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San Francisco Giants: Know that enemy-LA Dodgers-has improved

By Mark ONeill
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In my post Christmas morning, while attempting to acquaint San Francisco Giants fans with the newly-revamped starting rotation of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I implied that L. A. had presented Giants fans with a package under the tree wrapped up in orange and black ribbon, as though the rotation were a reason for early celebration. Some clarification is obviously necessary.

I labeled Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke “arguably the best one-two punch in baseball,” and called Hyun-Jin Ryu a “model of consistency” for having won fourteen games in each of his first two seasons as the number three starter on Los Angeles’ staff.

Where I found fault was in the belief that Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy would remain healthy enough over the course of an entire season to be legitimate threats. That being said, one can always make that argument with any staff, San Francisco’s included. Will Madison Bumgarner’s arm and shoulder hold up after extended postseason action-again?

Will Matt Cain come back full-strength from elbow and ankle surgery to remove bone spurs? Will Tim Lincecum regain some modicum of consistency? Will Tim Hudson’s hip hold out? Will Jake Peavy be able to come close to matching his 2.17 ERA that he forged after he rejoined the National League last July 26th? All are provocative questions and as relevant to the conversation as those concerning Anderson and McCarthy.

Sep 17, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The Giants defeated the Diamondbacks 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The difference is that the Giants field a staff where injury has played a considerably smaller role in the past than that of the Dodgers; the fact that Cain is recovering from injury after having earned the nickname “The Horse” for his consistency, is an aberration from the norm.

All rotations are subject to the foibles of injury and inconsistency; the question is, Will past history repeat itself?

Hudson’s record was also consistently injury-free until his horrific ankle fracture in 2013. Last season at least proved he had recovered from the ankle, even if his hip acted up in late summer.

What I have not done as of yet is examine L.A’s upgrade in the bullpen. With the departure of Brian Wilson and the acquisition of Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio, the Dodgers have substantially improved their bullpen over last year’s version. This leaves J.P. Howell, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League left over from last season, with League still rumored to be on the move as part of the general revamp. Farhan Saidi has said he is not finished yet and planned additional post-Christmas moves.

The Giants moved to solidify their late-innings contingent of Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo, by re-signing Romo to a two-year, fifteen million dollar contract. With Yusmeiro Petit, Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland three possible candidates to wrap up 2015’s bullpen, there are still several other viable Giants who are on the 40-man roster and could end up as additions in the spring: Eric Cordier, George Kontos, and Derek Law are three such individuals.

Whereas conventional baseball wisdom dictates teams must improve and the Dodgers have done so, while San Francisco has not, it must be acknowledged that the late-innings corps the Giants employ is three for three in successful postseason appearances as a unit. Enough said.

The bottom line is when it comes to comparing both the starting pitching and the bullpens of each team, the Dodgers not only have a superior rotation in terms of stats, they have substantially improved their relief options. What the Giants have in place, though, is a rotation that has a core of three quality pitchers who have worked together and thrived over the course of five seasons (Cain, Lincecum and MadBum), and that must factor into the equation.

I do not understand the intricacies of saber-metrics well enough to be able to intelligently discuss this component; suffice to say, I have had it pointed out to me that the numbers favor the Dodgers by a wide measure. Grand.

Oct 22, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey sits in the dugout before game two of the 2014 World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I am always delighted to note that the Giants are underdogs in a fight. They seem to rise to the occasion with a pleasingly repetitive sense of purpose. Prior to the start of last season, long-time readers will remember that I conceded the division to the Dodgers-outright-before the season began. I wrote that big bucks would indubitably produce big results.

Just get the Giants into the playoffs and anything can occur, I wrote. Indeed. Well, that is a hugely dangerous course of action and to to be avoided at all costs, as it only takes one historic swing by a player such as the estimable Brandon Crawford, to change the course of projected history.

Bottom line: Brian Sabean had best rustle up some help. Around the Foghorn does not rule out the Giants-that would be foolish. But San Francisco is in need of an infusion. As a reader pointed out, luxury tax aside for a moment, the Dodgers currently have a payroll that is 100 million dollars more than San Francisco’s.

As a team that has epitomized the proclamation, “Good pitching beats good hitting,” the Giants need to up the ante by signing James Shields to a four-year deal-no more-regardless of the price. Then at least the Giants have followed the mandate that they “upgrade” their rotation.

The bad news is that no one has said squat about the San Diego Padres; that will change tomorrow.

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