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Giants look to bounce back with new faces, even year magic

BY ANTHONY SOSA

Over the past decade, the San Francisco Giants have established themselves as one of the best baseball franchises in the Majors. A big factor in that was winning three World Series titles in the span of five years. However, the Giants took a major step backward in 2017, finishing tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the game at 64-98.

It was a season where nothing could go right. Injuries impacted the Giants all season. They lost their ace Madison Bumgarner toward the end of April to shoulder and rib injuries. Although the injury didn’t happen on the diamond, Bumgarner hurt himself by crashing on his dirt bike during an off day in Colorado. The injury resulted in Bumgarner missing well over two and a half months.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Madison Bumgarner’s dirt bike injury on an off day in Denver early last season sealed the Giants fate and they were never competitive. Heading into the final year of his contract, Bumgarner needs to return to the consistency he flashed as one of the premier pitchers in the game for San Francisco to return to the post season.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Madison Bumgarner’s dirt bike injury on an off day in Denver early last season sealed the Giants fate and they were never competitive. Heading into the final year of his contract, Bumgarner needs to return to the consistency he flashed as one of the premier pitchers in the game for San Francisco to return to the post season.

Losing the heart and soul of the rotation and one of their leaders on the field played a big role in the Giants’ poor play in 2017. By the time Bumgarner returned to the mound, the Giants found themselves in too deep a hole to recover. Now that Spring Training is in full effect, here’s a look at the additions the Giants made during the offseason, what their lineup, rotation and bullpen should look like, and a focus on the team’s chances of making the playoffs in the upcoming season.

Improving the Offense

It was clear to see that in 2017, the Giants offense was subpar, to say the least. Looking at their ranks among the rest of MLB teams, the Giants sat at the bottom of the pack in almost all offensive categories. The Giants struggled to score runs last season. They scored 639 runs and produced 612 RBI, which put them next to last in both categories. The Giants’ 128 home runs easily ranked them last in all of baseball, however, they’ve never produced much from a power standpoint. What hurt them in 2017, was the combination of no power and their inability to get on base. They also ranked 29th out of 30 in on-base percentage (.309).

So how did the Giants decide to try and fix these issues ? By trading for two face of the franchise type players in Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. Before being traded to the Giants, both had played their entire careers with the same organization.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Evan Longoria should solidify the gaping hole at third base for the Giants after spending a decade as the face of the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was the teams All-Time leader in doubles, home runs, RBI and games played.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Evan Longoria should solidify the gaping hole at third base for the Giants after spending a decade as the face of the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was the teams All-Time leader in doubles, home runs, RBI and games played.

Longoria, 32, made a name for himself as one of the game’s best third basemen over the past decade with the Rays. He entered the league back in 2008 and earned himself the AL Rookie of the Year award. He also won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and made three All-Star teams. The Rays 2008 stunning World Series appearance abruptly reversed a history of the team’s irrelevance and began a competitive phase that lasted throughout Longoria’s tenure. His career numbers include a slash line of .270/.341/.483 with 261 home runs, 892 RBI and 780 runs scored. Not only does Longoria produce with the bat but he’s proved his durability also. The third baseman has played in at least 150 games in seven of his 10 MLB seasons. In 2017, Longoria hit .261/.313/.424 with 20 home runs, 86 RBI, 71 runs scored and a bWAR of 3.6. He also won his third Gold Glove.

As for McCutchen, 31, he broke into the league back in 2009 and has manned the outfield for the Pirates ever since. He put the league on watch as one of the best players in baseball beginning in 2011. Over the next five seasons, he made five All-Star teams, won four Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove and the 2013 NL MVP award. For his career, he’s hit .291/.379/.487 with 203 home runs, 725 RBI and 814 runs scored. McCutchen struggled over the past two seasons with the Pirates but a change of scenery could help get the righty back on track in 2018. Last season, McCutchen hit .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs, 88 RBI, 94 runs scored and a 2.5 bWAR. Despite playing center field for the majority of his career, the Giants plan to play McCutchen in right field.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER The addition of Andrew McCutchen in a trade with the Pirates should go a long way towards helping to stabilize the Giants woes in the outfield. Slated to move from centerfield to right in San Francisco, McCutchen has played in at least 153 games seven of the past eight seasons.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The addition of Andrew McCutchen in a trade with the Pirates should go a long way towards helping to stabilize the Giants woes in the outfield. Slated to move from centerfield to right in San Francisco, McCutchen has played in at least 153 games seven of the past eight seasons.

Free Agent Signings

The Giants also made some smaller moves on the free agent market as well. They signed center fielder Austin Jackson to a two-year, $6 million deal. They also brought in left-handed reliever Tony Watson on a two-year, $7 million deal with a player option for the 2020 season.

With Jackson, 30, the Giants added a solid veteran to fill their center field void. Last season with the Cleveland Indians, Jackson had a nice bounce-back season. In 85 games, Jackson posted a slash line of .318/.387/.482 with seven home runs, 35 RBI, 46 runs scored and a bWAR of 1.9.

