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PLAY BALL

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PREVIEW 2015

‘Champs’ has a nice ring to it

New faces ... in lots of places

Can these Giants live up to last year’s Giants?

Billy Beane again shakes up the Oakland A’s

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PLAY BALL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PREVIEW 2015

THE GIANTS

THE A’S

He’s the same ol’ World Series hero

‘You have to earn it’ — and the A’s ace has

If you’re expecting a transformed Madison Bumgarner, move along, there’s nothing to see here. PAGE 24

Sonny Gray may look like a batboy, but make no mistake: He’s a leader in the Oakland clubhouse. PAGE 46

Tim Kawakami on the stark difference from the PED-era Giants to the current franchise built on developing young pitchers. PAGE 32

Marcus Thompson II on the difficulty of building a lasting legacy in the Billy Beane era when players don’t, well, last very long. PAGE 53

Sitting down with Joe Panik, the Giants’ surprising standout at second base. PAGE 34

The wardrobe of an A’s fan often features players who have moved on. PAGE 54

What does it take to be a catcher? A whole lot more than a self-destructive nature. PAGE 36

Meet the right-field bleacher bums, a loyal, fun-loving bunch at O.co Coliseum. PAGE 60

Regular-season schedule. The projected opening day roster.

PAGE 44 PAGE 45

Assault on young arms: Just how much is too much? Daniel Brown on the alarming rate of Tommy John surgeries, from youngsters to major leaguers. PAGE 12

A firm grasp on their money pitch A’s and Giants pitchers shed some light on the signature weapon in their arsenal. PAGE 9

Go back in time by counting the rings Tracing the roots of baseball’s ultimate prize — a World Series ring. The local boys have plenty. PAGE 20

ILLUSTRATION ON THIS PAGE BY MIKO MACIASZEK ||| COVER ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL BLOW FOR THE BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Regular-season schedule. The projected opening day roster.

PAGE 62 PAGE 63


THE game

Me, my boy and baseball

T

his summer my son and I will make another pilgrimage to a major league ballpark. It will be our 25th together. Considering my line of work, that might not seem extraordinary. But it is. For most of my career, my son couldn’t have cared less about baseball or any sport. Now it is the game that connects us, that carries us through the bad times and the good, that breaks the silence when there is nothing to say. We are connected by baseball, a father and a son. Such a pathetic cliché. Such a genuine truth. Heaven knows, the boy was given an early start. He was 3 months old when he saw old Comiskey Park; September of 1992, the A’s on the verge of clinching a division title and me on hand to chronicle the event for readers of this newspaper. At age 4, the boy saw Wrigley Field, as I had at 9, and the first view of that green outfield grass and the ivy wall caused his eyes to open wide as his mouth. But the game never reached his heart. There were Beanie Babies and toy trains and video games and skateboards and guitars. Not baseball, never baseball. Little League sent him further away from the game. The coach took him out of the starting lineup and put another kid at first base. The same coach made him run laps on a leg that turned out to be broken. The coach was me. Only because I have family in Milwaukee did we see County Stadium and Miller Park, the two places the Brewers have called home. One set of grandparents lives in Seattle, so Safeco Park got checked off the list. Another set lives in Arizona, so we saw the

Bud Geracie

Bud Geracie joined the Mercury News in 1985 as a baseball writer. He served as a columnist from 1989-2001 and is now Executive Sports Editor. He and his son Nick have been to 24 major league ballparks together — and counting

roofed atrocity that is home to the Diamondbacks. We saw the Giants lose 1-0 on a Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. I could barely pull the kid away from the San Diego Zoo to see Petco Park. (Smart kid, young as he was.) At some point, maybe around this time, it became our stated mission to see all 30 parks. The baseball part remained secondary until 2004 when the job took me to Cooperstown for Dennis Eckersley’s induction into the Hall of Fame. We made it a family trip and hit the iconic trio of Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards along the way. In 2007, a convention took me to St. Louis, and my son came with me. Down went Busch Stadium. We drove across the state to Kansas City, where my brother lives, and Royals Stadium came off the list. The kid checked a map and insisted Minnesota wasn’t far. We drove five hours to see the Metrodome, the worst ballpark ever, but that was

Play Ball staff

bgeracie@mercurynews.com

About the portraits

Executive Sports Editor: Bud Geracie

Photo planning editor: Jami Smith

Section editors: Mark Conley, Mike Lefkow

Copy editors: Kristen Crowe, Richard Parrish, Jaime Welton

Section art directors: Tim Ball, Tiffany Grandstaff

offset by our detour to the Iowa cornfield where the music died. RIP, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper. Then came 2008 — the trip that nearly ended it all. Four cities in five days, mostly by car, tempers flaring routinely between an ungrateful teen and his unrealistic dad. We saw the Tigers in Detroit, drove to Cleveland, drove to Pittsburgh, drove to Cincinnati, and drove back to Detroit to preserve the round-trip airline tickets. We saw Omar Vizquel, as the Giants shortstop, make an emotional return to Jacobs Field. In Pittsburgh, we were unexpectedly charmed by a ballpark that in our view ranks behind only Wrigley and Fenway. In Cincy, Ken Griffey Jr. gave us a walk-off homer. But none of it softened the hard feelings that had grown between us. There was no pilgrimage in 2009, or 2010, or 2011. Something big happened in the

interim, though. My son became a baseball fan. A long-haired skater connected with a long-haired pitcher: Tim Lincecum ignited my son’s love affair with baseball. In 2012, we followed the Giants to Colorado for a two-game series at Coors Field. In 2013, we followed them to Toronto for two games at SkyDome. For all of our trips, many of them good, none has been better. It frustrates my son that I don’t follow the game as intensely as I did years ago, as intensely as he does now, because he wants to talk ball all the time. I tell him I know exactly how he feels. Then he tells me something about the modern game, and I trade him a piece of yesteryear. We’ve seen 24 ballparks together, 24 of 30. Eight remain, the math skewed by the fact that we’ve seen two places called home by the Brewers and the White Sox. Texas and Houston are a pair to be considered this summer. Tampa Bay and Miami are another. The entire N.L. East awaits. At this writing, it’s looking like Washington, over the Fourth of July weekend, the national holiday in the nation’s capital at Nationals Park with the Giants. My son, seated next to me with his scorebook, will tell me about WAR and WHIP and “slash lines” and the kid at Triple-A who will be with the Giants before too long. And I will tell him how the Nationals are Washington’s third team, how the Senators of Ted Williams became the Rangers of Texas after the Senators of Walter Johnson became the Twins of Minnesota. And No. 25 will come off the list.

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The portraits of Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Sonny Gray (on pages 25, 39 and 46) made by photojournalist Doug Duran were shot inside the Giants and A’s stadiums at spring training in Arizona. Duran then used

Photoshop filters to alter the color, increase contrast and sharpen the images to give them the distinct tone you see in this magazine. To read more about his process, go to: blogs.mercurynews.com/viewfinder


THE game

The Story among sport’s greatest treasures

O

ur athletic universe in the Bay Area is full of noise. So many teams. So many games. So many different sports. Why, then, is baseball the one sport that we spend so much time talking about with our families? Not as much with our buddies. With our families. Other sports don’t have that feature so much. Football is your basic go-to conversational bro buddy sport, pretty much year-round. Basketball, less so but still bro-heavy. Hockey is the hurry-up-and-saysomething-because-it’s-all-happening-too-fast conversational buddy sport. Auto racing is your beer-drinking conversational buddy sport. Baseball is different. It is why there is such warm joy in contemplating what’s ahead of us over the next six months, as we begin a new season with the A’s and Giants. Do an experiment. At the next baseball game you attend, take a snapshot with your eyes. Look at the people in your row, your section. You will notice something. Unlike pro football crowds, which are largely male and often alcohol-enhanced, baseball is more multigenerational

Mark Purdy

Places like Seals Stadium in San Francisco (above) and Oaks Park, where the Oakland Oaks played in the East Bay, are the the ballparks where The Story began in the Bay Area.

and mellow. Kids are at games with their parents, who are often at games with their own parents. In fact, I would wager that on any given night at any major league park, you can see at least a dozen three-generation clusters, consisting of a grandparent, child and grandkid. Does this happen at mixed martial arts events? This does not happen at mixed martial arts events. It happens at baseball games. Baseball is the sport that fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents and grandkids talk about together. And as we begin another season, with both the Giants and A’s poised to provide more multigeneration conversations, I can tell you why that is so. Most of it has to do with The Story. The one every baseball fan tells. The details might be different. The Story might have taken place in Oakland or San Francisco or San Jose or Sacramento or Modesto or a hundred other places where major or minor league baseball is played. But really, it is all the same story: I’ll never forget it. My mom or dad or grandparent took me to

my first game. I saw the green grass for the first time. We sat there and enjoyed the game together. It was just awesome. Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman, related his own version of The Story in his 1993 biography. He grew up in Oakland, not far from the old Pacific Coast League ballpark in Emeryville where the Oakland Oaks played. Thus, Morgan and his family developed a ritual 40 or 50 nights a year. “My dad got home from work,” Morgan wrote. “I had done my chores and my homework. Early dinner was on the table. And then, afterwards, while it was still light out, we walked up the block toward the park. It was this big old wooden structure with advertising on the walls. We entered a gate near the far right field corner and we always got seats along the right field line, down close to the action.” Morgan then related how the same bunch of local characters, probably gamblers, would sit near him and his dad. They would argue through the game. But his father would spend the night talking with young Joe about the players on the field, the

game, the strategy. The Oaks would win or the Oaks would lose. Then the family would walk home. Years later, Morgan still recalls those nights as fondly as any nights of his life. A’s owner Lew Wolff also has The Story to tell. When he was growing up in St. Louis, both the Cardinals and Browns played there, a team in each league. For a kid, it was heaven. “My father took me to my first games,” he said. “We could ride the streetcar. We would talk about the games on the way and when we got there and on the ride home. I think it’s just the way baseball is, with the pauses between pitches and batters that give you time to talk to each other. It doesn’t move as fast as other sports. I know our new commissioner is trying to improve the pace of play, and I understand why. I’m hoping they can speed up the game, but not so much that it loses that magic it has.” Magic is a good word. Here in the Bay Area, the other reason for our baseball affection probably has to do with history. Baseball was Northern California’s first true spectator sport, dating to the mid-

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 7


THIS PAGE: BEN MARGOT/ASSOCIATED PRESS. previous: staff archives

THE game

19th century. Ballparks sprouted across the landscape. On my wall at home, I have a historic print of downtown San Jose dated 1875. It is a drawing from an aerial perspective, probably from someone who went up in a balloon. In the front section of the print, just south of the San Jose State Normal School, you can see men playing baseball. That was true in every town at that time. Teams from Bay Area towns challenged one another. The California League was formed. Then came the PCL, with the Oakland Oaks and Joe DiMaggio’s San Francisco Seals across the bay. Then, finally, the MLB teams arrived: the Giants in 1958, the A’s a decade later. The little kids who went to those first MLB games here with their fathers and mothers are now grandfathers and grandmothers. That reminds me: Do you want

to hear The Story from Keith Muraoka? You probably will enjoy it. Muraoka is not famous like Morgan or Wolff. He is just one of many people who sent us their multigeneration baseball memory when we made an online request for it. You can see those versions of The Story at www.mercurynews.com. You can read Muraoka’s version right here: “Everyone loves to hate on Candlestick Park,” wrote Muraoka, who lives in Gilroy. “To me, Candlestick was a great stadium because I saw my first game ever there as a 4-year-old in the early 1960s. I can still remember the long uphill walk to the entrance. As my father swung open the huge doors from the concourse, a stiff wind would always hit us in the face. But the expanse of green was absolutely overwhelming. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. Before one game during warmups,

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READERS TELL THEIR ‘STORY’ We asked Giants and A’s fans to relay their own favorite memories shared between three generations or more. There was no shortage of nostalgia, some from families located surprisingly far from the Bay Area. Go read them at mercurynews .com/sports.

I once saw Willie Mays throw his glove 30 feet into the air when an errant ball was going way over his head. Wouldn’t you know? The ball stuck right in his glove and came down to earth intact. I can still remember Willie laughing.” This season, it might be Hunter Pence laughing. It might be Josh Reddick laughing. In 2015, both of our MLB teams should again challenge for the playoffs. One or both may get there again. One may even win the World Series again, as the Giants did last year. But that is October stuff. Forget about it for now. The best part about baseball getting cranked up again, with another sweet spring and summer ahead of us, is the same as it ever was: When the gates open, The Story will continue.

Mark’s predictions

mpurdy@mercurynews.com

WIll Bumgarner wind up on the D.L.? Yes

A’s record (finish in West): 88-74 (second) Giants record (West): 88-74 (second) Division winners: Blue Jays, Royals, Angels. Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers. Wild Cards: Red Sox, A’s, Cardinals, Giants World Series: Angels over Nationals Giants HR leader: Brandon Belt (28) Giants wins leader: Matt Cain (19) A’s HR leader: Josh Phegley (22) A’s wins leader: Sonny Gray (22) Pablo Sandoval HRs for Red Sox: 18 Josh Donaldson HRs for Blue Jays: 25 Angel Pagan over/under 120 games? Under Coco Crisp over/under 125 games? Over Lincecum: Rebound or bullpen? Rebound A’s draw at least 30,000 at home: 22 games


THE game

Weapons of mass frustration BY CARL STEWARD ILLUSTRATIONS BY JEFF DURHAM

Almost without exception, major league pitchers love to talk about their repertoires and how they go about getting hitters to mutter in frustration. It’s a pride thing. ¶ When it comes to talking about their favorite pitch — the back-pocket, go-to special they think they can almost always rely on in a crucial moment — pitchers speak almost reverently. ¶ They will show you the proper grip of the pitch, how they learned it, what kind of action the pitch gets and how often they throw it. They delight in explaining how, when thrown right, their No. 1 pitch is such a dependable old friend it can make a hitter look foolish. ¶ Developing a dynamite pitch can define a career. Sergio Romo went from middling prospect to one of the game’s most dynamic relievers with his now-famous slider. Jesse Chavez salvaged his career by developing a cutter. Tim Hudson has been throwing pretty much all sinkers for nearly two decades. ¶ There are lots of different pitches — and variations on those pitches — that major leaguers use as their bread-and-butter. ¶ Ten pitchers from the Giants and A’s discussed their money pitch and why it works so well for them. From what we learned, it’s a wonder anybody ever gets a hit.

Tim Hudson

Dan Otero

Giants right-handed starter

A’s right-handed reliever

Money pitch: Sinking fastball

Money pitch: Sinker

Grip and release: Offset on the twoseam part of the ball and thrown as a fastball.

Grip and release: Held like a two-seam fastball, only with fingers together inside the seams, and thrown downward from three-quarter angle, fingers on top of the ball.

Physics: Spin of the ball creates a latebreaking sink, which varies with level of velocity. Why it’s effective: For Hudson, the sinker is nothing more than his regular fastball. No one taught it to him, and the action he gets on the pitch is simply his natural movement. He developed consistency and control of the pitch at an early age. In his own words: “The one thing you have to concentrate on is your arm angle, your wrist angle and your mechanics being in tune throughout your delivery to have that consistent downward movement. You don’t want it to run sideways.”

The physics: A late down-and-in break to right-handed hitters, down-andaway to lefties. Why it’s effective: Right-handed hitters often get jammed by the pitch, and lefties have to dive to get it. In both cases, it’s driven into the ground if thrown properly. In his own words: “Sometimes if I throw it too hard, it doesn’t move as much, so I have to be careful. I try not to be max effort. I can throw it to both sides of the plate whether I’m behind or ahead in the count, and I probably throw it six or seven times out of every 10 pitches.”

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 9


Jean Machi Giants right-handed reliever Money pitch: Split-finger fastball Grip and release: Wedged between the index and middle finger along the sides of the ball, either on or off the seams, and thrown like a fastball. Physics: A sharp downward break as the ball approaches the plate, and when gripped across two seams with the index finger, a break that goes down and out like a slider. Why it’s effective: To the batter, it looks like a fastball coming out of the pitcher’s hand, but it has slightly less velocity. Since the pitch breaks down, it is always low in the zone, and the hitter either swings over the top or pounds it into the dirt. In his own words (through interpreter Erwin Higueros): “I’ve been throwing it for 13 years, but it probably took me five or six years to perfect it. I throw it two different speeds, but I know how to control it and I can dominate with the pitch.”

Jesse Chavez A’s right-handed starter/reliever Money pitch: Cutter or cut fastball Grip and release: Fingers are placed together outside the narrow part of the seam and thrown like a fastball, with no manipulation of the ball. The physics: Looks like a fastball with just a slight late break that makes it exceedingly difficult for hitters to square up the pitch. Why it’s effective: Chavez mixes the cutter roughly 50 percent of the time with his four-seam fastball. They look almost identical with the same velocity, until the cutter takes a “baby slider” break left at the last millisecond. He also can locate it to the left or right side of the plate. In his own words: “When in doubt, throw the cutter. That’s my slogan. It’s a hard pitch to learn, and you have to stay committed to it, even during the offseason. I started throwing it consistently in 2012, and it was probably the biggest turnaround for me in my career.”

Tim Lincecum

Sergio Romo

Giants right-handed starter

Giants right-handed reliever

Money pitch: Split-finger changeup

Money pitch: Slider

Grip and release: Wedged between index and middle fingers outside the narrow part of two seams, thrown with fastball delivery.

Grip and release: Gripped, as Romo says, like a “left-handed two-seamer” with fingers spaced inside the narrow part of the seams. Thrown at three-quarters with varying wrist action.

Physics: Thrown roughly 8-10 mph slower than the fastball, the combination of grip and ball rotation causes the ball to drop dramatically, often out of the strike zone, but the hitter frequently commits to a swing before it drops.

The physics: A sharp, sweeping late break that makes it difficult for hitters to determine where the pitch will finish.

Why it’s effective: Easier to disguise than other breaking pitches, it’s almost impossible to hit if it starts in the zone and dips down toward the plate. Catchers even have a hard time snaring it because of its violent break.

Why it’s effective: Almost always down in the zone, Romo says he can control his slider better than his fastball, spot it on the outside corner for a strike and get lunging swings by throwing it slightly off the plate.

In his own words: “It’s definitely a pitch I still use a boatload to get a lot of swings and misses. The natural arm angle on my fastball delivery makes it fall off the table. I never try to do anything special with it. It’s all in the grip.”

In his own words: “I’ve been told by hitters that it doesn’t have the same rotation as most sliders. They say the spin kind of looks like a fastball. It’s somewhat technical because I can show people my grip and they still can’t duplicate it.”

