As we move closer to the 2018 regular season, it is clear that the San Francisco Giants are focused on moving on from 2017.
Broadcaster Mike Krukow was asked on a radio interview with KNBR in San Francisco how the 2018 team was looking. His response in a word, “professional.”
Krukow sees “a completely different team than the one from last year.” Additions like Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Austin Jackson and Tony Watson bring in more veterans who know how to win games and come to the park each and every day.
San Francisco also has a team full of players who have won in a Giants uniform. Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Johnny Cueto, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Mark Melancon, Jeff Samardzija, and others have to wear each and every one of those 98 losses from 2017.
That is a badge they never want to see again. That has created a laser focus that was not there for parts of last season.
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2017 felt like a perfect storm of bad. The team seemed to always have either their offense, defense or pitching fail them at different times last year. When they were hitting, they weren’t pitching and so forth.
All of this has led to a team with pressure to get better or be replaced.
In Chris Rock’s latest standup, Tamborine, he says “pressure makes diamonds. Not hugs. Hug a piece of coal and watch what you get. You get a dirty shirt.”
The Giants needed to put pressure on this team to do better and they have made several changes to help create the competition necessary to make returning players nervous. They are also on a mission.
That mission is also much more competitive than last season. When Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker were competing to be the opening day starter in left field, there was a thought that, at worst, they could platoon. With a left hander and a right hander, they could share the responsibilities and with every other position set, they could bat fairly low in the lineup if they had to. Then both were injured and the team ended up beginning the year with minor leaguer Chris Marrero as the left fielder.
What felt like a band aid became the first of many. It was clear immediately in 2017 that every injury or slow start led to the team having to search for options that just weren’t there.
As the Giants fell deeper and deeper away from the playoff race, more and more players who began in the minor leagues were playing at AT&T Park regularly. Players like Ryder Jones, Tim Federowicz, Aaron Hill, Justin Ruggiano, Drew Stubbs and others tried filling into roles to help the Giants win. And none of them helped what became a sinking ship.
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Now, as we watch the Giants play every day in Scottsdale and in the Cactus League, it is apparent that the depth is much stronger than last season.
After Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija, the Giants have Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland, Andrew Suarez and Tyler Beede all competing for what might only be two open spots on the starting staff.
With the addition of Watson, along with the health of Melancon and the future health of Will Smith, the Giants bullpen is also much stronger. Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Roberto Gomez, Reyes Moronta, Steven Okert, and Josh Osich all have experience at the major league level. When Smith returns in May, as many as four of the pitchers listed could be in Triple-A or elsewhere.
That is pitching depth the team just did not have last year.
The lineup has also received quite the overhaul. With Longoria at third base and McCutchen in right field, that moves Pence to left field and Pablo Sandoval to the bench. That improves the Giants at four roster spots on the 25 man roster with the two moves.
Adding Jackson and trading Denard Span improves the outfield defense that much more. With the return of Gregor Blanco, the Giants have suddenly become a strong defensive outfield after one of the worst outfields in team history defensively.
Incumbents Gorkys Hernandez and Austin Slater as well as Williamson and Parker, the Giants suddenly have eight outfielders with starting experience competing for five spots. Add to that minor leaguers Steven Duggar and Chris Shaw who are on the doorstep, and suddenly outfield can be viewed as a position of strength.
The infield may be one of the best in the game defensively. Belt, Panik, Crawford and Longoria have seven gold gloves between them. With Posey behind the plate, the team will definitely save runs this season.
There are still many questions:
- Will Belt be able to avoid another concussion?
- Will Cueto, Melancon and others avoid injury?
- Will Pence stay healthy and perform well in left?
- Will Blach and Stratton be enough to round out the pitching staff?
- Will Bumgarner return to being “MadBum?”
- Will Posey return to being in the MVP conversation?
- Can Longoria and McCutchen still play at an All-Star level?
- What about bounce back years for Crawford and Panik?
With all the questions that still exist in San Francisco, depth may not be one of them. The Giants may now have options if some of the above questions don’t get answered right away or the answer becomes no.
Last year, the Giants seemed like a .500 team who could not get out of their own way. What could have been an 81-81 season became a 64-98 season. There is a famous baseball adage that says every team wins 50 and loses 50 and winning teams find a way to do well in those other 62 games.
The Giants went 14-48 in those 62 games last season. They just might have the depth this year to avoid the same fate.