Monday, April 03, 2006

Your 2006 Giants: Mild Mild West Champs

{Note: I was too busy to cross check - so sorry if these two posts might duplicate stuff or even, god forbid, contradict each other :^). I just want to get them out now, I'll tweak later.}

The Giants look good overall, as I noted in my prior post. Here's how I see them matched up against their NL West opponents. I think that they match up very well.

L.A. D-gers

As bad as the Giants injury situation is, the Dodger's are, IMO, in a worse situation, Garciapparra hasn't played much the past two seasons, really, what is the odds that he'll be fully healed and playing a full season? And Drew is a perennial DL candidate, except, amazingly, the year he went free agent. The best thing, from evil's view, is that Drew is like a yo-yo, he gets hurt, misses a lot of games, which heals him, and he plays more the next year. So this year looks like the bounce up and in prior bounce years he played in 135, 135, 145 games (prior bad years were 104, 109, 100, 72 games) but still that's 20-30 games missed, plus countless others probably where he wasn't 100%. And their backups are Saenz and Ledee, respectively, so there's a huge drop in production. Plus their other big addition of the off-season, Rafael Furcal, has been nagged by injuries in his past, though his knee has been looking good.

Then you go to their starting rotation. Penny is like Drew, something always bothering him each year. Perez is inconsistent and missed a lot of last season to boot due to injury. Speaking of the starting rotation, Seo and Lowe I can see doing well, but this is the same Tomko he was with us, that he's always been, and his career road ERA is 5+ and that won't change pitching in LA or doubling his salary.

Then the bullpen is a mess, unlike past years. Gagne they are not sure if he'll be OK and his back up closer, Baez, really enjoyed pitching in Tampa Bay, his road numbers look pretty bad for a reliever, and particularly a closer, not even a 2:1 K/BB ratio, last year's road was an aberration of his low HR given up.

Then the rest of the team. Lofton has averaged less than 100 games the past two seasons. He and Drew being out so much means they will see a lot of Ledee and Repko. Mueller is a career .157/.219/.169/.387 hitter in Dodger Stadium in 89 AB (about 100 PA). Is he like Grissom who couldn't hit a lick there, before, during, and after being a Dodger but then came back with SF and hit like normal, or is he like Cruz Jr., who loves hitting in LA. So far, more like the former than the latter.

Plus look at the bullpen. After Gagne, Brazoban, and Baez, who are the other guys? One is a throw-in in the Baez trade who was not highly thought of. The other two don't have a season's worth of games between them.

I think our starting rotation and bullpen are much better than LA's and our lineup matches up with their lineup when you account for all the games that will be missed by both team's aged and accident prone players. The Giants should beat the D-gers if everyone is reasonably healthy (i.e. expect see games missing from Durham, Bonds, Alou, Niekro, but not much more than before).

S.D. 'Dres

I don't see how anyone can see them as better than last year. Castilla at 3B? Piazza at C? Rookie at 2B and injury prone SS whose number went down by a lot last year? They added Cameron, but they don't really know what they got, the player he was before the injury or has the injury affected him in some subtle way? Plus Roberts never plays a full season and the backup OF are not that good and/or proven. Or they could move Klesko out there but then play a rookie at first who struggled last season (though I would have loved it if the Giants could have acquired him to play 1B for us). Our lineup should run circles around them, even given games expected to be missed by players on both sides.

And their starting rotation. Jake Peavy is great as the ace but has he recovered from his rib injury that he suffered at the end of the last season? #2 Chris Young, who had his first good season in 2005, is, like 6' 10" and all the problems tall people have pitching consistently working against him doing it again, plus he's pitching in a new league and team. Woody Williams appears to be on his last legs and Chan Ho Park should have been released and playing in the Korea Leagues again if it wasn't for his contract, he's horrible even as the 5th starter, which is why I suppose they are both in the bullpen to start the season. Dewon Brazelton won the battle, if you can call it that, not to denigrate his great spring, for the 4th starter spot. And their 3rd (!?!) starter is Estes, who also wouldn't be good enough for a 5th starter, he looks like he's trying to become the next Woody, few strikeouts, almost as many walks, high BAA, but WHIP OK enough to get his next contract.

Their bullpen is truly better than ours. But if there is no lead to protect at the end, then that's not much of an advantage, because our starting rotation is that much better than the 'Dres. So I don't see how the Giants cannot beat out the Padres, as long as player's health and productions turn out as expected.

AZ D-backs

Their team is very different from what they were last season, when they finished just ahead of us. They added some important pieces to the offense but the pitching has suffered from losses in trade and free agency. They don't look like they are that good overall, certainly not as good as the Giants.

They improved their offense nicely, adding Eric Brynes to CF, Hudson to 2B (but replacing Clayton), Conor Jackson to 1B (plus kept Tony Clark around just in case), and Johnny Estrada at catcher. Plus Chad Tracy can only get better, though it is his sophomore year and many a budding star have crashed on the shores of their 2nd season. So there is some good improvement in the offense.

