Friday, June 24, 2011

"Band of Prospects"

Valentine’s Day at Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona was a magical day for returning 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants. Any given February 14, you will encounter cross-eyed lovers around the world displaying affection in abundance with impulsive and sensational over-the-top purchases of objects that tend to spoil in less than a week. There was no spoiling the joy, love, and happiness being shared and expanding between a core of the San Francisco World Championship starting 25 ( only two players went elsewhere – Juan Uribe, and Edgar Renteiria ), the impeccable front office managing acquisitions and prospects, and most important… The Fans! The love affair was deepening, becoming serious.

As pitchers, catchers, and position players trickled in to Scottsdale Stadium, a lifted and boastful spirit was felt surrounding the beaming sun above Arizona during the approaching days of Spring. There was no reason why San Francisco would not have valid aspirations of repeating their efforts in 2011 towards a World Championship (Yes… I am a biased, just like East Coast Sports analysts). The defending World Series champions knew they were acquiring weapons lacking in 2010. Pablo “Panda” Sandoval arrived in camp in better shape than his whole career.  After giving a warning (primarily an ultimatum) by the franchise of “Shape up or Ship out”, Panda was motivated 210% to display his worth of the Panda power displayed in 2009. Mark DeRosa was healed, and the utility infielder was displaying the form we expected when he injured his wrist in early 2010, placing him on the DL for the season. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were two humble Southern boys with more skills acquired at the ripe age of 21 than most players posess twice their age and time spent in the big leagues.  San Francisco acquired All Star and Golden Glove phenom Miguel Tejada in hopes to replace the hole created in the line up at short stop when Juan Uribe decided to sign with that other team in  Los Angeles (that was a tiny ouch) and Renteiria chose Cincinnati. San Francisco was confident Tejada would compensate the loss. Another aspect coming into fruition was the development of the San Francisco farm system displaying performances in Spring camp that coaches, managers, and fans could not ignore. San Francisco prospects scouted and acquired by Sabean were impressing everyone, demonstrating they were ready to produce in ‘The Show’.  

San Francisco was shining in Spring training. Every aspect needed to place a repeat run for October baseball was clicking in to place. Buster was ripping the ball, hitting .700. DeRosa was producing as expected. Pablo was as speedy in the field and around the pads as Darren Ford and Burriss. Pitchers were showing promising form. Yet, just a couple weeks before Opening Day, hopes and confidence began to unravel. A sudden influx of frustrating and unplanned injuries continued to crop up  (it seems) practically on a weekly basis forcing Bochy to pluck out minor league prospects and shove them in to instantly produce now (rather than later) nightly at “The Show”.  The woes of unforeseen plaguing injuries would continue to dampen a promising quest.  Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand, and Brian Wilson were placed on DL, leaving the closing position in the bullpen as a group responsibility, and a slot for a hot kid, Brandon Belt to see if he was ready.  Belt made his debut on 1B, shifting Huff to right field, Andres Torres to Center, and Burrell to left.  Before you can blink, Andres Torres went down with an Achilles strain, and Pablo Sandoval with a hand fracture. Those injuries gave an opening for Darren Ford, Manual Burriss to return to the 25 man roster, as well as added regular time for utility outfielder Nate Shierholtz.  Shierholtz caught fire, Brandon carried a higher OBP and runs scored than any other Giants player (mainly walks). Somehow, with the injuries, San Francisco continued to roll on. Even with a poor statistic of least number of runs scored in MLB, San Francisco Giants found themselves on the top of NL West Division.  Barry Zito went down with a foot injury, which brought up Ryan Vogelsong, who literally was drafted by San Francisco, only to be waived, went around the world to play in Japan, only to return 10 years later as an up-and-coming ‘veteran’ prospect for the club he dreamed of representing in the Major Leagues.  The interim 5th starter has the best record, 5-1, and lowest ERA at 1.86!

The ultimate suffering of injuries was on the horizon appearing the last week of May, and the beginning of June when Buster Posey sustained a fractured left ankle on a controversial collision between him and Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins; and then Freddy Sanchez sustained a dislocated shoulder diving for a ball acquiring eyes hoping to drop into the outfield.  How would the Giants recover from those losses? If it were up to my buddy, ‘Philly’ ( you all know him from celebrity mentions on previous posts), any Giants fan, or any blood pumping sports (for that matter) fan should not pay any momentary pulse thinking about the San Francisco Giants, or their bleak chances of making it to the post season. According to him (from subjective East Coast reporting and influences) , the Philadelphia Phillies have had worse injuries that have plagued their line-up based on ‘pressure’ and ‘expectation’ for  “Philadelphia” to be the automatic choice in making it to the World Series in 2011. 

Outside Northern California, and a trickle of faithful Giants fans transplanted among the masses, the likelihood and chances of San Francisco repeating is pretty much viewed as a joke. Regardless of skeptics and statistics that never truly add up to a stereotypical caliber championship contender, somewhere between a Rally Monkey mishap in 2002 and Brian Sabean side show circus magic, the front office has amassed a Millennium contending team that doesn’t know the concept of defeat. If you want to look anywhere for the root of Giants continued perseverance and astonishing success (don’t look at stats, it will only cause a brain freeze) look no further than the South Bay, San Jose Giants.  San Francisco’s Single A ball club has just clinched their 7th Northern California League title.  The club produced 8 players to the All-Star game in 2011, including the MVP of that game for the second year in a row. Past prospects such as Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, and Pablo Sandoval all came up through San Jose.  Coincidently, in those years they played, were years the club won titles.  Another eye-popping fact that has come to light is San Francisco’s pieced together bull pen.  Since 2005, Brian Sabean has been quietly assembling what now appears to be the best shut down relievers in MLB, acquiring closer Brian Wilson, and relievers Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, Guillermo Mota, and Javier Lopez. The Philadelphia Phillies may have the starting “Murderer’s Row”, San Francisco has the relieving Dominican Republic “Murderer’s Shut You Down Row”.

San Francisco has the 3rd best record (5th overall in MLB) in National League, and contending for the NL West. Considering they have produced the lowest number of runs in MLB, combined with their unusual amount of injuries, I believe the inexplicable “Magic” and “Torture” has served our San Francisco Giants well. There is an unexplained desire and competitive edge San Francisco players have acquired that make this team, a “Band of Prospects”, that will not back down or go away. San Francisco IS for real, and everyone who thinks Bochy and his Boys were “Lightning in a Bottle”, better run for cover… Lightning can’t be captured or tamed- it strikes where you least expect it… they are coming after you!

I usually have a humorous anecdote to add to the end of all my blogs… This one comes thanks to Len Berman and his Spanning the World Clip! Enjoy!

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