2013 NL West Preview
In 2013, the National League West is home to the defending world series champions, as well as the team with the highest payroll in the majors. This all adds up to one thing – the eyes of the baseball world will undoubtedly be focusing a disproportionate amount of attention on a division that was once considered the weakest in all of baseball. Check out the previews for each of the NL West teams by using the tabs below. Each preview has been meticulously prepared by one of the top sports bloggers for each of the respective teams, giving us the best look at how each team is projected to perform in 2013.
[tab name=’AZ Diamondbacks’]
2013 Diamondbacks Preview
This 2013 Diamondbacks preview was written by yours truly. Here’s to hoping that next season, we will be able to find a Dbacks blogger who is willing to write up a short team preview. Until then, Enjoy!
In 2011, the Diamondbacks won the NL West crown behind an impressive 94 win season and career years from a number of their players. In 2013, only three members of that division winning team are with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the team cleaned house in an attempt to fix what turned out to be an average season last year. Not all of the moves made sense, giving the impression that the front office is in panic mode.
Probable opening day lineup
- Adam Eaton, CF
- Aaron Hill, 2B
- Miguel Montero, C
- Jason Kubel, LF
- Martin Prado, 3B
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
- Cody Ross, RF
- Cliff Pennington, SS
Probable starting pitching rotation
- Ian Kennedy
- Trevor Cahill
- Wade Miley
- Brandon McCarthy
- Patrick Corbin
What the Diamondbacks traded away in superstar power, they gained in depth throughout their roster and rotation. The battle for the fifth starter position may be of little consequence to those outside of Arizona, but it really showcases the future potential that this team could have. Baseball is a grueling sport, and over the course of 162 games, injuries and fatigue take their toll on the lineup, meaning having depth at key positions can keep a team from falling in the standings should an injury occur. The Dbacks are one of the deepest teams in the NL West in 2013, and while they may not have many big names, it’s not insane (although unlikely) to think that they could possibly contend for a playoff spot.
The biggest weakness of the Arizona Diamondbacks is that they don’t have anyone to fear in their lineup. Miguel Montero, arguably the Dbacks best player, wouldn’t be much more than a roleplayer on most teams this year. Trading away your biggest star (Justin Upton) is hardly a sign that a team is ready to contend, and there are holes all up and down this lineup. It will really be up to the pitching staff to keep the games competitive, and pitching is hardly a strength of this Arizona team. They have a solid #1 starter in Kennedy, but despite tons of depth in the rotation, none of the pitchers are outstanding or even above average.
If the Diamondbacks are out to prove that 2011 wasn’t a fluke, they sure don’t seem to be starting out on the right foot. Since winning the division two years ago, they have seen the San Francisco Giants win a World Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers field one of the highest paid lineups in baseball. It would appear that the rest of the National League West has passed them by, but only time will tell.
[/tab][tab name=’CO Rockies’]
2013 Rockies Preview
This 2013 Rockies preview is brought to you by David of RockiesReview.com. In addition to the blog, which is updated regularly with the latest news out of the Mile High city, you can follow Rockies Review on their Facebook page. Enjoy!
The Rockies are coming off of a 2012 season that saw them lose a franchise-record 98 games. When the season finished, their manager walked away from the final year of his contract, giving up on $1.4 million. If there is ever a sign of a team with issues, that is it.
However, despite their losing ways, the Colorado Rockies were one of the most quiet teams in all of the big leagues throughout the offseason. The only move they made, besides re-signing Jeff Francis, was trading Alex White to the Houston Astros for late inning reliever Wilton Lopez. That move isn’t going to make any distraught fans jump for joy and make sure to renew their season tickets.
However, the Rockies feel that they will be better. One of the reasons for that belief is because their All-Star shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, is healthy once again. Tulo only played in 47 games in 2012 due to a groin issue that required surgery, and a setback in his first rehab appearance.
