When the San Francisco Giants had their greatest successes in 2010 and 2012, they were a team built around their pitching staff.
Last season, it was the pitching that faltered, as injuries and poor performances doomed the Giants to a 76-86 record. Although four-fifths of the rotation is back in 2014, we can fully expect a much better performance from this group.
The Giants pitched until the end of October 2012, as they made it to the World Series and won it. However, the high number of innings and stress on the arms of the pitchers was a factor in 2013.
Ryan Vogelsong also pitched in the World Baseball Classic, which meant he needed to be ready for game action in early February, roughly a month before he would normally need to be ready. The late finish to the 2012 season and his early beginning definitely sapped his arm strength.
He also sustained an injury, when he was hit by a pitch, which forced him out for several weeks. His season was a huge disappointment.
In addition to Vogelsong's struggles, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito all performed below expectations. Only Madison Bumgarner had a good season.
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, and with a full winter of rest, we can fully expect a rebound for the Giants' pitching rotation.
Madison Bumgarner will likely be the Opening Day starter, and he earned the honor by pitching extremely well in 2013.
He led the Giants in almost every major starting pitching category. He threw a team-high 201.1 innings and compiled a record of 13-9. No other Giants starter had more than 10 wins.
Bumgarner's ERA of 2.77, WHIP of 1.03 and 199 strikeouts also led the Giants.
Following Bumgarner will be Matt Cain, who is coming off a poor season. In 2013, Cain finished with a record of 8-10 and an ERA of 4.00. Cain was hurt by the home run ball, as he allowed 23 last year, a career high.
If Cain can bounce back and have a good year, it will go a long way towards enabling the Giants to remain competitive in the NL West.
The biggest change in the rotation is Tim Hudson, who signed a free-agent contract to join the Giants. Hudson will replace Barry Zito, and his impact should be a very good one.
The fourth starter will be Tim Lincecum, who returns to the Giants with a new two-year contract. Lincecum looks to improve on the past two years, easily the worst of his career.
The fifth starter will be Ryan Vogelsong, who struggled with command and consistency last year.
Vogelsong and Cain should benefit the most from a full winter of rest. Both pitchers threw career highs in innings in 2012 and they each seemed arm-weary throughout much of the 2013 season.
The Giants starting rotation is set, and if they can stay healthy and have good seasons, this will be a team that will be right in the hunt for a playoff berth.