Here is a link to my Sunday column about the Giants. The full text appears below:
When it comes to baseball, this is the euphoria time of year. Both the Giants and A’s and all big-league clubs happily experience the euphoria period, although this column is about the Giants and their particular euphoria.
Locally, the euphoria period begins with the Giants’ and A’s Media Days — recently concluded — and extends through spring training. During this period, every single thing about our local guys is fabulous to the max. The dark clouds — and there are dark clouds — exist in the distance over the hill and out of sight.
The Giants, whose 2013 season wasn’t so hot, are in full euphoria mode, and they want to share it with you. Their collective euphoria extends to their hitting, generally considered an essential part of baseball.
Are the Giants entitled to hitting euphoria?
I won’t belabor you with statistics, except these two, among the most important. Of the 30 big-league clubs, the Giants were 21st in runs scored. The A’s, by comparison, were fourth. It is hard to win if you can’t get guys to cross the plate, even if your pitching is top notch. Whether or not the Giants’ pitching is top notch is another euphoria-time issue to be examined at a later date.
And get this. Of the 30 big-league clubs, the Giants were next to last in home runs, dingers, in going yard, downtown. That is what you call a “Lord, help us” statistic, and it means the Giants, who don’t run so fast, must hit a lot of doubles and singles to score runs, which means the Giants are what you call a station-to-station team, which means the Giants are more like an American League club than a National League club. FYI, the A’s were third in the big leagues in home runs.
Here is what Giants manager Bruce Bochy said at Media Day when I asked why he’s optimistic about his team’s hitting. Imagine Bochy sitting in a chair wearing a blue-striped shirt his wife bought him, looking dapper, looking younger than he looks in a baseball uniform. Imagine him speaking in that deep Bochy voice, speaking slowly, speaking with conviction.
He began by saying, “Somebody’s going to be hitting seventh that’s not accustomed to it.”
That’s what you call euphoria. He continued:
“I think (Michael) Morse is going to help. I think getting (Angel) Pagan back healthy — we really missed him. That showed up even more than I thought it would. I knew we would miss him. I don’t want to take that lightly or him, the talent that he is. But he is our leadoff hitter and then (Marco) Scutaro battling his back. You lose your one-two guys, they were the ones kind of made us go. Having them healthy, having Morse. I think you look at (Brandon) Belt’s progress. It’s been very impressive. You look at Pablo (Sandoval), where he’s at with his condition. I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about when you look at this offense that we will put more runs on the board.”
I’ll try to isolate Bochy’s themes. There were two. 1) If everything goes right, the Giants will score more runs than last season. 2) Michael Morse is a difference maker.
I have no advance knowledge that everything will or will not go right, although it is unusual for everything to go right on Earth or in baseball. I do have thoughts on Michael Morse, who will start in left field.
For starters, he is the only significant new bat the Giants brought to the team. If there is someone else, please drop me a line. In the offseason, general manager Brian Sabean and his cadre of baseball thinkers went all in for pitching, some of his moves risky — $35 million over two years for Tim Lincecum.
But Sabean did not go all in for hitting. It’s like hitting was an afterthought. “Oh gee, I plumb forgot about whatchamacallit, guys swinging bats.”
Morse is an impressive man. Big. Muscular. The blood of life courses through his veins. He has an easy laugh and a ready smile and he came up as a shortstop, admits he’d love to play shortstop in a pinch for the Giants, admits he can’t handle the position, although Bochy in this period of euphoria, said he’d gladly use Morse at third or first to spell Sandoval and Belt. Bochy also said he’s likely to delete Morse from the lineup in, say, the seventh inning if the Giants have a lead and he needs defense. That’s what Gregor Blanco is for.
There are issues with Morse. He is coming off wrist surgery. Bochy will monitor Morse at the start of spring training to make sure he doesn’t louse up the wrist.
If you look at the back of Morse’s baseball card, you’ll notice he had a monster 2011 — 31 homers, .303 batting average. We’re talking budding superstar. But he’s steadily declined since then, partly because of injury. In baseball years, 2011 is a long time ago. And that means Sabean is taking a chance on Morse, combining baseball acumen with hope and faith.
If Morse is all you have that’s new and promising, if he is the marquee offseason acquisition in the batting order, you better pray lots of guys have career years or close to career years. We’re talking Belt, Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Pagan, Hunter Pence in addition to Sandoval. You know you’ll get quality from Buster Posey.
It’s possible everything will go right for the Giants and Michael Morse will turn into Barry Bonds — with a nice personality. But there’s also a caution in all this. Euphoria can turn to doubt as fast as a 6-4-3 double play.
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