Sunday, April 3, 2016

Giants' push for next crown opens in Milwaukee

The San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers make an unlikely match. They come to the 2016 season with different goals, different aspirations, different aims and different purposes.
Still, they'll open the season playing each other at Miller Park on Monday at 1:10 p.m. CT in the opener of a three-game series. We can't project the results, but the contrasts will be vivid.
The Giants have geared up for another championship run. What comes next in this progression: 2010, 2012, 2014? Right, this is another even-numbered year, and in the last three of those, the Giants have won the World Series.
The Giants still have Madison Bumgarner, hero of the 2014 postseason, atop their rotation. But they have reshaped the next two rotation spots with expensive free agents. Johnny Cueto was added with a six-year contract for $130 million. Jeff Samardzija came on board on a five-year, $90 million contract.
All three are expected to pitch in the series in Milwaukee. Elsewhere on the roster, the Giants appear to be no worse than solid, and in some cases, substantially better than that.
They have one of the best in the game at catcher in Buster Posey. The infield is exceptional and still developing, with Brandon Belt at first, Joe Panik at second, Brandon Crawford at short and Matt Duffy at third.
In the outfield, free agent Denard Span, always a useful player, takes over in center. He will be flanked by two players the Giants hope are returning to full health and productivity, Hunter Pence in right and Angel Pagan in left.
A deep and talented bullpen completes the picture. In the National League West, the Dodgers are loaded with talent and the D-backs have made themselves contenders, but the Giants can stand with anybody, especially, of course, in an even-numbered year.
With the Brewers, the notable names are mostly those who have departed. Milwaukee began a rebuilding project in the middle of last season, and that effort is in full swing as it enters its first full season.
Gone are past lineup staples such as left fielder Khris Davis, center fielder Carlos Gomez, first baseman Adam Lind, shortstop Jean Segura, third baseman Aramis Ramirez and closer Francisco Rodriguez.
The only regulars in Milwaukee's starting lineup who started the 2015 season with the club are catcher Jonathan Lucroy, second baseman Scooter Gennett and Ryan Braun, who will move from right field to left.
The Brewers will return four starting pitchers from last season's team. Three of them are young and promising, including Wily Peralta, who will oppose Bumgarner in the season opener. If this team has an area of strength, it would have to be the rotation.
In the bullpen, lefty Will Smith, who appeared to have co-closer status, is out with a torn ligament in his right knee. Hard-throwing righty Jeremy Jeffress will be asked to close while Smith recovers, and he at least has the stuff to succeed.
But this is a rebuilding season in the largest sense for the Brewers. In the NL Central, a division with the game's three best records last season -- Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates -- the Brewers don't expect to contend for a postseason berth. They hope to succeed in a far less tangible measurement -- building the foundation for future success.
Opening against Bumgarner and the Giants will be a distinct challenge, but for manager Craig Counsell, that is part of the big league deal
"You always open against a great pitcher," Counsell said. "You do. There are no soft spots in a Major League schedule. ... There's a good pitcher pitching every night.
"There are great teams in the big leagues. There's tough competition. You're playing against the best in the world. This stuff about the schedule, you have to play 162 games. They all count the same. You're going to face really good pitchers, the best in the world. Nobody has a weak schedule. You don't go into the big leagues and say, 'Oh, this team has an easy schedule.' That's not how it works."
Giants' projected Opening Day lineup
Denard Span, CF
Joe Panik, 2B
Buster Posey, C
Hunter Pence, RF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Matt Duffy, 3B
Brandon Crawford, SS
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Angel Pagan, LF
Brewers' projected Opening Day lineup
Domingo Santana, RF
Jonathan Villar, SS
Ryan Braun, LF
Jonathan Lucroy, C
Chris Carter, 1B
Aaron Hill, 3B
Scooter Gennett, 2B
Wily Peralta, RHP
Keon Broxton, CF

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