SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The sting of missing the playoffs still lingers for Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski.
Last year, the Giants fell just one win shy of clinching a spot in the expanded postseason field, which would have marked the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2016. They entered the final weekend of the regular season firmly in control of their own destiny, but they ended up losing three consecutive games to the Padres to drop out of contention and finish the year with a 29-31 record, clinching the club’s fourth consecutive losing season.
“It's still frustrating because we haven't had a chance to redeem ourselves yet,” Yastrzemski said following the Giants’ first full-squad workout of the spring on Monday. “I think until we get a chance to get out into the field, it's still a little thorn in the side. We're just not satisfied.”
The Giants will enter the 2021 season with higher expectations, but they’re currently viewed as long shots for the playoffs, particularly because they play in the National League West, which features a pair of behemoths in the Dodgers, the defending World Series champions, and the Padres, who significantly upgraded their rotation by acquiring Blake Snell and Yu Darvish this winter.
Still, Yastrzemski said he won’t allow the Dodgers' and Padres’ offseason activity to spoil his own optimism about the year ahead.
“We all have the same chance right now,” Yastrzemski said. “That's the beauty of Spring Training. It's day one, and everybody gets to go out there and have the same opportunity. It's interesting to look around the league and see what's going on right now. We're really focused on us and making sure that we're the best that we can possibly be. If we keep that mentality and not worry about who we're facing and not getting starstruck by big names or anything like that, then we're going to be just fine.”
After finishing eighth in NL MVP voting in 2020, Yastrzemski will be counted on to anchor the Giants’ lineup as he enters his third season in the Majors. He batted .297 with a .968 OPS and 10 home runs over 54 games last year and should be a mainstay atop the order along with new infielder Tommy La Stella, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract and is known for his elite plate discipline.
“I want to learn from him,” Yastrzemski said of La Stella. “He does a great job of controlling his at-bat and making sure that he gets what he wants out of it. To have a guy like that, where the opposing pitchers don't want to face them -- they don't want to throw 10 pitches, 12 pitches to one guy -- and to put that frustration on the mound is really good because hopefully at some point they're going to make a mistake, and we're going to take advantage of it.”
Yastrzemski will be an important piece of the outfield puzzle as well. The 30-year-old primarily played right field in 2020, but he has experience playing all three outfield spots and could factor into the center-field mix this year to give the Giants more depth behind projected starter Mauricio Dubón. Yastrzemski saw time in center last year, and the Giants believe he did a better job there than some defensive metrics have indicated.
“He came very close to making three or four more plays that I think would have changed the perception of his defensive year,” manager Gabe Kapler said last week. “He was able to get to a lot of balls that it seemed like he might not get to, and then he wasn’t able to complete the play either because he’d go for the ball and it popped out of his glove, or he made contact with the wall and he just wasn’t able to get the play through the finish line.”
Yastrzemski said he plans to make a concerted effort to focus on finishing plays during batting practice this year to improve his defense in 2021.
“Instead of going out there and taking 10 to 15 reps of half-hearted effort and saying, ‘Oh, I can go make this play,’ and just jogging at it, taking it like a game rep and focusing on those so the focus is very intent,” Yastrzemski said. “Just minimizing them and making sure that they're at full speed the entire time.”