Wait 'Til Next Year: San Francisco Giants
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait ‘Til Next Year series.
Current record: 66-80 (.452, 5th place in NL West)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 11
What went right in 2013: More than you'd think for a team that went from winning the World Series to spending much of the second half in last place. Hunter Pence has experienced a nice walk-year spike, turning in a season that rivaled his career best. Buster Posey has gotten off to a nice start toward validating his nine-year extension by largely replicating his career rates. First baseman Brandon Belt has continued to mature at the plate, hitting for more power than in either of his first two seasons. Marco Scutaro is having one of his best offensive seasons. As a team, the Giants have posted the same OPS+ as the Cardinals (102), tying them for second in the NL in that category, an impressive offensive performance masked by San Francisco's extremely pitching-friendly home ballpark.
On the mound, Madison Bumgarner has turned in another strong season, posting a career-low ERA and making his first All-Star team. Sergio Romo had a good showing in his first full season as closer, with 33 saves and a 2.56 ERA. The team has also gotten unexpectedly strong fill-in work from Chad Gaudin (5-1, 2.60 ERA in his first 11 of 12 starts on the season) and Yusmiero Petit (3-0, 2.53 ERA in four starts and one five-inning relief appearance, including a near perfect game on Sept. 6). The highlight of the season, meanwhile, was Tim Lincecum's dramatic 148-pitch no-hitter.
What went wrong in 2013: Just about everything else, but the most unexpected was Matt Cain suffering a Lincecum-like collapse by posting a 5.45 ERA through June 1 and a 77 ERA+ to this point in the season. No-hitter aside, Lincecum did not bounce back from his awful 2012, going 9-13 with a 4.40 ERA (76 ERA+). Barry Zito did not build on his postseason success, posting a career-worst 57 ERA+ and twice losing his spot in the rotation. Ryan Vogelsong posted a 7.19 ERA in nine starts before breaking a finger on his pitching hand on a bunt attempt and missing more than two months. Altogether, the collapse of the starting rotation behind Bumgarner was the biggest reason for the Giants' struggles this season. Cain's 77 ERA+ stands as the highest of the other four men from the team's Opening Day rotation, and those performances are the bulk of the reason that San Francisco is dead last in the majors with a team ERA+ of 83.
Elsewhere, Angel Pagan missed more than half the season due to a hamstring tear. Pablo Sandoval saw his production drop off for the second straight season, hitting for less power than even his miserable 2010 campaign. Lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who like Pagan and Scutaro was re-signed after the World Series win, missed more than one-third of the season due to a pair of injuries. Adding insult to those injuries, on July 2, the Giants were no-hit by Homer Bailey.
Overall outlook: San Francisco can rebound in 2014. It's a particularly encouraging sign that its best players this season were its youngest: Bumgarner (23), Belt (25), Posey (26), and, primarily for his fielding, shortstop Brandon Crawford (26). Cain, who is 28, has posted a 3.46 ERA over his last 15 starts, 11 of which were quality. Pagan has been productive when healthy, even if his power dropped off, giving the team a solid up-the-middle quartet with Posey, Crawford and the ageless and perpetually underrated Scutaro. Add in Romo as the bullpen anchor, and the core is still there. Sandoval remains a project, and Pence will be a free agent.Lincecum, Zito and Vogelsong are also likely to hit the market (the last two have options that probably won't be picked up). If the Giants spend the savings well on big bats for the outfield corners and starting pitching (which means not re-signing fan favorites Pence and Lincecum), they could be right back in the mix in 2014.