Like every season, 2013 will be a grinding “162-game race.”
Unlike other seasons, however, this coming one should be rather exciting, as Major League Baseball has implemented changes to its schedule pertaining to interleague play during the regular season.
Starting as early as May, ball clubs will begin playing their respective league’s counterparts. But instead of a designated time period for interleague play, teams will continue to do so throughout the regular season. A welcome change in most people’s opinions, as it will give National League pitchers more opportunities to demonstrate their superiority on the mound.
This includes the Giants, who will even get a crack at playing both the Red Sox and Yankees, something that is very rare for the club.
With targets on their backs for the second time in three years, the Giants are looking to defend their well-deserved title. But with most teams in every division making significant upgrades, who should the Giants be worried about facing the most throughout the season? And what are the three most important series San Francisco should be preparing for?
Los Angeles Dodgers
Well, that’s a tough question to answer, but the most obvious place to start would be down in Los Angeles:
Last season, the Giants and their arch-rivals locked horns eighteen times, with San Francisco taking ten of the decisions, including two sweeps at crucial points in the season.
The start of next season will be imperative in setting the tone against a Dodgers’ team that became (on paper) much stronger by the end of last season, as the Giants will face the boys in blue nineteen times this year. They will have to prove themselves as the better club by taking down Los Angeles’s newly revamped roster, which includes:
RHP – Zack Greinke – 15-5 / 3.48 ERA / 200 K’s / 212.1 IP – A 2009 Cy Young award winner, the young righty is entering the prime of his career with a club that is not afraid to spend money. With Clayton Kershaw pegged as the Opening Day starter, the Giants will start the season off running against possibly the biggest one-two punch in baseball.
1B – Adrian Gonzalez – The powerful lefty was probably the only one in the “blockbuster” trade to perform in the nieghborhood of his abilities after coming to Los Angeles last season. Though he only had eighteen homeruns between his two clubs, he is one of the most powerful hitters in the game, and is right in the discussion with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera when it comes to the best-hitting first basemen in the game.
Not to mention the fact that since the 2006 season, he’s placed within the top 25 players throughout 10 major statistical batting categories.
Range and speed wise, he doesn’t hold a candle to Brandon Belt. But at the plate, he is hands-down the better first baseman.
RHP – Josh Beckett – 7-14 / 4.65 ERA / 132 K’s / 170.1 IP – Just three years ago, you would have said that Beckett was one of the better pitchers in the game. But since then, he’s really only put one good season together. The rest of the time he’s been mediocre.
Beckett’s one saving grace? He doesn’t walk batters too often, but he will need to get it together during spring training if he wants to keep his spot in the rotation because the Dodgers have eight legitimate starters.
LF – Carl Crawford – Injured for most of 2012, Crawford only played in 31 games for his former club in Boston. A 2010 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner, Crawford is extremely valuable not for his power (which is plentiful for the big Texan), but for his ability to get on base, which is shown through the sheer amount of hits he accumulates when he’s healthy. He’s never gotten to the milestone of two hundred hits in a single season, but he’s come very close.
If healthy, he could cement an already All-Star-worthy outfield.
LHP – Hyun-Jun Ryu
Adding Greinke into the rotation greatly increases the Dodgers’ chances for success, but it might not make that much of an impact on the Giants as one might think. And that is because the club actually has decent numbers against the second most highly paid pitcher in baseball:
Against the young righty, San Francisco’s batters are hitting .300, and own a .740 OPS. Marco Scutaro leads the pack for his club with eight hits against Greinke, including four doubles, a walk and only two strikeouts through 21 at-bats.
Okay, so they’re not astounding numbers, but they look a whole lot better when compared to how San Francisco fares against the other ace of L.A.’s staff, Clayton Kershaw. He will be the one to get through, as they fared decently against him last season.
Another potentially dangerous pitcher could be the Dodgers’ newly acquired South Korean phenom, Hyun-Jin Ryu. He hasn’t pitched professionally in over a year, but so far, according to all reports from camp, he seems to be impressing early on. Battery-mate A.J. Ellis had this to say of his new teammate:
“His fastball had command on both sides and the ball came out really well, with life to it. He has an easy, calm motion. He wasn’t trying to impress the first time out, like some guys, and overthrow. He knew what he wanted to do and executed.”
To overcome Kershaw alone will be a challenge in itself for the Giants, but to add in Greinke and Ryu makes things that much tougher on San Francisco. And thats not it. There’s still Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly to account for, so unless L.A. unloads one of their pitchers, they will have a lot of depth.
Now, the Giants will open the 2013 season against their arch-rivals, but those three games won’t really show who the better team is, just yet. Even though the Dodgers will have had a whole offseason and spring training to become more acclimated with their new teammates, to have a better understanding of where each team will be, we’ll look ahead to a three-game series at the beginning of May:
On the third, fourth and fifth of the month, San Francisco will host the Dodgers in their second meeting of the season. By this point, both clubs will have faced a number of different opponents, and it should give a good idea as to where each team stands with each other. Los Angeles will have had time to “develop chemistry” between their new faces and personalities.
I like the Giants’ chances to succeed as opposed to the Dodgers, because they are proven winners. No, they don’t have the big name stars like Kemp, Kershaw, Ethier, Greinke or Gonzalez, but they know how to win:
- In 2012 – 94-68
- In 2011 – 86-76
- In 2010 – 92-70
Even with the way the Giants played in 2011, they still managed 86 wins, when they won it all just the year before with only six more wins.
Keeping continuity is big in San Francisco, and they’ve done that by keeping their experienced and talented pitching staff intact over the past few seasons.
Overall, San Francisco has the edge, because no matter how well Los Angeles’s new faces mesh with each other, the Giants have a collective heart unlike any other team in the majors, and have the accolades as well as the fan base to prove it.
But enough West Coast talk.
Over in the National League East, the 2012 Major League wins leader in the Washington Nationals wasted no time this offseason upgrading their already fantastic rotation that includes:
LHP – Gio Gonzalez – 21-8 / 2.89 ERA / 201 K’s / 199.1 IP
RHP – Stephen Strasburg – 15-6 / 3.16 ERA / 197 K’s / 159.1 IP
RHP – Jordan Zimmerman – 12-8 / 2.94 ERA / 154 K’s / 195.2 IP
LHP – Ross Detwiler – 10-8 / 3.40 ERA / 105 K’s / 164.1 IP
Finishing second overall in team ERA, WHIP and batting average against, the Nationals pitching pummeled through opponents last year, and the team made a huge pickup by acquiring veteran right-handed pitcher Dan Haren from the Anaheim Angels.
But don’t let his 12-13 record from last season fool you. That was an aberration. Not since his major league debut has he ever had a losing record, and despite finishing last season just below the .500 mark, he is undoubtedly one of the better pitchers in the game. Just last season, he was 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA. In addition, he’s finished with 12-plus wins in eight of his 12 major league seasons, and in six of those seasons, he had 14-plus wins. For him, it’s all about staying healthy.
Though the Giants only play the Nats twice (once at home and once away) next season, it will be a good test to see how the Giants stack up against a team with equally—if not better–pitching as themselves.
Playing them at home would be too easy (well, not easy), so to really measure how our beloved Giants fare against the new beast-in-the-East, the team will travel to our nation’s capitol from August 13th to the 15th. There, they will play the Nationals at home for their second and last meeting of the season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Now, unlike the Dodgers, I feel like Toronto’s offseason additions might actually pan out and cause a major shift in power in the American League.
The Blue Jays vastly upgraded their roster this winter. Headlining their multiple moves was November’s blockbuster trade with the Marlins which netted them Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.
Take a look:
SS – Jose Reyes – .287 AVG / .780 OPS / 11 HR / 57 RBI / 184 Hits – Reyes performed relatively well last season, especially given the fact that he played the most games in a single season in all of his career. If he’s healthy, he’s a force at the top of the order, and one of the best fielders in the game.
RHP – R. A. Dickey – 20-6 / 2.73 ERA / 230 K’s / 233.2 IP – The 39-year-old knuckleball pitcher had by far the best season of his career in 2012, solidified by winning the National League Cy Young award.
The fresh new scenery in Toronto provides Dickey with a chance to finish his career with one of the best looking clubs going into the 2013 season.
RHP – Josh Johnson – 8-14 / 3.81 ERA / 165 K’s / 191.1 IP - Health setbacks are always looming over Johnson’s head, but he definitely has the stuff to be a staff ace or co-ace. Unfortunately, last season was not a good demonstration in showing his full capability, but a change of scenery could benefit him.
To his credit, he has only allowed 59 homeruns over his eight years in the majors. That is a good mark.
LHP – Mark Buehrle – 13-13 / 3.74 ERA / 125 K’s / 202.1 IP - The Blue Jays really got a steal with this veteran lefty. Buehrle has been the epitome of consistency during his 13 years of Major League service.
In fact, not counting his rookie year (in which he only started three games), Buehrle has never won less than 10 games in a season, and now, the soon-to-be 34-year-old averages 14 wins a season, and is a tremendous asset for his new club.
LF – Melky Cabrera – There is very little to be said about the outfielder, except that he will have to prove to his new teammates, city and management that he is worth the 2-year, $16MM that he was inked to during the offseason.
Though I do not know why a club would pay a known PED user more than twice his salary from the previous season for two years of un-certain production, he undoubtedly upgrades this club, and could conceivably pick up right where he left off with the Giants.
If he comes into spring training clean and fit, there should be no reason he doesn’t see left field for most of the 2013 season.
CF – Emilio Bonifacio – .258 AVG / .645 OPS / 1 HR/ 11 RBI / 63 Hits – Needless to say, last season was one Bonifacio would like to forget.
He’ll be competing with Colby Rasmus for a starting job, but I don’t see how he can win it if Rasmus puts up numbers similar to the marks he put up last season.
Playing against Toronto (at home) on June fourth and fifth will be a good point at which to see how San Francisco is doing, not only in terms of standings, but to see how they matchup against an American League team, especially one that the Giants haven’t seen too much of recently.
But not only will it measure how they play against an American League team, it will show how well they play against a team besides the Dodgers who feel as though they are on top of the world. And that is sometimes a dangerous state of mind to deal with.
- We have the Dodgers series a month into the season to get an idea of how the arch-rivals square-off in their new forms.
- We’ve got the Blue Jays in early June to see how our National League Giants play against a, what will most likely be, very tough American League opponent.
- And finally, in mid-August, the reigning World Champions will travel to Washington D.C. to try and rattle an eerily similar team’s cage.
But what do these opponents have in common?
They are all presumed to be World Series contenders. But the Giants share the same labeling, and after all, when Buster Posey is healthy, the Giants win it all.
May the best team win.