The 2015 San Francisco Giants had all the makings of a playoff team — a homegrown infield, players with career years, championship pedigree, a dominant bullpen, and a fearless starting pitcher.
But it was all snatched away from a virus– the injury bug–and when they came, the snowball effect was in full attack.
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The Giants finished the season 84-78, eight games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. They battled Los Angeles with their depleted roster to the last week of the season, thanks in large part to the masterful managing of Bruce Bochy.
But it was the Dodgers that celebrated their third straight NL West title all over the AT&T Park field, and the Giants should have been right there.
As always, the Giants have something special, something most teams covet. A homegrown infield drafted and developed within the Giants ranks, anchored by three-time champion leaders Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey.
As KNBR radio host Marty Lurie repeatedly says, “You need some of your players to have career years to win a championship.” Well, the Giants had a number of players do just that — and more.
For starters, Matt Duffy, who came out of nowhere to replace Pablo Sandoval and Casey McGehee at third base, hit for a batting average of .295 and added 12 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a .334 on-base percentage. The Giants drafted Duffy in the 18th round of the 2012 amateur draft, and he was never projected to even make a Big League roster, let alone be in contention for the NL Rookie of the Year award.
June 20, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) reacts after being hit by a pitch in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Now lets take Joe Panik, who would not even hear of a sophomore slump. In fact, he earned himself a spot on the NL All Star team by hitting for a batting average of .312 with eight home runs and a .378 on-base percentage before the injury bug got to him in late July. He ended the season with a total of 100 games played due to back inflammation.
Finally, shortstop Brandon Crawford was arguably the best middle infielder in the National League in his 143 games before the virus hit him in the calf and oblique, which would sideline him for a couple weeks. He would post career-highs in batting average, home runs, and RBIs (.256, 21, 84). We have to figure these numbers may have been even higher had injuries not have hindered him.
Previous injuries bit the Giants in the butt too. First baseman Brandon Belt had his career-year shortened in mid-September because lingering concussion symptoms returned. He was hitting for an average of .280, with a career-best 18 home runs and 68 RBI at the time of injury.
Between Crawford, Panik, and Belt all having career years, these three guys are the every day infielders for good reason, and injuries were the absolute reason for San Francisco not being able to make the threat they so wished to make.
Key outfielders and pitchers were injured too in 2015.
Hunter Pence was on-pace to have careers highs in home runs (9), RBIs (40), and doubles (13) until his season was capped at 52 games because of wrist and oblique injuries.
The list goes on.
Nori Aoki was having his best season since his rookie campaign in 2012, when he hit .288, with 10 home runs and a .355 on-base percentage. In 2015, he hit five home runs and batted .287 in 93 games. And he played some of those games with concussion symptoms.
And even the backups were having career years.
Gregor Blanco hit .291 in 115 games in 2015, the best average of his career. And he already had five home runs, which matched a career-high. His .368 OBP was also the best of his career. He was finally putting it all together as a spark plug until — you guessed it — he suffered a concussion against the Dodgers.
With all the devastating injuries, the 2015 season will forever be remembered as the “Plague Season” for the San Francisco Giants.