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3.19.2007

Perhaps Because I Am a Libra... 

...I cannot kick a man when he's down, not for very long at least, unless his name is Neifi, and even then, come on, he is one of the top 1,000 or so baseball players in the world, let's give the guy a bit of a break especially now that he's not on our team. I'm even holding out a scintilla of hope that Pedro Feliz has learned to hit the ball to right field and not swing at the shadows of passing jumbo jets. Heck, I even sent Russ Davis a Chanukah card.

Where was I? Oh yes. Libra, am I. Fair. Balanced. Just.

So when one of my favorite media whipping boys, Bruce Jenkins, whom I have targeted with jokes -- completely unsubstantiated, mind you -- about the old silver flask tucked into his battered gray Chronicle-issue newsroom desk drawer and his disturbing love for men who wear their socks high, when Bruce gets something right, I give props.

Mad, major props. Pra-shizzle-ops, for all you young urban readers out there.

Reading his column in today's Chron, "Giants Need Fast Start," I found myself nodding, more or less, in agreement. Let's try to figure out why:

In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, just as the Giants start to build a respectable young pitching staff, the entire division is on a significant upswing.

Very true. Concisely said. An excellent nut graph, Sir Jenks.

Get out of the gate quickly -- say, 10 wins in the first 15 games -- and the Giants can re-establish a foundation of trust among their fans. If they fall substantially behind in the NL West, you won't find many people feeling good about the season or, more importantly, the future.

The 10-of-15-or-else scenario may be a bit hyperbolic, but I get the general point. This is more about marketing the team the rest of the year. A slow start may turn off the casual fan. This is generally true most years, and it's certainly true that when a team falls way behind, people tend to be pessimistic, but contrary to the standards that columnists generally hold dear, being obvious isn't as bad as being wrong.

Outside of his Cy Young season in 2002 (23-5, 2.75), Zito has never been Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux. He has been a clever, highly competent starter who more than holds up his end.

Again one could say obvious, except that a lot of people (not me, not you, but a lot of people) actually think Zito deserves such lofty comparisons. Good on ya, Bruce, for bursting their bubble.

To expect him to win 25 games, stifling the Mets or Cardinals with two-hit shutouts, simply isn't realistic.

I'd prefer a more sophisticated statistical breakdown, say, "To expect him to regain his dominant strikeout ratio while cutting down on walks, etc etc," but I'll take what I can get. Wins are generally meaningless, but to win 25 in a season, you either have to be the luckiest guy on earth or very very good.

Across the bay, the A's have lost so many great players due to budget constraints or injuries, it boggles the mind -- and they always survive. A single injury -- say, Zito, Cain or even Bonds -- could instantly destroy the Giants' season.

Well, more Bonds than anyone else. But yes, you're right, and without making a "thirtysomething" joke. This is perhaps the crux, the crunchy nugget, the Achilles heel of the Giants season. One injury, and blam. Perhaps no team is as dependent on "health luck" as the Giants.

Take an honest look at the NL West and try to find a category where the Giants have a clear-cut edge. It certainly isn't youth, farm system, speed, starting pitching, run production, defense or the bullpen.

It certainly isn't. Thank you, Bruce, for not including gamefaces or mental toughness or clubhouse chemistry or veteran savvy in that list.

Bonds, believe it or not, is the only man in the division with a full-fledged power reputation. The No. 2 guy would be Jeff Kent, followed by Todd Helton, and then it's pretty much over.

Hmm. Todd Helton, not full-fledged in the power department? His home run totals have dropped the last two years at least in part due to injury, but ahem, so have Barry Bonds's. Averaging 35 HRs a year for seven years seems mighty fledged to me. And did Bruce snooze through the Rockies games last year? I wouldn't blame him, but, hello? Matt Holliday? Garrett Atkins? These names ring a bell?

Colorado's strength won't ever be pitching, not in that ballpark...

Maybe, maybe not, but it would be nice if he acknowledged that the Rockies have a quietly effective closer in Brian Fuentes and their starters were surprisingly good last year. Also scoring at Coors Field, though still above league average, was the lowest last year that it's been all decade.

...But the Rockies are drawing heavy praise from some longtime Denver skeptics, largely due to Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki and the other solid young hitting talents in camp.

Holliday isn't just a guy "in camp" -- he actually got some MVP votes last year. Again, I quibble.

Given that the Giants' offense contains only two legitimate cornerstones -- Roberts' speed and Bonds' power -- a few surprises need to occur. Ray Durham has to stay healthy all season. Pedro Feliz needs to develop more plate discipline and wear his socks higher.

OK, you got me, I added that last bit about the socks. I couldn't resist. I get so antsy when Jenkins makes so many legitimate points in a row.

The Giants would also appear to be at a severe disadvantage in short relief, at least when measured against the Dodgers' Takashi Saito and the Padres' Trevor Hoffman (with all-world setup).

Yup.

But there is hope for scrappy Brian Wilson, who really wants to take a stranglehold on the thing, and perhaps even Tim Lincecum, whose entire package screams "closer," at least for this year.

I won't argue for now with the idea of Wilson as closer, or even Lincecum, but I object to the image of Lincecum's package screaming "closer."

Jenkins hasn't paid much attention to the Rockies, and he ends by circling back to the obvious: start fast or people won't support the team as much. At least his point runs counter to the Giants' hand-waving and the blatant PR-ness of the Zito overspend. A little subversive sand in the vaseline, sprinkled with some surprisingly matter-of-fact assessment of the strength of the N.L. West: keep up the decent work, Bruce.

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