Beyond Golf — 06 April 2016 by Jim Street
NL West: Even-money on the Giants

It has been rather odd the way the Giants have established a feast-or-famine pattern the past five Major League seasons.

They go from champs to chumps from one campaign to the next.

Well, this is an even-numbered year, so you know what that means – beware of San Francisco.

Even-money says that the Giants, armed with a revamped starting rotation, are primed to end the Dodgers’ three-year run as NL West champions in 2016 and continue another ongoing tendency: Since 2000, either the Dodgers (six) or Giants (four) have captured the division title.

This season shapes up as another two-team race, although there could emerge a surprise team. And that would be the Diamondbacks.

The superb working relationship between club president Tony LaRussa and General Manager Dave Stewart just might be the strongest in the big leagues, which makes the NL West one of the more intriguing divisions in the big-leagues.

Sorry, Padres and Rockies, but you stand to become mere fodder for the division big boys.

The Giants are the popular choice to capture the division title, partially because of they did and what the Dodgers didn’t do during the offseason.

San Francisco added speedy center fielder Denard Span and two experienced starting pitchers while the Dodgers, who still have Clayton Kershaw, lost starting pitcher Zack Greinke to the Snakes, breaking up the best one-two, right-left pitching punches in the business.

That has to put a bit of a cramp in manager Dave Roberts’ first season as manager – at any level.

San Francisco revamped its starting rotation, acquiring veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto (pictured) and Jeff Samardzjia. Both have been inconsistent during their respective careers, which seems to fit in perfectly with the Giants’ Jekyll-and-Hyde tendency.

Cueto began last season with the Reds, was traded to Kansas City, where he went 4-7 and picked up a World Series Championship ring.

He returned to the NL by way of free agency, landing a nifty 6-year, $130 million contract. His career record: 96-70 with a 3.30 ERA.

And then there’s Samardzjia. He has a 47-61 career record, a 4.09 ERA and a 5-year, $90 million contract. Apparently, Giants GM Brian Sabean has his fingers crossed that a breakout season for the former Notre Dame tight end occurs, preferably sooner rather than later.

Among star attractions in the division:

* The Giants have catcher Buster Posey, left-handed starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, right fielder Hunter Spence and shortstop Brandon Crawford to lead the way.

* The Dodgers have Kershaw, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, top-of-the-line closer Kenley Jansen and 21-year-old shortstop Corey Seager.

* The Diamondbacks’ offense is bolstered by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Greinke is the stud in the rotation and right-handed reliever Brad Ziegler is about as good as it gets as a closer. Unfortunately, center fielder A.J. Pollack, being counted on to bat in the middle of the lineup, could miss most if not all of the season with a broken right elbow sustained during spring training.

* The Rockies have offensive studs in third baseman Nolan Arenado and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, both worth the price of admission.

* And the Padres? It starts and ends with Matt Kemp.

Here is a peek into the crystal ball for 2016.


2015 Record/Finish: (84-78, second place).

Rotation: LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Matt Cain, RHP Jake Peavy, RHP Jeff Samardzjia.

Acquisitions: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Jeff Samardzjia, OF Denard Span.

Departures: RHP Mike Leake, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, RHP Tim Hudson, OF Nori Aoki.

Comment: How Cueto and Samardzjia react to huge contracts and even bigger expectations could determine how smoothly things go in the City by the Bay. Manager Bruce Bochy not only is the most experienced manager in the division but super-successful and if anyone can get these two up-and-down hurlers on a positive even keel, it could be a runaway.

Prediction: First place.


2015 Record/Finish: (92-70, first place).

Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Kenta Maeda, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Ross Stripling.

Acquisitions: LPH Scott Kazmir, RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Yasiel Sierra.

Departures: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Juan Nicascio.

Comment: The loss of Greinke is a huge one for the three-time defending division champions and all eyes will be on first-year manager Dave Roberts. He replaces Don Mattingly, who decided life would be much better elsewhere despite a massive payroll and three straight playoff appearances in Los Angeles. He landed a less-pressurized gig in Miami.

Prediction: Second place.


2015 Record/Finish: (79-83, third place).

Rotation: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Shelby Miller, LHP Patrick Corbin, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, LHP Robbie Ray.

Acquisitions: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Shelby Miller, INF Jean Segura, RHP Tyler Clippard.

Departures: OF Ender Inciarte, INF Aaron Hill, RHP David Hernandez.

Comment: Inserting Greinke into the top spot of the rotation, and adding right-hander Shelby Miller via free agency right behind him, gives the Diamondbacks a terrific one-two starting punch. All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is regarded by most as one of the most talented players in the big-leagues. But not having A.J. Pollack (fracture right elbow) for the bulk of the season looms large for the Snakes.

Prediction: Third place.


2015 Record/Finish: (68-94, fifth place.

Rotation: LHP Jorge De LaRosa, RHP Chad Bettis, RHP Jordan Lyles, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Jon Gray or RHP Christian Bergman.

Acquisitions: OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Jake McGee, INF Mark Reynolds, RHP Jason Motte.

Departures: OF Corey Dickerson, RHP John Axford, 1B/C Willin Rosario.

Comment: If the Denver sports fanatic wants to have a Rocky Mountain High this year, it probably will have to watch replays of the Super Bowl this summer. Skipper Walt Weiss has his work cut out for him as he enters his fourth season at the helm – the second longest tenure among NL West managers. An offense that features third baseman Nolan Arenado (.287, 42, 130) and right fielder Carlos Gonalez (.271, 40, 97) give the Rox sufficient pop, but oh, that starting pitching.

Prediction: Fourth place.


2015 Record/Finish: (74-88, fourth place).

Rotation: RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP James Shields, RHP Colin Rea, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Brandon Morrow.

Acquisitions: SS Alex Ramirez, OF Jon Jay, RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Drew Pomeranz.

Departures: OF Justin Upton, RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Ian Kennedy. Comment: Right-fielder Matt Kemp hit 23 home runs and drove in 100 runs for the Padres last season. He’ll be fortunate to come even close to that figure this season as the San Diego lineup is filled with power-lacking hitters. Among the projected position starters, other than Kemp, only third baseman Yangervis Solarte (14) and new shortstop Alex Ramirez (10) reached double figures in home runs last season.

Prediction: Fifth place.

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About Author

Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, made his first and only hole-in-one on March 12, 2018 at Sand Point Country Club in Seattle and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick, Gleneagles and Castle Stuart in Scotland, and numerous gems in Hawaii are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League Baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and has an 8-year-old grandson, Andrew, who is the club's current junior champion at his home course (Oakmont CC) in Glendale, Calif.

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