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2014 Preview: San Francisco Giants

Mar 24, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

Bruce Bochy AP AP

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 2014 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants prove that last year was an aberration?

After winning their second World Series title in the span of three seasons, the Giants took a big step backward last year by finishing with a 76-86 record, 16 games behind the division champion Dodgers. They were pretty much out of it by midseason. While it wasn’t quite on the level of what the Marlins did (or what was left of them) as defending champs in 1998 or even the Reds in 1991, it was quite a change of pace from 2012.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why Bruce Bochy’s club regressed last season, as they dealt with injuries to key contributors from the World Series team (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Buster Posey at less than 100 percent during the second half) and their starting pitching simply wasn’t as effective as we have seen in the past. The rotation finished with a 4.37 ERA, which ranked 24th in the majors. And that was even with another excellent year from left-hander Madison Bumgarner.

Despite the poor finish, Giants general manager Brian Sabean only made a couple of tweaks to the roster. Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million – done last September), Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million), Javier Lopez (three years, $13 million), and Ryan Vogelsong (one year, $5 million) were all retained while Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million) and Michael Morse (one year, $6 million) were brought into the fold.

Save for Morse, the lineup is pretty close to what we saw last season. The same goes for the rotation and the bullpen, with the exception of Hudson. So basically, Sabean is banking on improved health and better all-around seasons from those who underperformed last season. While landing a big ticket item for the outfield or acquiring another quality starting pitcher in place of Vogelsong (or even Lincecum) would have instilled more confidence coming into 2014, it’s not the worst plan.

What else is going on?

  • Pablo Sandoval appears motivated going into his contract year, as he shed somewhere in the area of 40 pounds during the offseason. The 27-year-old hit .278/.341/.417 with 14 home runs and 79 RBI in 141 games last year, but it would be a big boost to the lineup if he can stay healthy and return to his 2009 or 2011 form.
  • Quick, who led the Giants in OPS+ last year? Nope, it wasn’t Buster Posey or Hunter Pence. It was Brandon Belt. The 25-year-old really took off after making some adjustments to grip during the second half, hitting .346 with seven home runs and 28 RBI in 52 games over the final two months of the season. He finished the year with a career-high .841 OPS. Looking at OPS+, which adjusts for league and ballpark, Belt ranked 17th among qualified hitters. He could go from underrated to All-Star if he can keep up what he did during the second half last year.
  • Many questioned whether Sergio Romo and his sometimes-cranky elbow would be able to make it through a full season with the demands of the closer role, but he managed to do it last year, posting a 2.54 ERA and 58/12 K/BB ratio over 60 1/3 innings while going 38-for-43 in save opportunities. Not quite the crazy elite numbers we saw from 2011-2012, but that’s to be expected given that he wasn’t being used in as many matchup situations. Romo took a beating early on this spring while he attempted to work on the other pitches in his arsenal, but he always has that electric slider in his back pocket.
  • Matt Cain should be fine this year if he can avoid another weird month like last April, but Tim Lincecum remains an enigma. While some hoped his no-hitter last season would be the start of a turnaround for the former two-time Cy Young Award winner, he posted a mediocre 4.54 ERA in 13 starts after the 148-pitch outing. Looking back over the past two seasons, only Edinson Volquez has a higher ERA. The Giants paid big money to keep him around, but with his drop in velocity, there’s very little to indicate a return to elite form or even close to it. Whispers about an eventual move to the bullpen will only get louder if he continues to struggle.

Prediction: The Dodgers are a cut above in this division, but I think that the Giants have the best chance of the remaining teams to emerge for one of the Wild Card spots. Second place, NL West.

  1. provguard - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    With Puig’s help, the Giants stand a chance…

    • dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:23 AM

      Yup, he really helped the Giants out by batting .319/.391/.534 last year.

  2. mjhutmkr - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    Dodgers = over rated

    Giants win World Series, again.

    • Old Gator - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:10 PM

      Pigs fly. Ted Nugent, unplugged. Spuds McKenzie neutered. Snow in Macondo in June.

  3. illuminancer - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    It’s going to come down to the rotation again, and whether Vogey can get his stuff together and Timmy can learn to be a finesse pitcher. It feels weird not to be overly concerned about the hitting, but I think there’s a good chance Buster and Pablo can return to their usual form, the Brandons will have good years, especially BB9, and Pence…well, he’ll keep doing whatever people from his galaxy do.

    Oh, and no one will get hurt–

    /checks latest on Scutaro

    …no one ELSE will get hurt.

    • illuminancer - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:13 PM

      Really? What could possibly be controversial in there? I mean, I have no problem with Pence being a member of an alien race bent on conquering the Earth with kale, scooters and the occasional home run. I, for one, welcome Our New Alien Overload.

      • illuminancer - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:14 PM

        Overlord. D’oh!

      • temporarilyexiled - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

        I think you had it right the first time. You were simply referring to the thumb harpies.

  4. phillysports1 - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    I got San Fran winning the wild card also, along with Atlanta. I have Nats winning the East. Cards winning the central and L.A winning the west . I had Arizona winning the division before Corbin’s injury .

    • rhandome - Mar 25, 2014 at 5:13 PM

      The Dodgers are going to win the West easily; I don’t think Arizona had a shot even with Corbin. But I agree with the rest. I think the Nats, Cards and Dodgers run away with their divisions and the Reds take the top wild card. The race for the 2nd wildcard should be wide open; Braves are hurt, D-Backs have some holes in the lineup and are bad at defense (Did you see Trumbo in the Australia games? lol) and the Pirates are due to regress a bit I think. Giants absolutely have a shot at a wildcard.

