Distinguishing Between the Giants and the Dodgers (Update 4/18)

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San Francisco and Los Angeles have played six times so far, San Francisco winning four. Today they finished a three-game set in San Francisco whose games had a combined margin of three runs. The run differentials are nearly identical, as is everything about the offenses so far; the Giants have hit 17 home runs, the Dodgers 16; the Dodgers bat .250, the Giants .247; the Giants OBP is .325, the Dodgers is .318; the Dodgers slug .413, the Giants .401.

At least one thing is plain: the Dodgers have the superior starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw hasn’t even been used north of the equator and yet Dodgers starters have a 2.66 ERA on the season, 8.18 strikeouts and 2.56 walks per nine innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren are all excellent control pitchers, with enough skill to match the Giants’ top three of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Hudson. That Kershaw will come back soon (according to my fantasy baseball updates he is ahead of schedule, because he does everything well) negates whatever decline we might expect based on their low BABIP.

The bullpen in Los Angeles is not so good as the rotation, particularly at minimizing free passes. But it is early, and they are stocked with well-known closers and a few flamethrowers, all of whom are prelude to one of the top closers in the game–Kenley Jansen may have an ERA of exactly 5.00, but pay more attention to his 17 strikeouts in just nine innings pitched. That’s who he is, not some absurd .524 BABIP. The Giants have no such power pitcher in their bullpen, and it’s hard to put much stock in their 1.63 ERA so far. Romo hums along, underrated again (soon to bounce back though!), and familiar faces abound now that primary lefty Jeremy Affeldt has returned. Santiago Casilla has always thrown the hardest, and he can stretch it out over a few innings. The starters at the back end of the San Francisco rotation, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, will likely tax the bullpen more so than their counterparts in Los Angeles.

The story of the Giants offense so far has been a huge increase in home runs compared to last year. It is not all a mirage. All the primary players last year save for Hunter Pence had poor power, and that simply could not last in cases like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, who should heat up gloriously, just you wait. Plus the addition of Mike Morse gives San Francisco another legitimate power bat. It is, however, a passing thing. The home runs will not always be this plentiful. Meanwhile, it is easy to see that while some Dodgers are overachieving (Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe), other, more central players have slumped. The odds are long on any team taking the division from the Dodgers.

[UPDATE 11:15 AM 4/18]
Had no time for detail above because I was on my way to work. Let’s get detailed about the offenses, starting with the guys leading each team in plate appearances and working down.

Adrian Gonzalez is hitting like he’s in his late 20s again and he is bothered by his shoulder no more. He and Hanley Ramirez comprise a duo as fearsome as any in the National League, and there is no reason to worry about them. Juan Uribe, however, is not a man who bats .375 for very long. Nor is Dee Gordon, but it makes sense for the Dodgers to ride out his hot streak, squeeze all the juice they can from that wet noodle he calls a bat. And ten steals at this point of the season is phenomenal. Even if Alex Guerrero (currently in Triple-A) takes the starting second base job soon, Gordon needs to be pinch running at the end of close games.

Andre Ethier has been so consistent the last three years that it’s hard to worry about his present woes. Does it matter what Yasiel Puig is batting? People seem to have their minds made up on him. Carl Crawford has one walk in 46 plate appearances. If pitchers didn’t know I sucked, I could probably work one walk in 46 plate appearances. Even so, if some of these guys are struggling right now, they have such proven skill, implicit in their huge contracts, that their worst-case seasons can’t be that bad.

Matt Kemp batting average: .171; Matt Kemp BABIP: .167. Sure to rebound, and he’s drawing walks like crazy, which is to say like catcher A.J. Ellis.

For the Giants, Hunter Pence will probably not be as good as last year. He maxed out his power with 27 home runs in a poor hitter’s ballpark, but another 20 this year is virtually guaranteed. Right now, however, he’s slumping, and so is Pablo Sandoval. Respectively, those two sport BABIPs of .235 and .191. Pablo has been walking a ton this year like woah.

This is the year for which Brandon Belt apologists everywhere have been waiting. The strikeouts we’ll have to abide. Frankly, who the hell cares if he hits 20-something bombs and 40-something doubles? Apologist here: mark him down for .285/.335/.490, 23 HR and 42 2B.

Pagan strikes me as a guy who adheres to strict sense of professionalism as a hitter. He’s always calling for time in the batter’s box. Anything disrupts his routine between pitches, especially a pitcher taking too long, requires a brief sojourn away from home plate. He holds his bat up in front of his face and stares past it. It looks like he is talking silently to himself, cocking his head now and again like a nervous tic. I imagine he is as much of a perfectionist in hitting as in hair care.

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Posey. Doing fine, will do better. Three home runs already is a good sign, puts him on pace for 30. He’ll probably do it once or twice in his career, why not now?

Brandon Crawford’s BABIP has jumped .104 points from last year and his weighted on-base average jumped .103 points. He should be a better hitter this year than last–he’s 27 now–but that’s just too tidy a correlation to think he has become a different caliber hitter. I already mentioned Mike Morse. Let’s see how long he keeps it up. Brandon Hicks is cashing in his “Brandons Rake Free in April!” AT&T Park gift card.

The Giants have a bench full of Latino players (firecrackers and spark plugs, to use the official baseball nomenclature), none of whom have very much power or much potential to be serviceable in a larger role, except for Gregor Blanco on the latter point because of his defense.

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