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Murph’s top 3 storylines heading into Giants spring training




No, not talking about the weasel.

No, not the sound of your microwaved Orville Redenbacher.

The “Pop!” in question is the sound of jen-yoo-ein baseballs smacking into leather gloves down in Scottsdale, AZ.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be at Scottsdale Stadium early on a February morning, you know it as one of Earth’s more pleasant sounds. It’s right there with your Mom calling you in for dinner on a summer eve, or the “hiissssss-CRACK!” of a Coors Light on an airplane.

The POP! of gloves at Scottsdale Stadium without crowd noise or PA music is a ritual of pure sport, not unlike LeBron James flopping wildly, as if struck by gunfire, when lightly fouled on a basketball court.

At any rate, it leads us to our TOP THREE WEEKLY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS for the 2017 Giants, a list of questions that can change and will change as per my Jock Blog whims:

Matt Cain: Is he the X-Factor?

A: Last year, I pegged Cain as the X-Factor, the difference between a successful season and not. Turns out I was wrong. Cain was ineffective, and the Giants still made it to the NLDS. This year, I’d peg Cain as an X-Factor again, if only because I like saying “X-Factor”. Cain is in the final year of his big money deal; he’s 32-years old; his arm has been through it all. I’m intrigued to see if Cain gets back to the basics, to pitch without pain and with aggression and confidence. Perhaps being freed of expectation will free Cain’s mind. Mike Krukow told us as much on Tuesday, saying the 2017 spring will be a test of Cain’s desire. Ty Blach might be ready to go in the wings. Can Cain get hungry again, and pitch with location and focus? Can’t wait to see.

The Core Four’s Absence: Will We Ever Get Over Missing These Guys?

A: For now, no.

FanFest was weird, without Sergio Romo’s big grin, or Javier Lopez’s cool witticisms. The Giants bullpen is off to college without Mommy and Daddy now. Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Will Smith . . . these guys are all living in the dormitory without Lopez and Romo and even Santiago Casilla, now an Oakland Athletic. Granted, it’s nice that dorm R.A. Mark Melancon has moved in to make sure the kids do their homework and laundry and get to bed on time, but I find the bullpen without the ‘Core Four’ (Jeremy Affeldt retired in 2015) to be something that will take some time to adjust to. I’m not there yet.

The World Baseball Classic Awaits

Who knows what evil lurks within the heart of the WBC? All we know is that Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford and even Johnny Cueto, for Team Dominican Republic, will be out of our view starting around March 9. This is unsettling. While Posey told Paulie Mac and myself at FanFest of the honor of wearing a Team USA jersey, and how much it meant to him, Giants fans could only squirm uncomfortably. We all love America, sure. John Philip Sousa, the Constitution, iPhones . . . yeah, it’s great and all. But when it comes to the health of the 2017 Giants, can’t we all just agree to celebrate America on the 4th of July with a barbecue and a few pops?

I know, I know. Everything should be fine. Buster can drape himself in the flag and return a conquering hero.

Just, until then, we need something to talk about. Or, maybe we should just be quiet and listen to the POP! of the baseball in leather.