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Giants poised for another Championship run

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Buster Posey is the Giants backbone. Three World Series rings along with a batting title, MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, and four All-Star selections have made him one of Baseball's most successful and decorated players of the decade.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Buster Posey is the Giants backbone. Three World Series rings along with a batting title, MVP and Rookie of the Year awards,
and four All-Star selections have made him one of Baseball’s most successful and decorated players of the decade.

BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER

As they prepare to return to the field for the first time since their heartbreaking collapse against the Cubs in the NLDS, the San Francisco Giants appear to have addressed their biggest weakness with the signing of free-agent closer Mark Melancon. The question is whether it will be enough to bridge the gap with their biggest rival, the four-time division winning Los Angeles Dodgers.

As has been the case throughout the Giants championship run this decade, and dramatically evidenced once again last October, this club will only go as far as it’s pitching takes it. While the addition of Melancon, a three time All-Star whose 131 saves since 2014 are the most in baseball, is highly likely to solidify the back end of a Giants bullpen that led the majors with 32 blown saves in 2016, getting to the closer could continue to be a challenge.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Hunter Strickland's ability to keep the ball in the park and develop into a strong setup man will be pivotal top the Giants success.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Hunter Strickland’s ability to keep the ball in the park and develop into a strong setup man will be pivotal to the Giants success.

Left-hander Will Smith, who finished 2016 with a streak of 18 consecutive shutout appearances after being acquired from the Brewers at last years trade deadline, appears to be headed for Tommy John surgery and will be out for the year. Righty Derek Law and lefty Steven Okert, both of whom were called up to the majors for the first time in 2016, have shown significant potential but each are unproven. If Hunter Strickland can harness his control and keep the ball in the park he has the potential to become a solid set-up man able to hand the ball to Melancon with a lead.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is one of the most elite pitchers in all of Baseball. Another quality season would bode well for a deep postseason run.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is one of the most elite pitchers in all of Baseball. Another quality season would bode well for a deep postseason run.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Johnny Cueto was a stellar 18-5 while starting the All-Star Game for the National League in his first season in San Francisco.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Johnny Cueto was a stellar 18-5 while starting the All-Star Game for the National League in his first season in San Francisco.

The Giants starting rotation returns intact. The Big Three of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore should again compare favorably with any in Baseball. Bumgarner is a workhorse elite at every level and Cueto demonstrated his reliability last season with a 2.79 ERA to compliment his team leading 18 wins. Moore, acquired in the Matt Duffy trade from Tampa, appears to have fully recovered from his own Tommy John surgery, having pitched admirably down the stretch in 2016 along with authoring a masterpiece in Game 4 of the NLDS for eight innings before the bullpen gave it away.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Matt Moore was clutch down the stretch for the Giants after coming over from Tampa, nearly pitching a No-Hitter against the Dodgers and spinning a gem in the fourth game of the NLDS against before the bullpen gave it away.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Matt Moore was clutch down the stretch for the Giants after coming over from Tampa, nearly pitching a No-Hitter against the Dodgers and spinning a gem in the fourth game of the NLDS against before the bullpen gave it away.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Jeff Samardzija hasn't missed a start since the 2012 season and has averaged over six innings pitched per appearance in that stretch.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Jeff Samardzija hasn’t missed a start since the 2012 season and has averaged over six innings pitched per appearance in that stretch.

The backend of the rotation is another question mark. While Jeff Samardzija made strides last season and was consistently reliable for six innings, his 12-11 performance was the first winning record of his career. An even bigger question mark is what can be expected of Matt Cain or committee from the fifth spot. Handcuffed by Cain’s hefty salary, the Giants appear likely to enter the season handing him the ball every fifth day. But after three consecutive injury plagued seasons there is major doubt in the 32 year-olds reliability as Ty Blach waits in the wings hoping for a chance to prove that his performance after his September call-up wasn’t a fluke.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Hunter Pence has missed more games than he's played the past two seasons, but continues to be one of the most electrifying players in the Giants lineup.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Hunter Pence has missed more games than he’s played the past two seasons, but continues to be one of the most electrifying players in the Giants lineup.

Future Hall of Famer Buster Posey continues to be the teams backbone behind the plate having added his first Gold Glove to his lofty resume in 2016 along with a WBC Gold Medal just last week. Another longtime face of the Giants is Hunter Pence. A one-time ironman used to playing everyday, Pence has missed 166 games the past two seasons while being limited to only playing 158 due to injuries. As both an emotional spark plug and one of the teams most reliable hitters, Pence’s ability to stay in the lineup and put up numbers comparable to his first three seasons in San Francisco is pivotal to the teams success.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Brandon Crawford has developed into one of the best shortstops in Baseball  after five seasons with the Giants, and is coming off a Gold Medal winning MVP caliber performance in the World Baseball Classic.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Brandon Crawford has developed into one of the best shortstops in Baseball
after five seasons with the Giants, and is coming off a Gold Medal winning MVP caliber performance in the World Baseball Classic.

Continuing the theme of being strong up the middle, shortstop Brandon Crawford, coming off an MVP caliber performance in route to a Gold Medal during the WBC tournament, has established himself as one of the best in the game. Setting career highs last season with 155 games played and a .275 average with 11 triples while driving in 84 runs for the second year in a row, Crawford also won his second straight Gold Glove. Second baseman Joe Panik experienced something of a sophomore slump as his batting average fell over 70 points to .239, but he too took home a Gold Glove and a return to his All-Star form of 2015 would go a long way towards solidifying the Giants postseason prospects.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Second baseman Joe Panik combines with Brandon Crawford to give the Giants a pair of Gold Glove winners in the middle of the diamond.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Second baseman Joe Panik combines with Brandon Crawford to give the Giants a pair of Gold Glove winners in the middle of the diamond.

While the hot corner at third is looking like a platoon between Conor Gillespie and Eduardo Nunez, Brandon Belt is a fixture at first base coming off a career high 156 games played while establishing new personal standards for most RBI’s and walks in a season. Rounding out the outfield, Jarrett Parker appears set to replace Angel Pagan in left while Denard Span will again bat leadoff and man centerfield.

© DANIEL GLUSKOTER First baseman Brandon Belt set career highs with 82 RBI's and 156 games played in 2016.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER First baseman Brandon Belt set career highs with 82 RBI’s and 156 games played in 2016.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER Centerfielder Denard Span will again be the Giants leadoff man in the 2017 season.
© DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Centerfielder Denard Span will again be the Giants leadoff man in the 2017 season.

More power would be nice, but the days of Bonds and Kent are long gone. With the exception of Bumgarner’s one man show in the 2014 World Series, the Giants have won each of their three championships with a deep and balanced pitching staff. There’s a lot to like on this 25 man roster, but it’s the revamped staff that will once again dictate just how far the team will get towards their goal of a fourth.

About Daniel Gluskoter

Profile photo of Daniel Gluskoter
Daniel Gluskoter is the Martinez Tribune's national music and sports editor and a Bay Area photojournalist who's work has been featured in Rolling Stone, Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2008 Presidential campaign as a correspondent for United Press International and has travelled worldwide covering events ranging from numerous Super Bowls and Olympics to Live Aid and the Grammys.

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