Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

A risk-taker's predictions for the Giants 2004 season by Ed Stern

Marty; The pitchers have reported, the rest of the team will be there in a few days and spring training is upon us. The real world of baseball is once again, thankfully, here, and we can open the sports pages to meaningful matters. The free agents have made their commitments and we need no longer bewail the fates which allow the rich to get richer and the improvident to complain the world is unfair.

Good to have Ed Stern back with us with his first spring training report on his favorite team. Ed’s analysis on the Giants is superior to any writer’s column in the Bay Area!

Thanks, Ed….
It is time for risk-takers to surface. There are hardy souls out there who are willing to go out on the proverbial limb and predict what the coming season holds for a club.

Allow us take a look at the Giants. The place to start is the year 2003 and the Giants one hundred win season. Post season endeavour is overlooked in this exercise since it presents issues significantly different from the regular season play.

In analyzing the reasons for the Giants success last year one is immediately confronted with facts, which, if known at the start of the year, would have led one to conclude that the team would be lucky to finish third. The pitching was a mine field; Nen would be lost for the entire year, Schmidt would come up with arm trouble, Foppert would pitch for a limited time and then be lost for the rest of the year, Worrell, the hoped for closer, had given no evidence in the past that he would be a success in that role. Alfonzo, their high priced replacement at third was coming off two not very impresssive Mets years. Durham was untried at second and the A’s thought little of his fielding abilities.

There were other problems which surfaced throughout the year. Moss, who didn’t know where the ball was going when it left his hand, Cruz, who couldn’t hit a lick past the first month, Santiago, who was over the hill both defensively and offensively, Snow, who was no longer a long ball threat, a shortstop who had no range and was living off his hitting stats of two years past.

This was a team that ended the season having spreadeagled the division, had won 100 games, and had made the last two weeks of the season meaningless for the others. The search for the reason for their success begins and, to a great extent ends, with Barry Bonds.

Without Bonds, the team last year would have been fortunate to have finished third in the division. Bonds changed the dynamics of every game in which he played. Other clubs were forced to anticipate his at-bats before they occurred. They were constantly concerned with the impact his coming appearances at the plate would have on the outcome of the game.It appeared that he was always either on base, through constant walks as well as hits, or, when forced to pitch to him, he was delivering the game winning hit.

Schmidt became a dominating pitcher. One could rely on a winning effort every five days. For most of the year, before his arm started bothering him, he was easily the best starting pitcher in the league. Worrell, to the surprise of many, became a reliable closer. They came up with a young pitcher early in the year, Jerome Williams, who was ready to pitch in the majors although he was relatively untried and very young.

Alfonzo, who played the first half of the year poorly enough to justify the critics who had small hope for his success when the season began, played the remainder of the year, both in the field and at bat, to justify Sabean’s faith in him. Durham, until injured, was the best leadoff batter the Giants had had in many years and played in the field far beyond initial expectations. J.T.Snow found a niche in the batting order,hitting second, where his on base percentage made up for his lack of power.

All of this was helped by the weakness of the division. The Giants feasted on the Dodgers and Arizona, their ostensible competitors, as well as the far-back-in the pack Padres and Colorado.

How does this year’s team match up with last year’s? Once again, this is Sabean’s team. He has rid the club of player’s who had a limited role in the team’s success last year. Cruz, Santiago, Aurillia are gone and will not be missed. Defensively, this team is superior to the 2003 team with Perez playing shortstop. It is a very good densensive infield. Perez is not much of a hitter but neither was Aurillia although some observers were still taken in by his past numbers.

There is a major improvement at catcher. Pierzinski is young, hits and catches well and is an aggressive ball player. He doesn’t get knocked off home plate by runners very often.

For much of last year the team played with three outfielders and an infielder filling in for them. Nothing more need be said of Bernard and Rivera. Hammonds, Mohr and Tucker may not make one forget the desire for Guerrero but that was never in the cards. However, Hammonds and Mohr are more than simply journeymen ball players. Sabean is well aware of what he has been given to play with. The nature of the game today forecloses teams without the vast resources of some other clubs from competing for impact free agents.

Sabean is a realist. If one makes certain assumptions he will field a better team this year than last year’s team. The assumptions one has to make are these; Bonds will play at roughly the level he has played at these past three years, Nen will return early in the year at close to his best previous level, Schmidt is healthy and ready to pitch back to his effort before arm trouble last year.

