Giants

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."

Barry Bonds getting support from early ballots to Baseball Hall of Fame

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USATSI

Barry Bonds getting support from early ballots to Baseball Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame electees will be announced on Jan. 22. with the induction ceremony to take place on July 21.

And just like clockwork, the question surrounding Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens has been brought up once again: Should Bonds and Clemens be considered for the Hall of Fame despite being connected to performance-enhancing drugs?

While this won't answer that question, there are signs that the ice is thawing out on a discussion that has been capped for a long time. With 182 ballots revealed, MLB.com's public ballots show huge support of Clemens and Bonds. And Ryan Thibodaux, as well as his team, who track the ballots notice an upward trend between the two controversial stars.

"We've noticed all six of [MLB.com] voters voted for Bonds," Thibodaux told NBC Sports Bay Area. "Overall, Bonds and Clemens look like they will see a rather small increase in their vote percentages this year."

Thibodaux also said we shouldn't get used to those high percentages located next to Bonds and Clemens, they will more than likely fall to the 60-percent range once other large outlets like ESPN reveal their voters' ballots. 

"They typically do relatively poorly on these late-arriving ballots," Thibodaux said. 

Then, Bonds and Clemens will likely fall even further as more and more ballots are revealed. That's standard.

It can cause some concern for Bonds and Clemens supporters, knowing this may be how it'll be until the two run out of chances. They only have a few more opportunities to get elected, but there is still hope.

"Every year, new voters come in who reach 10 years in the BBWAA, and older voters who haven't covered baseball for 10 years lose their vote. Bonds and Clemens do very well among the younger, newer voters, and poorly among the older set."

This may not be enough to have them hit the 75-percent mark, but it will be close.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter for MLB.com, and a Hall of Fame voter, did indeed vote for the Bonds and Clemens on his ballot -- and he's done it for the last three years since he was given the chance. 

"Bonds is the best player I ever watched play, and Clemens -- if not the best pitcher I've ever watched pitch, he's certainly in the top three," Feinsand told NBC Sports Bay Area. "And yes, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that each of them used PEDs. but at the same time, they both played in the testing era and never tested positive."

Jon Morosi, also of MLB.com spoke to KNBR on Wednesday saying something similar.

"I voted for Bonds and Clemens, as I have every year,” said Morosi. “For now, at least, my policy regarding players tied to PED use remains unchanged: I do not vote for players suspended under MLB’s drug policy from 2005 to present, but I support the best-all-around players from the complicated era that preceded it.”

[RELATED: Barry Bonds kept out of Hall for the sixth year]

Could the demographics of the voters be the ultimate say in whether these players under the dark cloud of steroids get voted in? Perhaps.

What we do know is the steroid era happened -- we don't necessarily know when it started and who did and did not participate in being exposed to the PEDs -- but the voters continue to speak.

Whether or not anyone is listening is another thing. 

Why Duane Kuiper believes Derek Holland is 'perfect guy' for Giants

Why Duane Kuiper believes Derek Holland is 'perfect guy' for Giants

Farhan Zaidi made his second notable move (see Pat Venditte) as president of baseball operations on Monday when he re-signed lefty Derek Holland to a one-year, $7 million contract.

Both Holland and the Giants wanted the reunion.

For Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper, the move makes complete sense.

"Holland's the perfect guy to sign," Kuiper said on Wednesday on KNBR 680. "Think about all the boxes he checks: He wants to be here, he had a good year, he's a left-hander, he got lefties out in a division where there's a lot of left-handed hitters, he's a good guy, he's great in the clubhouse. He checks all the boxes."

While Holland can pitch out of the bullpen, he's expected to slot somewhere into the Giants' rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Dereck Rodriguez, and Andrew Suarez.

Holland got a sizable raise from his 2018 salary of $1.75 million, but Kuiper believes it's actually a good deal compared to what other starting pitchers have been getting on the free agent market this offseason.

"He's a lot more expensive this year than he was last year," Kuiper said. "But he's not off the charts, like 'Ah man, what are we going to do?' He's the perfect guy and I don't think Farhan is close to being finished with this roster."

During a conference call on Monday, Zaidi noted that there's still a lot of time to add players to the roster, and is specifically looking to address the outfield situation.

"We have quite a few guys that we're looking at in the outfield mix," Zaidi said. "I'm still optimistic that we're going to add on that front. We've obviously got a group of guys that we like, but they're inexperienced. Adding some experience and known production in the outfield is something we'd like to do."