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2013 Preview: San Francisco Giants

Mar 16, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT

Romo Posey Getty Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants hold off the Dodgers in the National League West?

Fresh off a magical run which led to their second World Series title in the past three seasons, the Giants have mostly kept the band together. Giants general manager Brian Sabean pulled it off by retaining three key contributors from the 2012 team. Marco Scutaro, who batted .362 after coming over from the Rockies and played the role of hero during the postseason, is back on a three-year, $20 million contract. Angel Pagan, who thrived in his first season with the club, was re-signed for four years and $40 million. Jeremy Affeldt, who owns a 2.73 ERA over four seasons with the Giants, was brought back on a three-year, $18 million contract.

It’s a little much to ask Scutaro to replicate what he did down the stretch last season, as it was fueled by a .366 batting average on balls in play. He’s also 37 years old and has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Hunter Pence batted just .219 with seven home runs in 59 games after coming over from the Phillies last season, so the Giants need him to bounce back in his walk year. 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey is the best bet in the lineup, but he plays the most demanding position in the sport. It would be nice if Pablo Sandoval managed to play a full season while staying in the Giants’ good graces from a conditioning perspective.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have the potential to be one of the best 1-2 combos in the game, but getting a rebound season out of Tim Lincecum would provide a huge boost to the starting rotation. His 5.18 ERA last season was fourth-highest among qualified starters while his walk rate has jumped from 2.7 BB/9 to 4.4 BB/9 since 2009. The good news is that the strikeouts were still there last year. While Lincecum has received plenty of attention this spring for his new haircut, he’s hoping that an offseason strength and conditioning program will pay dividends on the mound. Don’t rule it out. He pitches in a great home park to facilitate a rebound.

It’s a little odd to see a team which won the World Series be overshadowed by a division rival, but that’s exactly what happened this winter with the high-spending Dodgers. On paper, they are a serious threat to take the division. But we have seen spending sprees backfire in baseball before, so it’s hardly a guarantee of success. Still, the margin for error figures to be smaller than last year, so Bruce Bochy’s squad needs a lot of things to go right to have a chance at a repeat.

What else is going on? 

  • With Brian Wilson out of the picture, the Giants are set to give Sergio Romo a chance at the closer role. The 30-year-old right-hander boasts a brilliant 2.20 ERA for his career and was dominant down the stretch last year and during the postseason, so it’s hard to find a more deserving candidate. However, the Giants have always been extra careful about his workload because he relies so heavily on his knockout slider. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Affeldt also figure to get save chances.
  • The Giants never considered bringing Melky Cabrera back following his 50-game suspension for synthetic testosterone, so they are hoping that a combination of Gregor Blanco and a returning Andres Torres will be able to hold things down in left field. Defense shouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t the most inspiring combination offensively. If there’s a spot where the Giants could look for an upgrade during the season, this is it.
  • Barry Zito is entering the final guaranteed year of his infamous seven-year, $126 million contract, as the Giants can buy out his 2014 option for $7 million. With a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA over six seasons with the club, there’s no disputing that he is one of the biggest free agent busts of all-time. But his surprising postseason heroics have at least assured him of a special place in franchise history.
  • Could this be the year that Brandon Belt breaks out? The 24-year-old has shown good patience and a penchant for spraying line drives, but he has just 16 home runs over his first 681 plate appearances in the majors. That’s quite a contrast to what he did in the minor leagues. The Giants will have to hope that his strong performance down the stretch last year and hot hitting this spring is a harbinger for things to come.

Prediction: It will be close, but I have the Giants repeating as the NL West winners.

  1. redux23 - Mar 16, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    blanco will be platooning with torres not pagan in left.

    • D.J. Short - Mar 16, 2013 at 5:43 PM

      Yes, it was my intention to say that. Good eye.

  2. Gamera the Brave - Mar 16, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    On thing left out here is that Crawford will have an almost full season in the Show as well, and his hitting was gradually improving. He’ll likely never hit .300, but he doesn’t have to. If he gives them .260-.270 with 10-15 HRs, that will be one less hole in the lineup. Like Belt, his hitting improved as the year went on – just more, er, gradually than Belt…

  3. baymac408 - Mar 16, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    LETS GO GIANTS!!! LETS DO IT AGAIN CHAMPS!!

  4. joecool16280 - Mar 16, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    They’ll never get the ‘paper champs’ moniker but they just know how to do it during crunch time. Moxie!

  5. daveitsgood - Mar 16, 2013 at 9:19 PM

    what exactly leads you to believe that Crawford is capable of hitting .260? He’s a good glove man, but hitting .260 seems like a stretch with his approach. His obp was made up of batting in the 8th spot, ahead of the pitcher and pitching around to get to the pitcher. Like I said, good glove, not a fan of bat.

    • studyandwrite - Mar 17, 2013 at 12:49 AM

      yes, you have no clue

      in august he hit .280 in september he hit .290

      • stercuilus65 - Mar 17, 2013 at 3:54 AM

        Wow, so the season is two months long?

      • mgflolox - Mar 17, 2013 at 6:55 PM

        I think the point is, as the season went on, Crawford showed steady improvement month-by-month. His power increased, his walk rate increased, and his strikeout rate went down. Pre All-Star his rates were .240/.287/.335, post All-Star, he went .260/.327./370. Since he’s still only 26, I don’t think it’s out of the question he could sustain that second half production over a full season. With his defense, that would make him an above average player at a premium position.

      • studyandwrite - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:27 PM

        yes, i was giving thought to “gamera the brave”s
        comment. thank you mgflolox

    • nineroutsider - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      His bat has been coming along well. Crawford has more pop than you would think. I honestly believe that he can be a career .275 hitter and with that defense he will be one of the best SS in the game. He might not get to .275 this year, but .260 is doable.

  6. buffalomafia - Mar 17, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Whats up with Brian Wilson? Is he coming back or is he out indefinately?

    • nineroutsider - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM

      He wants the Giants to pay him, but they won’t. He is rehabbing with them but he remains unsigned. I see him getting signed mid-season with the Giants getting the first right of refusal even though he is furious with them for not showing more support (i.e. giving him a decent contract for all that he has done for them). The Giants were smart to make him earn a new contract even though he feels it is deserved based on what he did for the team in 2010. His arm might be toast and he knows it; he’s hinted at it for a while.

  7. ninerrebel - Mar 17, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Giants will repeat in the west, the Los Angeles Yankees trying to buy the west with deep pockets good luck let’s see how that works for you. LETS GO GIANTS!!!!

  8. dirtydrew - Mar 17, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Yep.

  9. hushbrother - Mar 18, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    They need to upgrade shortstop too. Crawford doesn’t hit enough.

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