But these only counteracts the decline that Shawn Green has been going through plus Luis Gonzalez should be slowing down as well, he's getting up there as well. Plus Estrada in 2005 suffered from the dreaded sophomore jinx as his hitting well down a lot, so there is not that much improvement there offensively for sure, it depends on how he recovers from his injuries from his collision at the plate last season. And while I like Brynes as a player, he had a bad 2005, which brings up the question of whether it was a glitch or if he's already declining, which is not impossible, given how hard core he is when he is playing, he could be wearing himself out with his high energy act. And Hudson's offense was good enough for a 2B in Toronto, but now he's moving countries, time zones, and leagues, he will have to adjust to his new league. Lastly, while Jackson is a nice addition, he has big shoes to fill, Troy Glaus, and most probably won't fill them, as most reports I've seen on him states that his power won't show up at the majors for another year or two, as his body matures.

But then, there's the pitching staff. Among relievers, they will be handing the ball to their new closer who did well last year, but one of their best bullpen guys left to join the Giants, Worrell. There is no depth there, only proven players new to relieving and the majors. Among the starting rotation, they lost one of their better pitchers when Vazquez forced them to trade him away, getting only the aged and phyically unreliable "El Duque" Orlando Hernandez to replace Vazquez. So the rotation is manned by their ace, Brandon Webb, but then is rounded out by Hernandez as #2, Miguel Batista as #3 (who they got in trade for Glaus and didn't even start last season, he was the closer), and Russ Ortiz as #4 (their $10M flop last season). Claudio Vargas as #5, while I liked his 2005 season, it was still not that good, though it was good enough for a #5 starter, which is what he'll be, so he should be fine.

The Giants pitching staff is much better than the D-backs, particularly in the bullpen, even if Benitez is out or ineffective. While we don't have anyone as reliably good as Brandon Webb on our staff, we have a very competent staff from 1 to 5, whereas AZ cannot say the same about their starting rotation. Offensively, they probably rate out better than the Giants do, but that depends heavily on Conor Jackson deliverying the offense a 1B normally provides - if he fails to do that, and some of the pre-season prognostication thinks that he may fall short in power, then the Giants are close enough that their pitching should push them over the top relative to the D-backs.

CO D-Rockies

Come on they are D-Rockies! Perennial doormats of the NL West. They have never won more than 83 games in their franchise history. And even if they did that in 2006, that should not be good enough to win the division, SF, LA, AZ, and SD should not be as hampered by injuries as they were last season. That's one of the major reasons while the West was so horrible last season, all the teams were decimated by injuries and poorly performing players (LA lost Gagne, Drew, Perez, among others; SD lost Roberts, Greene, Hernandez plus Niven didn't play up to par; AZ had poor performances from their big acquisition, Russ Ortiz, plus Vazquez was a not up to snuff either, and Green continued to suck).

Winning the Mild Mild West

Again, it is all injury driven and peak performance driven, as it has been for the history of baseball. That is the wild card that makes winning teams lose and mediocre teams win. The teams who can get through a season relatively unscathed plus get a few peak/career performances from a few key players, will rule the day. Each team in the NL West has the capability, at their peak, to run away with the division going away and leave everyone else in the dust. However, when there are so many injury and age related questions and problems, you know that somebody is going to go down, and when the music stop, will it be your team?

Still, there is what can be expected. You expect Bonds to play 80-100 games with a strong possibility for another 20 more, with Finley taking 99% of those missed starts, you expect that Durham will play around 120+ games with Vizcaino taking all of those starts, unless the Giants call up Frandsen (high probability). You expect that Moises won't be playing more than 120-140 games. You expect Schmidt to miss a start here or there but will start most of his games. However, you cannot expect much from Benitez because he hasn't shown anything that would lead us to expect that much from him this season.

Meanwhile, you could say much the same about Gagne and Baez, and expecting a lot of games out of Nomar borders between wishful thinking and fairytale land, though he will probably earn his $6M from his play in the few games he does make it to. And as the Giants showed when there are wholesale changes across the team, things don't always go so smoothly in the transition, as LA, SD, and AZ might find with all their new additional parts.

So I think the Giants at minimum, even if Bonds is out for extended periods, but assuming all other players perform as could be reasonably expected, should stay competitive during the season and be in the hunt for the pennant at the end of the season. Winning the pennant will require Bonds being Bonds. And moving ahead in the playoffs and winning the World Series will also require the pitching staff to reach its potential for dominance.

Which I think there is a good chance of, as Schmidt was pitching back to good standards the last four months of the season, Morris I believe can be dominating the whole 2006 season like he was the first half of 2005, Lowry will consolidate the lessons and experience gained from the last half of 2005, Cain is so good and so willing to learn new things, I just don't see much problems for him going forward, and, lastly, Wright has been able to pitch well away from Colorado and the old Brewers park, but has been able to pitch well at AT&T Mays Field Park and he had a nice spring, though he has a stamina problem going 6 IP, but maybe he could do an nice imitation of Kirk Reuter and pitch 5-6 good innings and win a lot of games for us. If they pitch to this potential, we don't need much offense to win a lot of games in the playoffs.

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