Giants/Cardinals Series Preview

Before the trading deadline, I had a contingency plan in place in the event of a Brandon Belt trade.

Step One: Rage
The rage would both nourish us and destroy us, like a salmon fighting its way upstream to lay eggs and die. We would be born again, but only after we ceased to exist. This was assuming he was traded for Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence, not Justin Upton or something that would make sense.

Step Two: Sour Grapes
I was committed to the idea of, "Meh. It's not like he was going to be successful with the Giants, anyway." If he went to a team with a good record of producing successful hitters, and he took off, I was fully intending to be happy for him and his new team for figuring out the mysteries and assorted vagaries of Brandon Belt. It was never going to happen here.

Now that Belt wasn't traded, I still cling to the belief that he'll figure it out here and be an above-average hitter at first possibly, maybe, I don't know, don't ask me, whatever. It's a rock-solid, intractable belief system. I still hold out hopes for him as a Giant. But I still wonder what he'd turn out like if he were on, say, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Because I envy the Cardinals in a very specific, grass-is-greener kind of way. They perspire good hitters. I wrote about this at length, but I'll save you the time: Allen Craig, David Freese, Jon Jay, and, to a lesser extent, Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker all came up with the Cardinals. They either matched their minor-league production or exceeded it. Maybe it's a quirk or a fluke, but it sure looks like an organizational talent.

The above players are a mishmash of second-round-or-lower picks, and they translated minor-league success into major-league success. I'm not sure if there's a way to make them analogous with former Giants quasi-prospects like Lance Niekro and Kevin Frandsen. That seems ridiculously reductive and facile. But I would have liked to see what the Cardinals could have done with players like those. It's possible -- likely? -- they would have failed just as spectacularly, but I have a hunch the Cardinals could have done something with them.

I'm still not convinced the Giants can take a raw hitter and make him into something, at least at the major-league level. The Giants have developed two above-average position players in the past decade, and both of them arrived in the majors fully formed. It's not like the Giants' organization didn't have anything to do with Pablo Sandoval's development, of course, but for the most part, the Sandoval and Buster Posey of today aren't much different from the hitters they were in their rookie seasons.

One of these days, I want to see a guy like Dan Ortmeier or Damon Minor come up and grow into something at the major-league level. I want to watch a lump of hitting clay get molded in front of our eyes and become something we weren't expecting. The Cardinals have built an offense out of this, and it's one of the best offenses in baseball. That's kinda neat. Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran don't exactly hurt, either.

Up there, though, I wrote this is a grass-is-greener kind of envy. And it is because other teams can envy the Giants for the way they've developed their young pitching over the years. The Orioles had all sorts of majors-ready pitching prospects last season -- Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz -- and it all ended in flames. What would Matt Cain look like now if he were drafted by the Orioles? How would they have reacted to Madison Bumgarner's diminished velocity and early AAA struggles?

I have no idea, so it's not entirely fair to point and laugh at the Orioles. But it sure looks like the Giants have developed their pitching prospects at an unusually successful rate. If you whine about the Giants not having the same hitting factory that St. Louis has, a guy in a Mike Boddicker jersey might run up and peck the crap out of you. He's right to do it.

The Cardinals' success is a direct contrast to the Giants' success in the player-development sense, and it's interesting to watch. Though the Cardinals also develop young pitchers, too. They also spin veteran pitchers into gold. They're also adept at finding old stars and squeezing another year or two of greatness out of them.

Come to think of it, what don't the Cardinals do well? How in the heck do they have the same record as the Giants?

Pythagorean Record

Cardinals: 65-43
Giants: 56-52

Dammit, you old Greek coot. Stay away until November. This is all totally sustainable.

Hitter to watch:
I believe, and I could be wrong, that I was in favor of re-signing Carlos Beltran. The 439 articles I wrote on the subject this winter were pretty ambiguous, though, so I can't remember if I was for or against him. But he's fantastic again.

He is slumping, though. After hitting .294/.394/.594 for the first two months of the season, he's hit .279/.325/.490 over the last two. His power is still there, but the OBP has dipped low enough to where Brian Sabean is kicking himself for not re-signing him.

The correct answer would have been to sign Beltran after the Melky trade, but I wonder if the Giants would have bothered with Melky if they signed Beltran to an extension before the offseason. All I know is that the Melksurgence makes the Beltran affair way, way more palatable than it could have been.

Pitcher to watch:
/flips over to open tab that has "____ is the kind of pitcher who counts on other teams to swing and make contact with pitches out of the strike zone, so the Giants are kind of hosed."

/command-a
/command-c
/command-v

Jake Westbrook is the kind of pitcher who counts on other teams to swing and make contact with pitches out of the strike zone, so the Giants are kind of hosed.

/flips over to open tab that has "____ is a young pitcher who hasn't faced the Giants yet, so the Giants are kind of hosed."

/command-a
/command-c
/command-v

Joe Kelly is a young pitcher who hasn't faced the Giants yet, so the Giants are kind of hosed.

Prediction
At no point will I say, gee, I sure miss Albert Pujols in the National League.

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