Some good news for SF: LA not as strong

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The San Francisco Giants were loaded with optimism for 2018 despite finishing dead last in the NL West (64-98) last season. They brought in Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh and Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay plus their big horse, lefty Madison Bumgarner, was finally healthy and having a great spring after an injury plagued 2017.

Also, they have the best manager in baseball with Bruce Bochy and it’s an even year just like when they won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

But the optimism faded quickly last Friday afternoon as Bumgarner was hit by a line drive on his throwing hand. It fractured and Saturday pins were placed in the hand to stabilize. He’s out a minimum six to eight weeks, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wasn’t back until after the All-Star break. He’ll have to get his arm back in shape all over again, make a few rehab starts in the minors, so yes, July looks like a more believable date of return.

So what does that mean for the Giants now? Obviously, Bumgarner is a huge part of any Giants forecast. Ed Salmons, the Westgate SuperBook manager, said they immediately dropped the Giants’ season win total from 83 down to 80.5 upon hearing about the injury. He also raised the Giants’ odds to win the NL West from 6-to-1 up to 10-1 and raised the “Yes, make playoffs” prop from +170 to +280. NL Pennant odds went from 15-1 to 25-1 and World Series odds from 30-1 up to 50-1. Yes, Bumgarner is quite valuable to any Giants season prop.

Bochy also got some bad news about his pitching staff Friday when told No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija would miss three to four weeks with a pectoral strain. That leaves the rotation with No. 5 starter Ty Blach likely to get the opening day start Thursday at Dodger Stadium against Clayton Kershaw, then No. 2 Johnny Cueto, No. 4 Chris Stratton and non-roster invite Derek Holland likely to be the fourth guy. Cueto’s going to have to step up and try to be the ace, and his shaky spring doesn’t support the notion he will.

But the difference between last season’s awful Giants that had starting pitching and bullpen issues is the Giants are mashing the ball in spring like no one else. Their .303 batting average was the best of Spring Training and all their stars contributed. Buster Posey (.481 avg), Brandon Belt (.396, 3 HR, 11 RBI), Nick Hundley (.375, 3 HR, 11 RBI), Longoria (.371), McCutchen (.342), Brandon Crawford (.319), Joe Panic (.318) and new center-fielder Austin Jackson have been hitting laser beams all month in Scottsdale, Ariz. Last year’s Giants hit .249 for the season and their 3.9 runs scored per game was the second worst production behind the Padres’ 3.7.

I do feel their bullpen is vastly improved just by having a healthy Mark Melancon and acquiring his old buddy from the Pittsburgh pen, Tony Watson, who finished 2017 with the Dodgers. Watson and Melancon helped make the Pirates a top-2 pen in baseball for three straight seasons.

We’ll get a quick idea of how well the Giants respond to disparity right out of the gate with an opening four game series at Los Angeles. Bumgarner’s injury made the Dodgers move from -300 to win the NL West to -350. After that, the Giants get the Mariners at AT&T Park to open their home season and the Dodgers come back to visit for three more over the weekend, and then the Diamondbacks come to town. Yikes!

Before April is over they will have played the Dodgers 10 times, Arizona six and the Nationals three – all playoff teams from 2017. We’ll know the Giants’ story real quick.

But I will say this about the Dodgers this season: I don’t see the same dominant team as last season. I don’t see the depth in the starting rotation, which features four lefties. Kershaw didn’t allow a run in 21 spring innings and he’s ready to go, but I have concerns about the other four starters.

I’m also surprised no one is giving the Dodgers a severe downgrade because of losing key parts to last season’s No. 1 ranked bullpen. Watson is with San Francisco now and Brandon Morrow, who was amazing last season, is the Cubs’ closer now. Third-baseman Justin Turner also broke his wrist in spring.

Elsewhere in the division I have Arizona downgraded mostly because of its bullpen. They still have a nice rotation, but moving Archie Bradley to closer means no reliable set-up guy to keep things on ice in the seventh and eighth innings. They also don’t have J.D. Martinez and Jake Lamb can’t possibly duplicate his breakthrough year.

If the Giants handle April well, don’t be surprised to see management get out way early before the trade deadline to find a starter. Most people have already disagreed with me about the Giants being contenders this year, and that was before Bumgarner got hurt, but I still like their look.

I’m expecting them to surprise, scrap, rake and mash all the way to the playoffs.

Top spring starters

1) Clayton Kershaw – LAD: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 GS, 23 K, 21.1 IP, 0.75 WHIP.

2) Noah Syndergaard – NYM: 1-2, 1.35 ERA, 5 GS, 23 K, 20 IP, 1.05 WHIP.

3) Julio Teheran – ATL: 4-0, 1.40 ERA, 5 GS, 17 K, 25.2 IP, 0.97 WHIP.

4) Justin Verlander – HOU: 1-1, 1.64 ERA, 5 GS, 24 K, 22 IP, 0.86 WHIP.

5) Marco Gonzalez – SEA: 1-1, 1.69 ERA, 6 GS, 18 K, 21.1 IP, 1.03 WHIP.

6) Gerrit Cole – HOU: 3-1, 2.14 ERA. 6 GS, 24 K, 21 IP, 1.43 WHIP.

7) Zack Godley – AZ: 0-1, 2.21 ERA, 5 GS, 19 K, 20.1 IP, 0.79 WHIP.

8) Tyler Chatwood – CHC: 4-0, 2.91 ERA, 6 GS, 23 K, 21.2 IP, 1.29 WHIP.

Worst starters

1) Carson Fulmer – CWS: 1-4, 11.81 ERA, 5 GS, .375 AVG, 2.91 WHIP.

2) Tyler Anderson – COL: 0-1, 6.32 ERA, 5 GS, .359 AVG, 2.04 WHIP.

3) Dylan Bundy – BAL: 2-2, 7.20 ERA, 5 GS, 20 IP, .326 AVG, 1.65 WHIP.

4) Daniel Mengden – OAK: 0-0, 6.55, 4 GS, .299 AVG, 1.55 WHIP.

5) Homer Bailey – CIN: 0-2, 7.50 ERA, 5 GS, .338 AVG, 1.61 WHIP.

6) Chad Kuhl – PIT: 1-2, 8.27 ERA, 5 GS, .314 AVG, 1.78 WHIP.

7) Tanner Roark – WASH: 0-2, 7.23 ERA, 6 GS, 18.2 IP, 13 K, 1.50 WHIP.

8) Danny Duffy – KC: 1-1, 8.40 ERA, 5 GS, .306 AVG, 1,87 WHIP.

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