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San Francisco Giants: Ten questions to ponder prior to spring training

By Mark ONeill
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Answering questions concerning the San Francisco Giants is as easy as asking them, for the simple reason that no one can definitively prove the writer wrong-yet. The best anyone can do is engage in banter as to why the author is obviously [choose the one which applies] delusional, confused, high, a moron, or as “Dodger 300” put it in the comments the other day, “I am fascinated by the detours and twisted back roads that a mind can take while convincing itself it is still going straight.”

With that thought in mind, I am going to pose ten questions and see if I can avoid “detours and twisted back roads” in answering them, and when you disagree, you can supply the appropriate description as you correct me in the comments below. Think of it as ironing out some of those detours and twists that my mind apparently creates all on its own.

In order of importance from ten on down to one, let’s start with Tim Lincecum. The trick with Lincecum is to ask the right question and that is not necessarily easy.

Pick a qustion; there are many from which to choose.

What’s up with his mechanics? Will Timmy start? Will he relieve? Will he gain any sort of consistency, whatsoever? Will his confidence return? How much will his 17.5 million dollar salary influence what slot he occupies? Ah, as good a question as any.

Salary will not factor into the Lincecum equation whatsoever, because Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are on the same page and have been for many seasons. Timmy is only one unit in the twelve-spoked pitching wheel, and Bochy does not need to worry about which spot on the wheel the spoke also known as “The Freak” occupies. As to the rest, fans have either elevated Lincecum to sainthood, or thrown him to the sharks (How badly do the Giants want Ben Zobrist?) There is no middle ground.

Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants
Jul 9, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (9) scores a run against the Oakland Athletics during the bottom of the third inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports /

Number nine involves Brandon Belt and is much more straightforward: What’s up with the injuries? Two injuries that cannot be classified as “freak” because both involved baseballs, as opposed to can openers or washing trucks (Can you say Jeff Kent?), sidelined Belt last season for 101 games.

His 96 total bases on 52 hits emphasizes that he had his power stroke in place (12 HRs, 8 2Bs), and being hit by either pitched or thrown balls is an occupational hazard that should not be considered the same as a guy who struggles with chronic knee, shoulder, or elbow issues throughout his career. Expect Belt to belt thirty home runs in 2015.

Brandon Crawford has the dubious distinction of occupying the number eight question: How can a player with Crawford’s scintillating defensive skills have committed 21 errors in 2014, the most of his three full seasons in the leagues? Does it matter?

Don’t you hate it when someone answers a question with another? No one cares about how many errors Crawford has. It’s like criticizing him for showing up at the media session with a zit on his nose.

Crawford makes errors; deal with it.

You pretend it’s not there and focus on that play for which

Joe Panik

got all the press. Hey, someone had to take the flip from Joe and get it over to the other Brandon at first base. Crawford saves infinitely more runs with his glove than he ever gives up.

Lucky seven goes to Sergio Romo and his penchant last season for giving up the home run. Matters reached a boiling point in Colorado last July, when he blew two saves himself, unfortunately contributing to a precipitous tumble from the best record in baseball (42-21) to an 88-win season. It was enough to eek out a number ten seeding in the postseason tournament, but going the wild card route is unnecessarily fraught with peril.

True, Romo did give up nine home runs in 2014, after having surrendered only 22 over his first six seasons, but look at his WHIP of 0.948 in 2014 (64 games) when he gave up the nine round-trippers. Now compare it to his WHIP of 1.077 in 2013 (65 games), when he allowed five homers, and you see that the fact that he keeps runners off the bases in the first place, hurts him far less than if there were rabbits on the run. Sergio’s slider and his team-first attitude are formidable enough weapons with which to be armed, to be able to assume the other is a fluke.

Yusmeiro Petit being hugged by Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants
Hunter Pence hugging Yusmeiro Petit after the win on 9/6/13. Photo by Denise Walos. /

As the sixth man to be discussed when the rotation is on the agenda, number six question is assigned to Yusmeiro Petit and his ability to maintain his amazing stretches of pitching from 2014 that were nothing short of brilliant. The question simply is, how can he maintain that pace?

Last August 28th he set a new MLB record by retiring his 46th consecutive batter over eight appearances, and then there was his dazzling performance in the postseason, including six innings of scoreless relief in that epic eighteen-inning affair in Washington DC last October.

