At this point the playoffs appear to be a reach for the San Francisco Giants.
If history repeats itself, then 2016 should end with the San Francisco Giants claiming another World Series Title. The Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 with all signs pointing towards more October baseball in San Francisco. The Giants currently find themselves with a record 38-26 which is good enough for first place in the National League West as they have a five-game lead over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers for the top spot in the division. But whereas the Giants came out nowhere in 2010 to win it all, or when they got hot in the postseason in both 2012 and 2014 to win the World Series, this year’s team already has the look of a team that could do some damage.
Since taking over as the general manager of the Giants in 1996, Brian Sabean has done things his way. Sabean made trades that weren’t popular when he sent veteran Giants players such as third baseman Matt Williams out of town. But Sabean’s moves paid off as the Giants had a 22-game improvement in 1997 to win the National League West for the first time since 1989. From 1997-2004, the Giants never had a losing record, and over that stretch they won the NL Pennant in 2002, along with winning 100 games in 2003. However from 2005-2008, the Giants never had a winning season, and Sabean took some flack for the team’s rebuilding plan.
During that time the Giants were developing a core of young pitchers that included starting pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum as the pair would be vital in San Francisco’s World Series Titles in 2010 and 2012. But while Lincecum’s and Cain’s stars began to fade, it opened the door for other players on the Giants to emerge as stars: those players being catcher Buster Posey and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner who have kept the Giants winning ways going. Along with Posey and Bumgarner, the Giants also have core players in shortstop Brandon Crawford, first baseman Brandon Belt, and second baseman Joe Panik that have come together to make San Francisco one of the better teams in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for the Giants these guys alone weren’t enough to get San Francisco to the postseason in 2015.
Sabean who is now the Giants president of baseball operations went to work during the winter to add spare parts that would once again get the San Francisco to the postseason. After helping the Kansas City Royals win the World Series last year, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto hit free agency where he and the Giants agreed on a six-year contract that is worth $130 million. The Giants would also sign starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to a five-year deal that is worth $90 million, and he along with Cueto have not only provided depth in the Giants rotation behind Bumgarner as both pitchers have combined to win 16 games, but they also have the kind of veteran experience that can come in handy if San Francisco can make it to the playoffs. The Giants also signed veteran outfielder Denard Span who has provided them with a quality bat at the top of their lineup as he has an on-base percentage of .344, while also possessing tremendous range in center field which is crucial in a cavernous park such as AT&T Park in San Francisco.
As a pitching staff, the Giants team earned run average of 3.51 is currently fifth in the National League, and for manager Bruce Bochy, he has typically relied on a bullpen by committee during his time with the club which is once again the case in 2016. Relief pitchers Hunter Strickland, Santiago Casilla, Josh Osich, and Javier Lopez are all interchangeable players that each has the ability to save games, be middle relief, or setup men. Casilla has been the Giants primary closer as he has 13 saves this year, but you can never have enough arms in the chase for a pennant.
Offensively the Giants are primarily a middle of the pack team as far as most of the major statistical categories go in the National League, but that is all thrown out of the window when the Giants reach the postseason as they have a lineup of mentally tough players who always seem to find a way to get the big hit being that they hate to lose more than enjoy winning.
The Giants are more than capable of winning the National League West as they are clearly the best team in the division. The Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Diego Padres all currently have losing records, while the Dodgers are a team that is limbo as they have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, but they are also attempting to develop some of their younger players. The Giants are the only team in the division that has their act together which should see them end up the postseason.
Sabean has his pulse on the Giants and it definitely isn’t a far fetched idea to see him make a move between now and trade deadline on July 31 to add more pitching depth, or another bat that could make the Giants that much more formidable. The Giants also have the luxury of knowing that they’ll get one of their leaders back in outfielder Hunter Pence back at some point as he is currently on the disabled list with an Achilles injury which only makes San Francisco that much more difficult to deal with when he does return. And whatever the case may be for the Giants each team that could potentially face them in the playoffs will have it in the back of their heads of how tough it is to eliminate this team.
X-San Francisco Giants 90-72 (3)
Since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in each even numbered year while failing to make the postseason in the odd numbered years. And if that trend continues, the Giants will once again be hoisting the World Series trophy this October.
Under executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants formula has been simple as they rely on solid pitching, timely hitting, and crisp fielding.
Pitching wise the Giants have one of the top starting pitchers in Major League Baseball in the form of Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is coming off of consecutive 18-win seasons and there is no doubt about him being the ace of the staff in San Francisco. But besides Bumgarner, the Giants only had one starting pitcher win at least 10 games last season which is a good indication as to way they failed to make the playoffs.