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Sean Doolittle A’s left-handed reliever Money pitch: Four-seam fastball Grip and release: Held across both laces on the wide part of the seam horseshoe. Thrown straight over the top with vertical spin. The physics: While location is paramount, Doolittle thinks he gets a deceptive “rise” effect and the pitch appears to get faster as it approaches home plate. Why it’s effective: A former hitter, Doolittle reflects on how hard it was to hit against power pitchers who “climbed the ladder” against him. He follows that approach with excellent control to both sides of the plate, throwing pure heat 90 percent of the time. In his own words: “People say I only have one pitch. I say no. I can throw a fastball arm side, I can throw one glove side, I can throw down in the zone, I can throw up in the zone. I say it somewhat jokingly, but on some level it’s true because I can move it around in the zone. And I’m going to attack you with it.”

Javier Lopez Giants left-handed reliever Money pitch: Cut slider Grip and release: With two fingers off-center straddling a seam, thrown like a cut fastball with no manipulation, but from a sidearm delivery. The physics: Lopez has a big, sweeping slider, but his cut slider has a lot less break but more bend than an actual cutter because of the low release point. Why it’s effective: It’s a “tweener” pitch — part fastball, part breaking ball — that Lopez feels like he can throw for a strike at any time. Since he primarily faces lefties, it’s a deceptive, slightly off-speed option to his sinker, which he throws most often. In his own words: “Facing a lefty, you want a secondary pitch you can throw for a strike, and that’s why I developed the smaller slider or cutter. I use the sweeping slider if I’m in leverage counts, but if I’m attacking the strike zone, I’m mixing in the cutter/slider or whatever you want to call it with the sinker.”

Tyler Clippard A’s right-handed reliever Money pitch: Straight changeup Grip and release: Held deep in the hand, thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball, but without the leg drive. The physics: Ideally, very little movement in order to get the ball over for a strike. Location isn’t important. It’s the change of speed that throws hitters off-balance. Why it’s effective: It looks like he’s throwing his fastball, which clocks at 90-94 mph, but it crosses the plate about 80 mph and gets the hitter out on his front foot. In his own words: “My changeup is definitely the pitch I feel most comfortable with — 90 to 100 percent of the time, it’s there, and I can throw it at any time in the count.”

Jesse Hahn

A’s right-handed starter Money pitch: 12-6 curveball Grip and release: Held along the wide four-seam part of the ball with the middle finger and braced with the index finger. Thrown with fastball arm speed but spun at the release point. The physics: A big, loopy downward break that crosses the plate in the mid-70 mph range, preferably low in the zone or out of it. Why it’s effective: Hitters are either surprised by it or give up on it when it’s spotted properly, and there’s a 20-mph difference between the curve and Hahn’s fastball. In his own words: “I idolized Barry Zito’s curveball growing up. I wanted mine to be as good as his. There was a time last year when I was 3-0 with runners on. I was all over the place with my fastball, so I broke out three curves in a row for a strikeout.”

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ARMS

THE game

THE

Tommy John surgery is on the rise at all levels of the sport. What’s being done to protect young arms?

BY daniel brown ILLUSTRATIONS BY miko maciaszek

RACE


THE game

The creation of Pitchsmart.org comes at a time when major league elbows are wearing out at record rates, with Tommy John surgeries nearly doubling over the past three seasons. This spring had hardly gotten underway before top pitchers Yu Darvish of the Rangers and Zack Wheeler of the Mets had to make the Tommy John decision. “There is a real sense of urgency to understand the entire TJ surgery now,” said Stan Conte, the Dodgers’ vice president of medical services and a member of the Pitchsmart.org advisory board. In July, the American Sports Medicine

“I’ve pretty much gone my whole career without injuries.” Joe DeMers

J

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PHOTOGRAPH BY DAN HONDA/STAFF

oe DeMers was just 10 years old when he started using the most powerful word in a young pitcher’s vocabulary — no. No, he wouldn’t pitch on short rest. No, he wouldn’t go beyond his pitch count. No, he wouldn’t play for multiple teams. Now a high school senior, DeMers has a fastball in the mid-90s, a scholarship commitment to Washington and first-round buzz in advance of the Major League Baseball draft. Is he glad he took the prudent route? Yes. “I’ve pretty much gone my whole career without injuries,” said DeMers, a student at College Park High in Pleasant Hill. DeMers is among the lucky ones to emerge unscathed from the increasingly demanding world of youth baseball. The landscape is so dotted with red flags that two governing bodies, Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, teamed up to create new guidelines to help young arms stay intact.

Institute went so far as to describe it as an epidemic. In a position statement that seemed aimed squarely at youth league coaches, the institute wrote: “In many cases, the injury leading to Tommy John surgery … began while they were adolescent amateurs.” From 2000-2011, there were an average of 15.4 Tommy John surgeries per year in the majors. But over the past three years, the average has almost doubled to 28.3. Perversely, though, the upward trend leads not to fear but acceptance in some cases. It’s as if reconstructing a damaged ulnar collateral ligament is as inevitable as rotating the tires. Fueled by the misperception that most pitchers come back throwing harder — “an urban myth,” one major league trainer called it — some teenage prospects are electing for Tommy John surgeries, even though they don’t need it. The trend amazes early pioneers such as Tom Candiotti, who was the second player — and the first not named Tommy John — to reach the majors after undergoing Dr. Frank Jobe’s revolutionary procedure. Candiotti had the elbow ligament surgery in 1981, seven years after John made history, but only after Jobe made sure it was worth his while. “He said, ‘You need to tell me: Are you a prospect?’ ” Candiotti recalled. Jobe, who died March 6, 2014, at age 88, pioneered the operation in 1974, when he transplanted an unneeded tendon from John’s right wrist into his left elbow. John pitched with that elbow until he was 46, winning 164 games post-surgery. John once told the Orange County Register: “I think there should be a medical wing in the Hall of Fame, starting with him.” Candiotti, a Walnut Creek native, later became the first patient to square off against the man himself, starting opposite John on Aug. 25, 1983, in what was billed as “the battle of the reconstructed arms.” Candiotti delivered a complete game 7-0 victory and arrived at the ballpark the next day to find John waiting for him in the dugout. “He sat down and we talked about my surgery, his


PHOTOGRAPHS BY PATRICK BREEN FOR THE BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

A

s one of the pioneers of Tommy John surgery, Tom Candiotti had to figure out his own way back. Much of his rehabilitation in 1981 was of his own making. “No trainer, no nothing. Can you believe that?” He found a book about exercises and focused on movements that would strengthen his forearm and elbow. He said he got a rubber ball and a hand-gripper and would squeeze “about 1,000 times a day.” He also wound up with what he now calls his “Tommy John Machine,” being demonstrated at left and right. It’s a device for doing nothing but wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. It worked so well — Candiotti lasted 16 seasons in the majors — that he now has his teenage sons work on the machine in hopes that they can avoid his plight. His boys, 14-year-old Clark, in the red shirt, and 16-year-old Casey, in blue, are pitchers in Scottsdale, Arizona. PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 15


THE game

surgery and what it felt like to get better,” Candiotti, now 57, recalled. “He was the most gracious man in the world. He said, ‘You’re not done yet. You’ve still got a long way to go.’ ” Back then, they were the only two men on an otherwise unpopulated island — like Neil Armstrong talking to Buzz Aldrin about what it’s like to walk on the moon. Now, the Tommy John community is a burgeoning metropolis, and the population is trending younger. In 2000, Dr. James Andrews and colleague Glenn Fleisig reported performing Tommy John surgery on 17 youth and high school players, making up 18 percent of all elbow reconstructions they did that year. In 2010, the last time Andrews and Fleisig collected data in a similar fashion, there were 41 surgeries on kids, making up 31 percent of the procedures. And Andrews told USA Today Sports this past summer that the stats were getting worse. “The largest number of all those different groups, believe it or not, is high school kids,” he told the paper. “They outnumber the professionals. There was a tenfold 16 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| PLAY BALL

increase in Tommy John at the high school/youth level in my practice since 2000. I’m doing way more of these procedures than I want to.” Little League Baseball has established

pitch limits (backed by Pitchsmart.org) that vary depending on age. At ages 7 to 8, a player tops out at 50 pitches, for example, while ages 17 to 18 can go as many as 105. But a survey led by Dr. Joseph J. Fazalare confirmed what parents know: Some coaches lie. In that 2012 study, only 73 percent of coaches reported that they followed the pitching rules, and only half (53 percent) felt that other coaches generally followed the rules. In the South Bay alone, there are plenty of examples of fudging the workload. Cases include a 12-year-old throwing 110 pitches over five innings last month; a 10-year-old pitcher throwing an estimated 130 pitches in a no-hitter in 2012; a 10-year-old in 2014 throwing three days in a row and totaling 156 pitches. Ross Nakaji, a specialist at Los Gatos Orthopedic


this page: landon nordeman. opposite: getty images

Sports Therapy, can gauge the trend just by walking around his office. His older patients have asked him, in essence: What are all these little kids doing here? Nakaji laments that most of the injuries are preventable because they stem from overuse. He’s always taken aback by parents who push too hard too early, prompting him to recall one of his favorite quotes: “There’s really no Hall of Fame for youth coaches.” “I always find it strange when a dad comes in and says, ‘We have this tournament this weekend, and the team really needs him. Is he going to be ready?’ ” Nakaji said. “It’s really not a smart move to push a youth athlete the way you would a professional athlete. But I think sometimes the mindset of the parents is to think of it that way.” DeMers is an increasingly rare example of restraint. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander is the ace for the College Park team ranked No. 1 in the nation by Baseball America. DeMers credits his caretaking to longtime personal pitching coach, Angel Borrelli, a Pleasant Hill kinesiol-

Pitcher Nick Mora (5) and his Chula Vista Little League teammates reached the final game of the 2013 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, before falling to Japan.

ogist who has little patience for conventional baseball wisdom. Borrelli first made her way as an Olympic weightlifting coach before transferring her knowledge of body mechanics to the throwing motion. Like others interviewed for this story, she recoiled at the sloppy mechanics and heavy workload common in youth leagues. “Kids are injuring themselves, and they don’t know it,” she said. “The take-home message is that the body is pretty resilient, so it can put up with doing things wrong for a while. But there is a breaking point.” Arms are ALREADY ailing THIS SPRING, WITH

Opposite page: Danny Marzo and the Petaluma Little League team made the trip in 2012.

some of the game’s brightest major league stars and prospects expected to be sidelined the 12 to 18 months it takes for recovery. Aces such as Darvish and Wheeler surrendered to Tommy John surgery right out of the gate. In the college ranks, promising Stanford righthander Cal Quantrill had Tommy John surgery earlier this month. The son of longtime big leaguer Paul QuanPLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 17


THE game

TOMMY JOHN ELBOW SURGERY Named for the first pitcher to undergo the elbow procedure (pictured below), the surgery has become increasingly commonplace for professional baseball players. WHAT GOES WRONG UCL stretches or breaks, making it impossible to gain enough speed on throw

HOW TO FIX IT Palmaris longus tendon, a nonessential tendon about 4-6 in. (10-15 cm) long, is removed from opposite forearm

Ulnar collateral ligament

3 mm holes are drilled into ends of the humerus and ulna bones

Humerus Holes

Tendon is woven back and forth between the holes and stitched together Grafted palmaris longus tendon

Radius Elbow

Ulna CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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Spin Doctor pitching academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Predictably, his focus is on long-term health — and proper rest — for his young players. “To me, that’s the biggest common denominator when it comes to injuries,” he said. “I’ve been running the academy for 12 years now. And the biggest thing that I’m seeing is overuse. By far the No. 1 reason for injury.” At the major league level, however, some stars from a bygone era wonder if baseball isn’t looking at the problem upside down. Former A’s ace Vida Blue said the problem isn’t that pitchers throw too much. He threw 312 innings and 24 complete games as a 21-year-old in 1971. “Well, they didn’t have a lot of money invested in me, so they allowed me to,” said Blue, now 65. “They didn’t care. Had I hurt myself, it would have been, ‘Oh, that’s just Vida. Roll his butt out of there and bring in so-and-so.’ “Today, obviously, you’ve got to protect your investment. I understand that part. But I think they’ve gone

PHOTOGRAPH BY associated press

trill will be out for this season and perhaps beyond, clouding his status as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. Conte, the Dodgers head trainer and a leading voice on baseball injuries, prefers the word “uptrend” over epidemic. He noted that part of the reason for the statistical jump in Tommy John surgeries can be traced to a relatively recent breakthrough: do-overs. More and more pitchers are having the procedure for a second time, and these so-called “revisions” account for much of the spike. From 1996-2011 there were a total of 22 Tommy John revisions, an average of 1.3 a year. Last year, there were 10. “That’s a little bit of a shocker, to be honest with you,” said Steve Ontiveros, the first player to pitch in the majors after two Tommy John surgeries. “That’s a big deal.” Ontiveros led the American League with a 2.65 ERA while with the A’s in 1994 and made the All-Star team with Oakland the next season. These days, he runs the


PHOTOGRAPH by justin edmonds/getty images

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg led the National League in strikeouts last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery following his first season in the majors. The Mets’ Matt Harvey hopes to bounce back as well.

too far. You have to let them throw. Now, they’re watching them like bird dogs. ‘Oh, it’s 100 pitches! Get him out!’ Come on, man.” Dave Stewart, 58, another former A’s ironman, recalled coming up through the Dodgers organization when racking up innings was the ticket to the majors. Stewart pitched 859 innings in the minors, including 37 complete games, before sticking in the bigs. “Coming through the Dodgers organization as a young guy, it was: 800 innings before you got to the big leagues,” said Stewart, now a rookie general manager with the Diamondbacks. “That theory is gone now. I think that guys aren’t throwing enough. Too much attention paid to weightlifting, not enough to throwing a baseball.” Bert Blyleven, like Stewart, brought up weightlifting as a concern. The Hall of Fame right-hander threw 325 innings in 1973 (at age 22!) and later led the league in innings pitched in 1985 (293.2) and 1986 (271.2). “ ‘Elasticity.’ That was very important to my pitching. I wanted to be loose,” Blyleven, now 63, said. “And when

you lift weights, you’re muscles contract. And when you throw a baseball, it’s the complete opposite. That rubber band is breaking a lot more often.” Then again, radar guns suggest that

baseball arms are stronger and better than ever. Improved training methods help explain how the average major league fastball reached a new high last year, at 91.4 mph. Writer Ross Newhan, in a piece for Lindy’s Baseball Preview, noted that there were 15,969 pitches of at least 97 mph in 2014. Tommy John success stories are helping fuel the heat. New York Mets ace Matt Harvey appears to be the latest back on the fast track, hitting 99 mph this spring in his first game since Aug. 24, 2013. “Things felt so good that the fact that I did have surgery is completely out of my mind,” he said. Harvey would follow in the recovery footsteps of pitchers such as John Smoltz, a patient in 2000 who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer; Chris Carpenter, who finished second in Cy Young Award bal-

loting two years after elbow surgery; Stephen Strasburg, who led the National League in strikeouts last year after undergoing the operation in 2011. But it’s not always such a smooth ride, according to a study by Eric C. Makhni, published last spring in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Of the 147 major league pitchers examined in that study, 80 percent returned to pitch in at least one game. But only 67 percent of established pitchers returned to the same level of competition after surgery, and 57 percent returned to the disabled list because of injuries to the throwing arm. Candiotti counts himself among the lucky ones. After his pioneering Tommy John surgery, he had to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher, but he lasted 16 years in the major leagues. After all of them, he got a Christmas card from Jobe. Candiotti recalled with a laugh that the cards were always addressed the same way: “To my prospect.” dbrown@mercurynews.com PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 19


THE game

Lords of the Bling BY DANIEL BROWN PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION by SERGE SEIDLITZ

B

y the time he was done, Lou Gehrig owned so many World Series rings that he turned them into a craft project. The Yankees legend attached them all to a single bracelet, along with other gems from his playing career, and presented it to his wife, Eleanor, on Sept. 29, 1937. As fourth-anniversary presents go, good luck topping that.

The modern-day Giants might not catch the Iron Horse when it comes to precious metal, but they’re stuffing their jewelry boxes just fine. They will put another ring around the Posey on April 18, when Buster, Madison Bumgarner and other members of the championship team receive their World Series hardware in a pregame ceremony at AT&T Park.

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Lou Gehrig, left, and Joe DiMaggio amassed 15 rings between them playing for the New York Yankees.

The ritual has become so popular that the Giants have turned them into a marketing strategy, offering “Ring Ceremony Six Packs” as part of their 2015 ticket-plan options. Tiffany & Co. will make this ring, too, having done the honors for the Giants’ championship teams of 2010 and 2012. Details on the latest version remain under wraps,

but one team official allowed that it will be bigger than the 2012 version that showcased a white gold face and an “SF” logo made out of 52 melee diamonds. “It’s symbolic of what you’ve been trying to do your whole career,” manager Bruce Bochy once said. Or, as another ring expert — Gollum — once put it: “Once it


RINGS COURTESY OF BASEBALL HALL OF FAME (except 1930, courtsey of buyandsellchampionshiprings.com. OPPOSITE: PHOTO BY ASSOCIATED PRESS.

THE game takes hold of us, it never lets go.” The Giants are credited with inventing the concept of World Series rings, handing them out after they won it all in 1922. Before then, champions would be awarded lots of shiny stuff — watch fobs, pendants, lapel pins — but it was the New York squad of Frankie Frisch and High Pockets Kelly who helped ring in a new era. “You’d have to think that they were pretty proud that they were at the beginning of this neat progression,” said John Odell, a curator for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Today, this is what ballplayers live for, to be able to have the ring. … There is only a small portion of players who can possibly imagine getting an MVP or Cy Young Award, but this is just a special thing far above personal honors.” Still, it took a few more years for the idea of the ’22 Giants to catch on for good. Even then, it wasn’t the ultimate prize it is now. Teams often supplemented the rings with additional gifts. Odell said he’s still doing research, but he’s come across several instances where teams also would get, say, a cigarette case or jewelry box. New York Yankees players such as Frank Crosetti and Tommy Henrich were known to request new shotguns. (Don’t get any ideas, Mr. Bumgarner). Odell specializes in World Series rings, having helped create a 6-foot by 3-foot display case at the Hall of Fame that features one for every year in which they were handed out. For those who can’t make it to Cooperstown, New York, www.worldseriesrings.net offers comprehensive images. It’s fun to trace the evolution of the rings as they go from simple and elegant to something more befitting of today’s multimillionaires. Odell pegs the turning point to the 1977 Yankees, whose championship ring featured the iconic NY logo spelled out in diamonds. Think of it as the Big Bling Theory. No one has ever gone more over the top than the 2003 Florida Marlins, whose ring remains the high bar. There are conflicting versions about its composition,

Giants’ rings

A’s rings

1922

1930

1933

1972

1954

1973

2010

1974

2012

1989

victor baldizon/getty images

The Marlins’ 2003 World Series ring — by far the most over-the-top — features 228 diamonds and 13 rubies. “It’s about three times the size of any other ring,” says John Odell at the Hall of Fame.