Watson, 32, pitched for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Adding Watson brings a lefty to a right-handed heavy bullpen. And no other manager likes to use lefty-lefty, righty-righty matchups more than Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy. In 2017, Watson put up a 3.38 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.380 WHIP and 53 strikeouts.

Looking at the Roster

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Team leader Buster Posey continues to be San Francisco’s backbone behind the plate. Even as the Giants plummeted in the standings in 2017, Posey hit for a .320 average, the second highest of his career. With three World Series rings along with a batting title and MVP Award, his bat has  been a model of consistency since his arrival as a starter in 2010.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Team leader Buster Posey continues to be San Francisco’s backbone behind the plate. Even as the Giants plummeted in the standings in 2017, Posey hit for a .320 average, the second highest of his career. With three World Series rings along with a batting title and MVP Award, his bat has been a model of consistency since his arrival as a starter in 2010.

With the additions of Longoria, McCutchen and Jackson, the Giants’ offense will look a lot different than it did on Opening Day in 2017. Here’s a look at how Bochy could put together the lineup this season:

1. Joe Panik – 2B
2. Andrew McCutchen – RF
3. Evan Longoria – 3B
4. Buster Posey – C
5. Brandon Belt – 1B
6. Brandon Crawford – SS
7. Hunter Pence – LF
8. Austin Jackson – CF
9. Pitcher’s Spot

However, the Giants could use Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot, so that would swing the lineup to look more like this:

1. Austin Jackson – CF
2. Andrew McCutchen – RF
3. Evan Longoria – 3B
4. Buster Posey – C
5. Joe Panik – 2B
6. Brandon Belt – 1B
7. Hunter Pence – LF
8. Brandon Crawford – SS
9. Pitcher’s Spot

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Johnny Cueto was a solid second starter going 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA during his first season with the Giants in 2016. He’ll need to bounce back after a subpar performance last year for the Giants to have a realistic shot shot at making it to the post season.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Johnny Cueto was a solid second starter going 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA during his first season with the Giants in 2016. He’ll need to bounce back after a subpar performance last year for the Giants to have a realistic shot shot at making it to the post season.

Looking at the rotation, the top four starters seem clear. The battle for the fifth starter role should come down to two possible candidates in Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede:

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton/Tyler Beede

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Jeff Samardzija was 9-15 with a 4.42 ERA as the Giants third stater last season, but he led the league in innings pitched and was sixth in strikeouts.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Jeff Samardzija was 9-15 with a 4.42 ERA as the Giants third stater last season, but he led the league in innings pitched and was sixth in strikeouts.

Lastly, the bullpen looks relatively the same as it did last season, aside from the addition of Watson. The Giants also look to hand the ball back to Mark Melancon in the ninth inning. Melancon signed with the Giants as a free agent after the 2016 season as the team’s closer, but they need him to bounce back after an injury-plagued year limiting him to just 32 appearances.

Derek Law
Steven Okert
Josh Osich
Hunter Strickland
Cory Gearrin
Tony Watson
Sam Dyson (Set-Up)
Mark Melancon (Closer)

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER The Giants need to have Mark Melancon bounce back from an injury plagued 2017 season. Melancon struggled with only 11 saves and a 4.50 ERA after signing a 4 year, $ 62 million contract after pitching for the Pirates and Nationals in 2016.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Giants need to have Mark Melancon bounce back from an injury plagued 2017 season. Melancon struggled with only 11 saves and a 4.50 ERA after signing a 4 year, $ 62 million contract after pitching for the Pirates and Nationals in 2016.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Sam Dyson inherited the role of being the Giants closer last season in the wake of Mark Melancon’s injuries. In 2018, he will be relied upon as one of the teams primary set-up men.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Sam Dyson inherited the role of being the Giants closer last season in the wake of Mark Melancon’s injuries. In 2018, he will be relied upon as one of the teams primary set-up men.

Playoff Chances

The Giants’ playoff odds increase due to their wanting to compete while a lot of the lesser teams in MLB choose not to. Many NL teams are undergoing a rebuilding process that is keeping them a distance from the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Giants, most of the NL West plans to compete in 2018. Like last season, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies all look like playoff contenders.

So what does this mean for the Giants’ chances ? The Wild Card looks like their best shot. The Dodgers retained most of their players from the 2017 and after winning 104 games on the way to the pennant last season, they look likely to repeat as NL West champs once again. Shooting for the two Wild Card spots will be the Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks from the NL West.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Shortstop Brandon Crawford’s offensive production slipped in 2017, but he was once again solid in the field, winning his third straight Gold Glove Award.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Shortstop Brandon Crawford’s offensive production slipped in 2017, but he was once again solid in the field, winning his third straight Gold Glove Award.

With the Washington Nationals looking like the class of the National League East again, only the New York Mets look like they could compete for the Wild Card out of that division. And in the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals should all compete for the division crown. Which means any of the two that don’t win the division should easily be in the running for the Wild Card.

It won’t be easy for the Giants to make the playoffs in 2018. They’ll need to have a lot of things go right, unlike last season. But could the even-year magic play in their favor ? They won each of their World Series titles during even years (2010, 2012 and 2014). With the lack of predictability in baseball, the Giants could find themselves going from one of the worst in 2017 to one of the best in 2018.

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