No matter how the ballclub fares, Giants fans are winners every year. That's because they get to listen regularly to a peerless broadcasting team: Ford C. Frick award winner Jon Miller, Dave Flemming and, of course, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, the inimitable, irrepressible pair of ex-Giants who recently sat down with MLB.com Giants beat reporter Chris Haft at Scottsdale Stadium for the following "conversation." With Kruk and Kuip at the microphone, there's no such thing as a dull game. Their wit, insight and sheer love for the game are evident in each broadcast, just as they are in the following chat.
What are your sources of optimism for the team's potential success in 2014?
Krukow: We first saw a different look at this team during FanFest. I think that's always a pretty good gauge. It's evident that they did their homework in the offseason. I think what really became glaringly obvious to us was that they did not like watching the playoffs on TV. Given the success they've had the last several years, you can't blame them. You win a couple of those things, those tournaments, you kind of feel like you belong there every year. This is a group that really is just coming of age. They had their success when they were young. Well, now they're right there in prime time. The expectation, I think, that surrounds this camp is what's off the charts. You have to have expectation if you're going to have a good season. And they have it. That's why I like their chances this year.
Kuiper: They're going to win 90 games. Now, is that enough? That's the question and it's probably more so talking about health than anything else. I think 90 games is enough. But now you're chasing the Big Blue Monster and all the resources that they have. The Giants are going to have to play extremely well to stay up with them and they have a chance to do that.
What gives them that chance?
Kuiper: Well, I think Mike touched on it earlier: Belt's a year older, Crawford's a year older, Sandoval's in better shape and a year older, Pagan will be there all year, and the health of the pitching staff. It's great when the baby of the pitching staff is also the ace and the best pitcher, in [Madison] Bumgarner. That's pretty cool.
The two major changes they've made -- adding Michael Morse and Tim Hudson -- what does that do for the club?
Krukow: Adding Tim Hudson takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen. I think even at age 38, it's realistic to think he's going to give you 180 to 200 innings, which he's more than capable of doing. The thing I like about Hudson is he gets a lot of quick outs, within three pitches. A lot of quick innings. You'll see him have a seven-inning outing and three of those innings will be single-digit pitches per inning. I've always enjoyed playing with sinkerballers and now we get a chance to watch one. And I do believe he's going to be good for a lot of other reasons on this staff as well.
Morse, if he stays healthy, is going to be a presence in the lineup that they haven't had for a while. That's a [right-handed batter] who can hit the ball out of AT&T Park to right field. He's got legitimate power. So it's just a matter of being able to get him out there and get 550 at-bats. If that happens, I think his impact in the lineup will be a tremendous positive for this team. I do think they're going to score more runs and I think he's a big reason.
As an ex-infielder, Duane, how would you have liked to play behind Hudson, getting ground balls?
Kuiper: You know with a guy like Hudson that you're going to get at least five opportunities, probably somewhere between five and eight. It keeps you loose. You stay in a good rhythm. Totally opposite of the way Tim Lincecum was when he threw hard, where you could fall asleep at your position because of all the strikeouts. Hudson would be a great guy to play behind, he really would.
When you encounter fans, what question about this year's team do they ask most often?
Kuiper: Do we spoon? They really want to know if we share a room and spoon on the road and the answer is usually yes.
Kuiper: And that's what makes them happy. They want to know that we're together 24/7. And once we assure them that's true, then they walk away very happy. Is that the answer you were looking for?
The National League West always seems like it has the potential for surprise or balance. Is this year no exception?
Krukow: Well, we haven't seen them all. So it's premature. I do like the way the Padres have improved themselves. They could go either way. They haven't had a good spring. Nobody's hitting over there. Guys just haven't jelled whatsoever. But I do think that they could have a year where they finish above .500. I don't know if there's enough pitching in Colorado. But we haven't seen it. We don't believe in things we read until we see it. There are people who are credible who we enjoy reading, of course. But until we see it, we don't really make a call on it. The first time through, the first six weeks of the season, we'll see the whole division and we'll know where we're at.
Kuiper: It's going to be a tough division. It's not like the American League West, where those teams get to play the Astros 18 or 19 times. You don't catch really a break. That's why it's going to be hard for a team to come out of the West as a Wild Card team.
You guys played for this team when things were a little lean. The club has been prosperous and successful for a while now, but once in a while, do you still catch yourself looking around at 40,000 people sitting in that beautiful ballpark by the bay, the team winning title after title and you think, "My gosh, what a difference"?
Krukow: There is not a day that goes by that we take it for granted. Not one. If you've gone through a season where you've lost 100 games, and you're the only team in a 132-year history that did that? If you're not winning at the big league level, it is a miserable existence. That year, [manager] Jim Davenport took Jack Mull, who had been in the Minor Leagues for 30 years, to the big leagues to coach first base. Great guy. I had him in the Minor Leagues with the Cubs. He was my manager at Key West. A lifer Minor League guy. He finally gets his chance [to coach in the Majors] in 1985, and we lose 100 games. I'll never forget -- we're playing Atlanta the last three games of the year, and we're in the dugout, just him and me before the game, and he looks at me and says, "Mike, if this is what the big leagues is, you can have it." And it's true. If you're not winning, it's miserable. What this team does now, what has been created in that ballpark -- you think about the Mondays we used to play after the Dodgers series. If you got a start against the Expos, you were going to be playing in front of 3,000 people. I couldn't blame them for not coming. It was miserable. Now, it's a privilege to play in that ballpark and we don't take one day for granted.
Kuiper: I was responsible for only two months of that '85 season. So I'm going to say that I was part of a team that lost 85. The problem was, it was a pretty decent team. It wasn't like we were a bunch of hacks out there. But we certainly have enjoyed watching how things have progressed, not just in San Francisco, but also here for Spring Training, where it's orange and black all over Scottsdale. They take over the town. We truly have some great fans. A lot of them came over from Candlestick. I mean, look, we're on our 15th year at AT&T Park and it really does seem like last year [that it opened]. It's terrific. It is absolutely terrific. To say that we broadcasted for two world championship teams in three years, that was pretty doggone good.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.