2013 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 2013 season. Up next: The World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

The Big Question: Can the Giants hold off the Dodgers in the National League West?

Fresh off a magical run which led to their second World Series title in the past three seasons, the Giants have mostly kept the band together. Giants general manager Brian Sabean pulled it off by retaining three key contributors from the 2012 team. Marco Scutaro, who batted .362 after coming over from the Rockies and played the role of hero during the postseason, is back on a three-year, $20 million contract. Angel Pagan, who thrived in his first season with the club, was re-signed for four years and $40 million. Jeremy Affeldt, who owns a 2.73 ERA over four seasons with the Giants, was brought back on a three-year, $18 million contract.

It’s a little much to ask Scutaro to replicate what he did down the stretch last season, as it was fueled by a .366 batting average on balls in play. He’s also 37 years old and has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Hunter Pence batted just .219 with seven home runs in 59 games after coming over from the Phillies last season, so the Giants need him to bounce back in his walk year. 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey is the best bet in the lineup, but he plays the most demanding position in the sport. It would be nice if Pablo Sandoval managed to play a full season while staying in the Giants’ good graces from a conditioning perspective.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have the potential to be one of the best 1-2 combos in the game, but getting a rebound season out of Tim Lincecum would provide a huge boost to the starting rotation. His 5.18 ERA last season was fourth-highest among qualified starters while his walk rate has jumped from 2.7 BB/9 to 4.4 BB/9 since 2009. The good news is that the strikeouts were still there last year. While Lincecum has received plenty of attention this spring for his new haircut, he’s hoping that an offseason strength and conditioning program will pay dividends on the mound. Don’t rule it out. He pitches in a great home park to facilitate a rebound.

It’s a little odd to see a team which won the World Series be overshadowed by a division rival, but that’s exactly what happened this winter with the high-spending Dodgers. On paper, they are a serious threat to take the division. But we have seen spending sprees backfire in baseball before, so it’s hardly a guarantee of success. Still, the margin for error figures to be smaller than last year, so Bruce Bochy’s squad needs a lot of things to go right to have a chance at a repeat.

What else is going on? 

  • With Brian Wilson out of the picture, the Giants are set to give Sergio Romo a chance at the closer role. The 30-year-old right-hander boasts a brilliant 2.20 ERA for his career and was dominant down the stretch last year and during the postseason, so it’s hard to find a more deserving candidate. However, the Giants have always been extra careful about his workload because he relies so heavily on his knockout slider. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Affeldt also figure to get save chances.
  • The Giants never considered bringing Melky Cabrera back following his 50-game suspension for synthetic testosterone, so they are hoping that a combination of Gregor Blanco and a returning Andres Torres will be able to hold things down in left field. Defense shouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t the most inspiring combination offensively. If there’s a spot where the Giants could look for an upgrade during the season, this is it.
  • Barry Zito is entering the final guaranteed year of his infamous seven-year, $126 million contract, as the Giants can buy out his 2014 option for $7 million. With a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA over six seasons with the club, there’s no disputing that he is one of the biggest free agent busts of all-time. But his surprising postseason heroics have at least assured him of a special place in franchise history.
  • Could this be the year that Brandon Belt breaks out? The 24-year-old has shown good patience and a penchant for spraying line drives, but he has just 16 home runs over his first 681 plate appearances in the majors. That’s quite a contrast to what he did in the minor leagues. The Giants will have to hope that his strong performance down the stretch last year and hot hitting this spring is a harbinger for things to come.

Prediction: It will be close, but I have the Giants repeating as the NL West winners.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 10, Marlins 9: The Braves rallied for six runs, all with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth to walk off winners on getaway day against the Marlins. The Marlins took a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning after Lewis Brinson cracked a grand slam down the left field line. Miguel Rojas hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Marlins’ lead back to six runs at 8-2. The Braves entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-4, but Marlins relievers Brad Ziegler and Tayron Guerrero both melted down. Here’s what happened. It’s the Braves’ largest ninth-inning comeback in exactly eight years, when this happened:

Red Sox 5, Orioles 0: J.D. Martinez homered twice, tying teammate Mookie Betts for the major league lead in home runs with 15. Andrew Benintendi also homered and picked up three hits. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven. The Orioles had their opportunities, racking up 13 hits, but went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and only one of their 13 hits went for extra bases. The Orioles’ 13 hits were the most compiled by a team that was shut out since August 25, 2008 when the Dodgers racked up 13 while being shut out by the Phillies. It’s only the 22nd time it’s happened dating back to 1908, according to Baseball Reference.

Athletics 9, Blue Jays 2: Daniel Mengden was magnificent for the A’s, tossing seven scoreless frames on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Marcus Semien hit a two-run home run and Matt Chapman picked up three hits. The Jays committed four errors on what was a very forgettable afternoon.

