Amazingly, the Giants are playing their first Spring Training game of the year today against the Cubs. Have the games always started in February?
Actually, who cares? No matter that logic probably overrules any miniscule branch of optimism a Giants fan can grasp for in 2008 — the first day of Spring ball is a time for sunny days and high hopes.
As such, the following is the best-case scenario for Boch’ and the boys. Remember, this is not a prediction based on reality, but on beautiful Bay Area weather and the first day of Spring Training (which is making me surprisingly giddy … I guess baseball is like the sex and pizza clichÃƒÂ©, meaning it’s in the “even when it’s bad it’s good” category). The dreaded worst-case scenario will appear tomorrow.
Matt Cain has much better luck in 2008, going 17-11 with an ERA around 3.00, finishing second to Johan Santana for the NL lead in strikeouts. Barry Zito picks up a knuckle-curve in June, resulting in a blistering second half to finish with 16 wins.
Tim Lincecum pitches the entire year but for two weeks when he has a wicked case of chicken pox. Otherwise he is stellar, winning 15 games and hitting 25 batters. Noah Lowry is solid until he is traded midyear along with Ray Durham for Adam Dunn, who immediately signs a four-year extension.
The Giants were able to make that trade because of the surging Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez, who doesn’t allow a baserunner until May pitching in the bullpen. Once inserted in the starting rotation, Sanchez becomes the best fifth-starter in the NL. Correia picks up on how he finished in 2007, winning 12 games and pitching nearly 200 innings.
Brian Wilson makes Giants fans forget for a second about trading away Joe Nathan to the Twins, never relinquishing the role of closer. Tyler Walker becomes the best set-up guy the Giants have had since the Mike Jackson/Rod Beck days, and Jack Taschner, Vinnie Chulk and a slimmed down Steve Kline all pitch a little better than last season.
The pen also gets a little boost from a forgotten man, Merkin Valdez. Valdez, who we got roughly twelve years ago from Atlanta in the Russ Ortiz deal (with the great Damian Moss) pitches outstanding, becomes the Giants seventh inning man on most nights, allowing the team to go to an eleven-man pitching staff.
Aaron Rowand not only plays fairly well, but manages not to badly injure his face running into a brick wall. Rowand hits 25 homers (12 at home!) and battles Benjie Molina for most walk-off hits. Randy Winn and Dave Roberts start off the season on fire, leading to the Giants trading both of them and their top two draft picks from last year to the Devil Rays, I mean the Rays, for Carl Crawford.
With Crawford in left, Freddy Lewis and Nate Schierholtz battle it out for right field, leading to a right/left platoon that results in 20 homers and 30 steals combined.
Even in a best-case scenario, this is a bad starting infield, especially without Omar Vizquel to start the year. But after trading for Adam Dunn in June, the Giants get another shot in the arm from uber-prospect Angel Villalona. Miraculously ready for the big leagues at age 17, Villalona becomes a mini-Miguel Cabrera, hitting bombs and playing passable defense at third base.
Benjie Molina will play as well as he did in 2007. Along with an Omar Vizquel/Kevin Frandsen/Ray Durham trio at second and short, the Giants are a lot better offensively in September than April.
Best Case Scenario Record: 92-70 (Wildcard)
Starting Lineup (April)
1. Roberts: LF
2. Frandsen: SS
3. Winn: RF
4. Molin: C
5. Rowand: CF
6. Durham: 2B
7. Aurilia: 3B
8. Ortmeier: 1B
Ending Lineup (October)
1. Lewis: RF
2. Frandsen: 2B
3. Crawford: LF
4. Dunn: 1B
5. Rowand: CF
6. Villalona: 3B
7. Molina: C
8. Vizquel: SS