I’m getting very excited. This coming week I’m going to home openers in Sacramento and San Francisco plus getting a Brandon Belt Captain’s Hat next Saturday. I bought the River Cats tickets awhile back, thinking that AAA might be my only chance to watch baseball in April. But then the MLB lockout was resolved, and now we’re going to three games in five days!
The Giants are not quite done in Scottsdale, though. Due to the delay in starting the regular season and the rejiggering of the Cactus League schedule, they have an odd week coming up: a noon game against the Dodgers today, an off day tomorrow, two games against the A’s (in Arizona, not the Bay Area), and then Wednesday and Thursday off as they travel back north and get ready for Friday afternoon’s opener.
Comparing Last Year & This Year
It occurred to me to go back to the column I wrote this time last year to remind myself of what I was thinking before the surprising/thrilling 2021 season. Obviously no one could have seen 107 wins coming, and the Giants shocked the baseball world, not just me(!). So I’ll compare what I was thinking then about the 2021 team to what I’m thinking now about the 2022 team.
- I was worried about the pitching at this time last year. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about it. The 2021 Giants had the second-best team ERA in baseball. But my worries were not unreasonable at the time. Other than Kevin Gausman, the rotation in the abbreviated 2020 season was pretty desultory, and most of the guys who’d started games that year were gone by the beginning of 2021 (exceptions were Logan Webb and Johnny Cueto, neither of whom had a good 2020). Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris had rebuilt the rotation by signing Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez–potentially a step in the right direction, but they all had warts. The bullpen looked somewhat better than it had in 2020 with the additions of Jake McGee, Matt Wisler, and John Brebbia plus the expected return of Reyes Moronta, but it still didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Sanchez, Wisler, and Moronta didn’t last long, and Brebbia, shaky in his return from Tommy John surgery, spent most of the year in AAA. But DeSclafani and Wood were so good that they both landed multi-year contracts to return, Webb was a breakout star, and Gausman was an All-Star. Jake McGee was a solid contributor, and other pitchers who were in-house eventually helped the bullpen excel (Tyler Rogers, Camilo Doval, Zack Littell, Dominic Leone, Jose Alvarez, Jarlin Garcia, later Kervin Castro).
- This year, I think the pitching will carry the team. Even with the loss of Gausman in free agency, the rotation looks very solid with Webb, DeSclafani, Wood, and newcomers Alex Cobb and Carlos Rodon. The bullpen, with the exception of trade deadline acquisition Tony Watson, is back intact, and they’ve had a year to gel and for younger guys like Doval and Castro to gain experience and confidence. There is depth, too–for the rotation, former All-Star Carlos Martinez, Jakob Junis, Sam Long, Sean Hjelle, and later in the season, former Tigers lefty Matt Boyd, and for the bullpen, Brebbia, Gregory Santos, Yunior Marte, and Randy Rodriguez, plus some non-roster guys who may be in AAA and could contribute at some point. There is not a lot of star power, with the possible exceptions of Webb, Rodon, and Doval, but there is quality depth.
- Last year, I thought the offense would carry the team. The Giants’ offense had taken a quantum leap forward in 2020 over 2019, and the players were crediting the new-look coaching staff. Mike Yastrzemski was coming off a top-10 MVP finish in 2020, Donovan Solano won a Silver Slugger at 2B in 2020, Alex Dickerson had a red-hot September in 2020, and Austin Slater had the best year of his young career. The Giants had also added a solid lefty hitter, Tommy La Stella, on what was at the time the only multi-year deal given out in Farhan Zaidi’s tenure with the Giants (and it’s still the longest deal he has given to any position player). The Giants’ offense was terrific in 2021, but none of those guys were a major factor, with the exception of Yaz’s 25 homers. Instead, they were led by bounce-back seasons from Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria, a solid season off the bench by Darin Ruf, and out-of-nowhere contributions from newcomer LaMonte Wade Jr. They also got an assist from the mid-season rental acquisition of Kris Bryant, though not as much as we’d hoped.
- This year, I’m worried about the offense. Posey retired. Bryant signed with the Rockies. Solano is a Cincinnati Red and Dickerson is an Atlanta Brave. Longoria and Wade are starting the season on the IL, and Longoria will be out until at least mid-May. The only new position player added was lefty-hitting Joc Pederson, who will be a platooning OF/DH. The Giants are hoping for contributions from rookie catcher Joey Bart and from a utility player acquired last season, Thairo Estrada, who’s likely to have a much bigger role this year. They also signed Ruf to a contract extension and expect him to play nearly everyday in some capacity. It would be great if Yaz and Slater played more like their 2020 selves than the 2021 versions. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about why Zaidi didn’t get any reinforcements for the offense, but I still believe they could have a tough time against lefties this year. Part of the Giants’ strength as an offense in 2021 was the ability to mix and match platoons in their lineups. They simply do not have enough right-handed bats to do so this year, and that was true even before Longoria’s surgery last week. In particular, they don’t have enough right-handed outfielders. To be specific, they have three, but only if Mauricio Dubon is on the roster and playing CF. If they lose Dubon (out of options) to a roster crunch when rosters go down from 28 to 26 at the end of April, now we’re looking at Jaylin Davis, Heliot Ramos, and newly acquired Luke Williams as the only right-handed options on the 40-man roster. Further, they only have two catchers on the 40-man roster (Bart and Curt Casali), and that doesn’t seem like a sustainable situation, either.
Keys to Success
So as to the offense, it is what it is. The obvious “keys to success” are the big names–Crawford, Belt, Ruf, Wilmer Flores–but here’s the next tier of good things that could happen:
- Wade Jr. is back from his injury soon and picks up where he left off in 2021
- Yaz stays healthy, goes back to being successful against lefties (as he was in 2020), and continues playing excellent OF defense
- Estrada is this year’s Yaz/Late Night LaMonte breakout success
- Belt finally cracks the 30-homer barrier that no Giant has crossed since 2004
- Ruf, getting 500+ plate appearances, leads the team in homers
- Pederson gets a lot of baseballs wet
- Bart is a Rookie of the Year candidate
- Ramos finally makes his major league debut and provides a spark
- The universal DH actually helps the Giants, whose pitchers were dreadful at hitting last year (notwithstanding Gausman’s walk-off sac fly and Webb’s homer in Game 162)
I’ll add a couple of other ones to the list from the pitching side:
- Doval is a Rookie of the Year candidate
- Tyler Beede finally figures it out and pitches like the first-round talent he’s capable of being
- R.J. Dabovich rockets up through the system and makes his major league debut
- Rodon has a better year for the Giants than Gausman has for the Blue Jays
- Cobb is the best fifth starter in baseball
Opening Day Trivia
OK, we all know about the Giants’ dubious “streak” of having 15 different Opening Day left fielders in a row, going back to Bonds in 2007. Unless Slater gets the Opening Day nod (unlikely with a righty starter going for the Marlins), it will be 16 in a row (presumably Pederson or Yaz, with Steven Duggar in CF). Here are a couple of Giants-related Opening Day trivia questions:
- Logan Webb will make his first Opening Day start this year. Webb was a fourth-round draft pick for the Giants in 2014. The last two Opening Day starters, Gausman and Cueto, were not homegrown. Who was the most recent homegrown Giant to make his first Opening Day start, and in what year?
- While we don’t know the exact lineup for Friday’s game, we can probably make a pretty good guess at it. How many players in Friday’s Opening Day lineup have ever been in a previous Opening Day lineup for the Giants, and who will they be?
TWG regulars will remember that for the past few years, we’ve done a contest to predict the Opening Day roster, which is always harder than it looks. This year, we have 28-man rosters to pick. New this year is the opportunity to pick the Opening Day starting lineup! Thanks to HaakAway and The Tevister for their work on this. To fill out your ballot, follow this link:
Today’s Cactus League Game
Giants at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m. at Camelback Ranch (Glendale, AZ)
Kervin Castro vs. Clayton Kershaw
Radio: KNBR; TV: NBCS-BA
Today finally marks the Cactus League debut of Brandon Belt, who will be batting third and playing 1B. Good to see Yaz back in the lineup after he was removed for precautionary reasons a few days ago. Oddly, even though the Dodgers are the home team, they’re playing a bunch of bench guys and youngsters except for Will Smith, while the Giants have a lot of their A-team at a road game.
Not much longer to wait until baseball is really back! Lefty out.
BONUS: In case you didn’t see the Bruce Jenkins piece I posted last night about Duane Kuiper, this is worth a read (have tissues handy).