Game 1 of 162: Fireworks on Opening Night

Holy smokes!

If last night was any indication, we could be in for one heck of a ride this week in Arizona. If you missed the game (I’m sure you didn’t), it was a doozy of an opener. Fortunately, the Giants have Buster Posey, who looks ready to have another monster season at the plate. Buster’s 2-run shot with two outs in the 9th capped a big comeback from the Giants, who squeaked out a 9-8 dogfight.

Is it me or was last night’s game eerily similar to the games the Giants played in April and May of 2013? Less than stellar starting pitching and sloppy defense, bailed out by late-game offensive heroics. I’ll take an exciting win like that on Opening Day, but make no mistake, last night was not a formula for long-term success.

Positives from Game 1: The “big-picture” positives for me last night were the bats of Posey and Brandon Belt. If there’s one knock on Posey at all, it’s that it usually takes his bat a while to heat up this time of year… especially when it comes to extra base power. The same can be said for Belt, who obviously hasn’t seen the same success in his short career as Posey. But for two usually somewhat slow starters to hit absolute moonshots like that on day one, that’s a very good sign. I’m still in awe of Posey’s homer!

Another positive: I think we saw last night just how flexible Bruce Bochy can be with this roster. While some people outside (and maybe even inside) the organization will scoff at the Giants bench, I see a group that can do a lot of different things. In fact, after the abysmal defense we saw early on, I was very excited when Bochy brought Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez into the game late. Between those two, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks and Hector Sanchez, the Giants have some weapons they can employ off the bench.

Honorable mentions: Jean Machi… holy splitter! The dude takes a lot of heat from fans on the Internet, but he was nails last night. Good thing those fans don’t set the 25-man roster, or Machi wouldn’t have been able to shut the door last night!

Adrianza: Pinch-hit double and a rally starter. Watch out Joaquin Arias.

Angel Pagan: If Pagan can set the table like he did last night, the Giants will have some good times on offense this year.

Negatives: Infield defense. Wow. When Mike Krukow is putting you down, you screwed up. Grounders through the legs, errant throws all over the diamond, misplayed rundowns. Those are plays I would have been upset with my 7th grade Little League team for making. Tighten that stuff up, fellas!

Madison Bumgarner: Victim of some bad defense, but not the shutdown start we were hoping for from MadBum on Opening Day. It’s a long season though, and the kid will bounce back just fine. I’d be surprised if that’s his last Opening Day start… and he’s only 24!

Cainer takes the hill for game 2 of 162 tonight. More fireworks to come? I’d be just fine with a 3-1 win and some good fundamentals, to be honest!

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More Spring Talk

It’s still winter at my house, but dang if I don’t have spring on the brain (almost every waking second) these days. Lots of people calling to the uncertainty facing the Giants as pitchers and catchers get ready to report to Scottsdale at the end of this week. I’m doing my best to steer clear of the negativity. I’m big on positive thoughts this time of year, folks. Personally, I’m excited to get this squad rolling. Lots of people to prove wrong this season, so let’s get to it!

We’ll keep this brief, but I wanted to mention a few things I’ve had on my mind lately. If you scan over to the right, you’ll see I posted some questions on Twitter earlier today (mostly so I wouldn’t forget them).

Question 1: How long is Vogey’s leash? It’s hard not to love Ryan Vogelsong because of what he’s done for the organization. His story is awesome, just plain awesome. But you either stopped watching altogether in September last year or you’re in some serious denial if you don’t remember his velocity dipping significantly down the stretch. A quick look at Brooks Baseball today showed what we all thought: Average fastball velocity of 92+ in September and October 2012, dropped to 87 in August and 88 in September 2013. WBC hangover? Rust from the injury time off? Only he knows, but I’d sure feel a lot better about some 90’s this spring. Something a little more like this…

Back to the question. If Vogey just doesn’t have it anymore (which is a very relevant question in my mind), does he still get the 5th spot in the rotation? What if Yusmeiro Petit or David Huff out-perform him? At their peak, Vogelsong is head and shoulders better than those two. But I don’t think we’re talking about peak performances anymore.

My take: I think Vogey would have to really, really fall apart (or never actually get going) to lose his spot this spring. The Giants wouldn’t have promised him the job if they didn’t think he could do it. Worst case scenario, he starts the year on the 15-day DL to see if the kinks come out, with Petit taking the #5 spot. Best case scenario, Vogey comes back well-rested and makes us forget this conversation even happened.

**Update**: I posted this question to Baggarly in his weekly chat this morning. Also told him I had a hunch the WBC played a much bigger role than we anticipated. His response: “I agree on the WBC. I think he’ll be given a bit of leash because that’s Bochy’s MO. But it’s all relative to the alternatives. If someone else like Escobar is blowing off doors, then I think Vogelsong’s leash would be shorter.” I’m starting to get the impression that Baggs’ thinks pretty highly of these kids. He mentions Escobar and Derek Law a ton. Said he’s most excited to see Law’s power curve in camp. Hearing things like that gets me pretty excited, as I believe Baggs’ views are often a strong reflection of the organization’s.

Question 2: Will there be a surprise competitor in the bullpen race?

There are at least two relief spots open heading into camp, maybe three if you include Petit and the long-man role. At this point, there are too many guys to count that are vying for these spots. I’ll have some profiles up in the next couple of weeks so we can keep everything straight. The obvious favorites (in my estimation) are Jean Machi and Heath Hembree, but George Kontos and Jake Dunning will get some long looks. Machi looks like he’s slimmed down, and he’s been working away as the closer for the Venezuelan team in the Caribbean Series.

Ok, maybe he hasn’t slimmed down THAT much…

So, any surprises? Everyone’s talking about Derek Law. I’d love to see him break through. Love it. But I just don’t think the front office is ready to promote a kid from High-A to the bigs in the span of one offseason. The two guys I’ll be paying special attention to this spring are Rafael Dolis and Adam Reifer. Dolis throws very hard, but the statistics don’t match the scouting report. Reifer was on the verge of breaking through with St. Louis a couple years ago, and allowed 19 hits in 41 innings pitched at AAA last season…yeah, reread the first part of the sentence and let it sink in. He’s also had a tough time controlling the strike zone as a pro. I found a grainy video of him, must have been from the minors a few years back. Tops out around 93 with the fastball – I’d heard he throws harder than that. Either way, he’s my sleeper this spring.

Just for fun, I’ll throw Erik Cordier’s name into the ring as well. Just how hard does he throw?

That’s it for now. We’ll get to some more topics later in the week, as we wait out the final days until the beat writers start hitting us left and right with camp stories. As Chris Berman likes to say, “tick-tick-tick, tick…”

Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.