The San Francisco Giants are coming off of a disappointing title defense. The 2013 season was a letdown in all aspects: players underachieved, injuries riddled the team, and teams in their division got a lot better.
The injuries affected the team significantly. Why was this? First, most of the injuries happened to key players like leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, second baseman Marco Scutaro, third baseman Pablo Sandoval as well as key bullpen arms Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla.
Second, it seemed like at one point or another everybody in the Giants lineup went through a hitting funk. Some were longer than others, but Buster Posey in particular had a subpar year by his standards.
Looking ahead to 2014 the Giants seem to be a team with the look of a quality lineup, at least on paper, a bullpen that’s solid and a pitching staff that faces some questions and looks to be in a year of transition.
What do the Giants need to do to compete in 2014?
Best case scenario for 2014
It’s very difficult to predict how the Giants’ season will turn out. They are coming in similar to the way they came into 2010 and 2012, which is a little overlooked. The Giants obviously feel that they have the pieces in place to contend in the NL West, which will again be a pretty solid division. What will ultimately define the team’s success is how the starting rotation pitches. That’s the one question mark around the Giants moving into the season. The best case scenario would be that all of the players stay healthy, their rotation holds up, and they make the playoffs either as a division winner or as a wild card team and contend for a World Series.
Most Important Giants
Based upon his track record; two World Series Championship before the age of 25, a batting title, and an MVP award in 2012, Buster Posey is easily the Giants’ most important player. Not only is he their best hitter and player, but he is also their leader. Even though he isn’t overly vocal his quiet Derek Jeter-type persona is exactly what the other Giants players follow. When Posey is performing the rest of the team follows. 2013 wasn’t a great year for Posey, he wasn’t in as good of shape as was required and he struggled the last two months or so of the season because of that very fact. The Giants need Posey to bounce back and return to his MVP form in order for them to be a playoff team.
On the mound, the most important pitcher is still Matt Cain. Even though Madison Bumgarner has now surpassed him as the best pitcher on the Giants staff, Cain is still the guy who, much like Posey, exudes that quiet confidence whenever he’s on the mound that the rest of the Giants players follow. He’s been on the Giants longer than any other player (pitcher, reliever, or position player) and is the guy with all the intangibles that makes the Giants staff who they are. Much like Posey, Cain is coming off a subpar season by his standards. He was inconsistent, went on the DL for the first time in his career, and didn’t pitch 200 innings for the first time in 6 years. Cain should bounce back like Posey and provide the Giants with two aces, along with Bumgarner.
Potential Breakout Players
The Giants have quite a few young players in big league camp for the first time who could emerge onto the scene and become breakout players. The one guy who’s been on the roster since 2011 and has been scrutinized unfairly for much of his career even though he’s been semi-productive for a young hitter is Brandon Belt. Now in his fourth full season as a Giants starter at first base he figures to be a prime candidate to have a 20-25 home run season where he drives in between 80 and 90 runs. He batted .289 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI’s last season. However, after he changed his swing with about two months to go in the season he became a much more confident hitter and started to show the power potential that the Giants saw in him throughout his minor league stint. If Belt has the kind of breakout season that he’s poised to have, he will provide the Giants another hitter to go along with Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and newly acquired Michael Morse to provide a formidable 3-7 in the batting order.
The Giants are known for producing quality young arms both in the bullpen and as starters. That’s nothing new as there are a lot of quality young arms in the Giants big league camp who could become breakout pitchers. The one who looks like the prime candidate is Derek Law. He’s a 23-year old, 6’3”, 218 pounder from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a product of Miami Dade South CC. He has dazzled the Giants in the minors with not only his four pitch mix headlined by his low-mid 90’s fastball, but also his funky windup which includes a 180 twist which allows him to hide the ball effectively from hitters. However, the thing that has the Giants drooling over him is his strikeout to walk ratio. In 140 minor league innings he has 188 strikeouts to 37 walks which is equivalent to a 5.08 strikeout to walk ratio. However, his numbers in 2013 were even more video game like. He struck out 102 and only walked 12 which came out to an 8.5 strikeout to walk ratio. If he impresses the Giants in Spring Training he could end up making the team or at the very least be the first name called if there’s an injury to a reliever or someone struggles.
Worst Case Scenario
Much like in 2013, if the Giants have injuries to key players and the back end of the rotation, particularly Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, all struggle, then 2014 could be a long year. The Giants have the lineup necessary to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, but their rotation needs to hold up and much like in 2010 and 2012 they need some things to bounce in their direction. This is a transition year for the Giants rotation. They have a lot of young pitchers coming up like Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar who will be on the club in 2015. So they are just hoping that the rotation holds up and they can make another postseason run. However, if things go wrong it could be much like 2013 where the Giants finished fourth in the NL West at 10 games under 500.
Areas of Concern
The main cause for concern is the Giants starting rotation. It seems weird to be saying that as it has been a strength of the team for the past several seasons, but this year might be different. It’s nearly a given that Bumgarner is an elite pitcher in baseball, that Cain will bounce back and be the All-Star caliber pitcher and the innings-eater that he is. However, Lincecum, Hudson and Vogelsong all have questions surrounding them. Will Lincecum be able to figure out how to transition from a thrower to a pitcher and also have better fitness as he wore down toward the end of his starts? Will Hudson bounce back from his ankle injury, and will Vogelsong prove that 2013 was a fluke and have a 2011 and 2012 type of year? These questions will be answered shortly.
Who Needs to Bounce Back from a Down 2013
There are multiple players that the Giants need to have bounce back from down 2013 seasons, but the one that is the most important is Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval is a guy who the Giants need to be productive in order to be a playoff team. He’s slimmed down to 240 lbs. which is down 35 lbs. from last season. Hopefully that will result in Sandoval having a 2009 type of season, where he hit .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI’S. That also included a .943 OPS and him finishing second in the batting title race behind Hanley Ramirez. Since then Sandoval hasn’t been as productive as the Giants have wanted. One reason has been because of injuries, but most of those problems have been because of his weight. If Sandoval gets back to his 2009 form the Giants will be in really good shape as far as their lineup goes.
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