Giants feel on even footing with Cubs heading into Game 1 of NLDS

Giants feel on even footing with Cubs heading into Game 1 of NLDS

CHICAGO -- Joe Maddon wants his players to focus on themselves, which is probably a good idea. The Cubs are, after all, a team coming off a 103-win regular season.

But the Cubs did all watch the wild card game Wednesday, and Maddon spent a chunk of his Thursday in scouting meetings. He was surprised by one thing he found.

"Looking at their record, I didn't even realize the last time we played they were all one-run games," he said. "They're good. They know how to do this. I have a ton of respect for Boch and I've known him a long time. They're formidable. It should be interesting."

On paper, the teams are separated by 16 wins. The Cubs were the best team in baseball wire-to-wire. The Giants needed a four-game winning streak just to reach the postseason, and a wild card shutout to get to Wrigley Field.

In a champagne-soaked clubhouse, though, the Giants kept looking back at that September series. They were at a low point, with a bullpen in shambles and a lineup collectively slumping. But they won 3-2 in the third game and lost the other three games 5-4, 2-1 and 3-2. The Giants also took two of three meetings at AT&T Park in May. 

"We're confident," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "I don't think it matters who we're going up against. We're a confident group of guys and we like our team. Those series, we played back and forth (with the Cubs). We both have good pitching staffs and solid, deep lineups. It's two good managers, also.

"I would say other than the win column, we're pretty even."

The Cubs echoed that sentiment Thursday. As the rain fell at Wrigley Field, one Cub after another showed respect for an opponent that has gotten hot at the right time.

"They've been on the biggest stage and (there) are a lot of rings over there in that clubhouse," catcher David Ross said. "They've been on the biggest stage and succeeded."

The Giants showed their ability Wednesday, but the sailing wasn't as smooth a day later. The team flight from New York took off late, causing the Giants to spent over two hours in traffic on the way from O'Hare International Airport to Wrigley. 

The Cubs, on the other hand, have been trying to burn through their week off. Jake Arrieta played golf. Dexter Fowler said he slept a lot. 

Come Friday, the lights will go back on, and Maddon expects intensity from the start.

"At the end of the day, man, they're not afraid," he said of the Giants. "To me, that's the number one requirement."

--- As he always does, Maddon filled the quote sheet. He said Jon Lester got Game 1 because "there's a meritocracy involved." He called Johnny Cueto a "modern-day Luis Tiant" and said the Giants rotation is "thick, man." Asked about his three-catcher roster, he noted, "I've been on a team where you don't like any of your catchers and now I like three."

Maddon saved his best for a description of Bochy: "He's a cowboy. He'll do anything. Whenever you manage against a cowboy, it's always interesting."

--- Dexter Fowler set off a flurry of rumors when he attended a Warriors game in the heart of the offseason with the Giants still searching for a center fielder. Fowler said he lived in San Francisco over the winter because he was working with Barry Bonds, his mentor. He briefly negotiated with the Giants, but they soon signed Denard Span. 

As for that Warriors game, Fowler started laughing when it was brought up. He knew it caused a stir.

"You know what's funny, I was sitting four seats from Larry (Baer). But we didn't speak," Fowler said. "Everyone thought I was there with my agent, but it was my financial advisor."

--- Arrieta said he won't make a showdown with Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 bigger than it is. "I'm not, like, licking my lips because Bumgarner is on the other side," he said. "Whether it's Cueto or Samardzija or Matt Moore, those guys are all good. In big situations like this, those guys are all going to be competing at their peak."

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.