We spent last week previewing the NL East, but the strength of the Nationals and Braves means that the Phillies likely have a better shot at the playoffs by winning a wild-card, something they’ve never done. In the coming days, we’ll break down the Phils’ top competition for the two NL wild-card spots.
Up next: San Francisco Giants
2013 record: 76-86
Additions: SP Tim Hudson, 1B/OF Mike Morse, 1B/3B/OF Mark Teahen, RP Juan Gutierrez, RP Kameron Loe, P Dontrelle Willis
Subtractions: SP Barry Zito, SP/RP Chad Gaudin
The Giants are in a very similar situation to the Phillies. They are a team that had tremendous success in the last handful of years before hitting rock bottom in 2013.
Like the Phillies, the Giants chose to keep their entire core intact.
San Francisco's biggest moves this offseason weren't signings, but re-signings.
Nobody leaves the Bay
The Giants brought Tim Lincecum back on a two-year, $35 million contract that no team would have come close to matching. Lincecum is not just a pitcher, but also a folk hero in San Fran, and that certainly played into his payday after two down years.
Hunter Pence also returned on a five-year, $90 million deal, the exact contractual parameters we predicted he'd eventually get when he was traded from Houston to the Phillies. The Phils didn't want to be the team that paid Pence in his fourth arbitration year or gave him his long-term deal. But the 30-year-old reestablished his value in 2013 by hitting .283 with a .822 OPS, 27 homers, 99 RBIs, 35 doubles and 22 steals. Pence and Joey Votto were the only two players in the National League to appear in all 162 games.
The Giants also re-signed starter Ryan Vogelsong and reliever Javier Lopez.
In free agency, they replaced Barry Zito with Tim Hudson in a move that could net them perhaps two wins. They also signed the powerful Mike Morse to an affordable one-year, $6 million deal. Morse is a train wreck defensively, but left field at AT&T Park isn't nearly as tricky as right field. Pat Burrell was able to fake it there for a while.
As always, the Giants will go where their rotation takes them.
Matt Cain, like Cole Hamels, struggled in parts of 2013 after getting his huge payday. Cain went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 30 starts. He allowed a career-high 23 home runs.
The real ace of the staff is 24-year-old lefty Madison Bumgarner, who hides the ball as well as any pitcher in the game. Bumgarner went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA and 1.03 WHIP last season. Over the last three years he has a 3.12 ERA in 96 starts, with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.3 walks. When playing the "build-your-team-around-one-pitcher" game, Bumgarner's near the top of the list.
After those two are Lincecum, Hudson and Vogelsong. It's a righty heavy staff with three boom-bust types in the back-end.
After going 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA in 2011 and 2012, Vogelsong struggled to keep men off base and the ball in the yard in 2013, posting a 5.73 ERA and missing about 13 starts to injury.
Lincecum's strange career path took another turn in 2013. He wasn't nearly as bad as he was in 2012 (10-15, 5.18 ERA), but he still wasn't close to the ace he was from 2008-11. He went 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA. The wild pitches and hit batsmen were still there, but Lincecum did a better job of avoiding the disaster inning.
Hudson, 38, is coming off a gruesome ankle injury. He was still pretty effective in 2013, going 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 21 starts in his ninth and final season in Atlanta.
The Giants' lineup isn't on the same level as that of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
San Fran has perhaps the least speed of any NL team. Only Pence and 32-year-old centerfielder and projected leadoff man Angel Pagan are threats to steal a base.
The projected lineup is Pagan-Marco Scutaro-Brandon Belt-Buster Posey-Pence-Pablo Sandoval-Morse-Brandon Crawford.
Belt took some steps forward in 2013, hitting .289/.360/.481 with 17 homers, 67 RBIs and 39 doubles. The 25-year-old first baseman is the key to San Fran's offense. If he can contribute out of the three- or five-hole, Posey and Pence should score and drive in plenty of runs.
The bottom-third of the Giants' lineup will struggle to move. Sandoval and Morse are base-cloggers and Crawford is 3 for 12 lifetime stealing bases, which tells you a thing or two about the jumps he gets.
Four key relievers return for the Giants: closer Sergio Romo, setup men Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt, and Lopez, the lefty specialist.
Affeldt is still capable of retiring batters from both sides, Lopez is the preeminent LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) in the majors, Casilla throws in the mid-90s and Romo owns the league's best slider.
As always, the San Francisco bullpen will keep the Giants in plenty of close games.
Like the Phillies, the Giants need a lot of things to break right to return to the playoffs.
But we foresee some hitting struggles and the Giants' lack of speed resulting in one of the NL's worst statistical offenses, despite some of the talent in the middle of the order.
Other predictions: Cain rebounds and Bumgarner pieces together another Cy Young-type season, but two men from the Lincecum-Vogelsong-Hudson group struggle.
The Giants finish 84-78, tied with the Diamondbacks for second place in the NL West and five or so games behind the Reds for the second NL wild-card.