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NL West: Lofty Heights For Giants
"Hoo boy, it's going to be a long season."
-- Idiots Write About Sports, a Bay Area blog, April 10
"The pennant is winnable."
-- Giants Win, Saturday
When life gives you lemonade, should you make lemons?
That's the question San Francisco Giants bloggers were asking themselves over the past week, after their team, predicted by many to be the NL West's doormat, won eight straight games and 10 out of 11 to reach first place Thursday night.
Many bloggers bridge the fan and analyst universe and are therefore torn when it comes to dealing with unexpected success. Surveying the Giants blogs, you could see the collective internal struggle.
In the midst of the streak, Only Baseball Matters allowed itself to exult: "That was some smokin' hot homestand," John J. Perricone wrote. "I'm talking about a season-changing, critic-swaying, bandwagon-building homestand. Damn!"
But even after the streak continued with a road sweep over the archrival Dodgers, Perricone stepped back for some perspective.
"The streak was nice, but we still need a hitter," he stated. "I'm not sure who he is, or where he'd play, but we need someone who can ctually hit home runs behind Barry Bonds. They'll still walk him, that's not the point. The point is that we have no one but Bonds who can go yard. You can't sustain winning baseball scoring the fewest runs in the league."
Even when the analysts are self-admitted fans, caution is rarely thrown to the wind. Instead, it nestles tightly against their chests. Bay City Ball checked its enthusiasm for the Giants by comparing them to the 2005 hot-starting, cold-finishing Washington Nationals.
"The question that hangs in the air is, 'Is this how good the offense actually is? Or will it get better?' Optimists would tell you that the offense still isn't clicking on all cylinders. Ray Durham hasn't hit his stride, and if he can get going he should boost the offense. Todd Linden, who most hoped could be a valuable contributor to the O, is still struggling. It seems a bit much to expect Bonds and Rich Aurilia to carry this team. ...
"The Giants are going to need the offense to pick up if they want to keep winning games. Bonds is doing it all right now. The pitching has been great but I don't like the chances of Matt Morris, Noah Lowry and Russ Ortiz continuing their early success over the course of a full season. They continue to walk too many hitters and eventually it'll catch up with them."
By the time we make it to Orange and Black Baseball, the verdict seems to be in. The Giants are having a great run, but it doesn't change the future.
"It's easy to get caught up in the wins," Daniel Smith wrote, "and easy to think that the starters are indeed this good and Bonds can indeed keep this pace up to an NL West title after that many wins in a row. But more the fools us, if we believe it will keep up like this.
"Not that the Giants can't make a run at the title -- when a team wins seven in a row with pitching like this, they're capable of making a run here and there, and I'm still not convinced there is a good team in the NL West. But the offense is still a problem, a problem that, for now, Barry is hiding behind his bat."
Bloggers bask in cold realities, even if they hurt. And sure enough, a sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend blunted the Giants' momentum, knocking them back to 12-11 and third place in the division.
Continuing last week's conversation with NL West bloggers, we asked the following: Who's your favorite player on your team to watch play baseball, and why? In other words, what player is the best reason for a baseball fan to tune in and watch your team?
Jim McLennan, AZ Snakepit: Watching Brandon Webb pitch is always a delight. His sinker may be the single best pitch in the majors. Even though the hitters know it's coming -- heck, the entire crowd knows it's coming -- the pitch is still absolutely unhittable when its on. But if Randy Johnson returns to anything like his old form, watching Mr. Snappy buzz in towards a hitter's ankles promises to be a joy to behold too.
On the position player side, I really enjoy watching Stephen Drew. He's been thrust into an unfamiliar spot this season, batting leadoff, but he battles every single time he's up there, working deep in the count and trying to get on base, by any means necessary. His defense was reported to be questionable coming up through the minors, but so far he's surpassed all expectations with the glove, making plays you'd never expect him to make. Carlos Quentin is another player who specializes in making the miraculous look routine in the field.
As an aside, the favorite player to listen to is, unquestionably, Orlando Hudson. The man's mouth is amazing: he gets out about 300 words per minute, and you don't so much listen, as hang on for the ride, hoping to pick out the verbs and nouns as they fly past.
Mark T.R. Donohue, Bad Altitude: My immediate knee-jerk response is to say Todd Helton, out of loyalty more than anything else. We haven't seen Classic Todd for more than three seasons now and are increasingly unlikely to see him ever again. The new Todd Lite is not going to justify earning the huge percentage of the overall Rockies payroll to which he is entitled through 2011, even with Helton's all-universe intangibles. For a long time though, Helton was the lone bright light in a very dark valley and for that I'll always be appreciative. Still, I'd rather trade him and win than keep him and not win.
So as for 2007's answer to the question, my choice is Jeff Francis. The signing of star free-agent pitchers is out of the question in Denver after the Mike Hampton debacle, so the only way this team will ever contend is if they can develop starters from within. The Francis Channel (his jersey number, 26, is the cable channel on which most of the Rockies games run) has the smarts of a 20-year vet and much better stuff than you'd expect from a slender lefty with a baby face. Even after consolidating his place as the rising star of the rotation and securing a nice contract extension, Francis continues to try and improve himself, adding a sinker to his repertoire and watching tons of game film on his iPod. The Rockies need more guys like him who can get strikeouts and ground balls, hang around in games when they don't have their best stuff, and who love the challenge of pitching at Coors Field.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Grant, True Blue L.A.: Russell Martin, without a doubt. Once he starts to get more recognition from the national press, he's almost assured of getting the"heart and soul" and/or "plays the game the right way" tag stuck on him. It's very rare that you see a catcher that could be classified as a five-tool player, but Martin can do it all. He plays great defense, has a good arm, can hit for average, shows good patience, flashes a little bit of power and he'll even steal a few bases along the way. Someone once suggested that the Dodgers marketing campaign should consist of Russell Martin saying to the camera, "Hi, I'm Russell Martin. If you come to Dodger Stadium, you can watch me play." I'd be willing to brave the Dodger Stadium parking nightmare for that.
Aside from Martin, I also like to watch Jonathan Broxton pitch. While Joel Zumaya was being hyped as the next big reliever last year, Broxton quietly put up superior numbers in 2006. When Broxton broke into the league, he struck out Albert Pujols on two separate occasions, and his hard fastball-slider combination been making opposing hitters look foolish ever since.
Finally, I enjoy watching Olmedo Saenz. Partially for his ability to seemingly hit every fastball he sees over the fence, but mainly because of my love for obese guys who can be considered professional athletes.
San Diego Padres
Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: Jake Peavy is exciting to watch because he has the ability to dominate a game when he's on the mound. That said, he only gets into around 30 games a year.
Trevor Hoffman has the history, and he's a true craftsman. Also, there's no better moment in sports than when he enters a save situation to Hell's Bells. I know I'm biased, but that never gets old. As with Peavy, though, Hoffman usually doesn't play.
On an everyday basis, the guy that really impresses me is Adrian Gonzalez. Despite his age, he's very focused and composed. It's a horribly trite thing to say, but he is a true professional. Gonzalez has a beautiful swing that generates line drives to all fields. What I enjoy most, though, is the way he fields his position. The importance of defense at first base is often dismissed or at least downplayed, but Gonzalez is a pleasure to watch around the bag. His footwork is fantastic, and he routinely (and seemingly without effort) makes his infielders look that much better. Gonzalez is the kind of player that, if I had children, I would have them watch to learn how a ballplayer does his job.
San Francisco Giants
Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles: Barry Bonds is the obvious answer. I have my misgivings about blindly cheering him on, but he's like your uncle with five DUIs and a couple of possession busts; he's still family. It's even more entertaining now that pitchers are willing to challenge him. In a recent battle of steroid-fed monsters, Bonds tied a game with an eighth-inning home run off Ryan Franklin. He wouldn't have even had the chance to swing in previous years, and danged if it wasn't as exciting as any other homer he's ever hit.
Matt Cain is the less-obvious answer, but if I had to pick just one player, he'd be the guy. I can't recall a starting pitcher who could get by with his fastball like Cain. If he only threw fastballs, I could see him being at least a league-average pitcher for years. Add in his developing curve and change, and he's just going to get nastier and nastier. It seems as if he pitches a one-hitter every other time out.
Labels: NL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
Interesting that most of the bloggers took pitchers as their favorites - just adds momentum to the idea that the NL West is punchless.
Oh, and Brandon Webb? I wish he'd throw that changeup he's been playing with. I think when he decided to go out and just throw that all day, didn't he strike out over 10? I totally want the Diamondbacks to win this division.
You know why it seems like Matt Cain is pitching a one-hitter every time out? Because he's getting lucky, and it's unsustainable. Cain is currently riding a .118 BABIP to a 1.54 era, despite peripherals of 5.91 K/9 and 4.37 BB/9. Cain is a good young pitcher, but there's no way he's going to continue to have this kind of success this year unless he drastically improves.
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