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2014 Preview: San Francisco Giants

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants prove that last year was an aberration?

After winning their second World Series title in the span of three seasons, the Giants took a big step backward last year by finishing with a 76-86 record, 16 games behind the division champion Dodgers. They were pretty much out of it by midseason. While it wasn’t quite on the level of what the Marlins did (or what was left of them) as defending champs in 1998 or even the Reds in 1991, it was quite a change of pace from 2012.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why Bruce Bochy’s club regressed last season, as they dealt with injuries to key contributors from the World Series team (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Buster Posey at less than 100 percent during the second half) and their starting pitching simply wasn’t as effective as we have seen in the past. The rotation finished with a 4.37 ERA, which ranked 24th in the majors. And that was even with another excellent year from left-hander Madison Bumgarner.

Despite the poor finish, Giants general manager Brian Sabean only made a couple of tweaks to the roster. Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million – done last September), Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million), Javier Lopez (three years, $13 million), and Ryan Vogelsong (one year, $5 million) were all retained while Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million) and Michael Morse (one year, $6 million) were brought into the fold.

Save for Morse, the lineup is pretty close to what we saw last season. The same goes for the rotation and the bullpen, with the exception of Hudson. So basically, Sabean is banking on improved health and better all-around seasons from those who underperformed last season. While landing a big ticket item for the outfield or acquiring another quality starting pitcher in place of Vogelsong (or even Lincecum) would have instilled more confidence coming into 2014, it’s not the worst plan.

What else is going on?

  • Pablo Sandoval appears motivated going into his contract year, as he shed somewhere in the area of 40 pounds during the offseason. The 27-year-old hit .278/.341/.417 with 14 home runs and 79 RBI in 141 games last year, but it would be a big boost to the lineup if he can stay healthy and return to his 2009 or 2011 form.
  • Quick, who led the Giants in OPS+ last year? Nope, it wasn’t Buster Posey or Hunter Pence. It was Brandon Belt. The 25-year-old really took off after making some adjustments to grip during the second half, hitting .346 with seven home runs and 28 RBI in 52 games over the final two months of the season. He finished the year with a career-high .841 OPS. Looking at OPS+, which adjusts for league and ballpark, Belt ranked 17th among qualified hitters. He could go from underrated to All-Star if he can keep up what he did during the second half last year.
  • Many questioned whether Sergio Romo and his sometimes-cranky elbow would be able to make it through a full season with the demands of the closer role, but he managed to do it last year, posting a 2.54 ERA and 58/12 K/BB ratio over 60 1/3 innings while going 38-for-43 in save opportunities. Not quite the crazy elite numbers we saw from 2011-2012, but that’s to be expected given that he wasn’t being used in as many matchup situations. Romo took a beating early on this spring while he attempted to work on the other pitches in his arsenal, but he always has that electric slider in his back pocket.
  • Matt Cain should be fine this year if he can avoid another weird month like last April, but Tim Lincecum remains an enigma. While some hoped his no-hitter last season would be the start of a turnaround for the former two-time Cy Young Award winner, he posted a mediocre 4.54 ERA in 13 starts after the 148-pitch outing. Looking back over the past two seasons, only Edinson Volquez has a higher ERA. The Giants paid big money to keep him around, but with his drop in velocity, there’s very little to indicate a return to elite form or even close to it. Whispers about an eventual move to the bullpen will only get louder if he continues to struggle.

Prediction: The Dodgers are a cut above in this division, but I think that the Giants have the best chance of the remaining teams to emerge for one of the Wild Card spots. Second place, NL West.

Hyun-Jin Ryu suffered a setback after latest rehab start

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 02:  Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu felt sore after his latest rehab start with Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers will have him back off his planned assignments as a result.

Ryu hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since September 12, 2014. He had offseason shoulder surgery and then suffered a groin injury in April. The Dodgers were hoping to get him back around mid-June but they’ll likely have to wait longer than that now.

Prior to Wednesday’s Triple-A rehab start, Ryu appeared in two rehab outings with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He has decent results in his three appearances, yielding three runs (one earned) on eight hits with no walks and six strikeouts in nine innings.

Xander Bogaerts extends hitting streak to 22 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 22:  Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he hit a single in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on May 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak may be gone, but Xander Bogaerts‘ is still alive and kicking. The Red Sox shortstop extended his streak to 22 games on Sunday afternoon against the Blue Jays, hitting a ground ball single to left field off of R.A. Dickey in the sixth inning.

Coming into Sunday’s action, Bogaerts’ .351 batting average was the best mark in the American League and bested only by the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy (.390) and Ben Zobrist (.354). Bogaerts’ 71 total hits marked the most in baseball entering Sunday as well.

Report: Padres, White Sox discussing potential James Shields trade

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Saturday that the Padres and White Sox have been discussing a trade involving starter James Shields. Those talks have “significant momentum,” according to Lin. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, however, says that nothing is imminent and that the Padres have fielded calls from a lot of teams interested in Shields.

Shields, 34, has a 3.06 ERA and a 56/23 K/BB ratio over 10 starts this season. He’s in the second year of a four-year, $75 million contract, earning $21 million this season as well as in 2017-18 with a $2 million buyout if his 2019 club option for $16 million is declined. Presumably, the Padres would be covering a portion of that remaining contract.

The White Sox got off to a hot start, but have slumped in May. The club entered Sunday on a five-game losing streak and had lost 11 of the previous 14 games. While Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been outstanding at the top of the starting rotation, the back end of Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, and Miguel Gonzalez has been underwhelming.

Jake Odorizzi loses no-hitter against the Yankees in the seventh inning

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 29:  Jake Odorizzi #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on May 29, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Update (3:13 PM EDT): The no-hit bid is over. Odorizzi got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to lead off the seventh inning, but issued a walk to Brett Gardner before Starlin Castro crushed a two-run home run to left-center field, putting the Yankees up 2-1.

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Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is two-thirds of the way towards a no-hitter against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. On 81 pitches thus far, the right-hander has struck out five and walked none on 83 pitches. The lone blemish is a fielding error by shortstop Brad Miller.

The Rays have provided Odorizzi with just one run of support, coming on an RBI single by Evan Longoria in the third inning against Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi.

If Odorizzi can finish the final three innings without a hit, he would record the Rays’ first no-hitter since Matt Garza on July 26, 2010 against the Tigers. For the Yankees, it would be the first time they would be victims of a no-hitter since the Astros’ combined no-hitter on June 11, 2003 which involved Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner.