Tag Archives: SPRING TRAINING

THE GIANTS YEAR, AGAIN?

From 2009 until 2015, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in each of the three even numbered years, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Most serious baseball fans might be aware of that fact, it has been written about so many times. Not as much attention has been paid to the fact that, in the odd numbered years in that period, not only have they failed to win the World Series, they have failed to even make the playoffs.

That’s right, this team that has won three World’s Championships in the seven year period, only matched in this century by the three the Boston Red Sox have won, has been an also ran in the other four years. In that seven year period, the Giants have won 274 and lost 212 during their Championship Years, a .564 percentage while, during their also ran years, they have won 334 and lost 314, a .515 percentage.

It isn’t as if the Giants fell apart in the years they didn’t win the Championship. They finished in third place in 2009, with an 88-74 record. In 2011, they finished at 86-76, eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2013, they finished a dismal fourth, with their worst, and only losing record of the period, 76-86, 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year, they finished in second, 8 games behind the Dodgers, with a record of 84-78.

Well, here we are in an even numbered year again. Can the Giants rebound again and win their fourth World Series in eight years after failing to make the Playoffs in the other four of those eight years?

Despite losing key players for long stretches in 2015, the Giants finished with a respectable 84-78 record. Second year second baseman Joe Panik, played in only 100 games after a lower back inflammation sidelined him and right fielder Hunter Pence played in just 52 games.

Aging veteran, 40 year old Tim Hudson made 29 starts and posted a 4.44 ERA with an 8-9 record and 38 year old Ryan Vogelsang was 9-11, with a 4.67 ERA in 22 starts. The Giants added right handed starter Johnny Cueto, who was 11-13 last year between Cincinnati and Kansas City, but who was 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014 finishing as runner up for the Cy Young Award. They also picked up Jeff Samardzija, who was 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA with the lowly White Sox last year.

These two starters, will be added to their Ace Madison Bumgarner, who was 18-9 last year, with a 2.93 ERA, Jake Peavy, 8-6 and a 3.58 ERA in 19 starts, after missing much of the first half with back and hip problems, and Matt Cain, coming back from two bad years and working on a new release and expected to be the fifth starter. Chris Heston, who, as a rookie, was 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts can help with the starting and can relieve as needed.

Buster Posey will be back behind the plate. Probably the best all around catcher in the game today, Posey played in 150 games last year, some at first, but most behind the plate, and hit .318 with 19 homers and 95 RBI’s. Slugging Brandon Belt, who hit .280 with 18 homers and 68 RBI’s will be back at first and Joe Panik, who hit .312 in just 100 games should be healed and ready to go at second. Brandon Crawford, who won the Gold Glove at shortstop and hit .256 with 21 homers and 84 RBI’s will join third baseman Matt Duffy coming off a rookie season in which he hit .295, and drove in 77 runs.

Posey, Belt and Duffy were all finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their positions and, with Gold Glove winner Crawford at short and slick fielding Panik back at full strength at second, this could be one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

The addition this past week of 32 year old Denard Span who will probably take over on center field strengthens them even more up the middle. Span, who only played 61 games last year and is a career .287 hitter, had a surgery for a torn labrum in his left hip in September and is expected to be ready to go by spring training. Angel Pagan, who played center last year and hit .262, will probably compete with Gregor Blanco for the left field spot. Blanco hit .291 in 115 games last year. Hunter Pence, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, will be back in right after recovering from a strained left oblique which limited him to 52 games last year.

The bullpen has Closer Santiago Casilla, who saved 38 of 44 tries last year with a 2.79 ERA with workhorses Sergio Romo, 70 games 2.98 ERA, Javier Lopez 77 games, 1.60 ERA, George Kontos, 73 games, 2.33 ERA and Hunter Strickland, 53 games, 2.45 ERA, and is more than adequate.

As of this writing, veteran Giant starter and sometimes reliever, Tim Lincecum, who was 7-4 last year, with an ERA of 4.13, has not signed a Free Agent contract with anyone. He could add depth to the bullpen and as a spot starter should the Giants decide to bring him back.

Manager Bruce Bochy says that this team could be the best defensive team he has ever had in 21 years as a Manager. They have the potential to put a lot of runs on the board as well. Can the Giants do the improbable and go from also ran to winner for the fourth time in eight years?

At this point, I would not advise betting against them but don’t forget that team on the north side of Chicago. Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon and their young Cubs may have something to say about that.

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SPRING TRAINING AT LAST

Spring training games finally started last week in both Florida and Arizona. This is a magical time of the year in either of those two locations for serious baseball fans. The only time of the year when you can wander into a major league facility, sit down in the seats and watch your heroes and a bunch of other guys you never heard of work out the kinks and get ready for the real thing which starts on April 5 this year and not even have to pay to get in.

At most training facilities, most of the fields that are used for workouts and practicing are located around the stadiums where the games are played and are open to the public free of charge or you can watch from behind the fence. If you are a real baseball nut, you don’t care if you are watching one of the minor league teams that share the camp with the big guys or watching the real thing, it’s baseball, the sun is out, winter is over and all you can look forward to baseball, baseball, and more baseball for the next six or seven months.

On March 23, the van carrying the Johnson team and all its equipment starts south from Sanford, Maine. This is our year to visit the Grapefruit League in Florida as we alternate years between Arizona and Florida so we won’t have to de-ice the car before we start. The last week or two of spring training is the best for me. The regulars are starting and playing most of the games by then and, even though the games mean nothing, the jockeying for starting positions and roster spots is getting down to the real thing.

We always leave for Florida with our winter clothes on hoping we will not need them when we get there. Two years ago, we sat with winter jackets on and blankets wrapped around us at two night games in Steinbrenner Field.

