April is upon us and that means the return of Major League Baseball. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads.
The musicians: Everyone knows Asher Roth from his breakout 2009 hit “I Love College,” but he’s been hustling hard since to keep the music going after a 2011 deal with Def Jam fell through without an album release. He’s set to release his sophomore album, “RetroHash,” on April 22. On the sports side, Roth is a baseball fanatic who followed his father’s San Francisco Giants fandom despite growing up in the Philadelphia area.
It’s no secret musician Scott McCaughey loves baseball, as his national pastime-loving band the Baseball Project just released its third album of witty baseball devotions. From 1994 through 2011, he served as a touring member and occasional studio member of R.E.M. and also fronts the Northwestern indie rock bands Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5.
The team: After winning the World Series in 2012, the Giants slumped to a disappointing 76-86 fourth place finish last year. Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe San Francisco can rebound and grab a playoff spot this year. The trouble is they’re in the same division as the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers, so a Wild Card spot might be their best bet. Hardly anyone expected the Giants to win the World Series in 2012 (or in 2010) and with most of the key players from those wins still around (along with a great manager in Bruce Bochy), they’re a team that shouldn’t be slept on.
Previously in this series:
Dropkick Murphys Talk Boston Red Sox
Hold Steady & Baseball Project Talk Minnesota Twins
Jimmy Eat World Talk Arizona Diamondbacks
Yo La Tengo & So So Glos Talk New York Mets
New Found Glory Talks Miami Marlins
Asher Roth Talks Philadelphia Phillies
Asher, how did you become a Giants fan?
Asher Roth: My father is a big sports fan. That’s usually the case with children — they inherit their parent’s team. My pops is from out west but his family is from Queens, New York. So when the New York Giants moved out west in ’56, I believe, my father who was born that year and became a fan of the San Francisco Giants. I became a huge Willie Mays fan. Willie Mays was his guy. He put me on to Willie Mays real heavy. There’s a picture of me floating around somewhere on the Internet, definitely on Instagram, with Willie Mays when I was 2 years old.
I feel like people underestimate the Giants because they underachieved so much last year. But they won the World Series two years ago!
Scott McCaughey: They definitely are flying under the radar despite their recent success, because they weren’t very good last year and they didn’t do a lot to change the team. They went and got Tim Hudson and that could help, but he’s coming off a really severe injury and he’s an older guy. I think he’s gonna be really good but it’s not a really splashy free agent signing. They left most of that to the Dodgers, Yankees and the usual suspects. Everyone expects the Dodgers to be monstrous and they should be, and expectations are pretty low for the Giants. But as they’ve proven in the last four years, you can’t necessarily rule them out, even though if you go man-by-man on their roster, they don’t seem to match up with some other teams.
Aside from Hudson, who are some other players who could be difference makers for the Giants this year?
McCaughey: With the Giants, it all comes down to pitching and I think the key guys are going to be Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong. With Vogelsong, I think he’s got to come back and pitch consistently and be a really good 4th starter. They reigned him, so they’re hoping he can bounce back. It’s the same with Lincecum… Timmy has to learn how to pitch with reduced velocity, which is what a lot of pitchers have to do as they get older. I think he can do it. He’s just been inconsistent and he needs to go deeper into games. If he can learn to throw strikes and challenge hitters a little more, go into the 7th and 8th instead of maybe getting through the 5th and 6th (which is what he’s been doing lately) that’ll be key.
The keys are all in pitching. They’re going to score some runs. Brandon Belt has finally figured out Major League pitching, and he’s going to be awesome this year I think. They’ll score as many runs as they need.
Do the Giants have a chance against L.A. for the division?
Roth: Yeah man, I do. We’re going to have to get some production out of left field. I’m not sure what’s up with Michael Morse. I’m interested to see what’s up with (Pablo) Sandoval because that dude is the real deal when he’s in the lineup. He struggles with injuries, hurts himself every now and then, so then we have to go to that dude Joaquin Arias, which is cool and all. He’s a good player.
The Giants season really depends on the Brandons — Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. If we can get production out of Brandon Belt and he’s really hitting, as well as Angel Pagan at the top of the lineup… If Marco Scutaro stays healthy, we have proven dudes up top so it’s really going to come down to that 5, 6, 7 getting production. I’m not really worried about Buster Posey. It really comes down to Brandon Crawford. I would like to see Hunter Pence match his production from last year. He got paid last year. He had 99 RBIs. He’s another one of those Tim Hudson guys. Hunter Pence brings them in. Last year, you saw what that guy brought to the clubhouse. That’s the intangible fact that baseball teams are teams. If you have a good a team, that’s the stuff that carries you.
Check out the Red Sox from last year, the Cardinals every year. There aren’t any big names on those teams. They’re all guys who love to play the game from the heart. That’s true baseball. It really goes back to Willie Mays. The reason I’m a Willie Mays fan is because of the way he approached the game every day. He was hustling and having fun with it. That’s what’s beautiful about the game of baseball. It’s a business too. It’s something you can play for a while. I’m in a good place with the Giants.
Who do you think are the teams to beat in the National League?
McCaughey: The Cardinals are aways going to be there, even with losing a few guys like they have. I think they’ll be right there at the end, as usual. The Nationals should be there, but I would have said the same thing before the season last year. I think the Braves might take a little step back. They’ve lost a few key people. They’re counting on young pitching. I think the Nationals have to be the favorites in that division.
Could you give a World Series prediction?
McCaughey: Probably the Tigers again in the American League and in the National League, I hate to say it, but the Dodgers.
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow when Joan Jett previews the Baltimore Orioles’ season