The San Francisco Giants defied conventional baseball wisdom by standing pat on their pitching staff over the offseason months, choosing instead to re-sign both Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, after bids to acquire marquee players, Jon Lester among others, failed. How this decision will impact their chances for another playoff slot must be factored into any attempt to make reasonable predictions for the upcoming season, as far as how the final standings will play out.
Last year at this time, I predicted that the Los Angeles Dodgers would win the division, but watch out for the Giants if they could find a way in. I did not see any way that all of that money could not buy a division title for LA, and to still pick the Giants over their nemesis from SoCal would make me simply a homer. This year I am not willing to grant the Blue-Crew the same honor.
Here’s the way I factor it: LA couldn’t win it all last season with their big three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu, along with the rest, and that was after two seasons with the same trio. I do not believe that these same three guys can match the numbers of their past two seasons, and with Hyun-jin Ryu already expected to begin the season on the disabled list, my belief is reenforced.
May 6, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches during the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
On the other glove, San Francisco needs Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and three other good [re: consistent] pitchers to compete in the National League West. In Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum, the Giants have those three quality hurlers, along with Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit as swingmen.
In the well-chronicled marathon which constitutes the MLB season, so much of a successful process relies on continuity, that it makes sense to keep what has not only worked well, but succeeded beyond all wildest dreams, intact.
In these immortal words, much wisdom is contained: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
For a team to be able to play behind the same set of starters in consecutive seasons, gives it a distinct advantage.
This advantage stems from the Giants’ defense playing behind those same five guys over time, and knowing their entire repertoires. This allows players to position themselves in the most strategic manner possible. It also means that the Giants have now had the opportunity to work together over the spring as well, which is good for Peavy who is in camp with the Giants for the first time.
Defense wins ball games and by extension, divisions. The Giants have a defense that is tailored to AT&T Park, with its unique configuration and expansive outfield, especially when it comes to the bench. Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez will be part of an American Roulette wheel replacing Hunter Pence in the outfield, while versatile Joaquin Arias is the incumbent in the infield, with Ehire Adrianza and Matt Duffy battling for a second spot.
Juan Perez is very capable of quieting a crowd with his glove. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Replacing Michael Morse in left field, Brian Sabean chose to pursue defense in lieu of power when he went after Nori Aoki, who gained prominence in Japan with the Yakult Swallows from 2006-’08, by winning three consecutive Gold Glove Awards in center field. He is a spray hitter who is well suited to the spaciousness of AT&T Park.
Along with Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence as primary outfielders, the Giants will be better equipped than its opponents to deal with the foibles of a expansive yard. Inject Blanco and Perez into the formula, and the equation becomes more predictable. At the moment Justin Maxwell is making the strongest bid to replace Hunter Pence on the roster at the start of the season, because his bat is heating up.
Aside from that, though, Maxwell is known for his fiendish attitude to defense, an approach which has backfired at times in much the same way it has hurt Pagan: He gets injured because he goes all out. He missed most of three different seasons, as I wrote about here, due to injuries incurred while attempting to make spectacular plays.
He injured his labrum robbing a home run; he had to have Tommy John surgery after diving for a ball and hurting his elbow in the process; and there was the matter of a broken wrist incurred in a similar manner, all of which clearly indicate a guy who wants to make a difference.
Do you criticize his desire or his heart? I think not. If he stops playing all out, then he is a different commodity. These backup players who make a difference are the reason teams either adjust and move forward when a star is injured, or mark time.
I believe the Giants will prevail because they also have a formidable defensive contingent working the infield, beginning with Brandon Crawford. His propensity for making the big play is huge, and coupled with Joe Panik’s instincts, provide the Giants with stellar infield D up the middle. Brandon Belt is the best since JT Snow at first base, and Casey McGehee is hard-nosed and hustling at third, having led the National League in double plays with 34 last season as a Miami Marlin.
Feb 27, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) poses for a photo during photo day at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
Buster Posey calls the shots from behind the dish, the sole member of the Giants’ regular lineup to play every playoff game in the Giants’ five-year run. He is the heart and soul of the team, as was proved in 2011, when he was injured and missed the last two-thirds of the season, while the Giants quietly settled in behind Arizona. It’s not that his numbers are better than all the rest (he has a 23.6 fWAR to date), it’s that he has three World Series rings.
The Dodgers are relying on Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu to post comparable numbers to what they have been producing, and I think that’s asking too much. Off-season acquisitions Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy have both shown great stuff in the past, but neither has displayed the consistency in recent years, to expect that they are going to do so in 2015.
This means that a series of replacement candidates begins the parade, with the fielders having to constantly adjust to new circumstances. Even the best players money can buy are going to be challenged by these developments. That means the advantage again slips over to the Orange and Black.
Well-documented is the retooling of the Dodgers lineup, with 2014‘s catcher, second baseman, shortstop and center field position players being different. Though this may produce more offense, it is going to take the defensive component a while to get in synch.
Any advantage looms large at this juncture. When April 6th rolls around, and it all starts to count, the Giants will be ready for action and ready for danger. They will be prepared to defend their championship title.
September 9, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35, center) forces out Colorado Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer (3) as Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro (19) looks on during the sixth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Continuity, confidence and camaraderie will overcome what is on “paper,” just as it did last season. The Giants will not defer to the Los Angeles Dodgers this year, relying on the much-strengthened San Diego Padres to help undermine the Dodgers’ chances from the south.
I do not mean to overlook the Padres because they made huge strides this offseason, and definitely have a plan of action. There is still much to do, however, and the most they can do this year is make things difficult for everyone else, as they figure it all out.
Because of improvements in the rest of the National League, only one team will make it into the playoffs from the NL West, and that is the division champion.
The San Francisco Giants will be that team.