Whereas in Arizona, the spring training stadiums are uniformly relatively new and well kept, there is a bit of a contrast in Florida. Steinbrenner Field is a state of the art facility that looks like a new, smaller, regular major league stadium and seats over 11,000 and of course the Red Sox Jet Blue Park is almost new and the Orioles Ed Smith Stadium is a beautiful facility which has been refurbished recently. Then there are fields like the Blue Jays facility, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, in Dunedin which is an older facility, built in 1990, with a capacity of 5,500 fans, which was showing its wear when we were there two years ago.

But even in the older ball parks, the atmosphere is conducive to having a good time. You can park in the VFW lot across the street, somebody’s yard or a similar facility and sit at large picnic tables inside the park while waiting for the game to start with a dozen of your new best friends. We actually sat at a table in Dunedin one time with 14 people we had never seen before and found we were all from Maine, two from Shapleigh.

Even with the season getting close, the players are more relaxed and willing to spend time with fans, young and old. Before and after games, a lot of kids get the thrill of their lives having a picture taken with or getting an autograph from a real major leaguer. Corey Hart, the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder, became one of my favorite players when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers, when I watched him, game after game, sign autographs for kids until he had to race to get to his position when the game was about to start.

Being Red Sox and Yankee fans, we will see them play three times each and will also concentrate on the rest of the American League East. We will see a night game at Jet Blue between the Twins and Red Sox on March 30 after having a book signing for my book ‘From Beer To Beards, Boston Baseball’s 2011-2013 Roller Coaster Ride’ at Lee County Library in Estero at 4:00 that afternoon. If you’re in the area, stop in and say hello, we promise no high pressure to sell the book.

We’re also staying for opening day at Tropicana Field on April 6 to see the American League East Champion Orioles play the Rays. This will be the third time in the last five years we have seen the Rays open against the O’s and it will be different without Joe Maddon in the Rays dugout, Ben Zobrist at short or second for the Rays and Nick Markakis in right field for the O’s.

We always make it a point to visit the Ted Williams Museum on the first floor of the Trop, which is a great place to watch a game, and always leave after the game with a slight headache as there are more cow bells per capita in that ballpark than anywhere else in the world. There is no other experience in sports like a major league opening day and I am one of those people that think opening day should be a national holiday.

Spring training is a wonderful experience for any baseball fan either casual or rabid and leaving New England at the end of a winter like we have experienced makes it even more special. It seems like it’s been forever since the 2014 season ended but the 2015 season will be well worth the wait.

CURE THE WINTER BLUES WITH BASEBALL

It’s hard to believe that it’s already January 3 and we are just two months from opening day in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Spring Training seasons. A little over a month from now, pitchers and catchers will report for the start of Spring Training workouts and the position players will be right behind them.

I, for one, have had enough of winter, even though, here in Maine, we have had mild weather so far, with only one snow fall, way back on Thanksgiving Day, and the second one beginning to fall as I write this.

Spring Training is what I wait all winter for. For any baseball fan, particularly the ones that live in my house, it seems like we have been without baseball forever. This is our year to go to Florida for our annual Spring Training pilgrimage. If you have read my weekly column in the Biddeford, ME, Journal Tribune over the past three years, you know that we alternate years between Florida and Arizona.

Both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are home to 15 teams for Spring Training and, beginning March 3, there are games every day and night right up until April 4, the day before the regular season begins. The season opens late this year, with Opening Night kicking off with a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at night on Easter Sunday. The rest of the teams start the next day.

In addition to watching as many games as possible the last week or two of Spring Training, we plan to catch Opening Day of the regular season and the next two games at Tropicana Field with the Tampa Bay Rays hosting the Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles. We will then start north and stop at Camden Yard to see the Sunday game between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays as we wend our way home.

Spring Training in Florida is always exciting, particularly since I am a Yankee fan and my wife is a Red Sox fan and they both train there. In addition to being loyal fans, however, we are both fans of baseball in general and I prefer Arizona to Florida for two very basic reasons.

Number one, the weather in Arizona in March is almost always sunny and warm as opposed to Florida where it can be cool and/or rainy at that time. Secondly, the training facilities in Arizona are all in the greater Phoenix area, within a short ride of each other. In Florida, on the other hand, some of the parks are an hour or two apart, making it sometimes difficult to see ball games in different arenas.

In Arizona, it is not unusual for us to see two games in one day. One year, for example, we saw the Angels play the Rangers in Tempe Diablo Stadium in the afternoon, drove up to trendy Scottsdale, where we had a nice dinner outdoors at an excellent restaurant and then walked over to see the Giants play the Athletics at Scottsdale Stadium. Last year, in the last seven days of Spring Training, we took in 11 games, a feat that would usually involve a lot of driving in Florida.

In our years when we travel to Arizona, we generally stay for the first series of the year if the Diamondbacks are home. Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play their home games, is a modern, fan friendly, ballpark, complete with retractable roof, located in the heart of downtown, a stone’s throw from the interstate with plenty of parking and lots of nice places to have lunch or dinner before the game within walking distance of the park.

While at Spring Training, whether in Florida or Arizona, I send articles about the teams’ progress to the Journal Tribune every few days and, this year, will also be doing talks about and signings of my new book, ‘ From Beer To Beards ‘, about the 2011-2013 Red Sox, at libraries in Lee County where the Sox training facility, Jet Blue Park, is located.

If you’ve begun to get cabin fever like I have every year at this time, the best cure is to plan a visit to spring training. Even the planning process makes the winter seem shorter and there is nothing like leaving the cold north and finding yourself in warm sunshine at a baseball game in Arizona or Florida.