Take your pick as to what adjective you want to use to describe the San Francisco Giants’ 2017 season. The moral of the story is that it was borderline disastrous. But on the heels of their 98-loss campaign, President Brian Sabean and GM Bobby Evans elected to take an aggressive approach over the winter to improve their ballclub in the hopes of engineering a turnaround.
2018 San Francisco Giants Season Preview
That decision initially came with some criticism, but it appears to have been the correct call. The Giants acquired a pair of established veterans and long-time faces of their respective franchises in Andrew McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays. They also managed to keep the top of their prospect pool largely intact in the process, while staying away from the trap of surrendering payroll flexibility and committing big money to players in the free agent market.
Sabean and Evans did just about as well as they could have imagined coming into the off-season, being rewarded for their patience waiting out the market and, in the end, reading it perfectly. The question now becomes whether the Giants did enough to contend in 2018.
Are McCutchen and Longoria Enough to Right the Ship?
Usually, it isn’t realistic for a team that finishes tied for last in Major League Baseball to expect that only two marquee additions will be enough to all of a sudden be competitive. But in the Giants’ case, there is a reason to believe that could actually come to fruition. For starters, everything that could possibly have gone wrong for them last season went wrong. The Giants were riddled with injuries and under-performances, both of which are bound to regress to the mean in 2018. At least, so long as Madison Bumgarner stays away from dirt bikes.
Offensively, the Giants ranked second last in baseball in runs scored, last in home runs and OPS, and bottom 10 in batting average. We knew that this wasn’t a lineup loaded with power, but the contact numbers especially fell off a cliff. Needless to say, a number of the bats the Giants rely upon for run production severely underwhelmed. But instead of naming all the players who’s numbers regressed in 2017, here is the one who didn’t: Buster Posey. The 2012 NL MVP slashed .320/.400/.462 en route to his fourth NL Silver Slugger award, and despite only tallying 12 home runs and 67 RBI, he hit .306 with runners in scoring position.
That tells you all you need to know about the rest of the Giants order; minus Posey in the clean-up spot, it wasn’t nearly good enough from top to bottom in 2017. McCutchen and Longoria will certainly help in that regard, bringing to the Giants 464 career home runs and 1,617 RBI between the two of them. But the Giants also need the likes of Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik to rebound from disappointing individual campaigns a season ago. All three have posted numbers in the past that suggest they are capable of being steady contributors at the dish, and that’s the level they need to get back to this season.
The Importance of the Starting Rotation
Quality starting pitching has been a trademark of Giants baseball over the past decade, and rightly so. Aided by the pitcher-friendly nature of AT&T Park, the Giants have been fortunate to roster a consistently strong pitching staff in recent years. But inconsistency in the starting rotation became a major weakness in 2017, and one that must improve this season for the Giants to have any chance at a turnaround.
Fortunately, the rotation still has the pieces to be one of the best in baseball. A healthy Bumgarner, along with more consistent quality outings from Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, would go a long way to getting the Giants deeper into games on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Chris Stratton showed off his potential in a handful of dazzling starts late last year, and the Giants are also expecting highly-touted prospect Tyler Beede to break into the rotation at some point this season. None of these outcomes are that far-fetched, which gives the Giants reason to believe that the rotation can flip from being a weak point a season ago to a strength in 2018.
More consistent starting pitching would also greatly boost the state of the bullpen, which is still somewhat of a question mark. The Giants ‘pen hasn’t been very good for the better part of two years now, but numerous short outings from their starters last year didn’t help. Fielding a relatively inexperienced bullpen at the outset of last season, the growing pains attached to that were magnified by the struggles of their starters.
This time around, the Giants enter Spring Training with a healthy amount of competition for bullpen places, with a number of younger farmhands aiming to crack the big league roster. That will push many of last season’s regulars to pitch well in the spring and earn their spot. The Giants will also get Will Smith back from Tommy John surgery, while they have reportedly been in talks with experienced left-hander Tony Watson who would immediately become an integral lefty-specialist and set-up man at the back of the bullpen.
Not many teams that lose 98 games can really bounce back the following season and challenge for a postseason berth, but the 2018 Giants have that opportunity as presently assembled. A combination of McCutchen’s and Longoria’s contributions, plus bounce-back campaigns from Belt, Crawford, and Panik can lead the Giants to vastly improve their offensive output from a season ago. Meanwhile, consistency in the starting rotation will once again be a key part of the Giants’ winning formula that has been proven effective over the past decade. Improvement is very achievable on both sides of the ball for the Giants, which gives a reason for optimism that a reversal of fortune is possible in 2018. After all, it is an even year.
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