To remedy that Sabean, and new Giants general manager Bobby Evans dipped into free agency this off-season to sign starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. What the Giants are hopeful to get in Cueto is a pitcher that is much more suited to play in the National League. In nearly eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Cueto went 92-63 with an earned run average of 3.21. Cueto was traded last year to the Kansas City Royals where he helped them to win the World Series which fits right in to what the Giants want to accomplish. Like Cueto, Samrdzija has pitched better in the NL, and the Giants will need him to be effective in order to add depth to the end of their rotation.
The Giants and Bochy will one again rely on one of the better bullpens in Major League Baseball to finish games. Last season relief pitcher Santiago Casilla was tied for fifth in the National League in saves with 38, and if he is able to reach the 40-save mark this season, it should mark a solid campaign for San Francisco. The Giants also enjoy the luxury of having a solid bridge between their starters and closers with relief pitchers Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo. Strickland has a power arm that could eventually close games while Romo can be very crafty with his off-speed pitches.
For the Giants, catcher Buster Posey is still one of the best in the game as far as his ability to call a game behind along with what he is able to do with a bat in his hand. Posey was named as the National League MVP in 2012, and his clutch bat is important in the middle of San Francisco’s lineup.
Aside from Posey, the presence of outfielder Hunter Pence provides the Giants will leadership in their lineup. Last year injuries limited Pence to just 52 games and his presence was missed. San Francisco is backing on Pence being healthy in 2016, and along with emerging stars such as infielders Kelby Tomlinson, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy, this Giants lineup will be tough on opposing pitchers.
Brandon Belt provides another quality bat for the Giants at first base while signing former Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span could fly under the radar at first, but with his speed at the top of the San Francisco lineup, they should be poised for another run at the World Series Title.
The Giants are clearly the class of the National League West, and with the veterans on their team, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Los Angeles Dodgers 85-77
The last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Los Angeles Dodgers win the National League West, but success in the postseason hasn’t followed them. In both 2013 and 2014, the Dodgers were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals; while last October saw the Dodgers fall to the New York Mets in the National League Divisional Series. The Dodgers struggles in the postseason led to the departure of manager Don Mattingly who unfortunately had to shoulder the blame for their playoff woes. Mattingly has been replaced by former MLB outfielder Dave Roberts who is looking to inject some new energy into a Dodgers team that is good enough to win their division, but have come up short in October.
The Dodgers have been stung this off-season in free agency. It was a bit shocking when starting pitcher Zack Greinke decided to opt-out of his contract with the Dodgers, and it was even more startling when he signed a six-year, $206 million deal to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. What the Dodgers lost in Greinke was a pitcher that went 19-3 last year with an earned run average of 1.66 as his production won’t be that easy to replace. Aside from losing Greinke, the Dodgers have been quiet in free agency as their brain trust of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, and general manager Farhan Zaidi have played it close to the chest as they are looking to start fresh without a ton of spending on bloated contracts.
Los Angeles still has starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw at the top of their rotation. Kershaw is a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner that is coming off of leading the Senior Circuit last season in strikeouts win 301. Kershaw is indeed one of the best pitchers in the game right now, but he only pitches once every fifth game and there are a ton of question marks behind him in the Dodgers rotation.
Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir has been a journeyman throughout his Major League Baseball career while he has only reached the 200-inning plateau once. The same can be about starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson as far as being journeymen whom the Dodgers are rolling the dice on in 2016.
Los Angeles will also have to smooth things over with relief pitcher Kenley Jansen after they flirted with acquiring relief pitcher Aroldis Champman from the Cincinnati Reds. The deal to get Chapman fell through as he ended up with the New York Yankees, and now the Dodgers must convince Chapman that they still have faith in him to close out games in the ninth inning.
Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the pack unit in the National League, but they have two youngsters that have tremendous potential. In 2015 as a rookie, outfielder Joc Pederson was on fire to begin the Major League Baseball season until word got around the league that he couldn’t lay off of the breaking pitches. Pederson did hit 26 home runs while driving in 54 runs, but he only batted .210 while striking out 170 times. Pederson must develop more plate discipline as he must learn to work the count. Corey Seager is the Dodgers shortstop of the future. Seager didn’t get as much playing time last year as Pederson did, but the Dodgers do view him as someone who could be a spark for them early in the batting order, and his name should be in consideration for the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016.