The other factor that makes the Rockies believe they will be better is their starting pitchers. Both Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin missed a large part of the season due to injury. De La Rosa was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Chacin, a former top prospect, with a pectoral issue. Juan Nicasio, a young hard-throwing righty, pitched in just 11 games because of a knee injury. Couple those three being healthy, together with the growth of former first-rounder Drew Pomeranz, and the dependability of Jeff Francis, the possibility of Christian Friedrich and the Rockies think they can at least be competitive.
The story should unfold quickly. After Jim Tracy walked away from the franchise, a move that signified he wasn’t a fan of the quirky front office decisions, the club hired Walt Weiss, a former Rookie of the Year and a former shortstop in Colorado.
Weiss was an odd pick due to the fact that he was just finishing up his first season as a coach—in high school. Despite Weiss being a special assistant to Dan O’Dowd in Colorado for several years, he had never coached at any level until coaching his sons high school team in the Denver area.
The move to hire Weiss, even with the questions surrounding it, was a good one. No one doubts that he knows the game. As a player, he was strategic, always looking for ways to help his team. His work ethic made up for the fact that he was never the most talented guy on the field. He never made excuses, and his jersey was always dirty. Compare that to the calm, laid back demeanor of Tracy, and the Rockies will be greeted with a new perspective on the game from the managers office.
That attitude should help this team. As things went from bad to worse, Tracy seemed to come up with new excuses. Those excuses trickled into the clubhouse and instead of taking responsibility for poor fundamentals, selfish at-bats, and overall bad baseball, the Rockies were making excuses. Weiss is a no non-sense kind of guy and will force his team to play with an attitude.
There is no doubt that the Rockies lineup is a very good one. If Tulowitzki can stay healthy, his bat will protect Carlos Gonzalez. The two are as potent as any duo in the league. Beyond them, Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario, and a healthy Todd Helton should round out a very strong lineup.
If the Rockies want to contend in 2013, everything must go right for them. Weiss must impart his gritty attitude into the clubhouse, the starting pitchers have to stay healthy, the young starting pitchers have to take the next step in their careers and live up to their potential.
The odds of everything going exactly according to plan are very slim, but if they do, the Rockies could be respectable, and they might actually end up surprising many teams.
[/tab][tab name=’LA Dodgers’]
2013 Dodgers Preview
This 2013 Dodgers preview is brought to you by Aaron of Inside Dodger Baseball, a blog dedicated to covering Dodger’s baseball. In addition to the blog, you can also keep up to date with the latest news out of Los Angeles by following on Twitter @InsideDodgers. Enjoy!
To borrow a quote from a famous man, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” With a little over a month to go before the games are for real, let’s take a look at the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Projected Starting Infield:
- Catcher – A.J. Ellis
- 1st Base – Adrian Gonzalez
- 2nd Base – Mark Ellis
- Shortstop – Hanley Ramirez
- 3rd Base – Luis Cruz
- Tim Federowicz, C
- Dee Gordon, SS
- Juan Uribe, 3B
- Nick Punto, 2B
The two guys earning the biggest paychecks, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, are proven studs in the past who come into this season with something to prove. Gonzalez went through a power outage in LA with 3 homers and 22 RBIs in 36 games. Considering the Dodgers said goodbye to James Loney and his lack of power, that wasn’t exactly the best way to make an impact. After going through shoulder surgery after the 2010 season with the Padres, he went on to mash 45 homers with the Red Sox in 2011. Those number were not repeated last season with 18 total. He certainly won’t approach the huge season two years ago, but if he can hit 25-30, the Dodgers will gladly take it.
Ramirez is a hard guy to figure out. How many fantasy players were willing to take him and his power and speed a few years ago over Albert Pujols? I’m certainly one of them. We’re now four years removed from his monster season with the Marlins, hitting .342 with a .410 OBP, 24 homers, 106 RBIs, and 27 steals. Last season? Those numbers fell to ..257/.322/24/92/21. Granted, it would be hard to keep up a pace like ’09, but the Dodgers need him to be that all-around threat he’s shown in the past, and not the guy who’s swinging for the fences every at-bat. His lack of time spent in the offseason working at short is a concern, so he needs to prove that he’s ready for the task.
The always steady Mark Ellis will return at second, and he’s your definition of a “steady veteran.” He recovered from a nasty leg injury to return last season. His stats won’t wow you, but he’s such a hard worker, he’ll help gets wins. Luis Cruz was an exciting player to watch at the end of last season, but without the track record of big numbers in the minors, the red flags for a “sophomore jinx” are there. But if he can hit, he most certainly will stay in the lineup, as Juan Uribe has been one of the worst free agent signings in Dodgers’ history.
The other Ellis, A.J., comes into his second straight season as the starter. Pre-All-Star break last season, he hit .285 with a .404 OBP. He obviously wore down in the second half, hitting ..252/.336. The hope is that with a season off being a full-timer under his belt, he’ll be more prepared for the rigors behind the plate. He also spent the offseason working on mechanics and strengthening his legs after left knee surgery, and with the starting pitchers he’ll get to catch, it’s no wonder why he’s more than excited for this season.
On the bench, Dee Gordon will look to play the role of pinch-runner in key situations. If HanRam or Cruz flops, he can find his way back into the lineup. Punto will spell Ellis at second, and I can see him getting his fair share of starts. Uribe is still around, though I don’t know why. Federowicz will be used sparingly, with the only crack of receiving more time if A.J. Ellis goes back to his old, non-hitting ways.
Projected Starting Outfield:
- Left Field – Carl Crawford
- Center Field – Matt Kemp
- Right Field – Andre Ethier
- Skip Schumaker
- Jerry Hairston, Jr.
- Alex Castellanos
There’s one word that could make or break this unit: health. That’s true for most anybody, but considering that Matt Kemp’s 2012 was shortened to 106 and Carl Crawford never suited up for one game in LA because of Tommy John surgery, it applies to this team more than others. If healthy, however, it’s hard not to excited for what these three can do.
Kemp is without question one of the best, if not THE very best, players in the game when he’s feeling good. He was robbed of the MVP award in 2011 after monster numbers of .324/.399/39/126/40. Quite simply put, he was unstoppable. All sorts of injuries popped up last year, with the worst being his hamstring and his shoulder, and his game suffered. I have to think the Dodgers’ brass will demand he takes a slow and steady approach this season, as he’s the key that makes the Dodgers go. The Dodgers may win without him, but they won’t in October. A healthy Kemp = a deep postseason run, bottom line.
Crawford is a mystery, and in fairness to him, there’s not much he can do about that other than rest and rehab as best he can. Will he be the Crawford that electrified in Tampa, or the broken-down version from Boston? This early coming back from such a major surgery, it most likely is somewhere in between. If he can show some patience at the plate, use his speed on the bases, and provide some pop where needed, he can be huge in the top of the order. If he’s not healthy or tries to do too much, it could be a lost season once again.
Ethier has his new contract, and now needs to let Mark McGwire teach him how to hit lefties. If he continues to flail away against southpaws, he’s putting Don Mattingly in the odd position of lifting him late in games, or sitting him altogether at the start. He’s more of a singles and doubles hitter than a masher, and that’s not going to change. His defense is much-improved, so if he can be more consistent against lefties, he’ll be a bigger threat.
The guys off the bench are nowhere near instant power threats, but they can play multiple positions. Both Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston, Jr. can play some infield as well, which gives Mattingly some nice options late in games. Castellanos is still raw, and won’t see much of any time if the starters are healthy.
Projected Starting Rotation:
- Clayton Kershaw, LH
- Zack Greinke, RH
- Chad Billingsley, RH
- Josh Beckett, RH
- Hyun-Jin Ryu, LH
- Chris Capuano, LH
- Aaron Harang, RH
- Ted Lilly, LH
It’s going to be hard to find a better 1-2 punch than Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, as they’re unquestionably two of the best in the game today. Kershaw will be the leader, as he followed up with 2011 Cy Young campaign by going 14-9 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 229 K’s. He’s a clutch pitcher who embraces the leadership role.
Greinke was the big offseason winner, cashing in to the tune of six years and $147 million. Between the Brewers and Angels last season, he went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 200 K’s. Anytime someone signs a contract with numbers like those, he’s usually the center of attention, but not here. With so many other big names on the roster, he should be able to settle into the #2 role without the big spotlight. Don’t expect Kershaw-like numbers, but expect some big ones anyway.
The rest of the rotation certainly has question marks. Chad Billingsley partially tore his right elbow last season, opted not to go under the knife, and has so far felt fine after lots of rehab. He makes me nervous, however, as anything less than 100% from him means a pretty average pitcher. I’m not sure I’d trust him to last over the long haul.
Josh Beckett most certainly enjoyed his time in LA after his Red Sox stint ended in pretty ugly fashion last season, as he went 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 38 K’s in 43 innings. I really liked the way he looked refreshed on the mound, and expect him to have a solid season. Granted, his velocity is down, and his stuff isn’t as sharp, but pitching in Dodger Stadium against National League teams will continue to benefit him.
Korean-born Hyun-Jin Ryu will most likely experience some growing pains, but what will only help him is that he’s not expected to be the man. He only needs to anchor the bottom half of the rotation, and there’s plenty of reports that he’s more than capable of that. If he gets bumped to the ‘pen, he can work as a long reliever before eventually starting again.
The three remaining names, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly, will look to make their case in the spring. Capuano can be an explosive pitcher with the proper rest, but did wear down as last season progressed. Harang continues to be a solid, low-end starter, and Lilly is working his way back from shoulder surgery. The odd man out sure looks to be Lilly, who definitely faces an uphill climb to prove he’s ready.
- Brandon League, RH (closer)
- Kenley Jansen, RH
- Ronald Belisario, RH
- J.P. Howell, LH
- Matt Guerrier, RH
- Javy Guerra, RH
This group has the potential to shut the door the last 3-4 innings of any game, as there’s certainly some power arms that Mattingly can turn to.
It all starts with Brandon League, who was given a three-year, $22.5 million deal this offseason to be the closer. That news was certainly surprising to Kenley Jansen fans, who certainly expecting him to enter 2013 as the closer. League had some rough patches last season, as he was demoted as the Mariners’ closer to start the year, and was hit around some after coming to LA. Much to his credit, he figured things out by going 6-6 in save situations. You can’t help but to compare him to Javy Guerra of last season, who started off as the closer, faltered, and was replaced by Jansen. Even with that contract, I can definitely see something similar happening here if League scuffles.
Jansen has some of the most overpowering stuff in baseball. Last season was scary for him, as he missed time with a heart issue that has hopefully been completely taken care of this past offseason. He’ll be waiting in the wings to close if called upon. In the meantime, it would be nice to see him develop something other than a cutter, as he throws a lot of them. Even just one more pitch to have in his arsenal would really help him confuse hitters even more.
J.P. Howell will have a pretty big responsibility of being the main man on the left side. He was great for Tampa in 2009, awful the next year, and great again last year. He replaces Randy Choate, who never really put up the numbers the Dodgers thought he would after coming over from Miami last year.
As for the rest of the ‘pen, Ronald Belisario can pitch in any role, as long as his stuff doesn’t get too wild. He can look great one game and nowhere near the plate the next. Matt Guerrier is in the final year of his three-year deal, and has a lot to prove. He was just OK two years ago, and barely existent last year after injuries limited him to 16 measly games. Speaking of something to prove, Guerra was the closer entering last year, and now must prove he can remain with the big club. We’ve already seen the best and worst from him, so we’ll see if he’s mentally strong enough to shake off a bad 2012 and make an impact.
The Dodgers certainly have thrust themselves right into the spotlight ever since Magic and the boys won the bidding war to own the club last season. What can be counted on is the pitching, as any club that has Kershaw and Greinke at the top will get their fair share of wins. If League and Jansen are at the top of their games, then it’s hard to imagine opposing teams getting many chances to score.
The offense has plenty of big names, but how they come together will be a recurring theme. Like I said before, a healthy Kemp will be the key. He’s just that good. If Crawford, Gonzalez, and Ramirez can put up numbers that resemble what they’re capable of, then it’s a deep lineup that can strike from many spots. If these guys struggle, it will be hard to score consistently.
As the Giants have shown in recent years, if your team can pitch well in any inning and get clutch hits along the way, anything is possible. The Dodgers have the weapons to do so, and as long as they can stay in one piece, they can make also make it happen.
[/tab][tab name=’SD Padres’]
This 2013 Padres preview is brought to you by Matt of Friars in the Outfield, a Padres blog with a unique outlook on the team. You can also stay up to date with the latest news out of San Diego by following on Twitter @FriarsintheOF. Enjoy!
The 2012 Padres entered the season with modest-at-best expectations and ended up a mediocre 76-86, good for fourth in the NL West. And then this past offseason, they did very little, other than losing a promising young catcher for 50 games. Still, the Padres are a somewhat popular selection to exceed expectations in 2013. Let’s check ’em out.
The Padres, who finished near the bottom of the league in just about every category last season, didn’t make any offseason moves that put them in contention. They finished 10 games under .500 last year and with a beefed up NL West in 2013, it is difficult to imagine this team’s record improving this year. The biggest offseason move the San Diego Padres made, didn’t include players, but fences. Yes, the distance required to take one out of PETCO park in 2013 has been shortened, which should lead to some improved pop, especially from players like Carlos Quentin. Just keep in mind that it’s shorter for both teams, putting a premium on pitching.
Probable opening day lineup
- Everth Cabrera, SS
- Logan Forsythe, 2B
- Chase Headley, 3B
- Carlos Quentin, LF
- Yonder Alonso, 1B
- Will Venable, RF
- Cameron Maybin, CF
- Nick Hundley, C
Probable starting rotation
- Edinson Volquez
- Clayton Richard
- Jason Marquis
- Andrew Cashner
- Eric Stults
One of the bright spots for the Padres last year was their baserunning ability. San Diego finished second in the National League in stolen bases, and if they can get on base at roughly the same clip as last season, they should be frontrunners to lead the league in 2013. As mentioned before, moving the fences in will make this team (on paper) a bigger threat to hit the long ball, but this team was still built to play small ball, and needs to rely on its strength if it wants to have success.
If you want to compete in the National League West in 2013, you need to have strong starting pitching – and that is something that the Padres lack. Sure, much like the Diamondbacks, they have good depth 1-5 in their rotation, but they lack a bona fide ace. You won’t win a lot of games trotting average pitchers to the mound day after day.
There aren’t a lot of scenarios in which we see the Padres contending for the NL West title in 2013, but that doesn’t mean that the team can’t improve on their record from last year. There are enough upsides to this team to see them having a breakout year and a winning percentage over .500, but playing in a division that hosts the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants as well as the big spending Los Angeles Dodgers, makes their uphill battle seem even steeper. We see this team hovering around the same record as they had last year, but possibly one year closer to contention by season’s end.
[/tab][tab name=’SF Giants’]
The 2012 San Francisco Giants might have been the most unlikely World Series champions in baseball history. If not that, they’re definitely on the short list. The team came off of a disappointing 2011 season that essentially ended when star catcher Buster Posey had his ankle blown up in May. Largely as a result of that loss, the team suffered an inability to score runs rarely seen in the team’s history. Posey would return to start the 2012 season, but there were questions about how effective he would be after the long layoff. Despite some offseason moves to improve the offense, there were a variety of question marks as the season opened.
The Giants started to run into maladies almost immediately. Their closer, the Bearded One, Brian Wilson, pitched in two games before going down for the year with an arm injury. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval had two separate DL stays and didn’t hit for his usual power when he was on the field. Star pitcher Tim Lincecum came out of the gate with reduced velocity and struggled the entire year, finishing with an ugly 5.18 ERA. Hunter Pence, their big trade deadline pickup, was largely horrible in his two months in a Giants uni.
The biggest blow, however, came on August 15 when Melky Cabrera, who had come over in an offseason deal and who was the team’s top hitter in the first four months, was suspended for the remainder of the season after being busted for PEDs. With Cabrera’s loss, the Giants suddenly found themselves without a left fielder, and despite their status just a game out of first place, you would have been excused for believing that they were completely done at that point.
Yet despite all that, the Giants proved to be the last team standing at the end of the season. Driven in large part by monster second half performances by Posey and midseason acquisition Marco Scutaro, the Giants’ offense kicked into high gear and carried the team for the final two months. An ace-like year from Matt Cain (who pitched a perfect game on June 13), a surprisingly strong stretch drive performance from Barry Zito, and a lockdown bullpen enabled the team to leave the Dodgers in their dust and roll to the NL West title. Then, after being down 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, and 3-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, the Giants made like Lazarus and won both series to fight their way into the World Series, where they slayed the Detroit Tigers in four games.
The Giants will be returning virtually the same exact team that won the title in 2012. They made some minor moves (like re-acquiring outfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez), but they will literally field the same lineup and starting five that took the team to the World Series. With a franchise player in Buster Posey (who won the National League batting title and the MVP award) and a very strong starting rotation, the Giants won’t be leaving the NL West title conversation any time soon.
For 2013, here are four pressing questions the team needs to address in their quest for their third World Championship in four years.
Will the Giants fall victim to the post-Championship halo effect?
In the baseball world, championship teams have a tendency to fall in love with the players who got them there. Like, every player. This can be a problem because championship teams often become championship teams on the back of one or two (or more) veteran players who have fluke or career years. Even though it’s obvious said players will likely regress, emotion usually infringes on common sense and a front office will lavish an ill-conceived contract extension simply as a sort of reward for the player’s services from the previous year.
The Giants fell into this trap a couple years ago, when they gave Aubrey Huff a two-year deal after he helped them to the 2010 title. Huff was brilliant that season, but immediately upon re-signing he became a useless husk. Fast forward two years and one more championship, and the Giants appear in danger of repeating that mistake on a larger scale.
The Giants will be returning virtually the same squad that brought home the trophy last season. In order to do that, they threw some questionable contracts at some of their pending free agents. They gave center fielder Angel Pagan a four-year, $40 million contract, then handed Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20 million deal and gave relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla three-year deals of their own. Pagan had the best year of his career at age 30, while Scutaro is 37 and had the best two months of his life after coming over in a trade. That is a lot of years to hand to two players who would seem to be major decline risks. The Pagan contract indicates that the team has lost a lot of faith in center field prospect Gary Brown, while the Scutaro contract seems to indicate that the team doesn’t view 2011 first rounder Joe Panik as a starting option in the near term. With the lack of internal options, maybe the Giants saw this as a necessary overpay. The team is awash in cash, so fair enough.
The contracts to the relievers, on the other hand, are a bit more baffling. I love Affeldt and the contribution he’s made over the past four seasons, and Casilla is a solid bullpenite as well, but three years? I’m never a fan of handing multi-year deals to relief pitchers, for a variety of reasons (though namely because they tend to be fairly inconsistent and combustible from year to year), and it’s especially galling because in the recent past the Giant front office has been so good at unearthing quality bullpen arms for next to nothing. Just where do you think they got Casilla in the first place?
These contracts aren’t complete killers, but Pagan is just one year removed from a truly crummy season with the New York Mets, and Scutaro is just a few months removed from being a completely ineffectual middle infielder. Affeldt has been a rock since the Giants signed him in 2009, but relievers tend to implode out of nowhere, so it wouldn’t completely surprise me if he declined. Casilla has a penchant for wildness at the most inopportune times. If one of these players tanks, the Giants will have an albatross to deal with. If they all go down in flames, it could be a complete disaster.
Will Tim Lincecum rebound?
That’s the $22 million question, isn’t it? Lincecum looked like a pitcher reborn when coming out of the bullpen in the playoffs, but the Giants ain’t cutting him such a hefty check to be a relief pitcher. Lincecum’s 2013 salary was awarded on the basis that he’ll be the Cy Young-caliber pitcher of old, but danged if he wasn’t truly terrible last season. For whatever reason (and there were theories abound in the blogosphere, I can tell you), Lincecum lost about two miles per hour off his fastball velocity, and his control fell into a ditch. While he still struck out batters at a high rate, he had the worst walk rate (by far) of his career and gave up way more home runs. Long story short: he was getting hit hard on the infrequent occasions that he put the ball in the strike zone.
