Looking at a 76-86 campaign in 2013, it’s hard to believe the San Francisco Giants were in the midst of World Series defense. In fact, they entered the season looking for their third championship in four years with the major pieces of that success intact. But if the last three years are any indication, the Giants were due to miss the playoffs, which of course means this season they’ll win the World Series.
Heading into the offseason early, the Giants had two goals: strengthen the staff and add some pop to the lineup. They did so with starter Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse, neither of whom played a full season in 2013. Sure, they didn’t set the hot stove ablaze, but did they have to?
This was a team on pace to be the next MLB dynasty a year ago. And this is still a very good team. They were just hit with misfortunate and underperformance last season, weren’t they?
If the middle of your order involves Buster Posey, you’re doing alright. He’s one of the most dynamic young players in the league at one of its most important positions. And when you surround him with Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, you have to like your chances. See: Two rings in three years.
Though the Giants have ranked in the top eight of hits and average two straight years, they look to be improving in the power department. Hence the arrival of Morse from Baltimore … and Barry Bonds from obscurity.
Perhaps it’s the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park, but the Giants ranked 29th in home runs, 25th in extra base hits, and 22nd in slugging percentage in 2013. Up from 30th and down from 20th and 18th respectively in 2012. In the dog days of summer, the Giants were panting. They endured 3-16 and 1-8 stretches in the summer months, failing to score more than two runs in 16 of those games. Clearly there was a problem.
Couple that with a few outlandish scenarios — center fielder, lead-off hitter and recipient of $45 million Angel Pagan was lost for the season in May, and Posey’s near non-existence in the second half — it’s clear they weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. But you have to think they will this year. This spring, Posey is hitting .417, Sandoval .321 and Belt .308. Pence has four home runs, and Morse would have two of his own if Josh Reddick wasn’t Spiderman. This is a very good lineup it just doesn’t always act that way.
The woes in the Bay largely rested with its starting rotation. Even with their park’s pitching advantages, the Giants ranked 24th in starter ERA and Madison Bumgarner was the only starter with a winning record and more than 12 games started. Believe it or not, in those years the Giants won the World Series, their pitching was a big reason why. So the Giants are left wondering which staff they’ll get in 2014.
Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum are putting their best feet forward this spring. Lincecum, fresh off a 10-14 campaign, is posting a sub-one WHIP as is Bumgarner, who also has yet to surrender a run in three starts. Matt Cain’s line thus far: 10.2 IP, 12 K, 3 BB, 0.94 WHIP, .179 BAA and seven earned runs on seven hits. He’ll chalk that last part up to “it’s just spring training.”
Then, Hudson looks to be an upgrade over the 5-11 Barry Zito. And Ryan Vogelsong allowed just one run in five innings against the Texas Rangers last week after getting pummeled in his first two starts. There is potential here. And you have to think that if the stars align or at the very least they pitch to that potential, this is a quality rotation top to bottom capable of a deep playoff run. You’re seeing this too, correct?
With the underperformance of the starting rotation, a larger burden was hoisted on the shoulders of the Giants bullpen. They held their own. They ranked eighth in reliever ERA and closer Sergio Romo posted the third most saves in the NL. Even with the departure of the effective reliever/spot starter Chad Gaudin, they are a group capable of dependability and success as long as they’re not relied on.
Opening day lineup
1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Marco Scutaro/Joaquin Arias, 2B
3. Brandon Belt, 1B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
7. Michael Morse, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS
The Giants farm system is carried by its arms. Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar earned placement in the top 100 prospects according to MLB.com for their strong performances last season. The right handed Crick went 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 14 starts and only yielded one home run. Escobar, a southpaw, went 8-8 in 24 starts with a 2.80 ERA that shrank as the season wore on. Both players will figure prominently in the Giants future, and Escobar could help make an impact this season.
Beyond Crick and Escobar are left handers Adalberto Mejia and Ty Blach, who went 7-4 and 12-4 a year ago in Class A San Jose, respectively. They may be a year away from the major league roster, but both show promise for the rotation in years to come. Homegrown pitching talent in San Francisco? Sounds familiar.
Highlighting the future Giants bats is Andrew Susac, a catching prospect who displays flashes of power to all fields and could help take pressure off Posey behind the plate. Last year in Richmond, he clubbed 12 home runs and 17 doubles, and maintained a .362 OBP in 84 games. He, too, could see time in the 2014 campaign.
You look at this Giants team and wonder how they finished 76-86 a year ago. They have a quality pitching staff, a potent lineup and one of the best managers in the game in Bruce Bochy. For goodness sakes, they’ve won two of the last four World Series. Then, of course, they failed to make the playoffs in the other two years. What is up with this team?!
To keep with the pattern would be to win the World Series in 2014. They don’t have the fire power their rival Los Angeles Dodgers do, so if they’re to win, they’ll have to make it as the NL Wild Card. But for this team, that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Right?