The San Francisco Giants fell hard in the second half of last season, failing to even contend for the playoffs, after winning the World Series in both 2010 and 2012. Can the Giants get it back going and continue their even-numbered-year mastery? Here’s the Notebook Nine, our nine focal points on San Francisco as the new season begins…
*Las Vegas seems to think San Francisco will be much closer to its championship form of 2012 than to last year’s disappointment. The Giants’ 10-1 betting odds to win the National League pennant mean the betting markets see them as superior to playoff teams from last year in the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. San Francisco is 20-1 to win the World Series, better than not only the Reds & Pirates, but the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals from the American League, teams that came much closer to the postseason than did Frisco. The Giants’ Over/Under on the win props is 85.5.
*Any hope of a revival is going to depend on two aging starting pitchers and another who seems like he should be. The latter would be Tim Lincecum, who may be only 29, but already started to decline the last two years, presumably due to his throwing motion. In fairness, Lincecum’s 4.37 ERA in 2013 marked an improvement from ’12 and he threw a no-hitter, but he still seems light-years away from the Cy Young days of 2008-09. San Francisco needs a comeback year from 36-year-old Ryan Vogelsong and they also added 38-year-old Tim Hudson.
*The top of the rotation is in good hands. Madison Bumgarner may be only 24-years-old, but he’s already made 115 career starts, has a 3.08 career ERA and had his best year last season. The lefty doesn’t get the same hype as fellow NL West southpaw Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, but don’t overlook Bumgarner. Then there’s Matt Cain, who had his toughest season since the rookie year of 2006. But Cain had strung together six high-quality seasons before that, is still 29, and should return to form.
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*San Francisco needs a power surge, and they’ve brought disgraced legend Barry Bonds into camp as an instructor. Is it too easy to say that unless Bonds brings his PED, not to bother? Yeah, but it’s probably true. The corner spots, the traditional power areas, are question marks, at least to some degree. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has been below 15 home runs the last two years. Michael Morse, the left fielder, has declined sharply for two straight years. The hope is continued improvement from young first baseman Brandon Belt, who went deep 17 times, and for a good year from Hunter Pence. The rightfielder is good for 20-plus home runs, but his power to the alleys is wildly inconsistent.
*Buster Posey suffered a decline in 2013, but coming off an MVP year in 2012, that was to be expected. Posey still posted a stat line of .371 on-base percentage/.450 slugging percentage, good for any position and excellent compared to what most teams get at catcher. I think a year like this is even more significant than an MVP campaign, because the 2013 numbers are much more likely to replicate in future years.
*Sergio Romo had his first full year as the closer—he didn’t get the job until midstream in the 2012 World Series run—and Romo showed his strong showing in ’12 was no fluke. Romo closed 38/43 save chances with a 2.54 ERA. And unlike other top athletes named Romo in other sports, we at least know Sergio can get it done in a big spot.
*Bullpen depth has been a big part of this era of Giant success and Santiago Casilla quietly leads it up. Casilla has spent four years as one of the game’s elite setup men, rare in a position where excellence tends to come and go. After Casilla, manager Bruce Bochy has a trio of 30-something vets in Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jean Machi, and as long as one or two of them keep pitching competently, the San Francisco bullpen will be good.
*Two big question marks in the lineup are with second baseman Marco Scutaro and centerfielder Angel Pagan. The former is having back problems and might not be ready Opening Day. Scutaro is also 38-years-old, which makes it fair to wonder if the back is simply going. Angel Pagan is in center and his season was marred by hamstring injuries last year.
*There are just a lot of holes in this lineup. Morse and shortstop Brandon Crawford are no-doubt-about-it liabilities. Posey is the only undisputed positive. If you’re feeling generous, include Belt and maybe even Pence in that group. But even those are question marks. Players like Sandoval and Pagan usually put up OBP’s in the .330-.340 range, which is right on the fringe of acceptable. When Posey slumps, where are the runs coming from?
That’s why I’m going Under 85.5. This team just does not resemble the championship teams of 2010 and 2012. The pitching is pretty good, but it’s not outstanding and it needs to be outstanding to carry along this offense. This looks like a .500 team to me and if the veteran back end of the rotation has problems I can see the bottom falling out.