“You’d have to think that they were pretty proud that they were at the beginning of this neat progression. Today, this is what ballplayers live for, to be able to have the ring.” John Odell, curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

but the Sports Business Daily did an extensive report and listed the vital stats as 228 diamonds, 13 rubies, two shades of gold and one rare teal diamond as the eye of the Marlins logo. It weighed in at 110 grams. “It’s about three times the size of any other ring. It’s just huge,” Odell said. Since then, teams have dialed it back. The new trend is playfulness — a subtle wink or an inside joke forever etched into the ring. The St. Louis Cardinals tucked a tiny image of their beloved “Rally Squirrel” into their 2011 ring. The critter can be seen scampering in full stride, cut into the 14K white gold, suggesting that diamonds are

a squirrel’s best friend. The 2013 Boston Red Sox opted for business on top (white gold with ruby red socks) and a party on the bottom (a logo of facial hair with the words “Bearded Brothers” etched into the inner band). If those were the high points, what might be the lowest point has local roots. A’s owner Charlie O. Finley sent out a clunker to the ’73 champs. Apparently, still steaming after the World Series about some negative player comments during the Mike Andrews controversy, Finley scaled back his gift. He sent out rings that were identical to the A’s ’72 ring — but this time, without a diamond. Reggie Jackson called them “trash rings,” while reliever Darold Knowles said “they’ve got to be the worst World Series rings in history.” Now, it’s the Giants’ turn to again make a contribution to baseball’s jewelry box. Odell is eager to show off the new piece in his collection. He said that even former big league players stop in amazement when they reach the World Series ring display in Cooperstown. “There’s just so much beauty in it,” he said. “Everybody likes to see a little major league bling.”

2014 (to be unveiled April 18)

DBROWN@MERCURYNEWS.COM PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 21


THE game

For the love of the glove BY andrew baggarly and john hickey photographs by doug duran

Every baseball-obsessed youngster had their lessons in leather. Whether it was stuffing a ball in the webbing of the new glove, wrapping it tight and putting it under the mattress, or experimenting with the proper oiling technique to keep that beautiful cowhide soft and supple, there was no greater equipment undertaking for those with big league dreams. We wondered whether that special ballplayer-glove relationship — the glove affair, if you will — carried on once that dream had been achieved, so we asked A’s and Giants about it. Here’s a look at what we found.

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THE game

“(It’s) way more than just a piece of equipment. It’s the main tool of the trade.” Josh Reddick, A’s outfielder

Sonny Gray

Stephen Vogt

Marcus Semien

Ben Zobrist

A’S PITCHER

A’S CATCHER

A’S SHORTSTOP

A’S INFIELDER

Model: Nike Sha/Do closed web

Model: All-Star Pro Elite

Model: Rawlings Pro 1150JB I Web 11½”

Model: Rawlings Pro 200 2KBR 11¾”

History: Gray uses two gloves per season: one brown and one black.

History: Vogt has used this model since getting to the big leagues.

History: Semien has been using the same model glove since the minor leagues.

History: Zobrist settled on this model in 2008, his third big league season.

Why he loves it: He doesn’t, at least not the way some players do. He said instead that “I just want it to look cool.”

Why he loves it: It’s very stiff and has a big pocket; flexible catcher’s gloves let too many balls get away.

Why he loves it: He says he’s not all that tied to his glove, but he wants the glove to have the same feel for him day after day. And this one does.

Why he loves it: It’s made with “pro preferred leather,” which is lighter than many others, and “that’s what I like.”

Web gem: He starts the season with a brown glove and a black glove. He will pick one and, as long as he’s pitching well, the glove stays. If he starts to skid, he will change gloves.

Web gem: Vogt won’t use his best glove in wet or muddy conditions. And he won’t pack it with his other gear on a road trip. The glove goes in his personal luggage.

Web gem: He moves to a larger 11¾-inch model when playing third base because “with all the diving you do there, you want a little more room to trap the ball.”

Web gem: In the infield, he has his index finger sticking out. In the outfield, though, he jams the pinkie and ring finger into the slot for the pinkie because he says it gives him more control.

Ryan Cook

Sam Fuld

Pat Venditte

Josh Reddick

A’S PITCHER

A’S OUTFIELDER

A’S PITCHER

A’S OUTFIELDER

Model: Rawlings Pro 1000 9JB 12¼”

Model: Rawlings Pro 303-6JB

Model: Mizuno special order, closed web.

Model: Wilson A-2000 H-Web

History: Cook has used this model since joining the A’s in 2012.

History: Fuld says he experimented with gloves in college but has used this exclusively as a pro.

History: Venditte has had a glove specially designed for ambidextrous pitchers since he was 7.

History: Reddick has used the same model since coming to Oakland in 2012.

Why he loves it: For Cook, it’s somewhat superstitious. He said that if “I go out and give up runs, that’s not me, it’s the glove, right?” So he will use a different version of the same model.

Why he loves it: “Just feels right.” Plus, the leather is not too loose and it closes well on a ball.

Why he loves it: He can move it from one hand to the other on the mound and still have feel for pitching and fielding.

Why he loves it: He says it’s “way more than just a piece of equipment. It’s the main tool of the trade.”

Web gem: The one year he used just one glove for an entire season, in 2012, he made it to the All-Star Game as a reliever for the American League.

Web gem: Fuld has two gloves now: One is ready, and the other is almost ready. The ready one has blue lettering on it. He wants to use the one with green lettering “because I’m in Oakland,” but it’s been slower to get into shape.

Web gem: He had a contract with Mizuno for a long time that ended last year as he plateaued at Triple-A. He said that “maybe I’ll get another contract if I make it in Oakland this year.”

Web gem: Reddick will take a new glove, put a ball in the pocket, wrap it, then drop it into a hot tub for an hour or more. He says it softens the glove and forms a perfect pocket. Other players have recruited him to do the same for them.

Brandon Crawford

Matt Cain

Joe Panik

Javier Lopez

GIANTS SHORTSTOP

GIANTS PITCHER

GIANTS SECOND BASEMAN

GIANTS PITCHER

Model: Rawlings PRO200-6KB

Model: Mizuno MZP-11

Model: Rawlings PROS1150KB

Model: Wilson A2KB2

History: Crawford usually breaks in a new glove over the winter, but he didn’t like the way it felt while playing catch in the offseason.

History: Cain always starts the season with a new glove. He has all his old gloves in a box but didn’t mark them — one was used in his perfect game.

History: 1150 refers to the pattern size of 11.5 inches, which is perfect for a middle infielder who can’t spend time fishing in the pocket for the ball.

History: Lopez has used the same glove for at least six or seven seasons.

Why he loves it: Crawford switched from camelcolored to black after 2012. “I might go back to the camel. I had a better year defensively in 2012.”

Why he loves it: There’s no mistaking Cain’s glove. It’s bright yellow. How would he describe the color? “I don’t know … mustardy?”

Why he loves it: Panik breaks in a new glove every winter, forming the pocket the authentic way: by catching line drives off a pitching machine.

Web gem: Crawford will ask Mike Murphy, the Giants equipment manager, to tighten up his laces at least three or four times every season.

Web gem: Pitcher’s gloves almost always have a basket weave, trapeze or solid-block webbing, so batters can’t see how pitchers are gripping the ball.

Web gem: Panik likes to use the previous season’s glove as a backup. But not this year. Last year’s glove is in a glass case at home.

Why he loves it: “I’ve thought of putting it into retirement, but it’s like an old shoe. It’s comfortable.” Web gem: The word “BOOTSTRAP” is embroidered into the glove in block letters. A bullpen coach in Boston was a big “Pirates of the Caribbean” fan and had nicknames for each reliever. “I was ready to go every day, so I guess that made me Bootstrap.”

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 23


THE GIANTS

Madison Bumgarner’s postseason success made him an instant megastar. But despite the newfound fame, the Giants’ ace is still the

same

ol’ bum By DANIEL BROWN portrait BY DOUG DURAN


E

ven before he became a World Series icon, Madison Bumgarner admired those who shouldered an extra workload in October. So after the Giants won it all in 2012, the left-hander helped throw a party for his kind of postseason heroes. He hosted a lunch for the groundskeepers. “They take care of the field for us,” Bumgarner explained this spring. “You leave the park late, and you can see the lights in the stadium are still on till midnight. They put in a lot of work and a lot of time and don’t usually get recognized for it.” Bumgarner famously toiled overtime to deliver another celebration last year. In a postseason for the ages, he went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA and capped things off with a World Series flourish. On two days of rest after winning Games 1 and 5 as a starter, he came out of the bullpen to throw five shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals in Game 7. Before that, Bumgarner was a midlevel star whose regular-season ERA ranked 21st in the majors. After that, he was the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, had the No. 1 selling jersey in MLB and went on the “Tonight Show” to hand Jimmy Fallon a pair of “MadBum” boxer shorts. (“A normal thing for a guy to give another guy on TV,” Bumgarner drawled as he made the exchange.) Has MadBum gone Hollywood? Hardly. Bumgarner, 25, is handling his newfound fame as if he’d defeated the Royals with a rake and shovel. He turned down most of the endorsement opportunities that came his way but made a rare exception for the Carhartt clothing company. The appeal is that he wore that brand growing up on his family farm in northwestern North Carolina. An endorsement deal with Carhartt, opposite, appealed to Madison Bumgarner because the company “is about working with your hands.” RIGHT: ray chavez/staff opposite: courtesy carhartt


THE GIANTS

“Yeah, I’ve been wearing those clothes all my life. So that was a pretty cool thing for me and my family to get to be a part of,” he said. “It’s more of a blue-collar type thing. Carhartt is about working with your hands. They make work clothes — stuff that you can really work in.” It was also Bumgarner’s kind of fashion statement. He didn’t own a suit until he attended the Sportsman of the Year banquet. The magazine noted that when he married his high school sweetheart, Ali, he did so in a white, open-collar shirt and blue jeans while carrying a pocketknife.

B

umgarner’s national television ad for Carhartt will begin airing near opening day. Expect grits, not glamour. The camera crew’s goal was to capture a day in the life of Bumgarner’s ranch, a 116-acre farm in Lenoir (pop. 18,042) with 20 horses, 60 cattle and no shortage of chores.

Bumgarner was celebrated during the World Series victory parade. But Bumgarner isn’t interested in fame in the wake of his postseason run. “It hasn’t been different for me. Maybe it’s been different for other people. But I’ve stayed the same and haven’t changed anything.” karl mondon/ staff

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Building his brand? In Bumgarner’s case, that involves a branding iron in hand. “What he does in an average workday on his ranch is pretty incredible,” said Tony Ambroza, the senior vice president of marketing for Carhartt. “People who follow him will quickly realize why he’s so tough. And what makes him as strong as he is. He epitomizes a simple thing we believe in: Before there were workouts, there was work.” The ad was directed by actor Jason Momoa, best known for playing Khal Drogo on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” In the series, Momoa played a tall, powerful, fearsomely bearded warrior. So, yes, he and Bumgarner got along famously. A photo of the two chugging beers side-by-side set social media ablaze in February. Momoa spent much of his early life in Iowa, so he knew his way around a farm. Bumgarner said he loved working with someone who

understood and respected the land. “For sure,” the pitcher said. “Obviously, he did his thing (as the director), but I didn’t feel much need to change anything.” Carhartt was founded in 1889, when it specialized in bib overalls for railroad workers. Now, the company markets to search-andrescue crews, firefighters, electrical workers — and major league groundskeepers. That’s how Bumgarner connected with the company in the first place. When he hosted the lunch for the Giants crew early in 2013, the pitcher arranged for the groundskeepers to get a full set of gear from the company — jacket, hat, pants, shirt and a T-shirt. “He stood up and said, ‘I just want to thank you for all your hard work and for helping me to get to where I’m at,’ ” recalled Greg Elliott, the Giants director of field operations. “He’s a humble guy, and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s

playing it down. But that was a big moment for me and my crew.” That party for the groundskeepers featured workman’s fare (a barbecue), but at a glitzy locale (a yacht club). Bumgarner has a knack for country-frying anything he touches. As part of his whirlwind offseason, he made a trip to Las Vegas — for the National Finals Rodeo. He later indulged a photo shoot for the cover of the Giants Magazine — while next to an ox and dressed like Paul Bunyan.

B

unyan, like Bumgarner, grew legendary for overpowering lots of lumber. But Bunyan was never on a tree count. In contrast, Bumgarner faced endless questions all spring about how his body would hold up after his epic workload of a year ago. He totaled 270 innings, the most by a Giant since Ron Bryant reached that same total in 1973. Bumgarner’s count included a re-


THE GIANTS

cord 52.2 innings in the postseason. It was the heaviest workload for a pitcher 25 or younger since 2000, according to ESPN. So people keep asking the 6-foot-5, 235-pound part-time ranch hand whether he feels OK. Because he can’t outright laugh, Bumgarner takes the next best route and defuses the questions with wry comebacks. How does your arm feel? “Feels just like an arm. It’s the craziest thing.” What about the high-stress innings? “High stress for you?” Your World Series MVP raised expectations. “Did it? … It didn’t change mine from what they were.” Even manager Bruce Bochy got in on the act, deadpanning that Bumgarner would be his opening day starter before adding, “Oh, he’s going the second game, too.” Bumgarner threw 4,074 pitches

Bumgarner hit a grand slam in April against the Rockies and again in July against the Diamondbacks, above. He was the second pitcher in major league history to hit two grand slams in a single season. Nhat V. Meyer/ staff

last season but appeared to get stronger as he went along. Batters hit just .153 against him during the postseason, when he struck out 45 and walked six. His track record speaks to his durability. Bumgarner has four consecutive seasons with at least 31 starts and 200 innings. The Giants don’t doubt his resilience, not even those just getting to know him. Nori Aoki, who played for the Royals last season, joked upon signing with the Giants during the offseason that he wanted a wrestling match with Bumgarner. He backed out, of course, almost the second he arrived. “He was a little bigger than I expected,” Aoki said. Through his interpreter, he added that weapons should be allowed in any match against someone of Bumgarner’s size. Bumgarner grew up learning that brute force was his best option on the diamond. Kevin Bumgarner,

concerned about his son’s longterm future, didn’t let Madison throw curveballs until he was 16. “Probably longer than that, actually,” Madison Bumgarner says now. “It’s just what we were taught back then — that breaking balls are bad for your arm. Don’t throw them. So I didn’t. “We didn’t have any scientific research behind that, but that’s what I was taught. It was better for you. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong or if they even know yet.”

L

ast year, Bumgarner’s fastball averaged a career-best 92.1 mph during the regular season, according to FanGraphs.com. And his repertoire has broadened since those days at South Caldwell High. He threw his fastball 43.5 percent of the time last season, according to FanGraphs, complementing it with a slider (34.9 percent of the time), curveball (14.0) and changeup (7.5).

He can hit, too! While his arm stole the show in October, Madison Bumgarner’s bat made news during the regular season. Led all pitchers in average (.258), runs (10), hits (17), home runs (4), RBIs (15) and slugging percentage (.470). Became the first Giants pitcher to win the Silver Slugger award since Don Robinson in 1990. His four home runs were the most by a Giants pitcher since Hal Schumacher hit six in 1934. His 15 RBIs tied the San Francisco record for pitchers set by Juan Marichal in 1966. His two grand slams in one season made him the second major league pitcher to do so. Atlanta Braves RHP Tony Cloninger hit two in one game on July 3, 1966 — against the Giants, who lost 17-3. Source: San Francisco Giants

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In the wake of his postseason success, it’s common to debate where Bumgarner is headed in 2015. John Smoltz, another onetime October ace, ventured recently on the MLB Network that the Giants left-hander is poised for a new level of regular-season stardom. “He’s going to find that he gets better because something clicked during the postseason,” Smoltz said on the air. “I think there’s a point in a pitcher’s career when you say, ‘Ha! I got it!’ I think we’re going to see a lot more consistency.” Co-host Brian Kenney countered that Bumgarner ranks somewhere below greatness if you look beyond the champagne to the pitcher’s regular-season record. The left-hander’s ERA-plus — that is, adjusted by ballpark — ranks a mere 32nd in the majors over the past three seasons. He ranks 24th in terms of wins above replacement (WAR) during that span. “He didn’t make my top 10,” Kenney said. “That sounds crazy, but he’s more of a 15 to 25 guy during the regular season.” Bumgarner, of course, has zero interest in the fuss. Though immune to high pitch counts, he tires quickly of questions. People keep wanting to know about his “different” offseason. He’s just ready to saddle up and ride. “It hasn’t been different for me. Maybe it’s been different for other people,” Bumgarner said. “But I’ve stayed the same and haven’t changed anything. “There have been a lot of doors that opened because of the postseason, I guess, and a lot of friendships made. It’s been a blessing for me. It’s stuff that I never thought would have happened — or should have happened — and it’s been a lot of fun. “But I know, and everybody else knows, that you can’t let it change who you are.” dbrown@mercurynews.com

Bumgarner celebrated the Giants’ World Series win with catcher Buster Posey, opposite, and with fans at the victory parade. LEFT: Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee, opposite: Jose Carlos Fajardo/staff


THE GIANTS

Despite the past, the present is a strong-armed dynasty

I

f you were designing a model franchise for the post-PED baseball universe, you would build it around pitching, of course. You would piece together a lineup of affordable situational contact hitters and avoid overpaying for home run power. You would emphasize defense, team chemistry, late-game bullpen advantages and the ingenuity of a brilliant in-game manager. And, to fairly illustrate that clean players go through normal ups and downs and that baseball fate is not controllable via science, you would make sure that even the best post-PED team doesn’t win the championship every year. Maybe only every other year. You would have the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy, and a roster that longtime general manager Brian Sabean and his staff have put together from year to year, starting in 2010. Interestingly, the Giants could never quite win the World Series with Barry Bonds, the PED era’s most accomplished hitter, but they have won three championships in the past five seasons without him. Might win a few more, too. That’s why the Giants, from 2010 to now, are the ideal team for — and first dynasty of — this chemically drained era. The Giants saw this post-PED world coming, too. Maybe they were perfectly placed to see it. Because they had Bonds at the apex of the juiced era, they could envision what would happen when the chemicals disappeared. “We’ve been in a window that, by and large, has been pitching-centric,” Sabean told me recently. “Maybe we were the first team to kind of realize where the game was going.” When I asked Sabean to explain that idea a little more, he pointed to a comment from former manager Felipe Alou, who has been a Giants consultant since he left the dugout. Remember, Alou managed Bonds from 2003 (when Bonds had a league-best 1.278 OPS at age 38)

Tim Kawakami

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to 2006 (the year baseball began its tougher drug-testing policy). Bonds’ final season was 2007. Note: Detroit’s Victor Martinez had the highest OPS last season, at .974. “When we saw all the testing take hold,” Sabean said, “when we saw what was going to happen as the result of that, (Alou) had a great statement … that the game was going back to playing baseball, which is pitching and defense and timely hitting. “And the days of the 40-homerun-type of player or hitting your way to a pennant or hitting the

ball over the fence on the way to the promised land might not be happening anymore. “I think it just happened to coincide with us developing young pitchers.” Last season, the Giants hit 132 regular-season homers, 17th most in the majors, on their way to the championship. They hit 103 homers, last in the majors, in their 2012 championship season. They hit 162, good for 10th in baseball (they tied with their World Series opponent, the Texas Rangers),

in their 2010 championship season. Just for comparison: In 2001, the year Bonds hit a record 73 homers, the Giants had 235 homers, second-best in the majors. While Sabean has mixed and matched with hitters such as Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence and Michael Morse, this championship era has never been about home runs. That was the old era. What turned the Giants into the ideal post-PED team was pitching — and the wisdom to draft the four cornerstones.


