The San Francisco Giants finished the regular season last year with a 94-68 and an 8 game lead over their nearest competitor, the LA Dodgers, in the NL West. They followed that up with a remarkable postseason run that culminated with their 2nd World Series Championship in the last 3 years. So in the offseason they did their best to keep the team intact. The Giants will return 21 of the 25 players from their 2012 postseason roster. One of the new faces is a familiar one as Andres Torres returns to the team.
The Giants boast one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball and the have one of the games bright young stars in catcher Buster Posey, the 2012 NL MVP, who led the majors with a .336 batting average last year. The Giants are rock-solid defensively and have a knack for getting the big hits when they need them most. If there is one thing that might be cause for concern for Bruce Bochy’s team, it is that they did spend a lot of money on two guys that are far from a sure thing. Angel Pagan was resigned to the tune of 4 years, 40 million dollars and 37-year old Marco Scutaro re-upped for 3 years and $20 million. I’m reaching here, but those signings certainly raised a few eyebrows around the league.
The Giants will have to hold off the $230 million monstrosity that has been erected down the road from them. I’m talking about the Dodgers and their massive payroll that was put together with one thing in mind – dethrone the hated rivals to the north.
Best case scenario: In a perfect world Pagan and Scutaro will be worth every penny, Hunter Pence will return to form and Tim Lincecum will once again be a dominant starting pitcher. If all of those things happen and Buster Posey has another MVP-caliber season, there is no reason to think the Giants can’t make a run at back-to-back World Series Championships.
Most important Giants: Buster Posey has won two World Series’, an NL MVP, a batting title, the NL Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger, and was an All-Star starter. He can hit for power, average, and drive in clutch runs. He is outstanding defensively and a security blanket for the pitching staff when he is behind the plate. He missed most of 2011 after suffering that horrific ankle injury and the Giants missed the playoffs. He is the heart and soul of this team and their unquestioned franchise player.
Pablo Sandoval can be a one-man wrecking crew for the Giants, just ask the Detroit Tigers. As always, his weight is a concern, but I think that Sandoval and the Giants have found a balance there and it’s not a real concern for the 2013 season. Sandoval’s offensive exploits in the fall classic earned him the World Series MVP. He followed that up by leading his Venezuelan Winter League team to a championship and he of course was named the MVP of that series too. The guy can flat out hit.
Potential breakout players: Could this be the year Brandon Belt breaks out and realizes his potential. He has always been outstanding defensively, but his bat has been a little inconsistent. He posted a solid .275 batting average in 411 at bats last season. He did hit 7 homers and drive in 56 runs. He should easily get over 500 at bats in 2013 and could push the homer total closer to 20. If he can do that and keep the average in the .275 range the Giants would be happy.
[Find the links to all 30 MLB team previews here: 2013 MLB Team Previews]
Keep an eye on RHP Chris Heston. He has been one of the Giants most consistent minor league pitchers and in the last two seasons he has 266 strikeouts and only 80 walks in 299.2 innings. “He commands the ball well and has good sink on it,” Bruce Bochy said after watching Heston pitch a bullpen session in February. The Giants are also high on center field prospect Gary Brown. He played at AA Richmond last year and had a .279 batting average with 7 homers, 42 RBI and 33 steals. Both Heston and Brown could make their major league debuts in 2013.
Worst case scenario: Even a team as balanced and successful as the Giants has question marks. What if Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt regress offensively? What if Tim Lincecum doesn’t return to form and Barry Zito doesn’t hold up for a full season? It’s possible that come September it will look like the Giants overpaid Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. What if Hunter Pence continues to scuffle at the plate? Or what if the Giants simply suffer from championship hangover and aren’t as hungry as they need to be? Any combination of these things could lead to a worst-case scenario that sees the Giants missing out on the playoffs.
Areas of concern: Gregor Blanco is slated to be the primary left fielder. He is tremendous defensively, but not much of a threat at the plate, he hits .244 with 5 homers in 2012. The Giants don’t hit for a lot of power and they have exactly two players on the roster who hit more than 12 home runs last year; Buster Posey and Hunter Pence both hit 24. There just isn’t a lot of thump in this lineup. They’ll need Sandoval to bump his homer numbers up to where they were in 2011 when he hit 23 and 2009 when he belted 25.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012: Tim Lincecum was 10-15 last year with a hefty 5.18 ERA. He was eventually moved to the bullpen where he did come up big in the playoffs. Lincecum is in the final year of his contract and it would serve not only the Giants well, but also his next contract if he can bounce back to Cy Young form.
Hunter Pence Hunter hit a career-low .253 in 2012. After joining the Giants he hit .219 with a .671 OPS. he also struck out once every 3.65 at-bats. Pence is a career .285 hitter who averages about 25 homers and 94 RBI’s per season. If he can get back to those kind of numbers it will go a long way toward helping the Giants defend their title.