Last season Mattingly was attempting to get outfielder Enrique Hernandez more playing time due to the fact that he saw the potential in the youngster to be an everyday player. Hernandez is an infielder by trade, but if Roberts puts the same patience in him that Mattingly did, the Dodgers could have a solid player on their hands.
The Dodgers also do have a veteran presence in their lineup. 2015 saw infielder Justin Turner have a career year as he batted .294 with 16 home runs and 60 runs batted in. Turner also kept the Dodgers lineup afloat in the postseason as he batted .536 with 6 doubles. The Dodgers also have a pair of professional hitters in second baseman Howie Kendrick and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez while Gonzalez’s glove at first base is still one of the best in the business. But all is not a bed of roses for the Dodgers as they are stuck with a pair of injury prone outfielders in Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. And then there is the case of outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Puig was able to burst onto the scene for the Dodgers in 2013 with a .319 batting average to go along with 19 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Puig has a ton of potential, but I am not sure if anyone within the Dodgers organization will be able to get through to the enigmatic youngster in order to have him put it all together for a full season.
Although that the Dodgers play in a big market and they have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, they are an organization that is transition due to Friedman and Zaidi playing things a little closer to the chest while developing their young talent with an eye on sabermetrics. And since the Dodgers brain trust wasn’t on the same page with Mattingly, things could be different under Roberts as he fits more into their new system.
Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81
The Arizona Diamondbacks have become bottom feeders in the National League West, but they are hoping for a quick turnaround in what could be the weakest division in Major League Baseball in 2016. The Diamondbacks brain trust of president of baseball operations Tony La Russa, general manager Dave Stewart, and manager Chip Hale are all set to embark on their second year in the desert as they are attempting to build Arizona into a contender. In recent years the Diamondbacks have played it close to the chest, but they decided to make a splash this off-season when they signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
Greinke opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers to test free agency, but nobody expected him to join the Diamondbacks. It took six years and $206.5 million for Greinke to come to the desert, but the D’backs are hopeful that Greinke can provide them with a dominant ace at the front of their starting rotation that they have lacked since the days of Brandon Webb. In 12 years as a Major League Baseball pitcher, Greinke has complied a record of 142-93 with an earned run average of 3.35 while winning the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues. Greinke’s presence automatically improves the Diamondbacks pitching staff as they were ninth in the team earned average in the NL last season at 4.04, and 11th in quality starts with just 69. But behind Greinke, the D’backs are lacking depth in their starting rotation and he will only take the mound once every fifth day.
The Diamondbacks had one the most prolific offenses in the National League last year and they will once again have first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup. Goldschmidt is a three-time National League All-Star while finishing second in the NL MVP voting in two of the last three years. Goldschmidt would be more of a household name, but being that Arizona has not been a good team while also getting lost in the shuffle in the West, there are some people that don’t know too much about him.
The National League West should be up for grabs this year with 85 wins possibly being enough to win it. And if the Diamondbacks can get on a roll at some point this year, they could be postseason bound for the first time since 2011.
San Diego Padres 67-95
Last year saw the San Diego Padres attempt to buy a contending team, but it simply blew up their faces. The Padres would acquire relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, along with outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers via trades while spending big in free agency on starting pitcher James Shields. The Padres lacked cohesion all season long which reflected in their record as they suffered through their seventh losing campaign in the last eight years.
A.J. Preller has nearly two years under his belt as the Padres president of baseball operations/general manager and he is attempting to help the team shed their image of being a perennial loser. But to make the Padres a contender in 2016, Preller will have his work cut out for him.
After going through three different managers last year, the Padres have settled on Andy Green to be their skipper in 2016. Green doesn’t have any prior managerial experience in Major League Baseball on his resume, but he comes to the Padres after spending last year as the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. And now Green will look to infuse some life in the Padres.
Of the Padres big moves last year, only Kemp, Myers, and Shields are still in San Diego as Kimbrel was traded to the Boston Red Sox and Upton signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers. And it will be Myers and Kemp that must find a way to carry the Padres lineup.
As a team the Padres must find a way to get better at the plate as they were last in the National League in both team batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.300) while striking out 1,327 times which was third. The Padres must learn to do the little things at the plate better such as getting more quality at-bats which is something that new hitting coach Mark McGwire will look to preach to them.
Behind Shields in the Padres rotation, there isn’t that much protection as this team will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in the National League West.
The only highlight for the Padres in 2016 will be the fact that they are hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Colorado Rockies 62-100
The Colorado Rockies are coming off of their fifth consecutive losing season which is their worst stretch in franchise history. And although that the National League West is expected to be down in 2016, the Rockies will still have a hard time keeping up. Walt Weiss is set to embark on his fourth season as manager of the Rockies. As always Colorado’s bats should keep them in contests, but one thing that this organization has consistently lacked since its inception has been pitching.