THIS PAGE: JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO. OPPOSITE: DOUG DURAN

THE GIANTS

Matt Cain was drafted in 2002 and arrived in the big leagues in 2005. Tim Lincecum was drafted in 2006 and arrived in 2007. Madison Bumgarner was drafted in 2007 and arrived fulltime in 2010. Buster Posey, the catcher to lead all these young aces, was drafted in 2008 and also arrived full-time in 2010. Only Bumgarner and Posey have been large contributors in each of the three championship runs, but overall, these four established the foundation for the post-PED dynasty. As the Giants loaded up their pitching staff, baseball changed right to their specifications. For instance, in 2000, 10 players had a slugging percentage of .625 or higher. In 2014, Jose Abreu of the

Madison Bumgarner (above left) and Buster Posey played large roles in each of the Giants’ three recent titles. Tim Lincecum (opposite page) has boasted bright spots, and hopes to return to form as a starter this season.

What turned the Giants into the ideal post-PED team was pitching — and the wisdom to draft the four cornerstones.

Chicago White Sox led the majors with a .581 slugging percentage. In 2002, eight players had 41 or more homers. In 2014, Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 homers. In 2000, teams scored an average 832 runs. In 2014, teams scored an average of 659 runs. One detail: The Angels led baseball with 773 runs scored during

the 2014 regular season; that total would have placed 23rd in 2000. Pitching, defense and situational hitting. That’s how the Giants saw this sport evolving — they were good enough to land the pitchers who could make it happen, and then they took full advantage of it, in every-other-year intervals starting in 2010. Sabean says he’s worried that the Giants don’t have the same kind of pitching coming up behind the Cain-Lincecum-Bumgarner wave, and they certainly don’t have another Posey. But who does? You land those players, they help you adapt to a changed landscape — and you set yourselves up to be at the right place at the right time and become the model franchise for an era.

Tim’s predictions

tkawakami@mercurynews.com

Will Bumgarner wind up on the D.L.? No

A’s record (finish in West): 86-76 (second) Giants record (West): 85-77 (second) Division winners: Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays. Dodgers, Pirates, Nationals. Wild Cards: Tigers, Orioles, Cardinals, Giants. World Series: Nationals over Tigers Giants HR leader: Brandon Belt (23) Giants wins leader: Bumgarner (16) A’s HR leader: Brett Lawrie (19) A’s wins leader: Sonny Gray (17) Pablo Sandoval HRs for Red Sox: 24 Josh Donaldson HRs for Blue Jays: 26 Angel Pagan over/under 120 games? Over Coco Crisp over/under 125 games? Under Lincecum: Rebound or bullpen? Rebound A’s draw at least 30,000 at home: 24 games

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Joe Panik never seems to. PERHAPS That explains how he turned himself into the Giants’ everyday 2B — and an October cult figure.


THE GIANTS

Joe Cool By CARL STEWARD

Joe Panik enters the 2015 season as not only the Giants’ fixture at second base, but a virtual lock as their everyday No. 2 hitter. ¶ This is the same guy who, heading into 2014, was regarded as a solid minor league prospect who perhaps could make the majors as a September call-up. ¶ But after Marco Scutaro was ruled out in spring training, the Giants struck out with second basemen. Brandon Hicks started fast but faded badly. Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza weren’t answers, and desperation signee Dan Uggla proved disastrous in late July. ¶ Enter Panik, the then 23-year-old converted shortstop from upstate New York. ¶ When he was first called up in mid-June, the Giants’ first-round pick (No. 29) out of St. John’s University didn’t seem the answer, either. He was hitting in the low .200s. But when the Uggla experiment ended and the club committed to Panik, the results were revelatory. ¶ He finished the year at .305, gave shortstop Brandon Crawford a reliable defensive partner and was as instrumental as any Giant in helping the club get to the postseason with his red-hot bat. ¶ In October, Panik continued to shine. His two-run homer in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals was one of the team’s biggest postseason jolts. ¶ His postseason zenith: the remarkable dive and glove-flip to squelch a potential Kansas City rally in Game 7 of the World Series. The instinctive play led to one of the greatest defensive double plays in Series history — and the Giants’ third celebratory dogpile in five years. ¶ For his encore, Panik will embark upon his first full major league season. We caught up with him for a chat in Arizona.

So, how many times in the offseason have you watched that diving play? Oh, probably a handful. It was definitely a big moment and a special play at a key time in the game. What are you proudest about regarding that play? The ball was hit so hard. I’m just proud that I relied on my natural baseball instincts. If you try to think about anything or do it right, you’re not going to make that play. I just went with my gut, and it worked out. Did the way you hammered that Wainwright ball surprise you? Do you see yourself hitting more home runs? Over time, my swing is actually going to lead to more power. I’m not too concerned about that right now. In that situation, I just got a pitch I was able to get the barrel on. What was the hometown reception like after the World Series? It was pretty surreal, because I come from a suburban town in upstate New York (Hopewell Junction), and it’s not a baseball hot spot. Just going home and seeing congratulatory signs and my high school having a ceremony for me, it was very special. Now that you are finally comfortable at second base, where can you take yourself at the position? There are a lot of things you can get better at, like making plays on the move and getting the ball out quicker. But for me, I’m just trying to refine everything and get better — my feeds, my turns, my footwork. I’m not trying to do anything too crazy because I’m a blue-collar infielder.

NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF PHOTOS

Giants’ Joe Panik dives and flips to Brandon Crawford to start a double play against the Royals and inspire a World Series win.

How do you see your defensive rapport with Crawford growing?

Craw and I have a great relationship on and off the field. He’s a calming influence. It’s one of the reasons we get along so well. We have the same kind of attitude — even keel, don’t let anything bother you — and we’re on the same page. You had a five-hit game last year and a couple of four-hit games. When you get in that kind of groove, do you feel like you can hit the ball wherever you want? Yeah. The way I hit, I expect myself to have games like that. It’s a linedrive, level-swing approach. With my bat control, I feel I can spray the ball to left field or pull it to right field. Scutaro was such a great two-strike hitter. But you had a phenomenal average hitting with two strikes (.289). How have you developed that at such a young age? I just feel like I simplify my approach with two strikes. I’m not trying to do too much with the ball. I get into battle mode. I hate to strike out, so I just lock in and foul off balls until I can put that ball in play. I consider it a fight. At what point last year did you finally feel like you belonged in the major leagues? I would say against the Mets at Citi Field. I had a three-hit game (on Aug. 4), and that’s where I felt like I kind of got over the hump. Then I started playing every day, and once that happened, I just started playing baseball and stopped pressing. What’s your outlook going into your first full big league season? I know my role on the team. But at the same time, I still feel like I’m fighting for a job. There are a bunch of talented guys on this team, and I’m not taking anything for granted.

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THE giants

T he a rt INSI D E

T H E

M IN D

O F

O N E

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T H E

GA M E ’ S

of the b a c k s to p BY andrew baggarly photo-illustration by vasava

G R E A T E S T


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THE GIANTS

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this page: nhat v. meyer/staff. opposite: portrait by doug duran/staff

T

his is what they neglect to tell you when you agree to become a catcher: That foul tip off the shoulder isn’t the worst of it. Your knees aren’t what will ache most at the end of the night. That you must grapple with more than a pitch in the dirt or an umpire with a cereal-box strike zone or that baserunner with a Pete Rose complex hungrily leaning off third. This is what they neglect to tell you: Your brain will be put in a never-ending squat. You will be constantly thinking, calculating, monitoring, studying. You are air traffic controller and a short-order cook. You can never, ever mentally check out. If you want to be any good, anyway. If you want to win a championship, for certain. “I’m gassed, just gassed, and I’m ready to sleep for a day,” said Buster Posey, peeling off his socks as the clubhouse celebration eased into hazy somnolence on the night this past October when the Giants won another championship. “Physically, obviously, it’s a grind. But when you go all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, you’re waking up in the middle of the night thinking about who you’re facing, who you’ve got on the mound, how are we going to get this guy out. … It’s not just when you’re at the park, you know what I’m saying? “But it’s worth it. It’s worth it for all this.”


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THE GIANTS Want to know what’s

Four opponents. Seventeen

games. Reams of scouting reports. Hitter breakdowns, tendencies and spray charts. A census bureau’s worth of statistics. More video than Netflix. A dozen pitchers to catch, a dozen personalities to manage, and a million variables. Full parks and swollen eardrums. A solid month of unwavering focus. Make it 18 games. That 18-inning victory in the NLDS at Washington should count twice, right? Posey caught every pitch — including 118 from Sergio Romo,

Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Yusmeiro Petit after the eighth inning, any of which could have lost the game. It’s enough to give a brain bursitis. “You know, having that wild card game (at Pittsburgh) added a little extra, even though it was just one game,” said Posey, sitting at his spring locker in Scottsdale, Arizona. “You’re playing an elimination game right out of the chute. There was a lot of thought that went into that game.” It was an all-night cram session. Then another for the Nationals. And another for the St. Louis Cardinals. Then one more, with the weight of the World Series on his shoulders. “The catcher, he takes responsibility for everything that happens,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

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“You’re basically a manager,” says Bruce Bochy (above with Buster Posey) of the position. “The night before, you’re thinking about it. Your game-calling can determine the outcome and you know it.”

“You’re basically a manager. The night before, you’re thinking about it. Your game-calling can determine the outcome and you know it.” Bochy, an old catcher himself, would wake up in the middle of the night, frantic over the lineup decisions he’d have to confront. He wasn’t surprised to learn that Posey had trouble silencing his thoughts, too. “For me, it was more like, wake up first thing in the morning, and that’s where your thoughts first go, and that can be — I mean, you do that for a month straight …” said Posey, trailing into a soft laugh. Posey arrived in the big

leagues with some advantages. A fixture on the dean’s list at Florida State, he had the intellect. More important, he had intellectual curiosity. He didn’t just spout a

‘The tools of ignorance’ A nickname for a catcher’s protective equipment (catcher’s mask, chest protector, and shin guards). Different sources have credited Muddy Ruel and Bill Dickey with coining the phrase. According to either version, the usage was meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.

“yes, sir” when Bochy or coach Bill Hayes showed him a technique for blocking or throwing. He sought the explanation behind it. Bochy recalled a time in Posey’s rookie season when the bench signal came to check the runner at first base, and the pitcher proceeded to record a pickoff. Most catchers would have been happy to

This page: nhat v. meyer/Staff. Opposite: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff

ignorant? Calling a catcher’s equipment the tools of ignorance. The Giants have won three World Series titles in five years. On those three championship clubs, they employed three different second basemen, three left fielders and three center fielders. They had two different starters at first base, third base, shortstop and right field. They’ve used one catcher. For 46 out of 48 playoff games. “You hear people say they’re blown away, say it’s incredible what the Giants achieved,” said right-hander Jake Peavy. “Is it really incredible when you have Buster Posey, one of the best players in the league, running the game? When you have the manager and staff you have? I mean, is it, really?” Go back and watch any of the Giants’ 17 playoff games from October, and you will see it again and again: The pitcher stands on the mound, the batter digs a front foot back into the box, and Posey is doing … well, not much of anything. He isn’t putting down a sign. He isn’t adjusting his equipment. He is simply in his squat, his head down as if peering through a glass-bottomed boat. Three seconds. Five. Seven. Posey is not resting. He is resisting. “He’s using that time to think, sure, but he’s doing it to slow me down, too,” Peavy said. “He’s keeping every element of that game under control, and that includes me. … The hardest thing to do is be in the middle of the game, with everything going on around you and to be able to process the situation and think clearly back to the game plan. It goes into every pitch that we throw.”


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get the out. When Posey returned to the dugout, he sought out Bochy. He wanted to understand what the manager had seen. Failure can be a powerful teacher. Posey didn’t have to learn that way. By his third World Series run, in October, it almost didn’t matter that Posey’s timing was off at the plate and that he did not register one extra-base hit all postseason. He knew he was responsible for so much more than that. If there is any difference in catching a postseason game, Posey said, it’s a heightened awareness that grabs him from the first pitch to the last. It’s not like his mind drifts in the early innings of a game in May or June. But the pressure is different when one bad inning in a short series could have terminal consequences. “I try to take what our advance scouts give us, what they’ve been seeing, look at each hitter and say, ‘OK, this is his strength, here’s his weakness, we want to stay out of this spot in certain situations, here’s something we want to expose,’ ” Posey said. “But you also have to understand who’s on the mound, and whether they can execute that plan, because you don’t want to pitch away from their strengths.” Calling a game, then, is to tug both ends of the rope at once. Ask Giants pitchers what makes Posey such a good game caller, and you’ll receive a spectrum of answers. It’s because he is forthright, Peavy said. Some catchers might call fastballs with runners on base with the ulterior motive of protecting their percentage of base-stealers caught. Peavy said he never has to question Posey’s motives. “Every decision he makes has one goal in mind, and one goal only, and that’s to win,” Peavy said. “You never have to doubt that.” It’s because he’s such a skilled hitter, right-hander Tim Hudson said. Although offensive catchers often are knocked for letting their contributions at the plate outshine their work behind it, Hudson said Posey’s elite ability at the plate gives him a unique edge behind it. “I’ve thought about this: I’ve had catchers who had a tendency to call the pitches they couldn’t hit,” Hudson said. “Well, there

aren’t many pitches that Buster Posey can’t hit. He has such a great approach that he understands what the really good hitters are thinking up there at the plate. “I’ve learned not to shake him off. There’s been times I shake and give up a loud out or a base hit. You look at him sitting back there, and you just see him thinking, ‘You idiot. You should listen to me more.’ ” The fact he used to be a

pitcher also can’t be discounted. Posey cites his experience as the closer at Florida State, when he was so consistent throwing his fastball over the plate that his coach, Mike Martin, would have to pull him aside. You can hit that outside corner all you want, Martin told him. But if every pitch arrives at the same eye level, the good hitters eventually will make you pay.

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Posey has come a long way from a brief turn with the San Jose Giants in 2009 (above) to taking in the sights at his third World Series parade last season.

“So that’s stuck with me, and I think it’s carried over to my catching now,” Posey said. “Make sure that ball isn’t thrown just below the knee to that mid-thigh region all the time. It’s important to change eyesight.” That’s exactly what Posey did in so many critical junctures over the past three World Series runs, whether it was Tim Lincecum in the 2010 NLDS opener against the Atlanta Braves when he struck out 14 in a 1-0 victory, or Madison Bumgarner with the tying run on third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 in Kansas City. In so many of those gunpowder moments Posey changed eye-level by calling for the same pitch. A high fastball. It looks so good out of the hand. It is a baited hook. It leads to pop-ups or empty swings — the two surest ways to record outs with

minimal risk of error or advancement on the bases. That is what Posey wanted Bumgarner to throw with Salvador Perez at the plate at Kauffman Stadium, just two teams out of 30 still standing and a season winnowed down to a single confrontation. “I really had to check myself,” said Posey, asked for the moment in his career when his calm exterior belied a wreck of nerves. “When I went out to talk to Bum, it was as much for me as it was for him.” Six high fastballs, one foul pop and one celebration later, Posey could sleep. He slept for two days. The whir and hum would start up again soon enough. “He doesn’t let it show if he’s exhausted,” Bumgarner said. “If you didn’t know, you’d never think it.” abaggarly@mercurynews.com

This page: ray chavez/staff. opposite: ezra shaw/getty images

THE GIANTS


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THE giants

Regular-season schedule APRIL MON

TUE

WED

THU

1

FRI

2

SAT

3

SUN 4

5 ARI

6 ARI

7 ARI

8 SD

9 SD

10 SD

11

SD

12 COL

13 COL

14 COL

15 ARI

16 ARI

17 ARI

18

ARI

19

20 LAD

21 LAD

22 LAD

23 COL 24 COL 25

7:10 CSNBA 6:40 CSNBA 6:40 CSNBA 3:40 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 5:40 CSNBA

1:10 CSNBA 1:35 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 6:05 CSNBA

1:05 CSNBA

COL

7:15 CSNBA 7:15

26 LAD

KNTV 12:45 CSNBA 5:40 CSNBA 5:10 CSNBA

27 LAD 28 LAD 29

1:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 7:10

30

KNTV

MAY SUN

MON

TUE

WED

THU

SAT

17

COL

24 MIL

ATL

31

ARI

19 SD

OAK

26 MIL

19 LAD 20 LAD

21 COL 22 COL 23

WAS

25 MIL

26 MIL

28 ATL

7:15 CSNBA 7:15

KNTV 12:45 CSNBA 5:10 CSNBA 1:10 CSNBA

27 ATL

29 ATL

30

1:10 CSNBA 11:10 CSNBA 5:10 CSNBA 10:40 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:05 KNTV

1:05 CSNBA

PHI

8

9 PHI

10 PHI

11

17 ARI

18

13 ALLSTAR

14

15

20 SD

21 SD

22

27 MIL

28 MIL

29

7:15 CSNBA 7:05 KNTV

16 ARI 6:40

KNTV 5:10 CSNBA

23 OAK 24 OAK 25 7:15 KNTV 1:05 CSNBA

30 TEX

KNTV 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA

31

5:05 CSNBA

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

TEX

2 ATL

CHC

9

3 ATL

4 ATL

5 CHC

SAT TEX

1

7 CHC

8

5:05 CSNBA

6 CHC

12:05 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 5:05 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

10 HOU

11 HOU 12 WAS 13 WAS 14 WAS 15

16 STL

17 STL

18 STL

PIT

23

24 CHC 25 CHC 26 CHC 27 STL 28 STL

STL

30 LAD

TBD CSNBA

7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA 7:15

KNTV 7:15 CSNBA 7:05 CSNBA

19 PIT

20 PIT

21 PIT

22

1:05 CSNBA 5:15 CSNBA 5:15 CSNBA 4:15 CSNBA 4:05 CSNBA 4:05 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

10:35 CSNBA

29

7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA 7:15 KNTV 1:05 CSNBA

31

1:05 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA

JUNE

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER

SUN

7 NYM

AUGUST SUN

18 LAD

5:10 CSNBA 5:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA

6 NYM

GAME

1:05 CSNBA 7:15

16

5 SD

4

1:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 12:40 CSNBA

15 CIN

4 SD

7:15 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

1:05 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 6:05 KNTV

10:10 CSNBA

During the overlap of Giants, A’s, Sharks and Warriors games in April (and beyond, depending on NBA and NHL playoffs), Comcast SportsNet shuffles games between CSNBA, CSNCA and CSN+. Be sure to check the listings with your cable or satellite provider for changes.

12

SAT

4:10 CSNBA 9:10 CSNBA 3:05 CSNBA 8:05 CSNBA

1:05 CSNBA

PHI

FRI

2 WAS 3 WAS

All games broadcast on 680 AM

14 CIN

5 NYM

THU

1 MIA

10:35 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA

11 HOU 12 HOU 13 CIN

CIN

WAS

WED MIA

Home games

9

10

8 MIA

1:05 CSNBA

7 MIA

MIA

6 MIA

TUE

2

MON

1 LAA

3 SD

FRI

All times Pacific and subject to change

LAA

LAA

JULY

NOTES

SUN

MON PIT

TUE

WED

THU

7

SAT

1 PIT

2 PIT

4 PHI

5 PHI

8 NYM

9 NYM 10 NYM 11 ARI

12 ARI

3

7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA

10:35 CSNBA

FRI

SUN 6

4:05 CSNBA 12:05 CSNBA

4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 4:10 CSNBA 7:15 KNTV 4:15

ARI

14 SEA

15 SEA

16 SEA

17 SEA

18 LAD

LAD

21

22 SD

23 SD

24 SD

25 COL 26 COL

COL

28

29 MIA

30

13 KTVU

19 LAD 20

1:05 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 7:10 KNTV 4:15 CSNBA

TBD CSNBA

1:05 CSNBA

27

7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:30 KNTV 7:15 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

4:10 CSNBA

MON

COL

LAD

WED

THU

1 LAD

2 COL

6 ARI

7 ARI

8 ARI

9

SD

13 CIN

14 CIN

15 CIN

16

ARI

20

21 SD

22 SD

23 SD

OAK

27 LAD 28 LAD 29 LAD 30 LAD

1:05 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA

1:05 CSNBA

FRI

3 COL

SAT

4 COL

5

7:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 5:40 CSNBA 5:40 CSNBA 5:10 CSNBA

1:10 CSNBA 1:10 CSNBA 6:40 CSNBA 6:40 CSNBA

10 SD

11 SD

12

17 ARI

18 ARI

19

7:15 CSNBA 6:05 KNTV

7:15 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

24 OAK 25 OAK 26

7:10 CSNBA 7:10 CSNBA 6:10 CSNBA 7:05 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

1 COL

2 COL

3

1:05 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 12:45 CSNBA 7:15 CSNBA 1:05 CSNBA

COL

4

12:05 CSNBA

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TUE


THE giants

Players to watch + projected opening day roster BY andrew baggarly

M

att Cain doesn’t need to be the ace of the Gi-

ants rotation — Madison Bumgarner has that role good and lassoed — but it’s vital that he re-establish himself as a consistent performer amid a high-mileage starting staff that has the potential to blow a gasket or two. Watching Cain throw off a mound this spring, you’d never guess he was coming off surgeries on his elbow (to remove bone chips) and ankle (to remove a bone spur) that wiped out the second half of last season. He had pitched with reduced range of motion in his right arm for several years yet hardly missed a turn, exceeding 200 innings in six consecutive seasons. The early signs are promising that Cain will pitch effectively deep into games once again. That will be vital to a team that still plans to win with pitching and defense — and probably will be forced to weather some short starts from Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum and potentially Ryan Vogelsong.

Angel Pagan told Bruce Bochy that he wants to play in 160 games. Presumably, he meant this season and not spread out over the final two years of his contract. It’s a fact, not a knock: Pagan has trouble staying on the field. Another fact: The Giants have had a miserable time replacing him. Over the past two seasons, which were chopped up by hamstring tendon and back surgeries, the Giants are 96-70 when he starts and 68-90 when he does not.

Brandon Belt needs to put together a complete

Jake Peavy gave the Giants exactly what they needed

Tim Lincecum had the highest ERA of any qualified

as a midseason acquisition last year. His 2.17 ERA in 12 starts was pure bugles and horses for a banged up rotation. When efforts to lure Jon Lester were unsuccessful, the Giants re-signed Peavy because they believed in his tenacity and competitiveness. He’ll fight the good fight. The Giants need him to land some punches.

season this year and finally live up to his potential at the plate. While the Giants already won a World Series in 2012 while hitting the fewest homers in the majors, every lineup requires at least a couple of power threats to keep pitchers honest. When Belt broke his thumb May 9 of last season, he owned nine homers and was on a pace to hit 41. Yes, please.

N.L. starting pitcher in 2012. His no-hitter aside, he pitched so poorly in 2014 that he couldn’t keep his place in the rotation. There are things like legacies to protect, and Lincecum, the most accomplished pitcher in Giants history, will be a free agent after this season. Everyone loves happy endings. Two-time Cy Young Award winners, too.

Pitchers No. Name Pos. Ht. 41 Jeremy Affeldt LHP 6-4 40 Madison Bumgarner LHP 6-5 18 Matt Cain RHP 6-3 46 Santiago Casilla RHP 6-0 17 Tim Hudson RHP 6-1 55 Tim Lincecum RHP 5-11 49 Javier Lopez LHP 6-4 RHP 6-0 63 Jean Machi 22 Jake Peavy RHP 6-1 52 Yusmeiro Petit RHP 6-1 54 Sergio Romo RHP 5-11 32 Ryan Vogelsong RHP 6-4

Wgt. IP 225 55.1 235 217.1 230 90.1 210 58.1 175 189.1 170 155.2 220 37.2 255 66.1 195 202.2 250 117.0 185 58.0 215 184.2

W-L SV ERA 4-2 0 2.28 18-10 0 2.98 2-7 0 4.18 3-3 19 1.70 9-13 0 3.57 12-9 1 4.74 1-1 0 3.11 7-1 2 2.58 7-13 0 3.73 5-5 0 3.69 6-4 23 3.72 8-13 0 4.00

WHIP Comment 1.102 Made 168 regular-season appearances in past three seasons; allowed total of four home runs. 1.090 Can he compete with Clayton Kershaw for a Cy Young Award, too? 1.251 Hadn’t missed a start due to injury in his career until last season. 0.857 Knocked down 17 of 18 save chances after taking over closer role in July. 1.231 Remains active major league leader with 214 wins, but is coming off his first losing season. 1.394 Hopes to be more competitive in what’s likely his final season as a Giant. 1.327 Following Derek Jeter’s retirement, Lopez’s four World Series rings lead all active players. 0.950 Made team-high 71 appearances after a busy winter ball and was fatigued at end of season. 1.278 Acquired from Boston in late July, posted a 1.35 ERA over his last nine outings. 1.017 Was 3-4 with a 5.03 ERA as a starter and 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances. 0.948 Re-signed to reprise setup role; toss out 11 games against Rockies, and his ERA was just 2.20. 1.278 Will be used in a swingman role, but he was more than serviceable as a starter last year.

Catchers No. Name 28 Buster Posey 34 Andrew Susac

Pos. Ht. Wgt. HR RBI SB AVG. OBP Comment C 6-1 215 22 89 0 .311 .364 No extra-base hits in postseason, but leadership, catching acumen more than made up for it. C 6-1 215 3 19 0 .273 .326 Rated club’s top prospect by Baseball America; no better training than studying with Posey.

Infielders No. Name 1 Ehire Adrianza Joaquin Arias 13 9 Brandon Belt 35 Brandon Crawford 14 Casey McGehee 12 Joe Panik

Pos. Ht. IF 6-1 IF 6-1 1B 6-5 SS 6-2 3B 6-1 2B 6-1

Wgt. HR RBI SB 170 0 5 1 165 0 15 1 220 12 27 3 215 10 69 5 220 4 76 4 190 1 18 0

AVG. .237 .254 .243 .246 .287 .305

OBP Comment .279 Switch hitter had a strong showing in winter ball and is a solid defensive shortstop. .281 Really struggled against right-handed pitching, but provides versatility at four infield spots. .306 Poised for breakout season after fractured thumb and concussion halted him last year. .324 His 10 triples were second most in the big leagues behind Dee Gordon. .355 Returned from a year in Japan to win N.L. Comeback Player of the Year with the Marlins. .343 Hit .373 against lefties and should rank as one of toughest players in N.L. to strike out.

Pos. Ht. OF 5-9 OF 5-11 1B/OF 6-3 OF 6-2 OF 5-11

Wgt. HR RBI SB 180 1 43 17 175 5 38 16 220 2 15 0 200 3 27 16 185 1 3 0

AVG. .285 .260 .274 .300 .170

OBP Comment .349 He’s a pesky presence at the plate and is expected to play every day. .333 In 226 total chances, committed one error — his first since 2012. .333 Became a valuable bat off the bench and a surprise left fielder in the postseason. .342 Switch hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career; coming off lower back surgery. .224 Tremendous defender went up and down six times between Giants and Triple-A Fresno.

Outfielders No. Name 23 Nori Aoki 7 Gregor Blanco 45 Travis Ishikawa 16 Angel Pagan 2 Juan Perez

Starting the season on the disabled list: Hunter Pence (OF) PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 45


THE A’S

25-year-old right-hander Sonny Gray’s killer curve and sweet smile are quickly making him the star of the A’s franchise

By Carl Steward portrait by doug duran

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In 2014, Sonny Gray went 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA. He pitched 219 regular-season innings, which was as many as both Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija and two more than the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner. Thearon W. Henderson/ Getty Images


A

way from the field, with his boyish features, diminutive stature, innocent smile and sophomoric sense of humor, Sonny Gray seems more like just another 20-something kid than a budding face of the franchise. It’s probably why, as a rookie, Gray was mistaken for a batboy by opposing fans looking to score autographs of some “real ballplayers.” But put a ball in his hand and send him between the lines, and a different Sonny Gray emerges. His gaze turns cold, his posture purposeful and, belying his 5-foot11, 195-pound frame, he transforms into something far more imposing than what meets the eye. “A killer is what he is,” manager Bob Melvin said. “An assassin.” With the departures of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, the spotlight is brighter and the stage bigger for the 25-year-old right-hander with just 43 big league starts. He becomes not just the unquestioned staff leader, but arguably the central figure in the club’s future fortunes.

Gray celebrates after defeating the Rangers 4-0 in the last 2014 regular season game and clinching the team’s playoff spot. RONALD MARTINEZ/ Getty Images

Many would contend that Gray was already there at the end of a 2014 season in which he went 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA and might have won 18-20 games with a little more support. He also was a workhorse with 219 regular-season innings pitched, which was as many as both Lester and Samardzija and two more than the Giants’ own 25-yearold stud, Madison Bumgarner. He also saved his best for last. “When Sonny took the ball in that last game of the season against Texas (a six-hit shutout that clinched the A’s playoff spot), he basically took it into his own hands,” general manager Billy Beane said. So if he is now officially the ace, Gray said, bring it on. It’s the kind of challenge and honor he has always craved. And one that life’s hardships have helped prepare him for. “It’s something that’s definitely not given to you,” he said. “You have to earn something like that.”

G

ray has obvious natural gifts for the role — a mid-90s fastball to go along with a power

curve and a pitch arsenal that leaves teammates’ heads shaking. Closer Sean Doolittle says that Gray will invent pitches in the bullpen and take them right into the game. But it’s the unexpected maturity that sets him apart, and Gray has been earning his way on that count since his early teenage years. When Gray was 14, his father, Jesse, was killed in an automobile accident. That day, Aug. 26, 2004, is when Gray was forced to become a man before most are prepared to do so. Fortunately, he said, his father prepared him well, more as a life mentor than coach. Jesse Gray never missed a game, and Sonny’s biggest lament is that his dad never got to witness all the things he’s accomplished since, particularly pitching in the major leagues. “That’s the one thing I wish he could have seen,” he said. “We always dreamed of it and talked about it. He definitely would be living in Oakland during the season, and I’m not lying about that.” Jesse Gray missed a lot in his son’s progression to professional

stardom. He missed him leading Smyrna High to its first-ever Tennessee state football championships during his junior and senior years as quarterback, and also the school’s first state baseball finals as a standout pitcher, accomplishments that earned him Tennessee Athlete of the Year accolades. He missed him leading Vanderbilt University to its first-ever spot in the College World Series and his selection to the USA National Team. He missed him being drafted in the first round by the A’s and posting an 0.82 ERA in his first six professional starts. He missed his first major-league start in Oakland, when he threw eight innings of four-hit shutout ball with nine strikeouts. He missed his unforgettable postseason duel with Tigers ace Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the 2013 American League Division Series, when he pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning of a 1-0 A’s victory. He missed him throwing Oakland’s playoff clinchers in both 2013 and 2014. All the while, though, the spirit

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 49


THE A’S people think about me. I don’t care. Even if I get up and sing in front of people, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get embarrassed very easily.” He isn’t shaken very easily, either. Shadowens vividly recalled the day of the accident in which Gray’s father died. The accident happened early in the morning, and when the coach rushed to the hospital to see how he could aid the family, he arrived shortly before Jesse Gray was taken off life support. “I was in the room before he died, and I definitely remember the tragedy of the moment,” Shadowens said. “But what I remember most is the way Sonny was able to hold himself together around his mom and his sisters. Obviously, he was extremely upset, but he handled it like a man would, not like a 14-year-old kid. “Then, about an hour and a half after his father died, Sonny came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m playing in the game tonight.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, you’re not. Who cares about a football game after this?’ But he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘My daddy would want me to play.’ I wasn’t going to tell him no again.” Gray went out that night and threw four touchdowns in a Smyrna victory. Every time he threw for a score, he pointed to the sky. “The people who were there will never forget it, just because of how Sonny conducted himself,” Shadowens said. “There was a long prayer and a moment of silence, and it was just really somber. But Sonny was totally focused, played a great game, and it was all for his dad. It showed the great uniqueness of the individual Sonny Gray. That ultratough competitor you see now? He was like that at 14.”

of Gray’s father has been with him. He continues to write the word “DAD” on the underside of his baseball cap bill more than 10 years after his father’s death. It’s even more powerful to him now since he’s become a father. Gray’s girlfriend, Jessica Forkum, gave birth to a son, Gunnar Carmack Gray, on Jan. 27. It’s opened a new chapter in Gray’s life, one he hopes will serve to connect the dots of his relationship with his own father that got cut short. “I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with my son before spring training, but I’m really excited about what’s ahead, just the little things, stuff I used to do with my dad,” Gray said. “Hopefully, we can do a lot of similar things. Me and my dad always had plans to do stuff as I got older and unfortunately weren’t able to do them. Now I have someone to take care of myself, and I want to do it in the best possible way.”

P

hilip Shadowens, who coached Gray as a football player for four years at Smyrna High, thinks he will be a great father. The feeling comes from watching how exceptionally close Jesse and Sonny Gray were. “Jesse was a phenomenal guy, a really nice guy,” Shadowens said. “He knew his kid was enormously talented, but he didn’t pressure him. He wanted him to be a normal kid and be treated like a normal kid. And that’s what Sonny was, a normal kid. You would never know he was a star athlete off the field.” Shadowens said that Gray’s unusual off-the-field pursuits in the high school drama club and his performances in “High School Musical” and “Grease” stand as proof of his self-effacing soul. “He wasn’t a great singer, but he performed. Most athletic stars of a high school wouldn’t put themselves in that kind of environment where people could laugh at them. But Sonny was confident enough to be able to laugh at himself.” Gray agreed, recalling his brief acting career fondly. “I was interested in it, and my thinking was I could be good at it,” he said. “Maybe not great at it, but it was fun to do. I think the biggest thing is it doesn’t bother me what

A

TOP: associated press, LEFT: COURTESY SONNY GRAY, RIGHT: rylan’s riches photography

At top, Gray led Smyrna High to the Tennessee state football championship during his junior and senior years as quarterback. When Gray was 14, his father, Jesse Gray, above left, was killed in a car accident. In January, Gray became a father to son Gunnar Carmack Gray, above right. “Me and my dad always had plans to do stuff as I got older and unfortunately weren’t able to do them,” Gray said. “Now I have someone to take care of myself, and I want to do it in the best possible way.”

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lmost all athletes have a game face, but with Gray, it’s a stark, complete metamorphosis of mood, almost Jekyll and Hyde, and sometimes the edgy side sticks with him after a game, particularly a tough loss. “For a long time now, I’ve had guys tell me, ‘Man, you get really different on the days you pitch,’ ” Gray said. “I don’t know. I think I just get a little nervous, and when I get nervous, I get quiet and focused on the task at hand. I don’t think


“I think the biggest thing is it doesn’t bother me what people think about me. I don’t care,” Gray said. “Even if I get up and sing in front of people, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get embarrassed very easily.” Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images


it’s that unusual.” His teammates disagree. “It’s weird to watch,” outfielder Josh Reddick said. “Sonny’s all business when he needs to be, but he knows how to turn the switch on and off. You get back in the clubhouse and you expect him to still be all serious, but he’s back to being Sonny the kid.” As for his competitive spunk, infielder Eric Sogard recalled the second game of the 2013 ALDS against Detroit when Gray threw a pitch up and in on veteran Torii Hunter, who started chirping and gesturing out to the mound. “I’m standing out there thinking, ‘This kid’s only been up for a couple of months, and this could go one of two ways — he’s either going to crawl into a shell or he’s going to absolutely turn it on,’ ” Sogard said. “And then he’s absolutely lights out from that point on. That was the second I knew he was the real deal, something really special.” Melvin saw it then and he saw it again before the deciding Game 5, when the A’s elected to start Gray

“Sonny’s all business when he needs to be, but he knows how to turn the switch on and off,” said outfielder Josh Reddick. “You get back in the clubhouse and you expect him to still be all serious, but he’s back to being Sonny the kid.” at tOP: RONALD MARTINEZ/Getty Images ABOVE: Marcio Jose Sanchez/associated press

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over ace Bartolo Colon. But calling Gray into his office to inform him, Melvin wasn’t completely sure how the young pitcher would react. “You would think a guy that young, with that little experience, would be like, ‘Well … OK,’ ” Melvin said. “But the instant I told him, a huge smile broke across his face. He not only was completely comfortable with it, he wanted it.” No less an authority than Lester, who observed Gray for three months before signing as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs this past winter, thinks it’s that big-game mentality that makes him more than ready to lead a staff. “He pitched in a lot of big games down the stretch.” Lester said. “He’s a veteran. Over there, he’s a veteran. He’s got a great foundation for a lot of success for a lot of years.” His old football coach, Shadowens, knew that a decade ago. “He just believes he’s going to get it done,” he said. “And he’s usually smiling while he’s doing it.” csteward@bayareanewsgroup.com

Young guns Comparing Sonny Gray to five of the A’s best young starting pitchers: Name

Starts in first 45 games W-L

ERA

Sonny Gray (2013-14)

43 starts

19-13

2.99

Vida Blue (1969-71)

37 starts

22-5

2.38

Catfish Hunter (1965-66) 32 starts

12-13

3.98

Tim Hudson (1999-2000) 45 starts

24-7

4.13

Mark Mulder (2000-01)

45 starts

18-16

4.71

Barry Zito (2000-01)

45 starts

20-12 3.30

Source: Baseball-reference.com


THE a’s

The Beane era: Reboot, and pray

doug duran/staff

B

illy Beane must be a beast at Jenga. He’s mastered the art of pulling away pieces without the whole thing falling apart. Once again, he’s yanked key players from the mix, and the A’s still are expected to be in contention for a playoff spot. Their biggest bats from a year ago — Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss — are in Detroit, Toronto and Cleveland, respectively. Two of their biggest arms from a year ago — Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija — now are on the opposites sides of Chicago. Yet the A’s enter 2015 with hope. But hope for what? That the Angels aren’t as good as last year? That the Mariners aren’t even better after another offseason with a big splash? That Donaldson won’t elevate the Blue Jays to postseason status? If the A’s get a wild-card spot, that would be something special, all things considered. But that’s not a special season. And that difference explains why Beane’s philosophy is sustaining but unfulfilling. Indeed, Beane’s doing this with an arm tied behind his back. The A’s ownership group, which includes Beane as a minority owner, is content with aiming low and raking in the profits from baseball’s revenue sharing. But the constant retooling reduces the A’s chances of contending for a title to catching lightning in a bottle. Championship teams are built over time. Solidify the core, supplement with pieces and give them space to learn how to win — that’s a proven model. The teams with a loaded core are the real contenders. But the A’s, strapped for money thanks to billionaire ownership choosing to fund the team with petty cash, usually are pressing the reset button when the core gets good enough to compete. And this time, Beane did it earlier than normal. Yes, the A’s are perennially competitive, which surely is a feat. This existence is certainly better than that of Colorado or Milwaukee, who

Marcus’ predictions A’s record (finish in West): 85-77 (third) Giants record (West): 82-80 (third) Division winners: Red Sox, Tigers, Angels. Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers. Wild Cards: Mariners, Blue Jays; Cardinals, Cubs. World Series: Nationals over Tigers Giants HR leader: Brandon Belt (22) Giants wins leader: Bumgarner (23) A’s HR leader: Billy Butler (24) A’s wins leader: Sonny Gray (17) Pablo Sandoval HRs for Red Sox: 20 Josh Donaldson HRs for Blue Jays: 25 Angel Pagan over/under 120 games? Under Coco Crisp over/under 125 games? Under Lincecum: Rebound or bullpen? Rebound A’s draw at least 30,000 at home: 25 games WIll Bumgarner wind up on the D.L.? No

The A’s have made a trip to the postseason eight times since Billy Beane took over as general manager after the 1997 season.

Marcus Thompson II

would do well to make one playoff appearance per presidency. The A’s have finished at .500 or above in 11 of the past 15 years, with at least 90 wins in eight of those seasons. They’ve been to the postseason eight times since Beane took over following the 1997 season. Pittsburgh? Twice. The fact that the A’s are not like those other chump-change teams cements Beane’s status as a genius. Still, it’s hard not to question his

chosen path to the World Series. Beane’s plan for never stinking too badly comes with a cost. Preventing future decline diminishes present returns. There is one factor in this equation that other low-budget teams don’t have to deal with: The A’s play a stone’s throw from the dynasty across the bay. On one hand, it’s great to be annually relevant. On the other, it gets old watching the Orange

& Black strive for championships while the Green & Gold strive to be competitive. Yes, San Francisco spends twice the money that Oakland does. But it doesn’t explain wholly why the Giants have won three titles in five years. They’ve built an amazing chemistry. They developed a core, then milked it for postseason production instead of cashing in for prospects. Where are the A’s if Donaldson is still in the lineup and Samardzija in the rotation? Beane could’ve still signed Billy Butler, pulled off the same deal to get Ben Zobrist and moved Moss for a shortstop. How much different would the season look? But instead of retooling, the A’s restarted. Again. No doubt, they’d still have some needs and have no shortstops in the farm system. But we’re talking about the Jenga master. He could’ve filled those later. The current M.O. of the A’s renders title hopes to a mere fluke. The best chance is to stay a good team and, maybe, luckily, prayerfully, everything falls into place one year. mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com

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THE a’s

Hey, you do realize that guy’s not on the team anymore, right? portraits and interviews by doug duran in mesa, arizona

What were your thoughts when Yoenis Cespedes went away? “I was hoping they’d get good value for him; he was a great Oakland A.”

Bob Ching of Oroville with

Megan Ching of Oroville

Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “Ah, yes, but they seem to do well in their trades.” What keeps you coming back as a fan? “I really enjoy the way they’re able to field a really good team with a limited budget.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “I’d love to watch him doing a draft.” Would you say anything to him during that time? “No, I’d just like to pick his brain and see how he thinks when he’s drafting players and making trades.”

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THE a’s

What were your thoughts when Yoenis Cespedes went away? “I couldn’t believe Billy traded away my favorite player, but I believe in his process so I went along with it.” Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “Absolutely. How can you be an Oakland A’s fan and not get used to that?” What keeps you coming back? “My son Zack.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “Keep it up. Keep giving us a chance, even though we don’t have any money.”

Adam Weiss of Oakland

What made you decide to cover up Cespedes on your jersey with Duct tape and write “T.B.D.”? “Well, my son gave me this jersey for Father’s Day two years ago and it was my favorite present. I couldn’t just throw it away. I had to do something so that I could keep wearing it.”

What were your thoughts when Kurt Suzuki went away? “Oh, man, sad but also Suzuki is rockin’, like he’s not sad, so I’m not that sad. That whole drum section in the bleachers was for him. We have moved on ... but that was for Suzuki.” Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “It’s hard. At this point, Coco (Crisp) is really the only one left for me. I’ve been an A’s fan for seven years ... so I think you have to get used to it. If you are an A’s fan, you have to get used to them coming and going — that’s the name of the game.”

Lauren Slater of Oakland

What keeps you coming back? “You know, the A’s are scrappy. They’re scrappy and they’re fun, and A’s fans are scrappy and fun — and there’s nothing better than that.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “Just keep doing what you’re doing, man. What are we going to say to him? He has a plan, and we know he has a plan.” PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 55


THE a’s

What were your thoughts when Yoenis Cespedes went away? “I was really upset because it took away a big part of our power lineup in the middle of the order, and it exposed other hitters not to be pitched to, so it kind of took away all of our big bats.”

Cole Santos of Danville

Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “After watching for a long time, you get used to it. Then (Beane) brings in players you kind of start liking, and then it happens again, so you’ve got to get used to it. You’ve got to have fun with the player for however long they’re there.” What keeps you coming back? “They come back with players that just keep winning, so it’s always fun going to O.co. It’s fun — the fans are fun, the players are fun, they interact with us so it makes everything fun.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “I want my money back for all these jerseys!”

What were your thoughts when Josh Donaldson went away? “I was a little shocked, to be honest with you. He was one of the backbones of the organization. ... I thought we were building a really good team and looking to go on and compete for the World Series.”

David Knapp of Piedmont

Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. It’s unfortunate, you know, as you see the rosters of all these other teams and look at former A’s doing really well.” What keeps you coming back? “My wife was born and raised in Oakland; I grew up in Texas and I followed the A’s. ... It’s just tradition.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “Uh, ‘Can I borrow a dollar?’ No, I would probably say, ‘You’ve done a really, really good job with this organization. I can only imagine if you were able to keep your team together for maybe five years to see what you could do.’ ”

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THE a’s

What were your thoughts when Barry Zito went away? “Well, he went to the Giants, so not only was I sad that we lost him — he was my favorite player back in school — but he went to our crossbay rivals, so it was hard.” (Luckily for fans such as Richards, Zito made a reappearance with the A’s this spring — even if he is a longshot to make the club.) Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “Yes. ... I fully believe in it. I trust what Beane is doing. He knows what he’s doing, and I think that shows in our winning seasons.”

Brandon Richards of Antioch

What keeps you coming back? “The energy, the atmosphere, the environment — there isn’t any place like Oakland, as far as the experience.” If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “I would say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re making the right moves, you’re doing the best you can with our budget.’ ”

Have you gotten used to seeing your favorite A’s players come and go? “Yes, it was tough at first, but being in a small market, you can’t fall in love with these guys because they’re short-term. So you basically fall in love with the team. I don’t have a lot of jerseys from the newer Oakland A’s. These are all guys from the older times.” What keeps you coming back? “What brings me back is the love of the game. It was instilled at 8 years old, and I’ve been an A’s fan for almost 40 years now.”

Brent Soldati of Surprise, Arizona

If you ran into Billy Beane, what might you say? “I’ve actually met Billy Beane on three or four different occasions. He has a tendency to roam around out here the week before the spring training games start. We told him we appreciate everything he does keeping the A’s successful.”

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 57


THE A’S

MEET THE A’S HME LLO Y NAME IS

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After seven trades and the aquisition of two free agents in the offseason, the A’s are starting the season with 18 new players, after dropping 18. Can the A’s keep their chemistry in a clubhouse full of new faces?

By JOHN HICKEY

HME LLO Y NAME IS


THE A’S

T

he roster that the A’s will trot out for opening day looks so little like the team that ended the 2014 season, names should be on the front and back of jerseys to help fans identify all the new players. In making so many changes, A’s general manager Billy Beane was accused by some of breaking up team chemistry, a clubhouse mixture that has led to three consecutive postseason appearances. With nine trades in the offseason involving 27 players and the loss of seven prime free agents, the faces in the clubhouse have changed. But after some early reservations, the A’s players who remain from last season have come to believe that the good vibes that have historically resided in the Oakland clubhouse haven’t gone anywhere. “To me, the chemistry has been here longer than any of us in Oakland,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Those old A’s teams of the 1970s had it. They could come in, be relaxed, put away the personal stuff and just go out and play. That hasn’t changed. “(Manager) Bob Melvin tells us our identification is that we go hard and fight hard. And those are the guys that they bring in here. So the chemistry works with the new guys. It just does.” In recent years, that chemistry has spilled onto the field with postgame pies in the face, the “Bernie Lean” and home run tunnels. Off the field, there have been the Darth Vader helmets, Vogt’s NBA referee riffs and “going to the jungle,” where players would coat their gums with extra-concentrated hot sauce before some games last year. Already this year, former 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, a friend of Melvin’s, gave the team an identity, telling them in a clubhouse meeting that the A’s reminded him of “jungle lions.” The new Michigan football coach said that jungle lions had a drive and ferocity that zoo lions don’t. The current run on team chemistry dates back to 2012, right fielder Josh Reddick recalls, when the team opened the season by playing two games in Japan against the Seattle Mariners. “It was a super-huge rebuild

‘To me, the chemistry has been here longer than any of us in Oakland.’ Catcher Stephen Vogt, top, who celebrates a win with teammate Josh Reddick.

Thearon W. Henderson/ Getty Images

that year, too,” he said. “We got some special traction with the trip to Tokyo. There was more bonding on that 18-hour flight than there was in six weeks of spring training. You were face-to-face, roaming around the plane, meeting players’ families, playing with their kids.” There is no Japan trip this season, so the team is bonding on the fly. The A’s played two exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs in Las Vegas in mid-March, but the flight from Phoenix is less than an hour and many of the key players didn’t go. This year, bonding will take place on the field and in the clubhouse. Melvin is doing his part by making sure there are as few clubhouse rules as possible. He asks that everybody show up on time, play hard and be accountable. After

that, he lets the players police the clubhouse. “Chemistry is unity in the group,” Melvin said. “You don’t need it when things are going good. You need it when things are going bad.” The A’s lost five in a row and seven out of eight from Aug. 10-17, and they continued to struggle after that, not clinching a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season, when Sonny Gray shut out the Texas Rangers 4-0. Players didn’t snipe. They didn’t point fingers. They pointed to tomorrow. That’s the benefit of good chemistry. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was with the A’s for four months last season after coming over in an early July trade with the Chicago Cubs, sees the positive chemistry continuing in 2015. “They’ve brought in a lot of hungry guys that other teams maybe give up on, and they take advantage of the opportunity,” said Samardzija, who was traded by the A’s to the Chicago White Sox during the offseason. “You don’t get a lot of whining or crying. They like surrounding themselves with baseball players who don’t mind getting dirty and love the game for what it is and not what it can do for them. When you get 25 guys like that, it ends up being pretty fun.” Ryan Cook, Coco Crisp and Reddick are the only players who have been with the A’s for all of the past three seasons. “With guys I have met here, it seems like the front office makes it a point to go out and get guys who will fit in,” Cook said. “We had a good thing going here last year. And before that. When I came here in 2012, I could feel the chemistry, even though at the time I had zero input into it. “You have to make actual relationships with these people, not just on the field and in the clubhouse. You have to know their families and their kids. They have to want to play for you, and you have to want to play for them. And that happens here every year.” Crisp is the longest-tenured member of the A’s. He dials up the music in the clubhouse. He’s the welcoming committee. As much as anyone, he’s at the core of the

chemistry equation. He will miss the old group, calling them “guys you grow bonds with, going out to eat with them, being in the clubhouse, all of that.” That was then. Now, he says that spring training was about the A’s defining themselves. “First we have to figure our starting point, buying into ourselves as a team,” the left fielder said. “We have to feel out our chemistry. This team will be different. We have to figure out who’s funny, who the jokers are and how well clowning around will go. Once we start having fun in the clubhouse, that will get us going in the right direction. We can start building from there.” Of course, chemistry doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. Beane has long said that chemistry comes down to one thing — success. “You have it if you win a lot,” he said. “If you don’t win a lot, you have bad chemistry. It comes down to that.” Beane is a former player beginning his 18th season as the A’s general manager, so he’s not unaware of how clubhouses operate. While some players agree that winning is at the core of good chemistry, others think it is more than that. “I believe in bonding, in chemistry in the clubhouse,” Cook said. “I date it back to playing in the minor leagues, playing for winners and having success at a lot of levels. You get to where guys play not for themselves, but for each other. It becomes about wins and losses — and not numbers.” Cook hasn’t missed the postseason since 2009, and he knows why. “There are some things all those teams have in common,” he said. “They were able to come together and play as a team. And not every team does that.” The A’s have a long history of having the right chemistry. Will it continue for another year? “I got to learn about chemistry when I came up in 2012 and realized how important it was,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “Since then, guys have come and guys have gone and we’ve gotten used to the turnover. But we’ve kept the chemistry.” jhickey@bayareanewsgroup.com

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 59


THE a’s

Meet the bleacher creatures BY nick lozito

J

osh Reddick might not find that many familiar faces in the home clubhouse this season. But when playing right field before the home crowd, Reddick has plenty of old pals beyond the outfield wall. There is Will MacNeil, a hotel clerk often on one hour of sleep after working a night shift. Chris Lopez, a UPS worker who rushes home before games to change out of uniform. Vanessa Demske, a Connecticut native who moved west for the startup world and A’s games. A boisterous collection of flag-waving, sign-painting, beer-chugging fans, the right field bleacher crew makes Sections 147, 148 and 149 look more like a Metallica concert than a ballgame. The head-banging and chanting generally associated with European soccer brings a different atmosphere to Oakland. “It helps the team. That’s why we do it,” said MacNeil, 31, creator of the “Balfour Rage” (the fist-swinging mosh pit that accompanied former closer Grant Balfour’s entrance music) and a 10year occupant of Section 149. “It’s something I don’t think any other (seating area) in baseball does. It’s why I love being out there every day. It’s a unique atmosphere — a party all the time.” Demske, 28, became an A’s fan in New England after watching them play the Yankees in the 2000 and 2001 playoffs and later writing a book report on “Moneyball.” She found a home in right field after moving to the Bay Area in 2011, even if it did take a few games to get acclimated. “My first impression of the rituals is that it was a little like church,” Demske said. “If you haven’t been to church in a while and you go back, the rituals stick with you. We do something for every single batter. Different claps after every out. The first time you’re out there, you’re totally clueless, like a foreigner in a different country. I felt like an outsider. You sit out

there for five games, and you begin to pick up on everything. You’ll never forget the cheers.” There is no initiation. “You just have to be a great baseball fan,” MacNeil said. The group has a core of approximately 30-40 ticket-plan holders who range from high school students to middle-age die-hards, but the majority are young (20s and 30s), working-class rowdies. Economical ticket prices and general admission seating (a rarity in major league bleachers these days) make this rooting section possible — though saving seats can be a challenge. Hours before first pitch, a group of “runners” waits outside

60 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| PLAY BALL

A’s right fielder Josh Reddick has had wrestling belts, wrestling shirts and his Spider-Man mask delivered to the bleacher crew.

the ballpark gates carrying the bleacher crew’s signage and flags for the game. When gates open, the runners scramble down to the front rows of the bleachers to cover as many seats as needed for that game’s contingent. “I’ve been running and saving seats for about eight years now,” MacNeil said. “I’m getting a little worn out. Too much beer drinking, so I’m a little slower than I used to be.” On dreary nights, when possums might outnumber patrons at dilapidated O.co Coliseum, the bleacher crew seems to produce its strangest moments. As the clock approached midnight during a rain-delayed

game against the Angels, the fans struck up a conversation with Torii Hunter about his favorite fast-food chains. A few years later, when he was playing with the Tigers, the AllStar outfielder had Popeye’s chicken delivered to the bleachers. And after a few innings of bacon talk with Jeff Francoeur in 2011, the Royals outfielder wrapped a $100 bill around a baseball, tossed it into the stands and shouted, “Bacon and beer on me!” Then there was Josh Hamilton Appreciation Night, when, a year after the rival outfielder’s dropped fly ball in 2012 helped Oakland win the pennant, the bleachers greeted the Ranger with Butterfingers candy bars and other slippery salutes. Sometimes the banter goes both ways. MacNeil said a veteran Royals outfielder flipped the bird behind his back, while a Blue Jays fielder repeatedly told the crowd to “Shut up!” before the fans even settled in. Getting Reddick to engage isn’t as easy. “Reddick, for the most part, he’s into the game,” said Lopez, 32, who sits in Section 149. “It’s the other team’s players that we interact with the most.” That’s not to say Reddick doesn’t appreciate the support. He’s had wrestling belts, wrestling shirts and his Spider-Man mask delivered to the bleacher crew as souvenirs. And the fans appreciate a good show from the Gold Glove winner. “When he’s making catches and throwing out runners, that’s when it gets really exciting,” said Benjamin Christensen, 32, who splits his time between cheering in right field and donning the Dennis Eckersley costume in the between-innings Hall of Fame race. “How many guys in the league can go from the warning track to third base without a bounce and gun somebody out?” But with Billy Beane’s constant wheeling and dealing, fans might not want to get too attached to a particular player. Just ask the left field bleacher creatures. “I was really bummed when


this page: d. ross cameron/staff. opposite: aric crabb/staff

THE a’s

they traded (left fielder Yoenis) Cespedes,” said Cassandra Wilson, 27, a left-field drummer for the past decade. “He was a fan favorite. We finally had a regular outfielder out there. And then they just traded him, and it sucked.” While TV cameras mostly focus on the mayhem in right field, Wilson says her crew can hold its own — “We got Mike Trout to Bernie Lean!” The bleacher crew stays connected through social media, travels to spring training together, and holds an annual left field vs. right field softball game. Some even attend two baseball games a day,

Top bleacher chants Right fielder Josh Reddick

Catcher Stephen Vogt

Closer Sean Doolittle

Song: “Careless Whisper” by Wham! Actions: Slow dancing to the saxophone from 1980s George Michael classic. Origin: “Somebody had Pandora on shuffle in the clubhouse, and it got thrown into the mix. I was like ‘What would happen if I tried this?’” Reddick told Rolling Stone.