The answer to the question is that Petit doesn’t have to maintain that pace; he just has to do his thing, which is to put the ball in the strike zone, and minimize the damage of being a replacement for one of the starting five in the first place. In response to those who feel he should start in place of Tim Lincecum, that is a decision that Bruce Bochy is more than qualified to make.

Number five is the back end of the rotation, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy. I’m cheating by including two in one question, but as it stands, these two guys are more renowned for heart and soul than for durability and consistency. Hudson had a stellar first half and an abysmal second half in 2014; he needs to even things out in the upcoming season and being a fierce competitor, Sabean believes he is capable of doing so.

Peavy gave the Giants a huge lift when he came over from Boston last July 26th, and was willing to sit and patiently bide his time as Sabean sorted out the Sandoval SNAFU. Appreciating how the Giants were responsive to his family’s needs last July, Peavy wanted to remain with the organization that allowed him to earn his second championship ring in two years. He’d like to go for a three-ring circus in 2015.

Number four belongs to third base, though if emotion played a role, it would be number one.

No one is going to “replace” Pablo Sandoval.

All Giants fans are going to miss the effervescent

Pablo Sandoval

and his smiling visage on the field and in the dugout, but the best way to handle that is not to seek to obscure the Panda from our memories, but to focus on having found another player who will be able to play the hot corner.

Casey McGehee is not the Panda and he doesn’t want to be. He plays hustling, hard-nosed ball and he has a good arm, having started a league-wide best 34 double plays for third basemen (Pablo started 27). He earned Come-Back Player in the National League in 2014, having played in Japan the previous season, and is thrilled to be joining a club with the playoff implications which accompany San Francisco.

Three is left field and the uncertainty which still exists. Two schools of thought include the acquisition of a Ben Zobrist/Allen Craig-type player or an internal solution involving some combination of Gregor Blanco, Travis Ishikawa and Juan Perez platooning.

Many fans view left field as a position which is easier to man than almost any other, and last season justifies that belief. Michael Morse provided the bulk of the relief work at first base when Belt went down, leaving left field vacant through the end of the World Series. That seemed to work out to the Giants’ satisfaction.

This is not to say that a power-hitting, 75-RBI player would be unappreciated, it is just to say that the Giants have been able to keep their guys tuned up enough to be able to contribute during their three successful playoff runs under the current management, so why change?

Angel Pagan
Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) greets second baseman Joe Panik (12) at home plate after Giants catcher Buster Posey (not pictured) hit a two RBI triple in the fifth inning of their MLB baseball game with the Milwaukee Brewers at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports /

The number two question relates to those rehabbing from season-ending injuries, Matt Cain and Angel Pagan. Both have reputations in terms of durability, Cain’s stellar and Pagan’s not so much. Known as the Horse, Cain was a model of consistency through most of his career. However, that being said, bone spurs do not form over one season so Cain has been dealing with this issue for quite a spell, and most believe he is due to come back with an agenda that includes rectifying recent injury-related transgressions.

As for Angel Pagan, MLB players suffer from injuries for countless reasons, such as the type that Belt suffered from being nailed by a ball, or those of Cain, nine seasons in the making. Pagan’s injuries stem from his aggressive style of play, so the criticism of his track record must be balanced by a recognition that he is the catalyst that he is-both offensively and defensively-because of this style of play.

Would you have him abandon it? Perish the thought. So fans keep their fingers crossed and refuse to entertain the idea that a different player will do the job better. Meanwhile, bring up Gary Brown and give the kid a chance to see if he could be a candidate to replace San Francisco’s Angel in the outfield, should the need arise.

Finally number one. Again, it’s a multi-pronged query, with Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey the subjects of this biggee. Is it possible to create expectations that exceed this trio’s capabilities? The only response would seem to be that up until this point, the answer is no.

Is it a logical reply? It depends on whether you are a fan who sees the foam at the surface of the beer stein as good or bad. Madison Bumgarner is 25 years old and has the physique and the track record of a guy who has always done hard, physical work, some of it even related to baseball. MadBum will continue to answer the bell.

Hunter Pence’s unwillingness to take a game off now and again, tells fans all they need to know about his determination to do everything in his power to win ballgames for his club. After all, sitting on the bench is not Pence’s idea of getting the job done.

And then there is Buster Posey. He has done so much with his three world series rings, his MVP Award, and the multitude of other acknowledgements, that it’s hard to rein in expectations. So don’t.

When a player of Posey’s caliber-both on and off the field-outshines the diamond upon which he plays, it’s OK to have high expectations.

But it’s not OK to be surprised if he surpasses them.

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