2014 San Francisco Giants Season Outlook

Matt Cain (L), Brandon Belt (M) and Buster Posey (R) look to rebound from a poor 2013 season 

Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cain (L), Brandon Belt (M) and Buster Posey (R) look to rebound from a poor 2013 season  Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cain (L), Brandon Belt (M) and Buster Posey (R) look to rebound from a poor 2013 season
Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is upon us, and for the San Francisco Giants, it’s been a long off-season. Despite winning their 2nd World Series in 3 years, 2013 proved to be a disappointment. After finishing the season with a record of 76-86, GM Brian Sabean’s offseason moves (or lack thereof), indicate that management believes 2013 to be a fluke, and that a return to the playoffs required only minor tinkering. With that in mind, Sabean brought in former Atlanta Brave Tim Hudson to bolster the backend of the pitching staff and left fielder Michael Morse, who most recently played for the Baltimore Orioles, to add some much needed pop in the lineup.  Instead of focusing on bringing guys in from the outside, the Giants’ priority this off-season clearly was to take care of their own. Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong all signed extensions to remain in San Francisco. Will the Giants be able to recapture the magic that they had in 2010 and 2013? Or will they watch their southern California counterparts dominate the NL West?

Spring training for the Giants was relatively uneventful. There weren’t any significant position battles, which allowed players to focus on fine-tuning their game instead of worrying about their jobs.  Hudson and Morse fit right in with the atmosphere of the Giants’ clubhouse, and seem to have been solid signings. Hudson and the rest of the Giants’ pitching staff have also pitched well. Opening day starter Madison Bumgarner continues to reward the Giants for their investment in him back in 2012, and has not allowed a run in 17 innings. 2013’s opening day starter Matt Cain also looked to be back on track. The only cloud hanging over the Giants this spring has been the ailing back of Marco Scutaro. The Giants’ starting second baseman and 2012 NLCS MVP will start on the DL to open the season. Utility infielder Joaquin Arias will likely start at 2B tonight with hot hitting Brandon Hicks and defensive specialist Ehire Adrianza as back-up middle-infielders.

Opening day roster

1.       Angel Pagan, CF

2.       Brandon Belt, 1B

3.       Pablo Sandoval, 3B

4.       Buster Posey, C

5.       Hunter Pence, RF

6.       Michael Morse, LF

7.       Joaquin Arias, 2B

8.       Brandon Crawford, SS

Bench: Hector Sanchez (C), Brandon Hicks (2B), Ehire Adrianza (SS), Gregor Blanco (OF), Juan Perez (OF)

DL: Marco Scutaro (2B)

 Pablo Sandoval, who lost 30 lbs. this offseason, is a key piece in an improved Giants lineup  Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Pablo Sandoval, who lost 30 lbs. this offseason, is a key piece in an improved Giants lineup
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

This year’s roster, if healthy, is a definite upgrade from 2013. Morse will provide a lot more beef in the lineup compared to a platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres last year.  In addition, Pablo Sandoval has lost 30 lbs. in the offseason, and Buster Posey, who admitted to wearing down towards the end of last year, has also come back in excellent shape. Brandon Belt continues to develop and had a much-improved 2nd half of the season last year after making some adjustments to his approach. Defensively, left field, center field, and 2B can all be potential danger zones for the Giants. Morse is no defensive specialist and Pagan has had his own struggles in centerfield. Even so, the key for the Giants is for the lineup to stay healthy. Morse’s career has been riddled with injuries, and the Giants have very few offensive options down in the minors. At this point, when everyone is feeling fresh and excited for the season, the outlook is good. Come the middle of summer however, things can look very different.

Rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong

                Very little needs to be said about Madison Bumgarner. He’s only 24-years old, and yet he’s established himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Bumgarner threw 201.1 innings last year, posting a 2.77 ERA while striking out 199. This spring he continued his dominance by throwing 17 innings without giving up a single run. There’s little question who is the ace of the Giants staff, and there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll continue to pitch well in 2014. Matt Cain had his roughest season in recent memory. His pre-All Star numbers were horrid (an ERA of 5.06 and 16 home runs given up), but then after the All Star game he pitched 72.1 innings with an ERA of 2.36 and allowed only 7 home runs. Given Cain’s track record, his early season slump was likely an outlier. I fully expect Cain to resume throwing the way he has his entire career, and give the Giants a fantastic 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Veteran Tim Hudson should be a steady anchor for the rotation as well. He’s coming off a brutal ankle injury from July of 2013, but thus far he’s had no setbacks. A healthy Hudson should thrive at AT&T Park. Tim Lincecum has really made some strides this offseason. He showed himself to be a different type of pitcher this spring, pitching more for contact than for swings and misses. This will allow The Freak to pitch deeper into games while keeping his pitch count low. With a dip in velocity from years past, Timmy is really going to have to be able to locate his pitches to be successful. From what I saw in Spring Training, he’s well on his way to having a rebound season. The biggest question mark in the rotation is Ryan Vogelsong. Ever since he pitched in the off-season prior to 2013, he’s struggled with both velocity and command. While Vogelsong was one of the better feel-good-stories for the Giants, at the age of 36 (turning 37 in July), he needs to show he can turn it around sooner rather than later.

Bullpen: Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Yusmeiro Petit, David Huff, Jean Machi, Juan Gutierrez

DL: Jeremy Affeldt (RP)

                Last but not least is the Giants’ bullpen.  Sergio Romo had a career high in ERA (2.54) and WHIP (1.077) but did save 38 games, blowing only 5. They need him to stay consistent and healthy. If so, he’s one of the more reliable closers in the game. Hard throwing right-handed setup man Santiago Casilla had some blister issues last year which kept him from pitching too much last season. Since the depth of the bullpen is not a major strength of the Giants, he’s going to have to stay healthy in order for the ‘pen to be successful. Left-handed specialist Javier Lopez dominated lefties last year, as they hit only .156 off Lopez in 2013. Having him be able to dominate lefties again in 2014 will be important for the Giants, as their other veteran lefty Jeremy Affeldt will open the season on the DL due to a knee injury.

                While there are no “Buster Posey” or “Madison Bumgarner” type prospects coming up from the farm anytime soon, there are definitely a few to keep an eye out for. Center fielder Gary Brown, a former first-round pick from 2010, has definitely fallen off the map in terms of star power, as he was supposed to have made it to the Majors already, but had a tough 2013 season. Other young positional players include first baseman Adam Duvall, third baseman Chris Dominguez and catcher Andrew Susac. The best prospects for the Giants however are the pitchers. Reliever Kyle Crick, another former first-round draft pick back in 2011, pitched 68.2 innings last year in San Jose, allowing 48 hits and 39 walks to 95 strikeouts and a stellar 1.57 ERA. Edwin Escobar, a 22-year old lefty, is likely the guy who will be called up first if there is a need in the rotation. Pitching between San Jose and AA Richmond last year, he threw 128.2 innings, allowing 112 hits and 30 walks against 146 strikeouts. The strength of the Giants’ farm system is by far their pitching, but with some aging players like Pagan, Pence and potential free agent Pablo Sandoval, the Giants need some young positional players as soon as possible.

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                With an improved roster, the Giants will almost definitely improve upon last year’s miserable season. Manager Bruce Bochy has proved time and time again that he can push all the right buttons, whether it comes to start/sits or who to call upon from the bullpen. The Giants also have one of the best locker rooms in the MLB, and chemistry is invaluable as a team goes through the highs and lows of a 162-game season. That being said, the NL West is probably one of the best divisions in baseball. The LA Dodgers are loaded with talent, even with reigning Cy-Young pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the DL. The Diamondbacks are also a solid club with a talented pitching staff and a blossoming superstar in Paul Goldschmidt. The Rockies and Padres are also improving. A lot will have to go right for the Giants in 2014 if they want to sneak into the playoffs. I don’t think that the Giants have enough in terms of talent to knock-off the Dodgers from atop the NL West. I do believe however that the Giants have enough to sneak into the playoffs as a wild-card spot, and just like in 2010 and 2012, once they’re in, anything can happen.  

 

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