Words: “I believe in Stephen Vogt! I believe in Stephen Vogt!” Actions: Jumping and clapping Origin: Adapted from World Cup chant “I believe that we will win.”

Song: “For Whom The Bells Toll” by Metallica Actions: Heavy head-banging Origin: Adaption of former closer Grant Balfour’s “Balfour Rage” introduction, which featured fist-pumping and head-banging.

catching a day game in Oakland and the Single-A affiliate in Stockton at night. MacNeil routinely takes in the double feature, without missing a

clerk shift. “Every now and then, by the last game of a homestand, I’m trying to drive home and I am like, ‘How am I going to make it?’ ” he said. “So

I pound two energy drinks. They haven’t caused my heart to explode yet, so I’ll keep going.”

“You sit out there for five games,” says Vanessa Demsek, “and you begin to pick up on everything. You’ll never forget the cheers.”

nlozito@bayareanewsgroup.com PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 61


THE A’S

Regular-season schedule APRIL MON

TUE

5 TEX

JULY

NOTES

SUN

WED

6 TEX

THU

1

7 TEX

FRI

2

8 TEX

SAT

3

SUN 4

9 SEA 10 SEA

11

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

SEA

12 HOU 13 HOU 14 HOU 15

16 KC

KC

19 LAA 20 LAA

23 HOU 24 HOU 25

HOU

26

1:05 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10

21 LAA

17 KC

18

5:10 CSNCA 4:10 CSNCA

22 LAA

11:10 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 4:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

27 LAA 28 LAA

1:05 CSNCA

29 LAA 30

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35 CSNCA

MAY SUN

MON

TUE

WED

THU

4 MIN

5 MIN

3 MIN

6 MIN

SEA

10 BOS

CWS

17 HOU 18 HOU 19 HOU 20 TB

TB

24 DET

NYY

31

12:05 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 10:10

11 BOS 12 BOS 13

1:10 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35 CSNCA

10:10 CSNCA 1:05

25 DET

26 DET

ESPN 7:05 CSNCA 12:35

SAT

TEX

1 TEX

2

7 SEA

8 SEA

9

5:05 CSNCA 5:05 CSNCA

TEX

1:05 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 11:10

FRI

All times Pacific and subject to change Home games All games broadcast on 95.7 FM During the overlap of A’s, Giants, Sharks and Warriors games in April (and beyond, depending on NBA and NHL playoffs), Comcast SportsNet shuffles games between CSNBA, CSNCA and CSN+. Be sure to check the listings with your cable or satellite provider for changes.

TUE

SEA

5

CLE

12

MIN

19

SF

26

THU

3 SEA

4

7 NYY

8 NYY

9 CLE

10 CLE

11

16 MIN

17 MIN

18

24 SF

25

7:05 CSNCA 6:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

4:05 CSNCA 4:05 CSNCA 10:05 CSNCA 4:10 CSNCA 3:35 CSNCA

10:10 CSNCA

13 ALL STAR

14

15

20 TOR

21 TOR 22 TOR 23 SF

GAME

1:05 CSNCA

27 LAD 28 LAD 29 CLE

1:05 CSNCA

MON

TUE

WED

THU

BAL

16 BAL

TB

23 SEA 24 SEA 25 SEA 26

ARI

30 LAA

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA

FRI

21 TB

27 NYY 28 NYY 29 NYY 30

31

AUGUST SUN

9

23

30 CLE

7:10 CSNCA 7:10 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 6:35 CSNCA

HOU

22 TB

7:05 CSNCA 6:07 CSNCA

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35 7:15 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

14 CWS 15 CWS 16

4:10 CSNCA 4:10 CSNCA 1:10 CSNCA

SAT

2 SEA

2 BAL

7:05 CSNCA 6:05 CSNCA

FRI

1 SEA

12:35

6 NYY

1:05 CSNCA

WED COL

CLE

7:10 CSNCA 6:10 CSNCA

1:05 CSNCA

1:05 CSNCA

SAT CLE

1

7 HOU

8

6:05 CSNCA

3 BAL

4 BAL

5 HOU

10 TOR

11 TOR

12 TOR

13 BAL 14 BAL

15

17 LAD

18 LAD

19

20 TB

21 TB

22

27 ARI

28 ARI

29

1:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35

6 HOU

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

4:07 CSNCA 4:07 CSNCA 9:37

10:35 CSNCA 4:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35 CSNCA

1:05 CSNCA 7:10 CSNCA 7:10 CSNCA 12:40

4:05 CSNCA 4:05 CSNCA

7:05 CSNCA 6:05 CSNCA

6:40 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA

31

1:10 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER

JUNE SUN

MON

BOS

MON

7

10:35 CSNCA

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SUN

SAT

MON

1 DET

2 DET

3 DET

4 BOS

5 BOS

6

4:10 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

8 TEX

9 TEX

10 TEX

11 LAA

12 LAA

13

4:08 CSNCA 4:08

10:08

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA

SEA

6 HOU

TUE

WED

LAA

1 LAA

2

7 HOU

8 HOU

9

THU

7:05 CSNCA 12:35 CSNCA

1:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA

FRI

SAT

3 SEA

4 SEA

5

10 TEX

11 TEX

12

7:05 CSNCA 6:05 CSNCA

5:05 CSNCA 5:05 CSNCA

LAA

14 SD

15 SD

16 SD

17 SD

18 LAA

19 LAA 20

TEX

13 CWS 14 CWS 15 CWS 16 CWS 17 HOU 18 HOU 19

LAA

21

22 TEX

23 TEX

24 TEX

25 KC

26 KC

HOU

20

KC

28 COL 29 COL 30

SF

27 LAA 28 LAA

12:35 CSNCA 7:10 CSNCA 12:40

1:05 CSNCA

7:05 CSNCA 12:35

5:05 CSNCA 5:05 CSNCA 11:05

1:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA

6:35 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

27

7:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

12:05 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 5:10 CSNCA 11:10

11:10 CSNCA

22 TEX

23 TEX

7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 12:35

29 LAA 30

1:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 7:05 CSNCA 4:05 CSNCA

SEA

4

12:10 CSNCA

62 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| PLAY BALL

21 TEX

5:10 CSNCA 4:10 CSNCA

24 SF

25 SF

26

7:05 CSNCA 1:05 CSNCA

1 SEA

2 SEA

3

7:10 CSNCA 6:10 CSNCA


THE a’s

Players to watch + projected opening day roster BY john hickey

C

oco Crisp has an entire dinner buffet stacked on his plate heading into the 2015 season. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season in which his average (.246) was below the norm he’s established for himself since becoming a fixture at the top of the A’s lineup in 2010. He’s being asked to learn a new position. A center fielder for most of his career, he’s being moved to left, a change the A’s hope will keep Crisp healthy and maximize the output of Oakland’s outfield defense. Crisp, 35, is the club’s elder statesman, and he’s also the player who ignites the team. Since the start of the 2010 season, the A’s have a .534 winning percentage (433377). With Crisp in the lineup, the A’s are 303-252 (.546). Crisp’s role is more important than ever this year because Oakland appears to have diminished home run power after the departures of Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss.

For the first half of this decade, the A’s have been at their best with Crisp in the lineup and producing. For success in 2015, that’s going to have to be true one more time. Brett Lawrie, 25, is being asked to take over for Donaldson, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a swap of third basemen. Lawrie doesn’t have to hit for power, win a gold glove or steal headlines, but he needs to stay in the lineup, get on base and be the anchor of an infield just getting to know each other. He has great skills, scouts say, but injuries have too often gotten in the way of him displaying them. He missed 92 games this past season with injuries. Sean Doolittle will start the season on the disabled list with no definite idea when he will return to claim his role as closer. Doolittle, 28, is that rarest of commodities:

a left-hander who throws hard and with control. Sonny Gray will be the opening day starter for the second year in a row, unusual being that he’s so young (25) and has just 1½ seasons in the big leagues. He’s being asked to be the leader of the starting rotation and, fair or not, he has to get that job done if Oakland is going to contend again for the American League West title. Stephen Vogt wasn’t on the opening-day roster

last year, but the two catchers who were, John Jaso and Derek Norris, are gone, leaving Vogt with his best chance to be an impact player. He has reasonable power and RBI potential and, as the left-handed member of a catching platoon with Josh Phegley, Vogt will get most of the starts. He’s going to have to get the most out of a rotation that starts the season young and could get younger as things develop.

Pitchers No. Name 56 Fernando Abad 37 R.J. Alvarez 30 Jesse Chavez 36 Tyler Clippard 48 Ryan Cook 31 Kendall Graveman 54 Sonny Gray Jesse Hahn 32 26 Scott Kazmir 39 Eric O’Flaherty 61 Dan Otero 13 Drew Pomeranz

Pos. Ht. LHP 6-1 RHP 6-2 RHP 6-2 RHP 6-3 RHP 6-2 RHP 6-2 RHP 5-11 RHP 6-5 LHP 6-0 LHP 6-2 RHP 6-3 LHP 6-5

Wgt. IP 220 57.1 215 8.0 160 146.0 201 70.1 215 50.0 185 4.2 195 219.0 190 73.1 185 190.1 220 20.0 215 86.2 240 69.0

W-L SV ERA 2-4 0 1.57 0-0 0 1.13 8-8 0 3.45 7-4 1 2.18 1-3 1 3.42 0-0 0 3.86 14-10 0 3.08 7-4 0 3.07 15-9 0 3.55 1-0 1 2.25 8-2 1 2.28 5-4 0 2.35

WHIP Comment 0.855 Amazing year allowing just 5 of 38 inherited runners to score 1.000 Has explosive 99 mph fastball, but control is still iffy 1.308 He wants to start, but also valuable as long man in pen 0.995 Brought in to set up, will be asked to close with Doolittle on D.L. 1.080 Finally healthy and strong after two up-and-down seasons 0.857 Rocketed through minor leagues last year to make it to MLB with Blue Jays 1.192 Will be first pitcher in a decade to make consecutive opening-day starts for A’s 1.214 Ex-Padre seen as rising star in Oakland 1.161 Can the rebound last a second consecutive season? 0.950 Fully healthy now, which he was not in 2014 1.096 Might close on other teams; settles for being good setup man 1.116 No more broken hands, and Pomeranz could be a rotation keeper

Catchers No. Name 19 Josh Phegley 21 Stephen Vogt

Pos. Ht. Wgt. HR RBI SB AVG. OBP Comment C 5-10 225 3 7 0 .216 .211 Power arm and power bat, but inexperienced C 6-0 215 9 35 1 .279 .321 Finally gets a chance to be A’s prime starting catcher

Infielders No. Name 16 Billy Butler 20 Mark Canha 17 Ike Davis 15 Brett Lawrie 10 Marcus Semien 28 Eric Sogard 18 Ben Zobrist

Pos. Ht. 1B/DH 6-1 1B/OF 6-1 1B 6-4 3B 6-0 SS 6-1 2B/SS 5-10 2B/OF 6-3

Wgt. HR RBI SB 240 9 66 0 200 20 82 3 220 10 46 0 210 12 38 0 195 6 28 3 190 1 22 11 210 10 52 10

AVG. .271 .303 .235 .247 .234 .223 .272

OBP Comment .323 Does free agent have the power he showed in 2012? .384 Rule 5 pick has great opportunity as 1B/OF backup .343 Valley fever issues behind him; looking to restart his career .301 He’s not Josh Donaldson, but he has the energy of a Tasmanian devil .300 Quite a journey from Cal to Oakland .298 Still kicking after all these roster moves .354 Mr. Versatility with a team that values it

Pos. Ht. LF 5-10 CF 5-10 CF 6-2 RF 6-2

Wgt. HR RBI SB 185 9 47 19 175 4 36 21 190 0 12 20 180 12 54 1

AVG. .246 .239 .254 .264

OBP Comment .336 Hoping he can stay healthy as he moves to left field .321 The human highlight reel gets to show his stuff .319 Healthy this year; he wasn’t last year, so he’s got plenty to prove .316 Oblique injury is not the way he wanted to start 2015

Outfielders No. Name 4 Coco Crisp 23 Sam Fuld 3 Craig Gentry 22 Josh Reddick

Starting the season on the disabled list: Jarrod Parker (P), A.J. Griffin (P) and Sean Doolittle (P). PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 63


THE LEAGUE

Don’t count the A’s out just yet By JIMMY DURKIN

If the A’s have taught the baseball world anything, it’s to never count them out of the playoff hunt — even after they’ve undergone a massive roster overhaul. Even so, on paper the A’s begin 2015 behind at least two teams in the American League West. ¶ The Los Angeles Angels have baseball’s best player in Mike Trout and had the best record in the league last year, even if that meant little when they were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Division Series. ¶ The Angels have some challenges to remain at that level. Ace pitcher Garrett Richards will miss the start of the year as he returns from an August knee injury that cost him the final months of the 2014 season. And there’s the Josh Hamilton situation. The outfielder, who has spent his career battling substance abuse, reportedly admitted to a relapse involving cocaine that likely will lead to a suspension. ¶ The Seattle Mariners gave the A’s a run for the final wild card spot last year and look ready to become a playoff team. They’ve got the ace (Felix Hernandez), a pair of cornerstone players in Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and they added A.L. home run champion Nelson Cruz. Photos from left: Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, Angels pitcher Garrett Richards, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

Rating the A.L. West Seattle Mariners

Los Angeles Angels

Oakland Athletics

Texas Rangers

Houston Astros

Last year: 87-75, third place

Last year: 98-64, first place (lost to Kansas City Royals in ALDS)

Last year: 88-74, second place (lost to Kansas City Royals in Wild Card game)

Last year: 67-95, fifth place

Last year: 70-92, fourth place

Key losses: None

Key loss: OF Dexter Fowler

Key newcomers: DH Nelson Cruz, LHP J.A. Happ, OF Seth Smith

Key losses: C Hank Conger, 2B Howie Kendrick

Key losses: OF Alex Rios, RHP Alexi Ogando, RHP Yu Darvish (elbow surgery)

Who makes/breaks season: 3B Kyle Seager. He earned a $100 million deal after a 25 HR, 96 RBI season that included winning the Gold Glove.

Key newcomers: LHP Andrew Heaney, 2B Josh Rutledge

Outlook: The Mariners contended until the final day of the season last year in hopes of earning their first playoff berth since 2001. Cruz brings another power bat as the reigning MLB home run champ, meaning Hernandez may finally get to experience the postseason. Seattle should, at a minimum, challenge for a wild-card spot.

Key newcomers: RHP Yovani Gallardo, LHP Ross Detwiler

Who makes/breaks season: RHP Garrett Richards. The Angels need him to make a successful return from knee surgery to anchor their rotation.

Who makes/breaks season: 1B Prince Fielder. After missing just one game the previous five years, Fielder played in just 42 in his debut season in Texas because of a neck injury.

Outlook: The game’s best player, Mike Trout, finally won the MVP last year as the Angels snapped a four-year playoff drought with MLB’s best regular season record. Hamilton’s a shell of his former MVP self and facing suspension, but the Angels are still dangerous.

Outlook: Injuries riddled a team that had won at least 90 games for four straight seasons. Fielder, top pitchers Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, 2B Jurickson Profar and OF Shin-Soo Choo all missed extended time. With Darvish, Profar out for the season, it looks like more of the same.

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Key newcomers: Manager A.J. Hinch, RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Pat Neshek, SS Jed Lowrie, C/OF Evan Gattis, OF Colby Rasmus Who makes/breaks season: 2B Jose Altuve. The 2014 A.L. batting champion hit .341 and stole 56 bases last year as Houston’s spark plug. Outlook: Three seasons of win totals in the 50s finally gave way to last year’s 70-win campaign. The bullpen was boosted by the Gregerson and Neshek signings, and the years of building finally could have Houston in position to threaten for a .500 season.


THE LEAGUE

Rating the A.L. Central Detroit Tigers

Chicago White Sox

Kansas City Royals

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins

Last year: 90-72, first place (lost to Baltimore Orioles in ALDS)

Last year: 73-89, fourth place

Last year: 89-73, second place (lost to Giants in World Series)

Last year: 85-77, third place

Last year: 70-92, fifth place

Key losses: None

Key loss: RHP Jared Burton

Key losses: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Rick Porcello, OF Torii Hunter

Key newcomers: RHP Jeff Samardzija, 1B Adam LaRoche, OF Melky Cabrera, RHP David Robertson

Key losses: RHP James Shields, DH Billy Butler, OF Nori Aoki

Key newcomers: 1B/OF Brandon Moss, RHP Gavin Floyd

Key newcomers: Manager Paul Molitor, OF Torii Hunter, RHP Ervin Santana

Key newcomers: DH Kendrys Morales, OF Alex Rios, RHP Edinson Volquez

Who makes/breaks season: RHP Corey Kluber. The surprise Cy Young winner was top three in the AL in wins (18), ERA (2.44) and strikeouts (269) in 2014.

Who makes/breaks season: 1B Joe Mauer. The former MVP batted a career-low .277 in 2014, a major drop from his .319 lifetime average.

Key newcomers: OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Alfredo Simon Who makes/breaks season: 1B Miguel Cabrera. The slugger is expected back by opening day after offseason ankle surgery. The career .320 hitter has 100plus RBIs in every full MLB season. Outlook: The window could be closing for an aging team of stars to win a title, but Detroit should remain in position for a fifth straight playoff appearance.

