Madison Bumgarner and the Giants have won the World Series three times in the last five seasons
When it became clear that the Giants wouldn’t catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, they held a team meeting. The message: Just find a way to play baseball in October, and the rest would take care of itself. By this point, who would argue? Under Bruce Bochy, the Giants have met 10 playoff opponents and dispatched every one of them, leading to three World Series parades down Market Street in the last five seasons. Madison Bumgarner overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game and never stopped until the final out of a triumphant Game 7 in Kansas City, posting a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings — an all-time record workload in a single postseason. The Giants won’t be favored to repeat, though, in part because of a static offseason in which they lost Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox and came up short in a bid to sign Jon Lester. That’s OK. They seem to enjoy coming out of nowhere.
The Giants won titles in 2010 and ’12 on the strength of their starting pitching, but the rotation finished 10th among 15 NL teams with a 3.74 ERA in the ’14 regular season. Aside from Bumgarner, the starters posted just one quality start all postseason. So this is a group that enters the season with some major question marks. Much will hinge on the healthy return of Matt Cain, whose streak of 200-inning seasons ended because of surgery in July to remove bone chips from his elbow. The club re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract, hoping he’ll pitch more like the second-half ace they obtained at the trade deadline and not the 1–9 pitcher they received from Boston. Tim Hudson will turn 40 in July and didn’t have much left after one playoff start. Tim Lincecum, despite being demoted to the bullpen in August, will return in a starting role, with Yusmeiro Petit standing as a safety net. Even Bumgarner comes with concerns after throwing a grand total of 270 innings — the most by a Giant since 1973. Ryan Vogelsong also returned on a one-year, $4 million deal. Insurance for the rotation, he could wind up the long man in the bullpen.
Santiago Casilla might be the most underrated closer in baseball. He was 19 for 23 in save chances after taking over duties in midseason when Sergio Romo’s slider lost its signature bite, then was unscored upon in nine postseason appearances. Romo probably would have gone elsewhere as a free agent if the Giants had been able to sign Sandoval or Lester. Instead they had largesse to spread around and brought Romo back on a two-year, $15 million contract. Jeremy Affeldt, when healthy, is a highly valuable piece — a lefty who almost never gives up home runs, can pitch multiple innings, and has the stuff to retire right-handed batters. His streak of 22 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason is one away from matching Mariano Rivera’s all-time record. Sidearm lefty Javier Lopez slipped a bit yet still held lefties to a .194 average. Righthander Jean Machi is a workhorse whose splitter is an effective out pitch. Petit, a strike-throwing savant, set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances.
Joe Panik was a lifesaver after his mid-June debut, filling a vacuum at second base after Marco Scutaro’s ailing back limited him to just a token appearance. The line-drive-hitting lefty led all NL rookies in average (.305) and on-base percentage (.343) in 73 games while also playing smooth — and at times spectacular — defense. Panik is an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot with his blend of contact skills and ability to hit behind the runner. Shortstop Brandon Crawford had another season that was greater than the sum of its parts. He finished just short again in his perennial quest to hit .250 (ending at .246) but posted career bests in runs, triples, homers, RBIs and walks — and he hit the grand slam that powered the Giants past Pittsburgh in the wild card game. Although Crawford’s 21 errors ranked as the second most among NL shortstops, he’s a gifted and creative playmaker. If he could just eliminate some of the routine errors, he’d be a Gold Glove candidate.
If not for that ride in another World Series parade, Brandon Belt would have considered his season totally forgettable. He landed on the disabled list three times, once for a broken thumb after getting hit by a pitch in May and then twice for a concussion following a batting practice accident in which he was struck in the face by a thrown ball. Belt ended up hitting .243 with 12 home runs in 61 games, but he finished the regular season free of concussion symptoms, and his home run in the 18th inning in Game 2 of the NLDS at Washington was probably the turning point of the postseason. Casey McGehee was the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year for the Marlins after hitting .287 and finishing fourth in the NL with 177 hits. He doesn’t provide much power and represents a defensive step down from Sandoval.
Few players are as reliable as Hunter Pence, who has appeared in 383 consecutive games since making his Giants debut in the middle of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, Pence’s consecutive games streak will come to an end due to a broken forearm he sustained when he was hit by a pitch in his first spring training game. The Giants hope to get Pence, who topped 20 homers for the seventh consecutive season and was second in the NL with a career-best 106 runs scored, back in the lineup by late April or early May. Angel Pagan is the antithesis of Pence. He’s a catalyst atop the lineup when healthy, but that’s seldom the case. One year after hamstring surgery limited him to 71 games, Pagan played just 96 games while complaining of a back ailment. Gregor Blanco ended up in the lineup more often than the Giants would like, but he’s a productive on-base guy and a phenomenal defender. Another speedy glove man, Juan Perez, could receive more playing time now that Michael Morse has moved on. The Giants also signed Nori Aoki to a one-year deal. Aoki, who faced the Giants in the World Series when he was with the Royals, will likely take Pence’s spot in the starting lineup while he’s sidelined.
Buster Posey proved once again that he doesn’t need to be an elite offensive player to bring plenty of value to the field. He didn’t have one extra-base hit all postseason but remained a rock for the staff while executing scouting reports to help the Giants pitch their way to a title. Even though a sore back and accumulated innings might have limited his bat in October, Posey remains one of the league’s best pure hitters. His .348 average away from AT&T Park was the highest of all major leaguers on the road. With the emergence of rookie Andrew Susac, Bochy should feel free to keep Posey fresh by giving him more days off or starts at first base.
Travis Ishikawa became a modern-day Bobby Thomson when he hit a walk-off home run to win the pennant. He returns as a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play a serviceable left field and a very good first base. Matt Duffy supplanted Joaquin Arias as the club’s top right-handed pinch-hitter, and there may be room for only one on the bench.
Bochy is one of 10 managers in history to win three World Series championships, and the other nine are in the Hall of Fame. Brian Sabean, who took over the Giants baseball operations department after the 1996 season, is the longest-tenured GM in the majors. Although not the most creative when it comes to making trades, Sabean puts his trust in a scouting system that has few peers when it comes to unearthing minor league free agents, breaking down opponents and hitting home runs with top draft picks.
The Giants weren’t able to turn another World Series title into a recruiting advantage on the free-agent market, but their core players (Bumgarner, Posey, Pence, Cain) weren’t going anywhere and still have plenty of prime years left. The bullpen is a strength, but depth remains an issue both in the rotation and lineup. The Giants missed the playoffs as defending champions in 2011 and ’13, and once again, there’s no guarantee they’ll get back to defend — especially if players like Belt and Pagan have trouble staying healthy again.
2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)
CF Angel Pagan (S) Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career and is coming off lower back surgery.
2B Joe Panik (L) Hit .373 against lefties, joining Willie McCovey and Will Clark as only Giants rookies to hit .300 vs. southpaws.
RF Hunter Pence (R) Became first Giant with 700 plate appearances in a season since Brett Butler in 1990.
C Buster Posey (R) Started 109 games at catcher, 30 at first base and two as the designated hitter.
1B Brandon Belt (L) Joined Dusty Rhodes and Mel Ott as the only Giants to hit an extra-inning homer in the postseason.
3B Casey McGehee (R) Returned from a year with Rakuten in Japan to finish fourth in NL with 177 hits for the Marlins.
LF Gregor Blanco (L) In 226 total chances, committed just one error — his first since 2012.
SS Brandon Crawford (L) His 10 triples were tied for second most in the big leagues behind Dee Gordon.
1B/LF Travis Ishikawa (L) The Pirates’ Opening Day first baseman ended up becoming an unlikely postseason hero for Giants.
OF Juan Perez (R) Hit just .170 while going up and down six times between Giants and Triple-A Fresno.
C Andrew Susac (R) Once threw out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton twice in a minor league game.
INF Joaquin Arias (R) Hit .305 against lefthanders, so most of his starts should come against southpaws.
OF Nori Aoki (L) Hit just .071 (1-for14) for Royals against Giants in last year’s World Series.
LH Madison Bumgarner Among all his other talents, he also led the major leagues with nine pickoffs.
RH Matt Cain Made 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons before elbow surgery snapped the streak.
RH Jake Peavy Posted 1.35 ERA in his last nine outings, the lowest in the majors after Aug. 13.
RH Tim Hudson The 16-year veteran leads all active pitchers with 214 victories, but is coming off his first losing season.
RH Tim Lincecum Lost spot in the rotation in August after posting 9.49 ERA in his last six starts.
RH Santiago Casilla (Closer) Converted 17 of 18 save chances after taking over closer role in late June.