A further observation. Williams may be the wild card in all of this conjecturing. This is a young pitcher who may be on the verge of stardom. In 2003 he pitched a few games which were as impressive as games thrown by well established, highly thought of veteran pitchers. He decisively beat the A’s and Arizona, when Arizona was still thought of as a competitior. He was mature, threw the ball where it was supposed to be thrown, needed the minimum of pitches to complete winning efforts. He may be the pitcher who, with Schmidt, will give the Giants the one-two combination a winning team looks for.

The outfield, and along with it, the bench, is far stronger than last year. Hammonds and Mohr may surprise many with the level of their play. Tucker is a left handed hitter who plays the outfield well and can run. Torrealba gives the team a backup catcher who could play regularly for many clubs.

Finally, they should be stronger if Alfonzo plays back to his performance the last half the 2003 season. His play in the post season allows for confidence that he will fullfil Sabean’s trust in him.

Fans who are concerned that the Giants didn’t reach out for and obtain an impact player or two may be reassured. Pierzinski, for instance, could have a significant impact. Sabean never had the resources to enable him to spend the millions necessary to sign the well known impact players. What he has done, again, is craft a team of veteran players who know how to play the game successfully. This is a better team than last year’s, given the assumptions made here.

Only a dedicated risk taker makes predictions before the training season even begins. The prediction here is that the Giants win the division once more. I will get back to you when the playoffs begin.



1 glenpark { 02.22.04 at 7:56 pm }


My reasons for a more solid 2004 over 2003:

1. Herges is more reliable than Nathan
2. Perez is a terrific shortstop, the infeld will just be smoother with him as the key stone, and he will hit better.
3. Durham is adjusted to the NL, is a super athlete
4. Alfonzo is adjusted to playing away from NYC, and has proven himself on the field to his team mates — he will be fine ( we are lucky the Yankees couldn’t get him back to NYC)
5. Feliz has proven himself, now just needs playing time
6. Merkin Valdez will be a solid July call up
7. Hermanson or Correia will be fine in the 5th slot
8. Reuter is healthy, and should give 180 innings
9. Tucker is healed from his leg fracture and is a very solid vet
10. Hammonds has to be happier here than in Colo or Milwaukee, he will be healthy and in shape and will be a big contributor
11. Mohr is just very solid, and will be for a long time
12. Jerome W will be fine, his composure is a big asset
13. Still have guys like Linden, Minor, Niekro, Castillo, Ransome, Valderrama — as position depth in case of injuries
14. Tomko will be a horse, will top 200 innings
15. Alou will be even better in his second season
16. SF has the best catching in the NL

16. Schmidt will be a Cy Young candidate

17. Barry is Barry — just the best ever

18. Arizona got Sexton but lost Schilling, they are pretty young on the field, can’t see them sustaining a challenge.
19. LA seems to be weaker than last year.
20. SD and Colo — may be OK in streaks, but not OK over the whole season

21. the park will be sold out again, ownership will be fiscally fine if mid-season adjustments ( like Urbina,) are needed.

22 —(fingers crossed for Rob Nen)

23 — Papa and Fleming will be very good, KNBR coverage off the charts, and Miller, Kuiper and Krukow are simply the best

24. interleague schedule has some gems this year

NL West — even if we don’t hit 100, I think the margin over the division will be the same – and we sbould have a great chance at the one seed in the playoffs because the other divisions are so competitive — we should coast to 97 or so.

NL East — Philly, with Wagner and Worrell, in a new park looks like the winner to me, Atl and Florida competing for the wild card – 93 wins may take the East

NL Central — OK –the Cubs are fine –but Houston and St. L are still strong enough to create a three team log jam just like last year –90 wins may take the Central

SF over Philly for the pennant

SF over the AL rep, for the WS

see you in the playoofs and WS ( — vs hopefully Oakland or Anaheim)

2 Anonymous { 02.23.04 at 12:28 pm }

loved ed’s analysis. for me, the key will be the pitching.
Schmidt,Reuter,Williams,Tomko must be consistent
. We know Reuter is a six inning guy and the way the game is played today the set up guys have to be on their game in order for the closer to finish off the win. If the giants can use this formula,they will be successful. They still need a big right hand bat to hit in back of Bonds. alfonso may be the guy but i’m not so sure. Boy, is it good to be talking baseball again.

Jerry F

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