Cubs 6, Reds 1: Things haven’t been going well this year for Yu Darvish, but they did go well at least on Sunday afternoon. The right-hander held the Reds to a lone run on two hits and three walks with seven punch-outs across six innings, lowering his ERA on the season to 4.95. Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez hit back-to-back homers in the second inning off of Tyler Mahle. Joey Votto was the only Red to have more than one hit.

Mets 4, Diamondbacks 1: Clay Buchholz made his first start in over a year and it went well. He held the Mets to one run, which came on Amed Rosario‘s solo home run in the top of the sixth, ultimately the hit that knocked Buchholz out of the game. Rosario added another homer in the seventh, when the Mets scored three runs to take a lead they’d never relinquish. Noah Syndergaard fanned seven in seven innings, giving up one run on six hits and a walk. D-Backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt remains mired in a season-long slump. He went 1-for-4 with a single and now owns an uncharacteristic .690 OPS.

Padres 8, Pirates 5: The Padres rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth, turning a 5-4 deficit into an 8-5 lead. They rapped out five singles and benefited from an error as well. Christian Villanueva hit his 12th homer of the season, a two-run blast in the fourth inning. Austin Meadows knocked his first major league homer.

Dodgers 7, Nationals 2: This was mostly a clinic on power, as the Dodgers hit three homers, one each from Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez, and Yasiel Puig. Trea Turner hit one for the Nationals. Alex Wood pitched well, holding the Nationals to two runs on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts, but left the game after apparently injuring himself warming prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. Stephen Strasburg gave up three runs on five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

White Sox 3, Rangers 0: This one was all Reynaldo Lopez. The 24-year-old fired eight shutout frames, yielding only two hits and two walks while striking out eight. In doing so, he lowered his ERA to 2.98. The three runs came on a solo homer from Welington Castillo in the second and a two-run Leury Garcia single in the third.

Yankees 10, Royals 1: Tyler Austin blasted a pair of homers, giving him eight on the season. Miguel Andujar and Austin Romine also homered for the Yankees in what was a drubbing of the lowly Royals. Sonny Gray went eight innings, giving up a lone run on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts. The Yankees now have a major league-best 30-13 record while the Royals drop to 14-32. Only the White Sox (.302) have a worse winning percentage than the Royals (.304).

Cardinals 5, Phillies 1: Jack Flaherty was phenomenal for the Cardinals, striking out 13 batters while limiting the Phillies to a run on two hits and a walk over 7 2/3 innings. 21-year-old Freddy Peralta also struck out 13 earlier this season. Before Flaherty and Peralta, the last pitcher younger than 23 years old to strike out 13 in a game was Noah Syndergaard nearly three years ago against the Diamondbacks. Aaron Nola, who has been ace-like all year for the Phillies, didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, surrendering four runs over six innings to the Cardinals. Rhys Hoskins homered but Odubel Herrera‘s on-base streak finally ended at 45 consecutive games. It’s tied for the fourth-longest in Phillies history.

Twins 3, Brewers 1: Logan Morrison knocked in two runs with a single to right field in the bottom of the eighth, breaking a 1-1 tie. That proved to be the game-winning hit as Fernando Rodney came in and struck out the side in the top of the ninth to seal the deal.

Giants 9, Rockies 5: The Giants scored nine runs for a second consecutive day. Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Belt, and Nick Hundley each homered, accounting for six of the nine runs. Nice. The Rockies got three hits each from Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story but it wasn’t enough. Starters Ty Blach and Tyler Anderson both had forgettable days on the mound, giving up five and four runs in 5 1/3 and 4 1/3 innings, respectively.

Angels 5, Rays 2: Shohei Ohtani continued to pitch well, holding the Rays to a pair of runs on six hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. With seven major league starts under his belt, he’s sporting a 3.35 ERA. He’s also batting .321/.367/.619. Sergio Romo started for the Rays for a second day in a row. He pitched an inning yesterday before giving way to Ryan Yarbrough. This time, he got four outs before Matt Andriese relieved him. Martin Maldonado homered for the Angels; Johnny Field went yard for the Rays. Matt Duffy collected three hits as well.

Tigers, Mariners (11 innings): Mitch Haniger hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game into extras. Jean Segura broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 11th with an RBI single. Tigers starter Francisco Liriano brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning but lost it when Haniger singled to center. Liriano ended up giving up the one hit and walking three while striking out five on 102 pitches over eight scoreless innings.

Astros 3, Indians 1: Lance McCullers had his best stuff working, bringing a bid for a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He ended up going seven frames, giving up just a hit and two walks with eight strikeouts. Brian McCann broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run home run off of Carlos Carrasco.