Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Summary

It's hard to believe......but spring has sprung and here we are....just about 24 hours away from the home opener at AT&T Park. After attending 12 practices, 26 ST games in Arizona, another 3 exhibition games here in San Francisco and taking roughly 2,750 photographs........I am about to see some REAL baseball. Games that the best ballpark in the world. It doesn't get any better than that. Tomorrow it will be Giants vs Padres......Zito vs Peavy....the 2007 pennant race will be underway.

The Spring workouts and games held a few surprises........but really not THAT many. We pretty much knew in February the rotation would be Zito, Cain, Morris, Lowry and Ortiz. And if we weren't quite sure about Ortiz........his first game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa pretty much removed all doubt. Pretty much everyone in the rotation looks to be ready to go......with the possible exception of Noah Lowry. He looked better against the A's on Sunday. 2 runs in 3 innings are WAY too many....but at least he didn't walk anyone. Lowry just doesn't have the stuff to compensate for too many walks or for pitching from behind in the count. I like the look of the Morris, Lowry or Ortiz falter....the Giants have options in the Minors (Lincecum anyone?).

We went into February 15th with the bullpen being the biggest question mark........and here we are in April with the questions looming just as large as they were a month and a half ago. Benitez has been a surprise.......his fastball is not topping out like it used to, but the slider has been great. Chulk and Kline made the opening day roster....pretty much as expected. After that it was a dog fight. The biggest surprises for me have to be that Hennessey made the roster and Wilson didn't. I thought Hennessey had the club made back in February........but he pitched VERY poorly all spring and I was sure he had coughed it up. I thought Wilson was a lock....until a certain pitching coach, who shall remain nameless, called him "inconsistent". In what has to be one of the worst self-fulfilling prophesies of all time......Wilson has been exactly that.....inconsistent......since that comment was made. I also thought that, despite his spotty performance, Munter was going to make the team. His sinker was back.....and a number of the basehits he gave up.......were groundballs that found a hole.

All in all I am VERY worried about the bullpen. I wasn't in February........but I am now. Although I wasn't sure which pitchers would make the team.......I was sure the Giants had enough good young arms to do the job. I am not so sure now. The bullpen performance has been pretty bad all spring. My only hope is was JUST the didn't count.......and they, hopefully, will pitch how I thought they would back in February. Any way you look at it.........if you are a Giants' fan........the bullpen HAS to be your biggest concern.

As far as the position players go.........those roster decisions were almost exactly as predicted in February. Molina, Aurilia, Durham, Vizquel, Feliz, Bonds, Roberts and Winn as the starters. Klesko as PH, 1B & LF sub. Alfonzo as backup C. Linden as the 4th OF and Frandsen as the utility IF. The only surprise ended up being the 25th man. I was sure it would be a battle between Sweeney & Ellison with Ellison being the odd man out. I was only partially correct. Ellison WAS the odd man......but Niekro made the opening day roster and Sweeney was placed on the 15-day DL, with yet another "phantom" injury. In a stroke of luck for Ellison.....he was traded to his boyhood team, the Mariners. A dream come true for him. I wish Ellison all the luck in the world......he is a great guy and is surely an overachiever........but I doubt he will ever hit more than .240-.250 in the Majors with little or no power.

Niekro was a surprise because he rarely even practiced on the main field with the regulars. When the games began.....he got little playing time at first. Minor injuries to Aurilia and Klesko, opened the door and Niekro burst through by batting .357 and smacking 3 HRs and 10 RBI in only 41 ABs. It will be interesting to see what happens when Sweeney is eligible to come off the DL and Niekro's 15 day audition is over. You have to root for a kid who came up through the Giants' organization........but I have ZERO faith in his ability to stay healthy and produce. Seems like all he needs is a hangnail.....and his average dips 80 points and all power mysteriously disappears. I will be rooting for him though.....I hope he proves me wrong.

In one of the most heartening developments of the spring.....Bonds is as healthy as he has been in years. He shows no signs of any lingering knee or elbow problems. Although he will never again be the Gold Glove 30 year old I remember running like a gazelle in LF.......he won't embarrass himself (as long as the ball stays out of the sun) and should make most of the plays. He still has a ton of power.......and I will bet you that once the season starts for real.......the tendency he had in the spring to strikeout will disappear. Although they had a few minor dings and dents.......the remainder of the team is healthy and should put a few runs on the scoreboard.

Health will remain the #1 concern for this roster all season long. Actually......I take that back. The bullpen will remain the #1 concern for the roster all season long. Health will be the #1 concern for the offense. Can the offense remain healthy and provide enough runs to carry the bullpen on it's off days? Can the bullpen keep those "off days" to a minimum and not blow every game after the starter is pulled? Is Benitez for real? Or is he just fooling us before he returns to his save-blowing former self? I have no will have to stay tuned to the regular season to have those questions answered.

This is the end of my Spring Training Blog for this year. I may or may not write a few notes during the regular season. I do this in the spring because there is no place you can go to get a lot of info on what is happening in Arizona. It is kind of redundant to do this during the regular season. During the regular season.....there is more coverage than you know what top do with. With KNBR, KTVU, FOX, FSBA, MLBTV and internet can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the team.

I am glad so many of you enjoyed the blog. We ran from a high of 1,995 visitors on the second day of the Giants' Idol an average of 900 to 1,000 visitors a day in mid-March. That dropped off to about 600 a day in the last week and a half. I guess people got tired of Spring Training and were ready for the regular season to start. At any rate.......I enjoyed the Spring Training season very much......I always do.