry doesn’t always require the perpetual use of feminine undergarments on a grown man.
(Casey is a frequent contributor to Boris Diaw Time. He has appeared in several podcasts and also co-writes the Oscars Reset series we've been working on lately. Casey will be writing for the site periodically, so keep looking for his stuff!)
Email me at: email@example.com
Follow me on Twitter at: @borisdiawtime
Follow Casey on Twitter at: @caseyrichey