San Francisco Giants Open with a Thud, but It's an Ideal Thud
Let's dispense with the obvious first—it is never wise to open the Major League Baseball season by allowing a division rival to sweep you.
And it's decidedly worse than that for the San Francisco Giants.
They trotted out Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain against the defending National League West Champion Arizona Diamondbacks—the imposters to the Gents' rightful throne—only to have the three aces treated like long-relief chum.
Cainer was a particular disappointment. The offense handed him a six-run lead after three innings with the big fella playing the role of Stopper in the finale only to watch Matty hand the entire cushion back.
Oh, and did I mention the six errors authored by SF in three games, all losses by a single run? I can't decide if those are more or less embarrassing than the quintet of E's committed by the Snakes in the series' final game, but the fact that it's a close call ain't good.
Sooooooo, no, the first weekend of 2012 Giants baseball wasn't a good one.
But if you think the trio of games in Arizona was reason for despair and despair alone, you probably haven't been on the Orange and Black bandwagon for much of the last two years.
On the contrary, this was most reassuring sweep I can recall for a Giant team of recent vintage.
Stay with me...
Timing Is Everything
That glum chap in the picture is Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.
He's got the blues because the BoSox, like San Francisco, got swept in three games versus the Detroit Tigers. Their triplet of L's contained two blown saves by the Boston bullpen, a 10-run shellacking during which the Sawks offense was shutout and two walkoff wins by the homestanding Tigers.
What's more, the massive market carnage didn't stop there.
The New York Yankees, the team Boston is striving to become if the last few years are any indicator, are also staring at a big fat bagel in the win column. The Bronx Bombers caught the broom from the Tampa Bay Rays and share the American League East cellar with their mortal enemy/identical twin.
I repeat, both the Red Sox and Yankees are winless!
There's a decent chance nobody has even noticed the Giants played; shaking off the negativity should be easier with most of the media otherwise engaged.
There Are 159 Games to Go
It's a marathon, not a sprint.
That is Major League Baseball in a nutshell—the season is 162 games long. The Giants weren't going to win every game, they weren't even going to win 100 of 'em. San Francisco, like all teams, will lose in 2012 and they will lose a lot—over 70 times if they're lucky and good.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the fellas will probably lose three games in a row again and almost certainly will get swept again at some point.
It's the agony and ecstasy of the game, the reason A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote that it is "designed to break your heart."
You have to put up with a lot of losing to enjoy the winning.
With 159 games still on the slate, there will be plenty of both.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner Will Be Just Fine
During a TBS broadcast, John Smoltz said (I'm paraphrasing) that, as a general rule, power pitchers take a bit longer to round into regular-season form than finesse pitchers.
This makes sense for a variety of reasons, the most persuasive being that they need the adrenaline of non-exhibition baseball to truly stretch themselves out. Put another way, they need real-game speed to get up to speed.
Well, guess what—Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and even Madison Bumgarner are all power pitchers. They come after you with good fastballs and have a full arsenal of pitches with which to put the opposition away. They might not all be prototypical country-hardball types a la Cainer, but power pitchers they be.
If you watched the Freak, MadBum and Cain throw against Arizona, you saw them miss their spots in ugly fashion. That is to say, they hung pitches up and out over the plate. In a live ballpark against a good offense, that's rarely recipe for success and it wasn't on this occasion.
But what reason have those three given the faithful to doubt they'll be in fine form soon enough?
That's right, none.
And on the Third Day, He Went Yard
It's safe to say Buster Posey was a tad rusty during his first professional taste of baseball in almost a year. Buster hadn't been geared up and on a regular-season diamond since May of 2011 so we can forgive the three errors he made, all of them significant. As we can forgive a couple questionable decisions made by the usually unflappable backstop.
The defensive and decision-making will come back with more reps.
And we can forgive the fact that two of the three one-run losses in the desert ended with Posey the third at the plate with the tying run marooned on second.
It's gonna take some time before Posey rebounds completely from his infamous injury and, even then, he won't come through every time.
The good news, however, is that it looks like Giants fans will get that version back and sooner rather than later.
The 25-year-old caught all three games against the D-Backs and, though several of his most brutal lapses came in the finale, he also homered. Actually, I should say he launched a familiar rocket to right-center field, taking on one of the deepest parts of Chase Field and proving the dimensions woefully insufficient.
There will be good days and bad days and off days aplenty as Posey comes back from the pulping of his left leg, but you have to like what you've seen from the Giants catcher thus far.
Brandon Crawford Has a Batting Average
The Giants starting shortstop, Brandon Crawford, is not out there for his bat. Not yet anyway.
The 25-year-old local kid from Mountain View got the gig because his leather is already major-league caliber and his bat has that potential. Or so we're told.
Let's overlook the fact that BC made two errors in three games and focus on the double he laced in the finale that plated the Giants' first two runs of the day. That double should have been a pivotal moment in a San Francisco win had the contest gone according to script. Alas, the baseball gods had other cruelties in mind so the double merely gets recorded as Crawford's first hit of 2012.
Nevertheless, the double should keep Bochy's veteran-loving hounds at bay for a little longer. Furthermore, if the SS can contribute a critical at-bat or two each series while picking it clean at his position, the Gents would have to consider it a success.
The Offense Is Here and Just Might Stick Around
The story of the San Francisco Giants since 2009 has been all pitch and no hit so it's refreshing to see the club open 2012 by scoring 14 runs in three games against a 2011 playoff team.
The Gents hung three runs on the Diamondbacks' ace, Ian Kennedy, in less than seven innings of work and touched up the Snakes' No. 2, Daniel Hudson, as well. By comparison, beating Josh Collmenter like a drum isn't too staggering a feat.
Even better, the sluggers San Francisco needs to answer the bell were the ones doing just that.
Pablo Sandoval roared out of the regular-season gates with a .417/.500/.750 slash line with four runs batted in. The aforementioned Buster Posey is checking in with a .333/.429/.583 slash line and Melky Cabrera's hitting .286 with a .571 slugging percentage.
If Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt would join the party, Los Gigantes' extreme offensive woes could be a thing of the past. As for Aubrey Huff, well, he's off the books at the end of the year so it'd be nice if he chipped in, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Granted, the lineup will still be just north of average, but that would be a monumental improvement.
Better Than the Alternative
Let's review—the Giants' three best pitchers got dinged up, the defense was lousy and there were a few no-shows on offense. Consequently, San Francisco got swept as it opened the 2012 season on the road against the Diamondbacks despite an overall lively showing from the bats.
That's not much good sprinkled into some serious bad.
But imagine the opposite scenario—well, not the true opposite since the Giants would win in that one—imagine the pitching started off on the right foot while the lineup slumbered. Imagine that Sandoval and Posey were sluggish and Lincecum/Bumgarner/Cain watched helplessly as they absorbed a 2-1 loss one day, a 3-2 loss the next.
THAT would be reason for concern.
Because the Giants must cobble together a more potent offense than they mustered in 2011 if they are going to be genuine contenders. Despite the sweep, the three games in Arizona showed progress on that front.
True, three games is a tiny sample size in the world of Major League Baseball, but better that it show promise than the same anemic story.