Yesterday, I set out to determine the single most prominent obstacle that the San Francisco Giants will have to overcome, in order to achieve continued success in the National League West in 2015. I examined the starting rotation and the projected Opening Day lineup, with third base still a question mark, and determined that the most challenging element the Giants would have to face, was not likely to originate from either of these two sources.
Today I will examine the bullpen and the bench, with the same objective in mind, to determine which facet of the Giants will create the most difficulty, when it comes to being able to capture the NL West outright, allowing them to skip the formality of the Wild Card game.
Beginning with the five projected starters I discussed yesterday, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Yusmeiro Petit, Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson, I will add to this list the Big Four of Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo. Romo, of course, is a free agent, but with part of his appeal being his place in that Big Four, look for Brian Sabean to re-sign him.
Romo has been a Giant since 2008, and his place in the relief corps, particularly when discussing the postseason, is indisputable. His willingness to take on whatever role Bruce Bochy asks of him, makes him that much more valuable. Brian Sabean clearly understands that the strength of his manager lies in his ability to utilize his bullpen for maximum efficiency, and this knowledge will be the basis for re-signing Romo.
The left-handed duo of Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are signed for 2015 and their place in the scheme of things has been long established. Lopez is apt to come in and face one or two left-handed batters, whereas Affeldt is more likely to pitch a longer stint, as he did in Game Seven of the World Sereis, pitching two-and-a-third innings, before giving way to MadBum.
Santiago Casilla is the incumbent closer, but it seems fairly obvious that Bochy has plans for Hunter Strickland, regardless of his performance in the postseason, or despite it, whichever applies. I am not going to be the one to inform Bruce Bochy that Strickland seems prone to giving up the long ball, at the most inopportune moments; Bochy isn’t blind.
May 18, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher George Kontos (70) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest issue the Giants face within this corps of relief pitchers, is figuring out who will replace Yusmeiro Petit as the long reliever. With Petit joining the rotation, the most logical Giant to assume that role is George Kontos, who was not even on the 2014 postseason roster. Add Hunter Strickland to the mix and that leaves one more reliever to come from the group of Jean Machi, Juan Gutierrez, and Erik Cordier. Both Gutierrez and Petit are eligible for arbitration, but that should not affect their projected presence on the team.
The bullpen for the most part was the backbone of the team, and except for a forgettable series in Colorado, gave Bochy a security blanket for the seventh inning onward, all season. Look for that trend to continue, assuming Romo stays in the fold. With Sergio’s pops being a staunch Dodgers fan, the fear is that Romo will come back in Dodger blue, a la Brian Wilson. No, thank-you.
It’s a nice problem to have: more reliable, proven arms than there is room for. This is not going to serve as the source of the Giants’ most pressing problem.
Finally, let’s analyze what we know of the bench. Yesterday, I said Michael Morse would not be back, which was my head speaking, not my heart. Travis Ishikawa, on the other hand, is versatile, a team player, and cheap. Unless Sabean pursues a left-fielder outside the organization, Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez and Ishikawa will battle for the left field position, but Ishikawa, as much as he contributed to the recent postseason success, will most likely be the odd man out.
His lack of defensive experience in left field hurts his chances there, not to mention the fact the his competition is comprised of two of the slickest outfielders around, in Perez and Blanco. And at first base, where Ishikawa is best suited, Brandon Belt is entrenched, with Buster Posey spelling him occasionally, to give Posey’s knees a break. The circumstances that presented themselves at the end of 2014, Belt and Morse suffering injuries, is the sole reason Ishikawa was brought back, so that means, possibly, hard times for Ishikawa.
Joaquin Arias has been the man in the infield for multiple seasons now, spelling Pablo Sandoval at third, and playing all infield positions well, but he is not looked to as a replacement for Pablo Sandoval, should the Panda escape.
For all we know, Matt Duffy could be starting at third base when the 2015 season opens.
I mentioned yesterday thatMatt Duffy
might be in line for that position, but whether or not he fills in at the hot corner or not, look for Duffy to make the squad out of spring training.Andrew Susac
, assuming the concussion issue will be resolved, will battle it out for back-up catcher.
Sep 2, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Andrew Susac (34) celebrates with third base coach Tim Flannery (1) after hitting a two run home run in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Five starters, seven relievers, and eight lineup spots leaves five openings on the bench, one of them a back-up catcher. If Blanco starts in left, that leaves Perez, Ishikawa, Arias, Duffy, and players such as Ehire Adrianza, Gary Brown, Adam Duvall, and Chris Dominguez all battling for those bench slots.
Because five Giants’ rookies featured so prominently in the playoffs, look for them to have the upper hand, but spring training has a way of sifting, sorting and classifying players, all on its own. The bottom line is that San Francisco has a wealth of talent on its bench, that will not create a critical shortcoming down the line. Heck, in the season just ended, the bench became the lineup, in Blanco, Perez and Ishikawa, all of whom started games in the postseason.
In conclusion, specific problems from all corners of the team include Tim Lincecum’s mechanics, Tim Hudson’s durability, the question mark at third base, the need for a long reliever, and the status of left field. If this were any other team but the Giants, any of these issues could be a harpoon in the air balloon, but for San Francisco, they are merely logistical details that must be confronted and solved-not debilitating land-mines-placed in such a way as to derail the Orange and Black Express.
Again, the established continuity of the Giants’ organization, from G.M. to manager, to the coaching staff, and extending down through the players who are signed to long-term contracts, is the basis for optimism in the upcoming season. However, it is the Giants’ prowess in the postseason that generates the notion that there are no insurmountable obstacles to continued success.
There will be obstacles, yes, always, but not ones that will prevent another grand showing in the National League West.
Oct 31, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; The San Francisco Giants team poses for photos during the World Series celebration at City Hall. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in game seven of the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports