Brandon Belt sidelined by heel pain as Giants' MLB opener approaches

Brandon Belt sidelined by heel pain as Giants' MLB opener approaches

On the first day of intrasquad games the Giants were without two key players, and another was slightly limited. 

Gabe Kapler said Brandon Belt is out at least five to seven days with right heel pain. Hunter Pence took his swings Wednesday but did not play the outfield because he has minor foot pain, though the Giants expect him to be a full go soon. Buster Posey missed the day with the same personal issue that caused him to miss Friday's workout. 

Belt's pain, which he has had in the past, is by far the most concerning. The Giants have just 15 days until their opener at Dodger Stadium and their starting first baseman is in a walking boot. Kapler said it was “premature to make an assessment" for the opening series. He said he spoke with Belt and the first baseman was confident he would be okay. 

If Belt is not ready by opening day, the Giants do have some first base depth. Wilmer Flores, Pablo Sandoval and Darin Ruf all could handle starts there. 

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Belt had been working out with Group 2, which includes Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Posey and Donovan Solano. The Giants played a simulated game in the afternoon at Oracle Park, but they did not have players stationed at every position. Because they generally had infielders set up for every inning, coaches took turns fielding at first base. 

[RELATED: Watch Luciano hit monster home run in live BP]

Belt spoke with the media on Sunday and expressed optimism about the upcoming season. He said he feels good about safety protocols put in place and has talked to several doctors about whether this plan is a good idea. Belt also said he was excited about the short season.

"It could be a year that maybe a team that wouldn't get in otherwise gets in and they go on a hot streak and maybe win the World Series," Belt said. "Our goal is the same no matter if we're playing 162 or 60 -- we're playing to win ballgames and get in the playoffs and ultimately win a World Series."

Watch Giants prospect Marco Luciano hit monster home run in live BP

Watch Giants prospect Marco Luciano hit monster home run in live BP

The Giants held an intrasquad game featuring many of their regulars on Wednesday afternoon, but it seems the real action was seen in the morning. 

Marco Luciano, the organization's top prospect, has shown in workouts over the past week why he's one of the top 20 prospects in baseball, and on Wednesday the Giants gave fans a taste of Luciano's power:

Reminder: That's the swing and physique of a shortstop who won't turn 19 until September. Luciano signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago and made an impact in his pro debut last year, batting .302/.417/.564 in 47 games with 10 homers and 13 doubles. 

"Kind of taller -- little lanky, still -- not fully mature in the lower half, but incredibly twitchy," manager Gabe Kapler said on KNBR earlier this week. "Incredibly athletic and rangy to both his left and his right. In the batter's box, (he has) a high level of comfort and confidence."

Luciano likely would have spent much of this season with High-A San Jose, but now he'll get two months of extra work with more experienced players in Sacramento, along with this early time in big league camp. The Giants will reevaluate their prospects in the offseason, but Luciano has the look of someone who will move extremely quickly. There are plenty of scouts who believe he'll be a top-five prospect in all of baseball by next spring. 

[RELATED: Three interesting observations about Giants' 60-game slate]

Kapler has talked a couple of times this week of how impressive the younger Giants have been. Luciano is part of a group that includes Joey Bart, Patrick Bailey, Heliot Ramos, Alexander Canario and Wilson. Kapler said that group is often making Oracle Park "look small."

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Giants 2020 MLB season restart: Teams, format, schedule location, odds

Giants 2020 MLB season restart: Teams, format, schedule location, odds

At 7:08 p.m. on July 23, a Giant will dig into the box -- likely the right-handed box, given Gabe Kapler's likelihood to use platoons -- and stare out at Clayton Kershaw. For a moment, the summer will seem normal.

It's not at all normal, of course. That game will be played without fans, with managers wearing masks, and with players socially distancing themselves in the empty stands. But here in 2020, that's the closest we can get to baseball, and MLB is making a real effort to return for a 60-game season. 

It was a long road getting here, and there's a lot to be figured out before the opener. But here's a look at what you can expect during the 2020 season:

When does the MLB season resume?

If you're going to come back in late July, come back in style, and that's what baseball is doing. The first game of the short season is Yankees-Nationals, followed by Giants-Dodgers as the nightcap. That's Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole and then Johnny Cueto vs. Kershaw. If MLB wanted to make a statement with the first night back, that's a hell of a way to do it. 

The other 26 teams return July 24, which is nearly four full months later than the original start date. MLB shut down spring training operations March 12 and the league and MLB Players Association had a long battle to try and figure out a way to return. It was nasty, and ultimately the commissioner imposed a 60-game season. Here's what that looks like for the Giants:

The Giants will play all of their home games and do all of their training at Oracle Park, which has been upgraded quite a bit.

Is there a new format?

Aside from this being the shortest season in MLB history? Yes, there are some other quirks. Scheduling was changed to limit travel and extra innings will now start with a runner on second to try and speed games up and make sure players aren't at the ballpark too late into the night. 

Social distancing rules are in effect, although there's only so much guys like catcher Buster Posey and first baseman Brandon Belt can do. 

The biggest change is the universal DH, which was likely to go into the rulebook in the next CBA anyway. Goodbye, Madison Bumgarner hitting dingers. The Giants won't have a set DH. They plan to use several veterans, including Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and likely newcomer Darin Ruf. 

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What does the playoff race look like?

It's an Even Year, my friends! 

Alright, alright, the Giants are still not anywhere close to favored, but a 60-game season is a sprint, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has talked repeatedly of how it puts the Giants in a much more competitive position. He recently mentioned a conversation on a call with team employees. 

"Somebody made the point that, 'Hey, we were 19-6 in July. We were the best team in baseball in July,'" Zaidi said. "That's like half the season now."

With a hot start, any team can enter September with a shot at the postseason. This is especially brutal for the original favorites -- the 2019 Nationals started 19-31 before rebounding and winning it all. 

Talent should still win out in most cases, and the Dodgers are a clear favorite in that respect. The Diamondbacks and Padres are generally thought of to be on their heels in the division. The entire NL Central looks up for grabs outside of the Pirates. In the NL East, the Nationals and Braves are favorites, with the Phillies and Mets also potentially in the mix for a division title over 60 games. 

Much of this, quite frankly, could be decided by the coronavirus. More than a half-dozen established big leaguers already have opted out and more are on the way. The Giants had to shut their camp down for a night just four days in.

[RELATED: Why Oracle Park correctly is ranked No. 1 in MLB]

The 2020 MLB schedule

It's just 60 games, with 40 against your division and 20 against the corresponding division in the other league. Six of those 20 interleague games are "rivalry" games, which for the Giants means 10 percent of their season comes against the A's. 

The regular season ends Sept. 27. After that, the hope is for a normal postseason. 

Odds to win the 2020 World Series

The Giants are, uhh, not exactly favored. In some places they opened at +25000, meaning you can bet $100 to win $25,000. Sounds great, until you realize that you'll almost certainly just lose that $100. 

The Dodgers and Yankees are the heavy favorites at +350, but it's no fun to pick the favorite, especially if you're a Giants fan in this case. It's a 60-game season and anything can happen, so why not take a risk? From here, the Rays (+1800), Reds (+2000), A's (+2000) and Angels (+2200) look like solid options if you want a good roster that could get hot and win it all in a shortened season. 

In terms of long shots, the Diamondbacks are intriguing. They're +5000 and have a really well-balanced team, with enough pitching depth to make them a real problem for the Dodgers in the NL West. If they get into the postseason, they'll line up behind Bumgarner, who knows a thing or three about October.