      Go Gints. :)

  5. blabidibla - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Just get into the playoffs, then anything can happen.

  6. sisqsage - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    Pagan is a huge part of making the offense go. He has to stay healthy. Scutaro looks like he will be hurt and on the DL to start the season, so that will be a setback. We can expect big years from Pence, Posey, Sandoval (for his own $$$$ greedy reasons) and most likely Belt. We haven’t had this much pop in the lineup for a long time. A 20-plus HR year from Morse would be a welcomed bonus. Not having Kontos means the pen should be improved, which was a big, big letdown last year.
    Bum’s the ace and Cain and Hudson should be quality starters. Lincecum is still a work in progress. Vogey could get hit hard and pitch his way out of the rotation, which means we will be looking for a No. 5 starter by the AS break. Seems like a leap of faith to have resigned him.

    Overall, the Gents should be better than last year and vie for a playoff spot all the way through, which is all I can ask for. Dodgers should take a step back as the league figures out how to pitch to Puig for a change. Mattingly will always hold them back, even with all of that pitching.

    • illuminancer - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:21 PM

      I don’t get the Kontos hate. Yes, he was bad last year, mostly because early on he was being run out there every day to cover for the fact that 4/5ths of the rotation couldn’t go past 3 innings. He looked very good in ST. I’d rather have him in there over Machi.

      If you’re a Giants fan, you’d better hope Sandoval has a good year, for whatever reason. Don’t know if you’ve looked, but after him the free agent depth chart (assuming Hanley Ramirez gets extended) looks like:

      Chase Headley

      a bunch of other guys

      And the farm system cupboard is completely bare on good position players. Unless you want to see Hector Sanchez as the starting catcher and Posey at 3rd (which he really, really doesn’t want), then the Giants kind of need a healthy, productive Panda.

    • mpzz - Mar 27, 2014 at 6:16 PM

      “Resigned” Vogelsong? He didn’t resign; he’s going to be a starter.
      As far as Mattingly holding back the Fodgers, all he’s done is had them in first place in the division for more than half the time he’s been manager, along with one division title.

  7. apeville - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    Lincecum is the key- for either going south or snatching wild card. He’s like the swing vote players on Survivor- you just don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s time to get voted out. That was a poor analogy.

  8. keltictim - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    Hey gator I know this is way off topic, but growing up I heard a rumor that spuds Mckenzie died in the same car crash that took my favorite preacher, Sam kinisons, life. True or old wives tale? SAY IT, SAY IT, SAY IT! Ok fine you want me to say it, damn I can’t remember Mr. Melons whole speech. Now I gotta find it on the DVr. Robert downeys most underrated piece of work.

  9. blabidibla - Mar 24, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    You know it’s pre-season when all the Dodger fans are out in force, thumbing down the pro Giants comments.

    Amazing how they all disappear around the post-season. Kinda like the 7th inning at Dodger Stadium.

    • illuminancer - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:25 AM

      Zing!

  10. janessa31888 - Mar 25, 2014 at 7:21 AM

    Looks like the thumb harpy is out in full force.

    • bgrillz - Mar 25, 2014 at 7:55 AM

      That’s why they call them Bums, because those bums from LA don’t have jobs. So they come to San Francisco posts and thumbs down everything. The guy coaching a rival team in the division was on your last World Series squad. Check yourself Dodger fans! Just because Erv opens his pocket book for two straight years, doesn’t make you relevant. Giants going for their 3rd ring in 5 seasons.

  11. temporarilyexiled - Mar 25, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    The obvious choice of thumb harpies everywhere. Do we blame the specter of Barry Bonds? The usual haters of San Francisco’s uniqueness? Dodger fans? Ubiquitous Floridian literary specimen?

    As a Bay Area native, all I can point out is that my former home is on the one hand, snobbish, expensive, and dangerous, and on the other hand a forward-thinking, breathtakingly beautiful artistic and cultural mecca. There’s much to make anyone annoyed, scared, and overwhelmed. And there’s much to make anyone incredibly jealous, unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to live there.

    And then there’s the fact that while the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry gets more press, the Giant/Dodger rivalry, at least with many fans from both sides, has gotten way beyond ugly. Always good in California to not let the climate and scenery distract you just how violent the place can get.

    So ends my theoretical ramblings written in homage to the thumb-harpy feeding frenzy to follow.

    • temporarilyexiled - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      A thumb’s up? Awesome. Careful, lest the pod people get wise (figuratively, of course).

  12. thomas844 - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    You could create the cure for cancer and people on the HBT boards would still give you a thumbs-down

    • temporarilyexiled - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      Citing overpopulation.

  13. mpzz - Mar 26, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    What gets me is everyone thinking the Fodgers’ money automatically buys them the division. What have they gotten for their money? What truly great players do they have? Kershaw is great. Kemp can be if he can recover from his injuries, which doesn’t look likely.
    Puig certainly has potential. Unfortunately the potential is equally to be great or to be a bad-attitude, over-paid, under-performer like, oh, say Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Hanley Rodriguez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon…… You get my drift. The fact that some of these guys had good years last year makes it a near-certainty that they won’t have good years this year. And the opposite holds true for the Giants.

  14. loungefly74 - Mar 30, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    Same formula…. Timely hitting, good pitching, injury-free, and decent defense…is what the G-men can hope for….

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