San Francisco Giants 2014 Preview

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Updated: 3/24 3:05 pm

That wasn't the only thing, though, that fell apart on the Giants' way to a 76-86 finish, good enough for tied for third place in the National League West.

Nobody on the starting staff struggled more than ace Matt Cain, who endured the worst year of his career. But, he resembled the pitcher he was in the second half, leading many to believe that he is primed for a big season.

Even with last season's disappointment, general manager Brian Sabean didn't tinker much with the roster. He did take a chance on slugger Mike Morse, who could hit 30 home runs. Then again, he could also play just 30 games.

The Giants actually upgraded their starting staff, as they let Barry Zito walk and replaced him with another workhorse veteran in Tim Hudson.

This is still a young team and one that won a championship just two years ago.

2013 FINISH (76-86) - Third Place (NL West)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Tim Hudson (RHP); Mike Morse (OF); Kameron Loe (RHP)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Chad Gaudin (RHP); Francisco Peguero (OF); Andres Torres (OF); Barry Zito (LHP)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Angel Pagan (CF); Marco Scutaro (2B); Brandon Belt (1B); Buster Posey (C); Hunter Pence (RF); Pablo Sandoval (3B); Michael Morse (LF); Brandon Crawford (SS)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Madison Bumgarner (LHP); Matt Cain (RHP); Tim Lincecum (RHP); Tim Hudson (RHP); Ryan Vogelsong (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Sergio Romo (RHP)

MANAGER: Bruce Bochy

WHAT'S UP WITH THAT STARTING STAFF?

San Francisco won world championships in both 2010 and 2012 thanks in large part to its starting staff. Well, last year the Giants can thank that starting staff for a fourth place finish in the NL West, as the team ERA jumped 32 points from 2012 and up 80 from 2011.

San Francisco ranked 13th in the NL with a 4.00 ERA, and 13th with a rotation ERA of 4.37. The 4.00 overall ERA was the seventh highest in the 14 years they have called pitcher-friendly AT&T Park home. The rotation ERA was the second highest of those 14 years.

The biggest disappointment had to be righty Matt Cain, who won just eight games last season and pitched to a 4.00 ERA, a year after he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. Cain, though, did pitch to a 2.36 ERA after the All-Star break.

Of course, the stunning demise of former two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum continued. He has posted a 20-29 record with a 4.76 earned run average and 383 strikeouts in 65 starts in 2012-13 after going 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts from 2007-11.

The Giants could have turned the page on him this offseason, but opted to bring him back for two more years.

While the Giants chose to re-sign Lincecum, they did opt to let lefty Barry Zito walk. They did replace him with a veteran hurler in righty Tim Hudson, who is recovering from a fractured right ankle that cut short his 2013 campaign in late July. Before the injury last season, though, the 38-year-old Hudson had won at least 16 games in each of his previous three seasons.

As bad as the starting staff was, there was a silver lining in lefty Madison Bumgarner, who took over as the ace of the team and won 13 games, while pitching to a 2.77 ERA.

If the other three pitchers bounce back and the 24-year-old Bumgarner continues to progress, the Giants staff could very well be back to where it was during the team's two championship runs.

WHAT TO MAKE OF PABLO SANDOVAL?

This may be the best lineup that Bruce Bochy has had since he took over the reins in San Francisco back in 2006. But, a big part of that improved lineup hinges on one particular player staying on the field and that is Pablo Sandoval.

It seems like every year we talk about Sandoval's ability to stay healthy. Last year, he was able to play 141 games and hit .278 with 14 home runs and 79 RBI. Still, those numbers are way down from the .330 he hit in 2009. In fact, he hasn't exceeded 20 homers or a .300 batting average since 2011.

The Kung Fu Panda, though, came into camp in the best shape of his life and is poised for a big season, in this the last of a three-year deal. It doesn't appear as if the Giants are going to sign him long term, meaning he will likely test free agency at the end of the year.

Call me crazy but Sandoval strikes me as the ultimate big season in a contract year type of player. And if that's the case the Giants lineup could be really explosive with the likes of him, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Mike Morse and Brandon Belt.

ANYMORE QUESTIONS ABOUT SERGIO ROMO?

When it became clear that righty Sergio Romo would assume the team's closer role, some worried whether or not he was durable enough for the task.

Well, Romo has erased any doubt, as he has converted 52 of 58 saves in the two years since for an 89.7-percent success ratio that ranks fifth among NL closers. He's also pitched to a 2.18 ERA in that time.

The bridge to getting Romo the ball remains essentially the same, as Bochy will mix and match with lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, plus right- hander Santiago Casilla.

X-FACTOR: MARCO SCUTARO

San Francisco's lineup has a chance to be very good. But that could all change if second baseman Marco Scutaro's back continues to act up. His troubles started last spring and it affected him all of 2013, as he played in pain for much of the season (also with a finger injury), appearing in 127 games and hitting .297. The 2012 NLCS MVP is one of the few Giants in the lineup who steps into the box with a plan. He often forces opposing pitchers to work deep into the count and often reaches base. Scutaro's also effective in clutch situations, posting a .289 batting average with two outs and RISP in 2012, and a .353 on-base percentage in similar situations last season. If the Giants have any intentions on reaching the postseason in 2014 they are going to need Scutaro to stay on the field.

OUTLOOK

The Giants are definitely not as bad as they were a year ago. The lineup is strong, the bullpen is deep, and Bumgarner and Cain form one of the better one-two rotation punches in the game, provided that the latter reverts back to form. Yes this is essentially the same team that finished 14 games out of a playoff spot last season, but it's also the same team that won a championship in 2012. On paper the Giants are not the best team in the National League West. They might not even be the second best team. But, that is why they play the games, and this is a team with a championship pedigree. Don't be surprised to see them in the postseason mix come September.

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