RH Sergio Romo Allowed career-high nine homers and lost closer role at the end of June, but rebounded with strong second half.
RH Yusmeiro Petit Was 3–4 with a 5.03 ERA as a starter and 2–1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances.
RH Jean Machi Made team-high 71 appearances and had a scoreless streak of 25.1 innings between April 16 and June 21.
RH George Kontos Shuttled between Triple-A and the bigs five times, but will be out of minor league options next season.
LH Javier Lopez Has allowed just four home runs in 185 innings during his time with the Giants.
LH Jeremy Affeldt His 1.10 WHIP in 62 appearances was the lowest of his career.
Beyond the Box Score
Mr. October Madison Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win both the LCS and World Series MVP awards in a single postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988), Livan Hernandez (1997) and Cole Hamels (2008). He also became the first pitcher in history to rack up two wins and a save — in a five-inning relief appearance, no less — in a single World Series. With his four-hit, 10-K performance in the NL Wild Card game at Pittsburgh and a four-hit, eight-strikeout night in Game 5 of the World Series, Bumgarner became the first pitcher since Florida’s Josh Beckett in 2003 to throw multiple shutouts in a postseason.
Granny Bumgarner hit a grand slam April 11 at Colorado and connected again with the bases loaded July 13 at home against Arizona, making him the second pitcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in one season. Buster Posey also hit a slam July 13, marking the first time in major league history that a pair of batterymates hit grand slams in the same game.
Double no-nos Tim Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres for the second consecutive season, this time accomplishing the feat at AT&T Park on June 25. He became just the second pitcher in major league history (joining Addie Joss) to no-hit the same team twice, and joined Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in history with multiple no-hitters, multiple Cy Young Awards and multiple World Series rings.
Proud papa In 2014, Bruce Bochy became the first manager in major league history to hand the baseball to his son on a big league mound after righthander Brett Bochy joined the roster in September. The Bochys became the eighth father-son manager-player combination in major league history; the previous seven combinations all involved sons who were position players.
Unhittable Yusmeiro Petit set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances (six in relief) from July 22-Aug. 28. He broke the previous record of 45 set by Mark Buehrle, who followed up his perfect game in 2009 with five more perfect innings. Arguably, Petit’s run of perfection was much more difficult because he worked as a spot starter and long man, twice pitching on more than nine days of rest.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Tyler Beede, RHP
Before the Giants clinched another World Series title, Beede and his pals stormed the field to celebrate Vanderbilt’s College World Series championship in Omaha. Because of Beede’s heavy workload with the Commodores, he only made six pro starts after signing for a $2.65 million bonus, never working further than the fourth inning. Beede’s college statistics (8–7, 3.20 ERA) don’t reflect his combination of stuff, size and stamina that convinced the Giants that he could move quickly through their system. Beede throws a fastball that averages 92-94 mph and has topped out at 97, although he projects to throw harder when he adds size to his 6'4" frame. The Giants liked his athleticism, arm speed and ability to stay within a clean delivery, even if his 43 walks in 98.1 innings were on the high side.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Kyle Crick, RHP (22) Highest-ceiling pitcher in the system was on a 100-pitch limit and only completed six innings four times in 22 starts because of command issues at Double-A Richmond.
2. Christian Arroyo, SS (19) His ticket is his intelligence at the plate and his bat control; a move to second base is probably in his future.
3. Tyler Beede, RHP (21) Giants’ No. 1 pick in 2014 should make a rapid rise. Fastball hits mid-90s, and he boasts a devastating changeup.
4. Keury Mella, RHP (21) Posted 63 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 66 innings at Low-A Augusta, along with a ton of ground-ball outs despite missing some time with shoulder soreness.
5. Steven Okert, LHP (23) Dominated out of the bullpen on two levels, then continued to shine against top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
6. Daniel Carbonell, OF (24) Gifted athlete signed a guaranteed deal after defecting from Cuba and exceeded expectations both at Single-A San Jose and then in the Arizona Fall League.
7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP (21) Conditioning issues hampered development and a 50-game suspension for using a banned stimulant didn’t help matters.
8. Ty Blach, LHP (24) Smart competitor with a plus changeup in the Tom Glavine mold but won’t be able to get away with mistakes.
9. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (22) Big-bodied strike-thrower had command of four pitches from the day he signed out of high school.
10. Mac Williamson, OF (24) Rare combination of power and on-base skills but missed an important year of development after Tommy John surgery.