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 2016 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.
If the Dodgers have questions about their rotation, the Giants sure don’t. At least at the top. San Francisco made a concerted effort to upgrade the pitching over the winter, signing star right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. They’ll join Madison Bumgarner atop what looks to be a devastating 1-2-3 combo for opposing hitters. At least if Bumgarner’s aches this spring prove to be minor. Which, at the moment, they seem to be. Depth could be a concern, though. Matt Cain‘s continued injury woes have pushed Chris Heston into the five-spot behind Jake Peavy at four, and beyond those guys, there are not a lot of reinforcements should any of the horses pull up lame.
The lineup is likewise solid. As always, things start with a Hall of Fame-bound catcher Buster Posey. The biggest non-Posey factor in the lineup may be Brandon Belt, who was terrific during the 137 games he played in 2015, hitting .280/.356/.478 with 18 homers and 68 RBI. The most curious part of Belt’s 2015: 18 homers, which came alongside his lowest fly ball percentage of his career (37.9%). His contact and his talent is such that, if that fly ball rate was an anomaly, Belt could be find himself having a breakout year some point soon, pairing that nice uptick in on-base and slugging with a bunch of extra long balls too. Beyond those two, the supporting cast of Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy were all excellent last year, giving the Giant a well-rounded lineup. If Hunter Pence can shake off his injury-plagued 2015 and return to form this season, that lineup goes from well-rounded to downright scary.
As is the case with the rotation, depth may be the offense’s only weak spot. Denard Span was signed to a three-year contract to serve as the club’s leadoff hitter, and he’s a good on when healthy, but he missed a lot of time last year. If he and Pence are on the DL again this year Gregor Blanco can definitely fill in, but Angel Pagan showed some serious decline last year so Blanco may be better-used to replace him in left than to fill-in for injuries. A bigger question is the catching corps behind Posey, which has been racked with injuries this spring. Finding a way to keep their star fresh without the DH is a challenge Bruce Bochy is used to, but one which is still kind of annoying.
The Giant are an excellent team on paper. And hey, it’s an even year and they always win the World Series in even years, right? The biggest x-factor for them is what to do if and when the injury bug hits, which it always does in some way, shape or form. They have a front office which has, in the past, done well in finding replacements on the fly, however.
I’m bullish on San Francisco. Depending on the injury situation, they could easily beat the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Even if they don’t, they have enough talent to be in the playoff mix all season long.
Prediction: Second place, N.L. West, but it will be not at all shocking if they win the dang thing.