Andrew Susac

2015 San Francisco Giants preview

AT&T Park rally towels 2014 NLDS Game 4

Now that we know what the 25-man roster looks like (for a week or two, anyway), we can let you know exactly how this season is going to go. First, here’s the roster.

Pitchers (13)

Jeremy Affeldt LHP
Madison Bumgarner LHP
Matt Cain RHP
Santiago Casilla RHP
Tim Hudson RHP
George Kontos RHP
Tim Lincecum RHP
Javier Lopez LHP
Jean Machi RHP
Jake Peavy RHP
Yusmeiro Petit RHP
Sergio Romo RHP
Ryan Vogelsong RHP

Catchers (2)

Buster Posey
Hector Sanchez

Infielders (6)

Joaquin Arias
Brandon Belt
Brandon Crawford
Matt Duffy
Casey McGehee
Joe Panik

Outfielders (4)

Nori Aoki
Gregor Blanco
Justin Maxwell
Angel Pagan

Before we start previewin’, an admission of sorts: I have no idea what I’m doing. My hunch is that the Giants will finish somewhere between 85 and 89 wins and compete for a Wild Card spot. But predicting baseball wins is next to impossible, because we don’t know how often a team will pitch, hit and field reasonably well enough at the same time to score more runs than its opponent. This preview is more about how it’s going to feel to watch this team defend its third title in five years than a definitive look at whether or not they’ll make the playoffs. None of us — fans, writers, pundits, scouts, execs — have any idea what’ll happen on that front.

The Giants are not a sexy team, which is why the experts aren’t picking them to do much of anything this season other than get in the way of the Dodgers and Padres, the two teams that everyone is excited to see. Many casual baseball fans probably don’t even remember who won the 2014 World Series. (“Red Sox, right?”)

That’s partly because the only people who are excited by San Francisco’s players are followers of the Giants. Other than Hunter Pence, none of their stars have played anywhere else, and who’s staying up until 1 am on the East Coast to watch Buster Posey face Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning? Also, it’s a fairly safe bet that no one on the Giants will lead the National League in any of the main statistical categories. Their model is to wiggle their way through the postseason gate before it shuts, and once inside they feast on opponents’ mistakes with a roster full of players who get better when the lights shine brighter.

Position players: what they’ve lost

Two players who fit the description in the last sentence of the previous paragraph: Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. The Giants may miss their powers of concentration more than their power numbers. Sandoval and Morse have big personalities, and both carry a presence to the plate in big moments.

Position players: what they’ve gained

In Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, the two players who are ostensibly replacing Sandoval and Morse, the Giants traded in two finicky sports coupes for a Toyota Camry and a Honda Accord. Gone are the worries about whether Sandoval will arrive in shape or stay that way, or which muscle Morse pulled the night before. The Giants know what they can expect from McGehee and Aoki, and sometimes predictability is a manager’s (and general manager’s) best friend.

Pitchers: what they’ve lost

Nothing, surprisingly. They re-signed Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo, and after a dalliance with the Houston Astros, Ryan Vogelsong returned as well. Vogelsong will start tomorrow to give Peavy’s dead arm a break, which is interesting since Vogelsong’s base salary is about one-third what Peavy will make this season.

Pitchers: what they’ve gained

A healthy Matt Cain? Time will tell.

Team strengths

— The Giants should be an above-average defensive team, especially when Pence returns and Gregor Blanco plays center in place of Angel Pagan.

— The bullpen has two solid closers, proven left-handers, and guys in the minors they can plug in when guys are injured/ineffective.

— Outfield speed.

— Buster Posey’s understated brilliance.

— The physical and mental strength of Madison Bumgarner.

— Hunter Pence’s optimism and hustle.

— The promise of Brandon Belt.

— One of the better all-around shortstops in the league.

— A Hall of Fame-caliber manager.

— A history of never selling and always competing; some front offices seem to believe that fear of failure (and the team getting dismantled) can work in a club’s favor, and the Giants know that the opposite is true. Baseball plus instability makes for a rancid cocktail.

— Championship blood (swagger), mixed with the hunger that comes from no one thinking they’re going to be all that good, could combine to break through the post-WS malaise.

Team weaknesses

— Rotation uncertainty, which is exacerbated by frighteningly poor depth in the high-minors.

— OK, that’s probably underselling the team’s main concern. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get strong seasons from anyone in the rotation besides Bumgarner, and he’s coming off a season where he had a pre-2000s era workload.

— Of the seven guys who can start, Bumgarner is the only one who’s under 30.

— A lineup where five of their regulars (if we include Blanco) are probably better off if they focus on putting the ball in play rather than swinging for the fences. The others: McGehee, Aoki, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford.

— In other words: this team’s home run total could be its lowest in several seasons.

— The 2014 season was long and exhausting.

— Their Opening Night No. 3 hitter (Pagan) could tweak something, miss 12 straight games, go on the disabled list, then go under the knife a month later at any time (this process could start tonight).

What it’ll be like to watch this team

If you’re like me and you DVR every game, make sure you add an extra hour when you set up the season pass. Even with MLB’s focus on the pace of games, Giants games are going to be looooonnnng.

They’re carrying 13 hurlers, so we’ll see pitching changes aplenty (for those who know what it’s like to watch Bruce Bochy wear out a path to the mound in September, this should be a familiar sight).

The lineup is full of guys who’ll spend some time at the plate. In Pence (3.97), Posey (3.84), Crawford (3.81) and McGehee (3.68), the Giants have four players who were in the top 50 among qualified NL hitters in pitches per plate appearance last year. Norichika Aoki (3.80) was 42nd in the AL last year. Among those who didn’t have enough PAs to qualify, Belt saw 3.98 pitches per plate appearance last year, Blanco saw 3.91, and Panik saw 3.83. The Giants don’t have mashers, but they don’t have hackers either. Besides Hacktor, anyway.

The competition

Who knows? The Dodgers won 94 games and gakked against the Cardinals, so they got a new front office, remade their middle infield and handed Matt Kemp to a division acquaintance (the Padres have been too boring for years to have actual “rivals”).

The Padres won’t be boring this year, but will they be any good? They’ve got a pitching staff that excites scouts, but Andrew Cashner is injury-prone and James Shields has thrown a ton of pitches over the last decade. They should be able to hit, but defense is going to be a problem and Bud Black is on the hot seat.

The D-Backs should be bad but quirky. The Rockies should be even worse, but still able to beat the Giants a majority of times they meet at Coors Field, just because.

Key players

— Casey McGehee … He could play his way to a $25 million contract with the Giants if he plays 150+ games and hits .280.

— Nori Aoki … Seems extremely well-suited for this team and AT&T Park.

— Brandon Belt … Could hit 30 home runs if he stays healthy, blah blah blah (there really isn’t much new to say here, but the Giants’ offensive hopes rest on his slumpy shoulders).

— Joe Panik … Second baseman of the future, or Matt Duffy’s platoon partner?

— Angel Pagan … Will he play through pain in a non-contract year?

— Matt Cain … His contract starts to look Zito-esque if he has an elbow-related setback.

— Tim Lincecum … Much like Zito, the only thing the Giants can depend on is that his arm will be healthy. Will all the work with his dad make him a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, or will he be out of baseball by 2016?

— Ryan Vogelsong … He seems even angrier than usual (maybe it’s the drifter beard), which could be a good thing.

— Andrew Susac … With Buster Posey supremely uninterested in playing third base, it appears that there are two long-term spots available for three players: Posey, Susac and Belt. And Posey isn’t going anywhere.

10 Predictions

  1. The Giants will play surprisingly well for stretches.
  2. They’ll look like the worst team in baseball for weeks at a time.
  3. They’ll win games thanks to silly occurrences like balks, wild pitches, passed balls, and guys getting walked with the bases loaded.
  4. They’ll be involved in several July trade rumors before ending up with a guy who doesn’t excite anyone but somehow becomes a valuable contributor.
  5. Several photos/GIFs/Vines of interactions between Pence and Aoki will go viral.
  6. Giants fans will gloat a little too loudly after Pablo Sandoval hits the DL for the first of several times as a member of the Red Sox.
  7. The Giants will end up with more All-Stars than most people think they deserve.
  8. Vogelsong will start 20 games.
  9. We’ll all get tired of that radio commercial where that man and woman argue about the Brandons (this has already happened to me).
  10. Bumgarner will shout at Yasiel Puig during a game, and after that game he will tell reporters with a half-smile that he either doesn’t remember yelling, was yelling at himself, or was wishing Puig good luck.
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