The narrative about the San Francisco Giants reads that they "know how to win." After winning a pair of championships in 2010 and 2012, the Giants kept their even-year trend going with another World Series title in 2014. Three ticker tape parades in five years? That's a lot of winning.
In reality, the Giants are the poster children of the "just get in" mantra. They missed the postseason in 2011 and 2013, and had to win five elimination games in 2012 just to get to the World Series. Circumstances have fallen in their favor on more than one occasion during this run.
Their postseason success is not entirely a crapshoot, though. The 2014 version of this Giants franchise didn't have the star power of their division rival Los Angeles Dodgers, but was a well-built team stacked with a lot of depth. When closer Sergio Romo faltered, setup man Santiago Casilla took over without a hitch and the rest of the bullpen followed suit. Center fielder Angel Pagan only played 96 games, so preseason left field platoon candidate Gregor Blanco stepped in with a solid two-win season. The starting staff faltered, so swingman Yusmeiro Petit allowed a 3.69 ERA with a 6.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117 innings. And then Madison Bumgarner took over in the postseason, winning four games with a 1.03 ERA in 52 2/3 innings.
The 2015 Giants are hoping to be a mirror image of that team, but there are a few flaws in the plan. The pitching staff is a year older. The farm system is somewhat bare. Pablo Sandoval has been replaced by Casey McGehee, who is just a year removed from playing in Japan. And it's an odd-numbered year, which seems to be the only thing that can stop the Giants from winning. Hell, Hunter Pence is already hurt. However, this is still largely the same deep ball club that lifted the Commissioner's Trophy a few months ago. Can they do it again?
Manager: Bruce Bochy (9th season)
2015 record: 88-74
SB Nation blog: McCovey Chronicles
The Giants were dealt a minor blow yesterday when right fielder Hunter Pence was hit by a pitch in a spring training game, fracturing his left ulna (forearm) bone. Pence will miss six to eight weeks, a significant blow for a guy that has played in at least 154 games in every season since 2008. He has been worth 10.2 fWAR over the past two seasons and is still a sure bet for another three to four wins in 2015. I lobbied for Angel Pagan as a center field candidate for the Tigers back when we were looking for ideas. Good thing I'm not in charge. Not only is Anthony Gose almost a full decade younger, he's also not coming off of back surgery. Pagan is, which makes 31-year-old Gregor Blanco all the more valuable. Blanco has gotten on base at a .336 clip over the past three seasons while playing above average defense, especially in left field. New addition Nori Aoki might take some curious routes to fly balls -- especially in the dense marine layer atmosphere -- but is almost a lock for a .350 on-base percentage.
My Pagan idea may have sounded ludicrous, but I'm not the guy that tried playing Dan Uggla at second base before calling up prospect Joe Panik. To his credit, it took GM Brian Sabean all of 12 plate appearances to realize what a terrible mistake he had made. Panik, on the other hand, hit .305 and played league average defense, a three win pace had he played a full season. I'm not sure if I buy the .343 BABIP continuing, but the drop-off shouldn't be too sharp. Across from him is shortstop Brandon Crawford, who surprised everyone with a .713 OPS last season. He too has three-win potential if he keeps hitting, but is a sure bet to be a league average contributor thanks to an above average glove.
Crawford's 10 home runs were nearly as many as first baseman Brandon Belt, though the 26-year-old Texan (Belt) only played in 61 games due to a myriad of injuries. The Giants would much prefer this Brandon to wield the powerful bat. Belt's 140 wRC+ in 2013 is a testament to what he is capable of, but last season's 27.9 percent strikeout rate is a major obstacle. On the other end of the diamond, Casey McGehee has the unenviable task of replacing Pablo Sandoval. McGehee hit .287/.355/.357 with 29 doubles in his first season back in the United States. He drove in 76 RBI as the Marlins' primary clean-up hitter, a total that becomes more impressive when you consider he only hit four home runs. His efforts helped make the Marlins into an average offense, but Giancarlo Stanton still led the National League in intentional walks.
Most teams don't have to rely on their catcher for significant offensive output, but most teams also don't have a Buster Posey. The Georgia native finished sixth in the NL MVP voting last season after hitting .311/.364/.490 with 22 home runs and 89 RBI. He played 35 games at first base, but is still too valuable defensively for the Giants to move him from behind the plate. The temptation to move him partially stems from the performance of Andrew Susac, a 24-year-old catcher who has starter-level talent. Susac is competing with Hector Sanchez for the backup job in camp, but could also be used as a trade chip in the near future.