The Rockies were dead last in the National League last season in team earned average at 5.04 while also only managing to get 54 quality starts which was also last, and the bad news for Colorado is that it won’t get any better for them in 2016.
For the Rockies to have any chance this year in the National League West, their bats are going to have to keep them in games and ultimately win them. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez along with third baseman Nolan Arenado could each flirt with becoming the first player in Rockies franchise history to hit 50 home runs in a single season if each player is able to remain healthy. But with an eye towards the future, it will be interesting to see if this will be the year that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich will make a move to trade Gonzalez or Arenado in the effort to obtain some starting pitching.
For the folks in the Rocky Mountains, they will spend the summer months looking ahead to training camp for the Denver Broncos as they won’t get that much out of their baseball team.
The luxury tax in Major League Baseball has been implemented to provide what is deemed as a “competitive balance” which has paved the way for more parity. The last team that was able to repeat as World Series Champions were the New York Yankees in 2000. But even with parity, baseball has currently seen a dynasty in the San Francisco Giants. Since 2010, the Giants have won three World Series Championships and they have done it in very interesting fashion as they’ve won all of their titles in even-numbered years while not qualifying for the postseason in the odd-numbered years which appears to be a trend that they are sticking with in 2015.
After a strong start this year, the Giants have fallen off of the pace as they are now 8.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the National League West and they are 10 games behind the Chicago Cubs for the final playoff spot in the NL. And with just 16 games left in the Major League Baseball season, the Giants playoff hopes are indeed on life support.
Injuries have been a big part of the Giants season and in the second half of the Major League Baseball season, they have also dealt with a very tough schedule. From August 6-September 2, the Giants did not play a game against a team that currently has a losing record and in those contests, San Francisco had a record of 10-16 which put them in a very tough spot. During that stretch the Giants were also swept by the Cubs and Dodgers while also losing series’ to the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates who are also potential playoff teams. And whereas the Giants typically begin to shifts gears in September for a playoff run, the transmission in their express hasn’t been able to get going this month.
The absence of outfielder of Hunter Pence this season has hindered the Giants chances. Pence has only appeared in 52 games this season for the Giants and in his brief time in their lineup, he had 40 runs batted in. The emergence of shortstop Brandon Crawford teaming with catcher Buster Posey has been somewhat able to offset the loss of Pence in the Giants lineup. But you cannot mask the fact that Pence is the emotional leader of this club.
This season the Giants team earned run average of 3.66 is sixth in the National League as they have been paced by starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is the reigning World Series MVP and he is line this year to win his first NL Cy Young Award, but behind him there hasn’t been that much consistency in the Giants starting rotation as he is the only starter that has an earned run average that is south of 3.00. The Giants have gone with nine different starting pitchers this year due to injuries which has also hurt their rotation. Earlier this year starting pitcher Chris Heston appeared ready to run away with the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award. But Heston has cooled off as he now has a record of 11-10 with a 3.61 earned run average. Hip surgery has put starting pitcher Tim Lincecum on the shelf and it will more than likely symbolize the end of his time in San Francisco where he was a two-time NL Cy Young Award winner. And when the Giants have won World Series Championships, it has been their pitching that was at the forefront.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean along with manager Bruce Bochy have been pushing all of the right buttons over the past few years in San Francisco as they’ve become the envy of 29 other Major League Baseball teams. Sabean has sought out guys that other teams might have overlooked or simply given up on and Bochy makes them fit into in the system in San Francisco. But by the looks of things, the off-season will be getting started quicker than it did in 2014 and Sabean will look to tweak the Giants roster heading into 2016. Bumgarner, Posey, and Lincecum are the only players currently on the Giants roster that were there for all three World Series Titles with Lincecum more than likely moving on next year. But the Giants new core consists of Bumgarner, Posey, Crawford, and Pence, along with infielders Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Brandon Belt. Pence’s health in 2016 will be vital for the Giants as they will look to rebound and get back to the postseason which means that they’ll need some depth behind Bumgarner in their rotation. But the Giants have recently shown that it doesn’t take that much to get them back to the postseason and when October rolls around, they are a team that nobody wants to see.
It is an odd-numbered year which means that the San Francisco Giants are not expected to contend. But the Giants didn’t receive that memo. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 while failing to make the playoffs in 2011 and 2013. The Giants began this season with a record of 4-10 and they appeared to be a long shot as far as being able to defend their World Series Title. But since then the Giants are 26-13 and in the process they are now breathing down the necks of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. And by the looks of things, the Giants are not ready to ease up on the throttle.