Obviously there is grave concern about Lincecum’s performance after his disastrous 2012. He reported to camp eight pounds heavier (and even shorn of his trademark long hair) and the Giants hope that will help him regain the lost velocity. He’ll start the season right back in the starting rotation, as the Giants pray that last year was simply a blip. Lincecum represents 2013’s most glaring question mark, but if he does rediscover his former self, the Giants might have the most formidable pitching rotation in the National League.
Will they score enough runs?
It may seem counterintuitive, but the Giants actually succeeded last year because of their hitting; their pitching really wasn’t all that great, especially not in the second half. AT&T Park’s power-destroying environs masked the fact that the Giants had one of the most potent lineups in the league, led by Buster Posey. The team led the league in runs scored on the road, and they (amazingly) hit 72 of their 103 home runs away from home. They were sixth overall in the league in scoring despite their inability to hit for a whole lot of power (though they did lead the league in triples).
So why is there concern about their run-scoring ability in 2013? It’s our old friend, regression! Two of the major contributors to the offense last year, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, seem like prime decline candidates. Pagan had his best year at age 30; he had just come off a year where he OPSed .694. One major reason the Giants were able to score a lot of runs in the season’s final months was because Scutaro hit like a maniac after coming over in a trade. He ain’t going to hit .362 over a full season, folks.
Posey is about as much of a sure thing as you can ask for at catcher, and Bruce Bochy does a great job of getting him time at first base and managing his days behind the plate. However, behind him there are a ton of question marks. For all of his fire and brimstone speechifying in the postseason, Hunter Pence was pretty awful after coming over from the Philadelphia Phillies in a deadline trade. There is a lot of concern over whether or not he can hit at AT&T Park. Pablo Sandoval was a beast in the playoffs, but he’s apparently been engaging in more assal horizontology in the offseason, as he apparently reported to camp out of shape. The last time his weight was a major issue, in 2010, he slumped all year.
The Giants finally stopped jerking Brandon Belt around and let him play last year. While he posted a strong OBP, he didn’t provide much power. He still has a lot of room to grow, but single digit home run totals likely aren’t what the Giants are looking for out their first baseman. The Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres left field platoon is more of a defense-first thing, and likewise shortstop Brandon Crawford is a wizard with the glove but nothing special with the bat. It’s an offense that could easily drop into the bottom half of the league in runs scored if a few players fall off, and that could spell doom for the Giants like it did in 2011.
Can the pitchers maintain their remarkable string of good health?
Last season, the Giants got starts from just seven different pitchers. The Giants had five starters who combined to make all but two of the team’s starts. That is a remarkable feat, and it continues the run of generally strong health that the Giants have maintained over the years from their pitching staff. Cain, who became the team’s unqualified ace last year, has thrown 200 innings or more in six straight seasons. Madison Bumgarner reached 200 innings for the second year in a row, while successful reclamation project Ryan Vogelsong made 31 starts. Even Barry Zito, for all of his inconsistency, has thrown more than 180 innings in all but one of his six seasons with the team.
The Giants are not only getting good performance out of their pitchers, but also good health. Over the years, the ability of the Giants to keep their pitchers healthy has been almost freakish. That may be a product of a great training staff, or it might be dumb luck (pitchers tend to get hurt, don’t you know?). Whatever the case, the Giants stand to have a strong starting five, especially if Tim Lincecum returns to normal. It’s an underrated commodity to not have to worry about whether your pitchers can make it to the mound every fifth day.
The free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers have thrown the GDP of a small country at their problems over the past eight months, while the Arizona Diamondbacks have retooled and appear to be a threat in the NL West once again. The Giants, meanwhile, return almost the exact same team that won the World Series a few months ago. A lot of the team’s success will be dependent on their veteran players avoiding regression, and if Lincecum can go back to becoming the All-Star Freak that he used to be. With a very strong starting core and bullpen, the team should contend even if their bats fall off. If they can continue to plate runs like they did in the second half of last year, though, they’re still easily the team to beat in the National League West.
Check out the rest of our divisional previews for 2013