Any discussion of the Giants' pitching staff has to begin with Madison Bumgarner. He put together the best season of his career in 2014, allowing a 2.98 ERA with a 5.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 217 1/3 innings. He walked five left-handed batters all year -- the same tally as Clayton Kershaw but in more plate appearances -- and held opponents to a 2.22 ERA away from spacious AT&T Park. He even won a Silver Slugger, hitting .258/.286/.470 with four home runs. Then he put the team on his back in the postseason, logging one-third of the team's innings pitched with the aforementioned 1.03 ERA. Despite all of this, he's not even the best left-hander in his own division.
On paper, there is a steep drop-off after Bumgarner. Tim Hudson was solid in the first half of 2014, but faded after the All-Star break with a 4.73 ERA in 70 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .357/.400/.531 off him in five September starts, and he will be 40 in July. Jake Peavy isn't quite that old yet, but the soon-to-be 34-year-old's numbers with the Giants look to be a product of AT&T's forgiving dimensions. Both he and Hudson are still decent starters, but neither is a bonafide number two. Matt Cain could take up that mantle with a whale of a bounce-back season, but he's coming off a pair of surgeries -- right elbow and right ankle -- since August. He hasn't been the Matt Cain you know since 2012, either, and is now in his 30s.
The one option I'm somewhat intrigued by is Tim Lincecum. Yes, there is a good chance he is all washed up -- his last All-Star season was in 2011 -- but the two-time Cy Young winner has started working with his father again after an estrangement over the past few years.
"My dad knows my mechanics better than I do," Lincecum said Wednesday as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training at Scottsdale Stadium. "He’s always been the one who kind of reaffirmed and reignited that idea of 'our mechanics.’ I lost grasp of that over the past few years trying to do it myself."
The Giants are banking on the father-son tandem fixing Tim's mechanics, and quite literally, as he is owed $18 million this season.
The Giants' bullpen wasn't very sexy in 2014 -- they had less WAR than the Tigers' unit -- but they allowed a 3.01 ERA, the fifth-best mark in the majors. Sergio Romo lost his closer's job midway through the 2014 season, but still finished the year with a 3.78 ERA (must be nice). In his place was Santiago Casilla, who had a 1.70 ERA and a 3.45 xFIP in 58 1/3 innings. Jeremy Affeldt also significantly outperformed his peripherals, allowing a 2.28 ERA. Jean Machi was the ultimate win vulture, picking off seven victories in 71 appearances with a 2.58 ERA. Javier Lopez was their biggest negative at -0.5 fWAR, but he still had a 3.11 ERA.
Down on the farm
The Giants don't have a ton of talent in their system, but there are a fair number of players on the cusp of reaching the majors. Susac is their top position player prospect -- and the only one of note, really -- while there are a few arms worth keeping an eye on. Aldaberto Mejia, Kyle Crick, and Hunter Strickland should all be at Triple-A Sacramento in 2015. Tyler Beede, a pitcher from Vanderbilt drafted in the first round in 2014, also has mid-rotation potential. This isn't the glitziest system, but they continue to churn out solid contributors at the MLB level.
Player to watch: Brandon Belt
Buster Posey might be the straw that stirs the drink that is the Giants' offense, but Belt is the type of player that could turn this lineup into a legitimate force. With Pence set to miss roughly a month of action, the Giants will need their first baseman to step up behind Posey in the lineup. Belt was limited by a hand injury and concussion symptoms throughout the year, and hit just seven home runs after April 8th. He probably won't be a 30-homer guy anytime soon -- especially not in that home park -- but hits doubles in bunches when healthy.
The Giants have done an admirable job of keeping their core together during this run of championships, but their stagnation will eventually become their downfall. The pitching staff is relying on resurgent performances from multiple players, all of whom are in their 30s. The bullpen is a bit more insulated, but the same age caveats apply. Their offense will have to pick up more of the slack despite losing Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. Buster Posey can't do everything in this lineup, and the rest of the division (except Colorado) is getting better by the minute. Can the Giants win it all? Yes, if everything goes right. Will they win it all? Ask again next year.