Giants' work has just begun

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Giants' work has just begun

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When the Giants clinch their division title, and being up 10 games with 12 to play its going to take a hell of tracheotomy to prevent it, I fervently hope they walk off the field at the end of the game like theyd just polished off the Cubs in July.You know, like its no big deal. Because as it turns out, it wasnt.For all the fretting and agonizing and finger-pointing and misplaced anger, the Giants will win the NL West by something close to a record margin for them. The easiest cruise theyve ever had in franchise history was the 2003 win, when they cleared the Dodgers by 15 games. Youll remember that season fondly because of the fact that they needed only four games to be eradicated from the postseason by the Florida Marlins.And because it had much less drama, both real and fabricated, than this one.Or maybe it just seems that way, because we no longer enjoyed the good-natured antics of those two BFFs, Barry Bonds and Survivor Kent, or Felipe Alou coming to grips with the fearsome Schmidt-Rueter-Williams (as in Jerome)-Moss (as in Damian)-Foppert rotation, or Sir Sidney Ponson, which is his own chapter.This season offered up the batting champion in absentia; the reinflation of Buster Posey; the collapse and reinflation of Tim Lincecum; the collapse and re-re-reinflation of Pablo Sandoval; Brandon Belts slow emergence from confusion to comprehension; the mighty pitching staff that now causes such consternation; the bullpen by sub-committee.And of course all the misplaced angst about whether Bruce Bochy really is the master of his domain. He is. Clearly. He is easily one of the best managers in franchise history, a slight step below John McGraw and Leo Durocher but on a par with Dusty Baker. You do not have an argument to refute this, so dont try. You will fail horrendously, and end up in the fetal position in your office lunch room, and people will mock you at the holiday party.But back to why there probably should be no overt celebration when they clinch because they actually have been here before, and they know how much they have left to do.Nobody is left from the 03 team except Mike Murphy and Dave Righetti, so there are no handy memories or lessons to be culled from that. But 2010 is fresh in their minds, and they know how intermediary a step this is.Not only that, there is a distinct lack of adrenaline about this division title because the Dodgers have faded so badly and the Diamondbacks have faded so much worse that they could end up finishing behind the Padres.In addition, the Giants are a better team when in a competitive squeeze. They won in 2000 by beating the Dodgers by 11, and went down to the Mets in the first round. On the other hand, the 2002 team didnt even win its division and the 2010 team needed the final weekend to hold off the Padres.And finally, they go into this postseason with neither the best pitching staff (that would statistically be Washington, though that may not be true without Stephen Strasburg) nor the best lineup (that would also be Washington, though Cincinnati has the friendlier ballpark and fewer outs in the order). In addition, Cincinnati has the best bullpen, and both Cincinnati and Washington are dramatically better defensively.RELATED: Ballparks a factor for Giants' rotation in NLDS
In sum, the Giants are not the best team in the postseason, and dont have the advantage of going through either Atlanta or St. LouisLos AngelesMilwaukee to get to the League Championship Series. They have to do all of this the hard way against teams that had better seasons, and without home field advantage.In short, they wont have finished anything with this clinching. Theyll have only started it, and the job only gets bigger.The fans, of course, will disregard all of this, because theyre in it as much for the parties and the costumes as for the baseball, and the baseball is way more of a grind than the other two. Theyll think of this as another glorious moment in franchise history, and it sure beats losing.But glorious? These people know glorious, both team and customer alike, and this isnt near glorious yet. This is more like pretty damned good. Glorious doesnt happen until November.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.comAP Images

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made. 

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Clutch, late-game hitting by Hunter Pence has propelled him to the three hole as the Giants look to bounce back vs the Braves. Bruce Bochy has released the rest of his lineup for Game 2 of the series...

San Francisco Giants:
1. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 3B
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Hunter Pence (R) RF
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Austin Slater (R) LF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Nick Hundley (R) C
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Cain (R) P

Atlanta Braves:
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
8. Johan Camargo (S) 3B
9. Jaime Garcia (L) P