The Giants began this Major League Baseball season with a different feel. Longtime third baseman Pablo Sandoval left the Giants as a free agent to sign with the Boston Red Sox which left a void at the hot corner in San Francisco. Outfielder Hunter Pence began the season on the disabled list for the Giants while the pitching staff started the year in shambles. But that is why the MLB season is a marathon and not a sprint.
Under manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants never wavered at the beginning of the season when things looked bleak. The Giants turnaround began when they swept the Dodgers in a three-game series in San Francisco. The Giants would finish April with a record of 9-13 and they got May off of on the right start with a five-game winning streak which included a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels. And after a 4-2 road trip in mid-May, the Giants returned home for another three-game series against the Dodgers. Aside from sweeping the Dodgers once again, the Giants outscored their rivals from Southern California in the series 10-0. And as June has commenced, there is plenty of hope for the Giants.
Pence returned to the Giants lineup on May 16, and just like it was displayed in last season’s title run, Pence has provided leadership San Francisco. In Pence’s first game this season, he went 2-for-3 in the Giants 11-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Since returning, Pence is batting .299 with a .429 on-base percentage and make no mistake about it that he is the emotional leader of the Giants as he teams with catcher Buster Posey in the middle of the lineup.
Some people look at the Giants recent success and they’ll skeptically say that they’ve been a team that simply gets hot coming down the stretch of the regular season and into October. But Giants general manager Brian Sabean has created a “system” that has been proven to work as he has a team of interchangeable parts. And when a player is lost to injury, traded, or leaves in free agency like Sandoval, the Giants are able to move on and succeed without slowing down that much. This is evident by the fact that only four players have been a part of each Giants championship teams since 2010. Starting pitcher Matt Cain was on the Giants 2014 roster, but he was injured for the majority of the season and missed the entire postseason run as San Francisco doesn’t cry over spilled milk.
An example of going with the flow and finding new players is Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford was drafted by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft and he worked his way up through their system as he made his debut in 2011. Crawford has shown a knack for coming up with the big play whether it has been at the plate or in the field. In last year’s National League Wild Card Game, Crawford hit a grand slam that took the air out of PNC Park and sent the Giants on their way to cruising past the Pittsburgh Pirates. This season Crawford is batting a career-high .299 with a .371 on-base percentage while he is well on his way to having career highs in every major offensive statistical category in 2015. Another player like that for the Giants is their second baseman Joe Panik. Panik is just in second MLB season and he is only 24-years old, but he has already shown that he was unfazed by the bright lights of the World Series and he’s followed it up this season by batting .300 this year.
Pitching wise the Giants began the season slow as it was the same old adage that they were relying on starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner to carry them. Bumgarner is one of those players that has been a member of each of the Giants championship teams since 2010 and he has done everything in his Major League Baseball career except be named the National League Cy Young Award winner. And with a record of 6-2 to go along with an earned run average of 3.12 so far in 2015, Bumgarner is on his way to getting some love this season for the NL Cy Young Award. Aside from Bumgarner in the Giants starting rotation, Chris Heston and Tim Lincecum each has 5 wins. Lincecum is a two-time NL Cy Young Award winner that is in the final year of his contract which means that he should give the Giants quality innings for the remainder of the season.
The Giants have won their last three World Series Championships with a different relief pitcher closing out games in the ninth innings. And when Giants manager Bruce Bochy went with a closer-by-committee coming down the stretch last season when relief pitcher Sergio Romo was ineffective in the ninth, Santiago Casilla emerged. Casilla did save 25 games for the Giants in 2012 until he fell out of favor with Bochy, but he was never deterred and just waited until his number was called once again by the skipper in San Francisco.
The National League West is shaping up to be a two-team race between the Giants and Dodgers which would be fitting for these two longtime rivals. The Giants recent surge and the fact that there are five postseason spots in the NL will allow Sabean to think as a buyer as opposed to being a seller for a team in San Francisco that wants to shed their image of only winning titles in even numbered years. One of the main things that allows the Giants to contend and win World Series Titles is the fact that they have veterans on their team such as Posey, Bumgarner, and Pence that hate to win more than they enjoy winning. And when you have players like that, it becomes infectious on the rest of the team as players will simply find a way to win. This is exactly why nobody in San Francisco panicked when they Giants began the season with a record of 4-10. And it is also why 29 other Major League Baseball teams want what the Giants have.