On Friday, the Giants are taking on the Padres for the third time already this spring, and it's hard to believe there are just 437 games remaining between these two teams this season. But there's a wrinkle in the game on Friday night: This is probably the lineup for Opening Day, with the minor detail of who's pitching.
The lineup in question:
- Denard Span - CF
- Joe Panik - 2B
- Matt Duffy - 3B
- Buster Posey - C
- Hunter Pence - RF
- Brandon Crawford - SS
- Brandon Belt - 1B
- The gosh darn pitcher - P
- Angel Pagan - LF
The pitcher in this case is Matt Cain, but on Opening Day, it'll be Madison Bumgarner, who can hit just a little. Andrew Baggarly told us on Thursday that Bruce Bochy was considering the Maddon/LaRussa gambit, and Henry Schulman reports that Pagan is fine with it:
"I can get on base, put pressure on the bases and Denard, we can get a hit-and-run going, first and third, and maybe nobody out or one out, and we have a great opportunity to score. That might be the difference in the game.
"I like it," Pagan said. "I’m ready for anything."
You get a hit-and-run, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato ... baby, you got a stew going. Sabermetricians have hit their heads against the wall for a half-decade, trying to find if there's a huge difference when pitchers hit in the eighth spot, and the statistics say it adds about a run. Per season. Which isn't nothing, but it's not enough to form a strong opinion over. It might lead to a couple extra Bumgarner at-bats every year, so it's probably worth it on entertainment value.
However! Allow me to present a conspiracy theory. A strategy theory. A conspategy theory. The reasons that Bruce Bochy is giving for the pitcher hitting eighth -- a little more speed at the bottom of the lineup, more runners on base for Panik/Duffy/Posey -- are sound. But there's a perceived ancillary benefit, and that's getting Brandon Belt hitting ahead of someone likely to make an out.
That is, maybe Belt will be less likely to take that called third strike and be at the mercy of whatever umpire is squatting behind him.
I'm not sure that's something that needs to happen, personally. Belt was seventh in the National League when it came to called third strikes, but he was sandwiched between Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. So if you're looking at called third strikes as a definitive symptom of something that needs fixing, you're probably over-analyzing the residual effects of a good eye at the plate.
But the abacus-twiddlers and/or scouts might have a hypothesis that Brandon Belt could improve if he expands the zone, as they say. It would be a waste to hit him eighth, so maybe this is the closest facsimile for that particular experiment.
Or maybe the Giants' lineup is so deep, it would be easy to read too much into whomever hits seventh in a pitcher-hits-eighth lineup.
Regardless, somehow where Matt Cain hits in his Cactus League debut is more noteworthy than him pitching for the first time. That's spring training for you. We'll see if Bochy sticks with the lineup for Opening Day, after all.