Despite two World Series wins in three years, Neil Cohen wonders why the Giants are once again fighting for respect.
Imagine, if you will, the following.
Your closer goes down in Week 1. Your All-Star catcher is trying to return from a devastating ankle injury. Your obese third baseman, who makes Vlad Guerrero appear to have plate discipline, goes down again with a broken hand. Your two-time Cy Young winning pitcher is having one of the worst years in recorded history. Your first baseman leaves the team for an anxiety disorder and then hurts his knee celebrating a perfect game. And, of course, your All-Star left fielder and arguably best hitter gets nailed for steroids mid-season.
What do you do? If you’re a team in New York or Boston, you spend the entire season in turmoil and are ESPN’s lead story every night. If you’re the Bruce Bochy-led San Francisco Giants, all you do is win your second World Series in three years—a four game sweep of the Justin Verlander-Miguel Cabrera-led Detroit Tigers.
The San Francisco Giants enter 2013 with a chance to make history. Never before has a national league team won three World Series in four years. Never. Not the 1970s Big Red Machine, or the Cardinals of the 1930s or 1960s, or the Dodgers of either coast.
And yet the Giants still struggle for respect, while the likes of ESPN spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether Darrel Revis will be traded or what Manti Teo’s 40-yard dash time will do to his draft status.
Perhaps there’s an East Coast bias? Surely, that bias exists. Last year’s World Series was the least watched in history, which one could surmise was due in part to the lack of drama that comes with a sweep, as well as the lack of non-baseball story lines, unless you count model Kate Upton dating Verlander. More likely, it’s the simple fact that people on the East Coast don’t get to know West Coast teams because games start too late and they’re largely asleep by the time games reach the 5th inning.
In 2012, the sexy pre-season pick by all of the so-called baseball experts was the Arizona Diamondbacks, led by Justin Upton and their young pitching. That didn’t turn out so well. This year it’s all about the Dodgers and the “evil empire” of the West. With what seems to be a bottomless pit of cash, the Dodgers have assembled a high-priced team and, with the exception of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, are banking on these players’ ability to find their former glory.
Baseball Prospectus projects the Dodgers to win approximately 88 games with a 71.8% chance to make the playoffs and a 9% chance to win the World Series. They predict just 83 wins for the Giants and an approximately 43% chance to make the playoffs and 3% chance to win the World Series. ESPN and Sports Illustrated aren’t exactly jumping on the Giants bandwagon either (To Sports Illustrated’s credit, they did pick the Giants to make the World Series last year).
With the sheer talent of the Dodgers, one can easily see a scenario in which they run away with the division. However, a closer look brings a lot of questions: Zach Greinke’s elbow, Brandon League’s ability to close out games, the health of Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez, which Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez you will get, and the fact that very few of these guys (excluding Beckett) have ever showed any ability to play under immense pressure and scrutiny.
The Giants, on the other hand, are being questioned for not making enough changes for 2013, bringing back 21 of 25 players from their 2012 team, including overpaying for Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. Sure, Pagan, Scutaro and maybe even Buster Posey (who hasn’t not won the World Series in any full year he’s played) played over their heads in 2012, but since when does coming into a season with few question marks make a team less of a contender—it just makes the team less newsworthy.
Which brings us all back to the dreaded word: chemistry. It matters. Just ask the 2004 Red Sox. Recent history has shown that it can take time for a team put together quickly to gel, if it ever does (see 2011 Red Sox, 2013 Lakers). As Giants first baseman Brandon Belt recently said, “You can’t buy chemistry.”
Only time will tell whether Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can bring his team together or whether the Giants will “bore” us on their way to another championship.
Or perhaps Kirk Gibson will put on his helmet and pads and will his Diamondbacks to the forefront. The best part is that the season has now officially started and we get to find out.
In the meantime, if I haven’t convinced you yet about the Giants chances to repeat, maybe you’ll listen to Bluto.
Photo: AP/Jeff Chiu