Key loss: 1B Paul Konerko

Who makes/breaks season: Jose Abreu. After a standout rookie season (.317, 36 HR, 107 RBI), the key will be avoiding a sophomore slump. Outlook: Some solid additions both on the mound and at the plate have the White Sox thinking they could make their first playoff appearance since 2008. LHP Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, could further boost the rotation if he’s ready soon.

Who makes/breaks season: RHP Yordano Ventura. The Royals need their 23-year-old pitcher to become the ace after free agent Shields left for San Diego. Outlook: The 29-year playoff drought ended, but it resulted in heartbreak after Game 7 of the World Series. The bullpen, defense and team speed remain, allowing the Royals to at least contend for a playoff spot again.

Outlook: Kluber and OF Michael Brantley give the team a solid, though relatively unknown foundation. A playoff team in 2013 and contender most of ’14, the Indians have to battle in an improved division.

Outlook: The Twins have been awful since their last playoff appearance, in 2010, averaging just 66 wins and finishing last three of the four years. Hunter’s return won’t be enough to dig their way out of the cellar.

Rating the A.L. East Boston Red Sox

Baltimore Orioles

Toronto Blue Jays

New York Yankees

Tampa Bay Rays

Last year: 71-91, fifth place

Last year: 96-66, first place (lost to Kansas City Royals in ALCS)

Last year: 83-79, third place

Last year: 84-78, second place

Last year: 77-85, fourth place

Key losses: OF Melky Cabrera, 3B Brett Lawrie, LHP J.A. Happ, 1B Adam Lind

Key losses: SS Derek Jeter, RHP David Robertson, INF Martin Prado

Key losses: Manager Joe Maddon, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, 2B Ben Zobrist

THIS PAGE AND OPPOSITE: GETTY IMAGES

Key loss: OF Yoenis Cespedes Key newcomers: 3B Pablo Sandoval, INF/OF Hanley Ramirez, RHP Rick Porcello

Key losses: OF Nelson Cruz, OF Nick Markakis, LHP Andrew Miller Key newcomer: OF Travis Snider

Key newcomers: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin

Key newcomers: SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Who makes/breaks season: RHP Clay Buchholz. The potential opening day starter has to rebound from an 8-11, 5.34 season in 2014 to replace Jon Lester as ace.

Who makes/breaks season: 3B Manny Machado. The promising youngster (he’s still only 22) has to overcome two knee surgeries in the past 18 months.

Who makes/breaks season: Martin. He’s a productive offensive catcher, but he can provide the most value helping a pitching staff that had a 4.00 ERA last year.

Outlook: Boston knows how to go from worst-to-first, having won the 2013 World Series after a last-place finish in 2012. With the Sandoval and Ramirez additions, plus a full season from rookie OF Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox could do it again.

Outlook: Baltimore reached the ALCS despite not having three key bats in Machado, 1B Chris Davis, who has one game left to serve on a drug-related suspension, and C Matt Wieters. If they all return to form, Baltimore stays dangerous.

Outlook: Thanks to the Royals’ run last year, Toronto now owns MLB’s longest postseason drought at 21 years. Donaldson adds more pop to an already powerful lineup in a hitter-friendly park. If the Jays can pitch, the postseason could finally happen.

Who makes/breaks season: LHP CC Sabathia. After missing all but eight starts last season because of knee surgery, the Vallejo native must remain healthy to anchor a young but talented rotation. Outlook: Jeter’s retirement and A-Rod’s return feel like a Yankees season unlike any other in recent memory. New York is getting old and still has a huge payroll. The Yankees’ 22-year streak of winning seasons could be in jeopardy.

Key newcomers: 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, DH/C John Jaso, C Rene Rivera Who makes/breaks season: 3B Evan Longoria. His batting average dipped to .253 last year, but he remains the face of an overturned Rays roster. Outlook: After winning 90 or more games five out of six years, the Rays finally fell off in 2014. Now Maddon is gone, along with general manager Andrew Friedman. A rebuild appears in order.

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 65


THE LEAGUE

Will baseball catch up with the Giants? By JIMMY DURKIN

The Giants reached the mountaintop again last year despite finishing six games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. ¶ So while the rest of baseball is trying to catch up to the Giants for the third time in five years, the Dodgers are trying to maintain the regular season edge they had on their rivals and discover the magical postseason elixir. ¶ The front office went through an overhaul. Former general manager Ned Colletti was reassigned, and two penny-pinching experts were brought in to run the team with the league’s highest payroll. Andrew Friedman came from Tampa Bay and takes over as the president of baseball operations. New G.M. Farhan Zaidi was hired after 10 years with the A’s. It’s a mix of big money with moneyball. ¶ The San Diego Padres were active as well, retrofitting their entire outfield to bring some much-needed punch to their lineup and landing James Shields to lead the pitching staff. There could finally be some exciting ball in San Diego again. ¶ The Colorado Rockies are banking on improved health and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Cuban rookie Yasmany Tomas, but this race should come down to the old Giants-Dodgers rivalry. Photos from left: Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

Rating the N.L. West Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

San Diego Padres

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Last year: 94-68, first place (lost to St. Louis Cardinals in NLDS)

Last year: 88-74, second place (beat Kansas City Royals in World Series)

Last year: 77-85, third place

Last year: 66-96, fourth place

Last year: 64-98, fifth place

Key losses: C Yasmani Grandal, SS Everth Cabrera

Key loss: OF Michael Cuddyer

Key losses: SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Wade Miley, C Miguel Montero

Key losses: OF Matt Kemp, SS Hanley Ramirez, 2B Dee Gordon Key newcomers: SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Howie Kendrick, C Yasmani Grandal

Key newcomers: RHP James Shields, OF Matt Kemp, OF Justin Upton, OF Wil Myers, C Derek Norris

Who makes/breaks season: LHP Clayton Kershaw. He’s the first since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 to record backto-back, sub-2.00 ERA seasons.

Who makes/breaks season: Kemp. When he’s played at least 150 games, he’s averaged 27 homers and 96 RBIs with a .289 average.

Outlook: The Dodgers still have the game’s best pitcher (Kershaw) and one of its most exciting players (OF Yasiel Puig). Hot prospects, CF Joc Pederson and INF Corey Seager, could be close to making an impact. It’s a playoff team, but its success won’t be judged until the postseason.

Outlook: The Padres’ remade outfield has star power with former All-Stars Kemp and Upton, and a former rookie of the year in Myers, that should give the offense a boost. Shields adds an ace to stabilize the rotation. Wild card contention could be possible.

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Key newcomers: C Nick Hundley, INF Daniel Descalso Who makes/breaks season: SS Troy Tulowitzki. His career 162-game average is 30 HR, 102 RBIs and slash line of .299/.373/.517. Outlook: The Rockies did next to nothing this offseason, hoping a return to health is enough to improve. Tulowitzki missed 222 games the past three seasons, stalling campaigns that had him in the MVP discussion. Keep him and OF Carlos Gonzalez, another injury-prone star, in the lineup, and the Rockies improve dramatically.

Key newcomers: Manager Chip Hale, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, OF/3B Yasmany Tomas Who makes/breaks season: 1B Paul Goldschmidt. He missed the final two months with a broken hand last year. When he was healthy in 2013, the team was .500. Outlook: The rotation won’t scare anybody, but if Tomas can adjust after his move from Cuba, Arizona could have a powerful middle of the order with him joining Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo.


THE LEAGUE

Rating the N.L. Central St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates

Chicago Cubs

Milwaukee Brewers

Cincinnati Reds

Last year: 90-72, first place (lost to Giants in NLCS)

Last year: 88-74, second place (lost to Giants in wild card game)

Last year: 73-89, fifth place

Last year: 82-80, third place

Last year: 76-86, fourth place

Key loss: 3B Luis Valbuena

Key losses: OF Oscar Taveras (deceased), INF Daniel Descalso, RHP Shelby Miller

Key losses: C Russell Martin, RHP Edinson Volquez

Key newcomers: Manager Joe Maddon, LHP Jon Lester, C Miguel Montero, RHP Jason Hammel, 3B Kris Bryant

Key losses: RHP Yovani Gallardo, LHP Zach Duke

Key losses: RHP Mat Latos, RHP Alfredo Simon

Key newcomer: 1B Adam Lind

Key newcomers: OF Marlon Byrd

Who makes/breaks season: OF Ryan Braun. He averaged a HR every 17.2 AB before his PED suspension; it’s now down to once every 27 ABs.

Who makes/breaks season: 1B Joey Votto. The former MVP missed 100 games with a knee injury last year to snap a streak of four straight years leading the N.L. in OBP.

Key newcomers: OF Jason Heyward, 1B Mark Reynolds Who makes/breaks season: RHP Adam Wainwright. A stellar regular season (20-9, 2.38 ERA) was somewhat negated when elbow issues affected him in the playoffs. Outlook: The Cardinals have been baseball’s most consistent team, with four straight NLCS appearances. Their pitching remains strong enough for them to reach October again.

Key newcomers: C Francisco Cervelli, OF Corey Hart, RHP A.J. Burnett Who makes/breaks season: OF Andrew McCutchen. He’s been in the top three in N.L. MVP voting for three straight years (he won in 2013) and led the league in OBP (.410) and OPS (.952) last year. Outlook: The Pirates backed up their 2013 playoff appearance by reaching the N.L. wild-card game last year. They could be challenged by the Cubs for second place and a wild-card spot.

Who makes/breaks season: Lester. He’s won at least 15 games six of his seven full seasons and had a career-low 2.46 ERA last year. Outlook: The Cubs’ rebuilding project has reached the point where there’s some hope and expectations, with some already pegging them as World Series contenders. That may still be a year away, but young talents Jorge Soler and Bryant (whenever he’s called up) could help them challenge sooner.

Outlook: Milwaukee was in first place Aug. 31, but the team finished eight games out thanks to an epic collapse. Aside from trading Gallardo to the Rangers, the Brewers mostly stayed pat. That could make competing in an improved division tough.

Outlook: The big names are still there for Cincinnati, but the Reds were 29th among 30 MLB teams with a .238 batting average and ranked 28th in runs despite playing in a bandbox. They’ll have to rediscover the offense to stay out of the cellar.

Rating the N.L. East Washington Nationals

Miami Marlins

New York Mets

Atlanta Braves

Philadelphia Phillies

Last year: 96-66, first place (lost to Giants in NLDS)

Last year: 77-85, fourth place

Last year: 79-83, tied for second place

Last year: 79-83, tied for second place

Last year: 73-89, fifth place

Key loss: OF Eric Young

Key losses: OF Jason Heyward, OF Justin Upton, RHP Ervin Santana, OF/C Evan Gattis

Key losses: 1B Adam LaRoche, RHP Rafael Soriano THIS PAGE AND OPPOSITE: GETTY IMAGES

Key newcomer: RHP Max Scherzer Who makes/breaks season: OF Bryce Harper. The youngster has been good, but Washington is still waiting for his breakout season. Staying healthy would help. Outlook: No team is a bigger divisional favorite in baseball than the Nationals, who won the East by 17 games last year and could do so again. Adding Scherzer to a staff that led MLB with a 3.03 ERA makes them the team to beat in the National League.

Key losses: LHP Andrew Heaney, 3B Casey McGehee, 1B/OF Garrett Jones Key newcomers: 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Mat Latos, 1B Mike Morse, 3B Martin Prado Who makes/breaks season: OF Giancarlo Stanton. He was having an MVP season before taking a fastball to the face Sept. 11. He still finished second in voting and led the N.L. with 37 HR. Outlook: The Marlins locked up Stanton with a 13-year, $325 million deal. They made some moves to add talent around him and claim to be committed to winning. They could record their first winning season since 2009.

Key newcomer: OF Michael Cuddyer Who makes/breaks their season: RHP Matt Harvey. He was a sensation and an All-Star in 2013 before needing Tommy John surgery. A healthy return gives the Mets an ace. Outlook: If Harvey returns to form, New York has a solid young pitching corps when teamed with 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. (Former Giants prospect Zack Wheeler suffered Harvey’s fate this spring, being lost to UCL surgery.) An offense that was toward the bottom of the league must improve.

Key newcomers: OF Nick Markakis, RHP Shelby Miller Who makes/breaks season: 1B Freddie Freeman. Despite playing all 162 games for the first time, he hit a career-low 18 HRs in 2014. Outlook: The Braves haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since before Bobby Cox’s second tenure as manager. They are in rebuilding mode after shipping away Heyward, Upton and Gattis, who combined for 62 HRs last year.

Key losses: SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Marlon Byrd, RHP A.J. Burnett Key newcomer: RHP Aaron Harang Who makes/breaks season: OF Domonic Brown. The former hot prospect was an All-Star in 2013, but he faded last year. It’s time to find out if he’s a major building piece. Outlook: The full rebuilding project might finally be underway. Rollins was dealt in the offseason, and 2B Chase Utley, 1B Ryan Howard and LHPs Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee could follow. Otherwise, it’s a hefty payroll for a team bound for another last-place finish.

PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 67


THE league

Baseball’s big storylines BY jimmy durkin

A

Hot corner goes east

lex Rodriguez is back with the New York Yankees after his historic one-year suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. In a handwritten apology letter, he claimed “full responsibility for the mistakes” that led to his suspension. His return sets up an awkward scenario in New York. The Yankees don’t seem to want him around, but they owe him $61 million over the next three years. Beyond the distractions he’s likely to create, there’s the real question of what a 39-year-old, sans performance-enhancing drugs, can produce. He’s also had a pair of hip surgeries. His third base days are likely done, with Chase Headley in place. He’s getting some work at first base, plus he can D.H. if he’s productive. But if he can’t hit and the Yankees struggle, they could be begging him to drift into retirement.

Forty percent of the starting third basemen in the A.L. East are former stars from the Bay Area, both of whom left this winter to varying degrees of surprise. Pablo Sandoval spurned a similar offer from the Giants for a fresh challenge with the Boston Red Sox, where his offensive numbers could enjoy a Fenway Park surge. An eventual shift to designated hitter could set him up for another big contract once his current fiveyear deal is up. Sandoval’s departure was at least partially expected. He was a free agent, and Giants general manager Brian Sabean has said that it seemed as if he “had one foot out the door” after he caught the final out of the World Series. But Josh Donaldson’s trade from the A’s to the Toronto Blue Jays was another Billy Beane special that came as a surprise because the All-Star was under team control for four more years. But that’s how Beane operates, and now Donaldson joins a homer-happy lineup in a hitter-friendly park. While Sandoval and Donaldson will spend this summer smashing balls in the A.L. East — and maybe battling each other for an All-Star spot — fans in the Bay Area will miss two of their favorites.

Setting the pace The game long romanticized for being played without a clock finally will have one. New commissioner Rob Manfred made improving the pace of the game a major priority. After a committee studied some experimental rules during the Arizona Fall League, baseball implemented several changes. Batters must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box (with some exceptions), managers must stay in the dugout during replay challenges, and a timer will control the length of inning and pitching change breaks. The idea is to curb the length of games, which last year reached a record average of 3 hours, 2 minutes. The first month of the season will be a transition period, but by May players who are repeat offenders could be fined as much as $500. There will be a 2-minute, 25-second clock (it’s 2 minutes, 45 seconds for nationally televised games) that begins at the start of the commercial break. Pitchers will have until 30 seconds remain on the clock to complete their warmup pitches, and batters must enter the box with between 20 and 5 seconds left on the clock.

A new batch of Cubans

Cubs win!? It’s 107 years and counting for the Chicago Cubs and their World Series championship drought. At last, the cries of “Wait ’til next year” don’t ring as hollow. Theo Epstein, who helped end the “Curse of the Bambino” as the Boston Red Sox general manager, begins his fourth year as president of baseball operations for the Cubs. With an influx of young players and the signing of ace pitcher Jon Lester, a team that seemed ticketed to contend in 2016 could be a year ahead of schedule. The Cubs already have some experienced, young talent. Shortstop Starlin Castro (pictured at right) is a three-time All-Star who will be 25 on opening day. 68 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| PLAY BALL

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, also 25, is fresh off his first All-Star appearance. Jorge Soler could provide another dangerous bat, and the Cubs have two more hot prospects in third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell (acquired from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija trade). Bryant is among the best power-hitting prospects in baseball, and while he might start the year in the minors, he should be in the big leagues soon. The Cubs still might be better positioned as a contender in 2016, but if everything comes together, the “Back to the Future Part II” prediction could ring true in 2015.

The wave of Cuban talent in recent years has bolstered several teams and affected Rookie of the Year voting. A Cuban has finished in the top two in at least one of the leagues in each of the past three years. Everyone is looking for the next Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes or Jose Abreu, the 2014 A.L. Rookie of the Year. Cuban imports expected to have an effect this year include Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, Chicago Cubs outfielder Soler and Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder/third baseman Yasmany Tomas. Castillo got a taste of the big leagues with 10 games in September. His slash line of .333/.400/.528 was impressive, although he had just 36 at-bats. He homered twice, stole three bases and did enough to make him a Rookie of the Year favorite for 2015. Soler spent two seasons in the minors for the Cubs and was called up in August. He had five home runs, 20 RBIs and a .292 average in 24 games while maintaining his rookie status. Tomas figures to open the season with the Diamondbacks, where they will try to convert the outfielder to third base. More talent is coming. Boston also signed infielder Yoan Moncada, although the 19-year-old figures to need some time in the minors. With the U.S. and Cuba normalizing relationships, the floodgates could open if the embargo were to be lifted. jdurkin@bayareanewsgroup.com


THE league

Milestones within reach BY jimmy durkin

N

ew York Yankees embattled slugger Alex Rodriguez (pictured at right) needs 61 hits to reach 3,000. He needs 31 RBIs to reach 2,000 and seven homers to pass Willie Mays and move to fourth on the all-time list (Mays has 660). He also would become just the fourth major leaguer with 2,000 RBIs, joining Hank Aaron (2,297), Babe Ruth (2,214) and Cap Anson (2,075).

Home runs

Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is five home runs shy of becoming the 52nd member of the 400 home run club. Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is right behind him, just 10 shy of 400.

Stolen bases

this page: Chris Trotman/Getty Images. opposite: rob carr/getty images

Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki needs 13 stolen bases to reach 500 for his MLB career. He’s never had fewer than 14 in a season. He has an outside chance at reaching 3,000 hits — he’s only 156 away. A’s outfielder Coco Crisp is three stolen bases from reaching 300 for his career, which would make him the 11th active player to reach that figure.

Strikeouts

New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, a native of Vallejo, is 63 strikeouts away from 2,500 for his career. He’s the active leader in that category.

Wins

Toronto Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle will reach 200 career wins with his next victory.

Saves

Detroit Tigers closer Joe Nathan needs 15 saves to pass Dennis Eckersley for sixth on the all-time list and 24 to reach 400. PLAY BALL ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 69


the end game

A closer look at the A’s under Billy Beane BY craig robinson

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Play Ball  

Premium edition baseball-preview magazine published in Bay Area News Group papers on March 29.

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