Contention In NL
The Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League West by 11 games over second-place Arizona last season with San Francisco another five games back. Yet both the Snakes and Giants believe they can hang with L.A. this season -- certainly the Dodgers losing Clayton Kershaw at least for April will help their chances.
San Francisco didn't do much on the free-agent market other than adding Tim Hudson from the Braves. The Giants are simply hoping for in-house improvement. The pitching staff took a huge step back in 2013 from the 2012 World Series club. The offense wasn't very good, either, with no regular hitting .300, belting 30 home runs or knocking in 100 in '13. Buster Posey saw his numbers drop fairly significantly from his 2012 NL MVP campaign. The Giants expect him to bounce back -- he was 3-for-8 with a homer entering Wednesday -- and a big year from Pablo Sandoval, who will be a free agent this offseason. The Giants have started the season without second baseman Marco Scutaro because of back issues. The team's leading hitter last year won't debut this week.
Arizona GM Kevin Towers and Manager Kirk Gibson are squarely on the hot seat with the team having an all-time high payroll and coming off back-to-back 81 win seasons. In fact, Gibson is the 5/2 second-favorite on Bovada's MLB odds to be the first manger fired (Toronto's John Gibbons the 2/1 betting favorite). Towers was busy this offseason in landing slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels and closer Addison Reed from the White Sox. Trumbo has a homer and six RBIs entering Wednesday. Reed is 0-1 with a save and a 6.00 ERA.
Many thought Towers overpaid in getting both, giving up the likes of young players Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Tyler Skaggs. The Snakes' chances of winning the NL West weren't helped by the loss of ace Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery this spring.
San Francisco is +450 at sportsbooks to win the NL West with Arizona at +1200. L.A. remains a big -275 favorite.
The Giants gave Tim Lincecum a two-year, $35 million extension this offseason despite the fact he's been one of the worst starters in the National League the past two seasons with a combined 4.76 ERA. He does still remain a draw in the Bay Area, but he's light years from his two Cy Young seasons. Lincecum had to leave his final spring start early after taking a line-drive comebacker off his left knee. He avoided serious injury and it was just a bruise.
Lincecum was 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts against Arizona last year, both coming at Chase Field. That this is a day game could help matters as Lincecum had a 3-1 mark with a 3.03 ERA in 2013 day starts. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, the 2013 NL MVP runner-up, feasts off Lincecum. In 20 career at-bats, he has 10 hits, including five home runs, and 11 RBIs. He's slugging an obscene 1.300. On the flip side, Arizona catcher Miguel Montero is hitting .182 with 15 strikeouts in 55 at-bats against Lincecum. Maybe he gets the day off.
There's a chance Lincecum could be scratched for another reason: food poisoning. He was throwing up all night Tuesday. However, no decision may come until Thursday late morning. If that happens, Ryan Vogelsong would take his spot. He was 0-1 with a 5.60 ERA in three starts last year vs. the Diamondbacks. Vogelsong was terrible all year, going 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA in 19 starts. He wasn't good this spring, either.
Towers is lucky he signed free agent pitcher Bronson Arroyo in early February now that Corbin is out. Arroyo makes his Arizona debut in this one. He didn't pitch much this spring because of back problems. Thus he could be on somewhat of a pitch count. Arroyo dominated the Giants last year while with Cincinnati, going 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. Those were by far his best numbers against any team.
Hunter Pence tends to torment Arroyo, hitting .325 with two homers and five RBIS in 40 at-bats. Brandon Belt, who has started the season red-hot for the Giants, is 4-for-7 with a homer off Arroyo. Posey is 3-for-10 with an RBI.
MLB free picks: Arizona -116 and the over nine runs on MLB odds (same if it's Vogelsong). Neither pitcher seems quite 100 percent yet so that could mean short outings. The Giants have won just two of in Lincecum's past eight against Arizona. The over is 9-2 in the Diamondbacks' past 11 at home against righty starters.