Programming note: Get your fill of spring training coverage tonight at 6:30 p.m. when Raising Arizona airs on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Complete with a full report from the Giants camp, Raising Arizona re-airs at 10 p.m.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – What to make of the so-called championship hangover? If a team doesn’t win back-to-back titles, there are likely many factors, other than a lack of motivation, that lead to a perceived failure.
The San Francisco Giants went through it in 2011, supposedly. Maybe it was the camera crew from Showtime’s "The Franchise" that distracted the team. Perhaps Aubrey Huff had too many beers at the World Series parade and throughout the offseason. Or it could just be that the players’ appetite for rings diminished once they reached their lifelong goal.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t buy any of it.
“In 2011 I thought they did a great job,” he said. “You look at our year and we were playing good. We were in first place up until the end of July and we just happened to lose our best player (Buster Posey).”
Sometimes it’s easier for critics of a struggling team to point to egos and distractions instead of accepting the fact that there are inevitable peaks and valleys in baseball, or any sport.
“They weren’t full of themselves or getting a little smug or caught up in all the attention, which they’ve earned,” Bochy said. “You have to stay hungry and they know that. We’ve talked about it and it’s the last thing we need to do going into 2013 because we know it’s a new year, new season and it’s going to be difficult. If we go about our business the way we normally do we’ll be fine.”
If the 2013 Giants do repeat as champions, you can be sure someone, somewhere will look back to 2011 and point fingers at Showtime or Huff or Lou Seal. And if the Giants fall short of what would be an unbelievable third title in four years, someone, somewhere will blame it on the hangover.
Brandon Belt is red-hot at the plate with 10 hits, including two home runs and a triple, in his last 15 at-bats. He currently owns an even .500 Cactus League average. While that bodes well for his chances to have a breakout regular season, it’s worth noting that Belt hit .378 last spring before struggling out of the gate in 2012.
When it was hypothesized that Belt’s hot hitting could have something to do with less concern over playing time come April, Bochy disagreed.
“He had a great spring last year, so I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” Bochy said. “He gets his at-bats here and seems like he’s comfortable hitting here in the Cactus League. I like where he’s at right now and the way he’s swinging, but really the last two years in spring training he’s been one of our hottest hitters.
Bochy was constantly second guessed last season over his handling of Belt, who rebounded from the slow start to post a slash line of .275/.360/.421 to go along with seven home runs and 56 RBI.
Does Bochy think 2013 will be the first time Belt carries his confidence from the Cactus League into the regular season?
“We certainly need him and I hope so,” he said. “But I will say he’s a kid with a lot more confidence now and that goes with playing and getting time and maturing as a major leaguer.”
Japanese import Kensuke Tanaka is vying for a roster spot as a second utility infielder, with Joaquin Arias’ job as the primary backup in no jeopardy.
After spending the majority of his career at second base, Tanaka is out to prove he’s a capable shortstop as well. At his January press conference in Sapporo, Japan to announce his decision to leave the Nippon Ham Fighters for a minor league deal with the Giants, Tanaka even said he’d bring an outfielder’s glove with him to the U.S. just in case.
Bochy has yet to try Tanaka in the outfield, but gave him a chance to prove himself at short Monday in Glendale.
Tanaka started the spring 0-for-10 and made three early errors so he’s far from a lock to crack the 25-man roster. In Monday’s loss to the White Sox, Tanaka extended his spring hit streak to four games and started two double plays. The first twin killing involved some nifty glove work from Tanaka, but his throw to second on the final double play almost pulled Brock Bond off the bag. He also couldn’t glove a line drive that may have been in Brandon Crawford’s range, though that’s a high standard to hold Tanaka to.
Bochy said after the game that Tanaka is clearly not as comfortable at short as he is at second.
“I think he needs some work at shortstop. He hasn’t played over there and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a different angle. It takes a little more arm strength with the backhand play and coverage, those types of things. It’s going to take some work, that’s why I left him out there today for nine innings.”
Tanaka is back at second for Tuesday’s game in Scottsdale against the Cleveland Indians.
Thought to be one of Tanaka’s primary competitors for a roster spot as a backup infielder, Tony Abreu is still nursing a strained quad that has kept him from making his Giants debut.
“He’s doing better, but he’s still probably four or five days away,” Bochy said Monday.