This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 8: The San Francisco Giants. You can find previews for teams 30 through 9 here.
2013 Record and Finish: 76-86, tied for third place in NL West (18th overall)
2014 projected record: 92-70, second place in NL West
The Case For
The Giants have won two World Series in the last four seasons and are only two seasons removed from their last championship. There has been very little turnover on the team since the 2012 World Series. Offseason additions Mike Morse, their new leftfielder, and Tim Hudson are the only changes to the starting lineup and rotation since then, and five of the six most-used relievers on that 2012 team remain in place in the bullpen. Given that Morse and Hudson should both be upgrades (over Gregor Blanco and Barry Zito) and the holdovers include many key players still in their prime (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, and Madison Bumgarner are all 27 or younger, and Matt Cain is 29), it’s very reasonable to expect this team to rebound from its lousy 2013 performance. Cain, whose early struggles contributed to the team’s poor showing last year, posted a 2.36 ERA after the All-Star break. The Giants also hope to benefit from healthy seasons from centerfielder Angel Pagan and starter Ryan Vogelsong.
The Case Against
Vogelsong is 36 and has been hit hard this spring. Hudson is 38 and has seen his ERA rise in each of the last three years. Tim Lincecum has posted a 72 ERA+ over the last two seasons and will turn 30 in June. That's sixty percent of the rotation right there. Second baseman Marco Scutaro is 38 and will start the season on the disabled list with a bad back. Morse was awful last year, hitting .215/.270/.381 for Seattle and Baltimore, the second straight year that his production fell off significantly. Sandoval's power has decreased in each of the last two seasons as he shed nearly 100 points of isolated power (slugging minus batting average) between 2011 and 2013. Hunter Pence, who turns 31 in April, seems likely to regress after a career year in 2013. In short: The 2012 team may have overachieved.
Morse was on the 2012 Nationals, who had the best record in baseball. Tim Hudson has been to six postseasons with the A's and Braves. Every member of the Giants' projected lineup and rotation and the five relievers remaining from 2012 have been on teams that have won their division. All have experience in the playoffs. Experience doesn’t necessarily make a team better, but it can help players remain cool under the pressure of a pennant race and in the postseason, if the Giants are fortunate enough to get back there.
Number To Know: 83
Matt Cain's ERA+ last year, by far the worst mark of his career but the second best among San Francisco's five primary starting pitchers in 2013. In the National League, only the rotations of the Rockies and Phillies, who play in far more hitter-friendly ballparks, had higher raw ERAs than the Giants' rotation last year. Given that, it’s hard to believe those starters won't be significantly better this year, even if Hudson shows his age, Vogelsong yields to Yusmeiro Petit, and Lincecum has another season like the last two.
Most overrated: Brandon Crawford
"For a middle of the diamond player, a premium position player, he comes up a little bit short on both sides. I think they were expecting more development out of him and he's kind of … if he hasn't tailed off, he's leveled off for sure. His feet, for a shortstop on a championship team, his feet are just fair, for me. His range, his speed, his agility, all those things are just average at best. If he were an offensive player, it'd be a different story, but he doesn't bring a lot on that side, either."
Most underrated: Joaquin Arias
"He can play all over. Number one, he can play short, and with Pablo's tendency to not be on the field, Crawford—we talked about his deficiency—just [Arias'] ability to come in late in the game and be an asset defensively at so many positions and yet he's a tough out—he competes pretty well in the box. He's not going to take a walk, but he's going to put that bat on the ball. One of the game's better super-utility-type players."
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