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Spring Training in September

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We all remember the fun yet ulcerous final week of the 2010 regular season. The Giants played well, honed their battle skills, and snorted a daily dose of human adrenal gland extract with barely a break before the playoffs started.

Apparently in some parts of the country, like across the Bay, people this year are playing a similar kind of September baseball filled with tension, excitement and fear. But here, it's spring training redux, except with a cool kiss of night fog, not lotus-eating desert sunshine, that lulls us into a false sense of security.

Piss off, false sense of security. You're so bourgeois. We need anarchic electric freewheeling playoff mayhem! Yeah! Let's get on our bikes and not stop pedaling until The Man succumbs!

Until then, however, I'll take good crisp baseball for the next seven days. Because teams that have clinched early and continue to win heading into the playoffs obviously keep their edge. Right?



(Thank you, Baseball Reference.)

Ah, 2003. Jose Cruz's dropped fly ball was the perfect synecdoche -- 100 wins, sure hands, yo we got this, oops -- for the Marlins series. So I'm not sweating the next seven games too much. Wins are nice, crisp is good, but setting up the rotation and keeping everyone healthy is the priority. As of now, Matt Cain is right on track to start Game 1 (probably Saturday, October 6 -- I'll be there). His next start is October 1 in LA, then five days later, boom. The Cain-offs start. The cain-season schedule. Caintober. Madison Bumgarner, the presumed #2 starter, would pitch Sunday Oct. 7. The current rotation has him starting tomorrow in San Diego and again Oct. 3, the final regular season game. I assume that will get tweaked.

Beyond Cain and Bumgarner, I still think Tim Lincecum is the #3, but if he has another outing like Tuesday against the Goldschmidts, there will be much to discuss. Do the Giants hold Guillermo Mota out of games 1 and 2 in case they need a long reliever to rescue Timmy early? Might be prudent. His decent second-half showing notwithstanding, he's the most likely after Zito to have a third-inning-wheels-falling-off-danger-danger-SOS start; if the series is tied 1-1 going into that third game, Bochy's hook will be hair-trigger, if you don't mind your metaphors mixed. 

I'm secretly rooting -- whoops, not so secret anymore -- for the Giants to have the lower seed and start the series at home. Yeah, they've been great on the road after the All-Star Break, but the possibility of being up 2-0 before stepping into the Great American Ballpark or the Somewhat Nice Nationals Ballpark, and only needing to win one of the next three, is just too tempting. Plus I have a ticket to "NLDS Home Game 1," and I'd much rather it be the true Game 1 of the series than Game 3.

The second priority of the next few days is to make critical roster judgments based on ludicrously small sample sizes. (I told you it was like spring training.) It's silly to take Aubrey Huff into the NLDS because he's 5-for-10 or whatever as a pinch-hitter, especially when conventional wisdom holds that he needs to carry a pinch-runner in his pocket. But the tyranny of small sample sizes often overshadows the non-statistical judgment: Is a guy swinging well? Is he seeing the ball? Taking close pitches? I haven't seen all of Huff's plate appearances since he came off the DL, but I've seen a few in which he looked patient and balanced. The extra pinch-runner on the roster thing is a problem -- and no, using pitchers on their off days is a bad idea -- so another eye-test for Huff is whether he can run the bases in decent fashion.

It sounds like Brandon Belt will also get consideration as a potential left field option in the playoffs, which is better than benching him so that Hector Sanchez can catch and Posey can play first. I won't get into the inanity of starting Sanchez in the playoffs; Grant summed up my feelings nicely here. For whatever reason, though, a Sanchez start or two seems inevitable, creating a cascading cavalcade of defensive downgrades. Unless in the next seven days it just gets too ugly out there, with Sanchez stabbing his glove at inside-corner fastballs, hacking at first pitches, and Belt awkwarding in the outfield. Perhaps the braintrust will come to their senses. Playoffs = Buster Posey, C. Full stop. But go ahead, noodle around the next few days. It is spring training, after all.


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