Heading into the 2014 season, the San Francisco Giants will look to rebound from their disappointing 2013 campaign. Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum are three key players the Giants must see improvement from in 2014.
Last year, the Giants suffered from a World Series hangover and finished the season 76-86, third in the National League West.
The Giants’ starting rotation that has led them to two World Series championships underperformed and struggled to produce quality outings. Cain had a very uncharacteristically down year, finishing with a 4.00 ERA. Lincecum slightly improved from 2012 but struggled to find a rhythm for most of the season.
Their fielding was awful, finishing 24th in all of Major League Baseball with 107 errors—18 of them came from Sandoval.
The Giants are not a team that counts on hitting home runs or scoring a lot of runs. They rely on pitching and defense to win ballgames.
Let’s take a look at why Cain, Sandoval and Lincecum must have bounce-back years in 2014.
The Giants need their bulldog to return to his old form in the upcoming season.
For the first time since 2008, Cain finished with a sub-.500 record. He has been the rock of the Giants rotation and has thrown 200 innings for six consecutive seasons from 2007-12. Cain struggled to turn in quality outings and gave up a career-high 23 home runs in 2013.
Cain is the longest-tenured member of the starting rotation and is depended on keeping his run total down and to win games.
The starting rotation hasn’t been announced yet, but projections list Cain as the Giants’ No. 1. Madison Bumgarner had a breakout season last year and became the Giants’ most reliable pitcher. If Cain can regain his old form, he and Bumgarner could form one of the best one-two starters in the league.
Cain has to do a better job at limiting early inning runs in 2014. According to baseball-reference.com, Cain’s ERA in innings one through three in 2013 was 4.66. He struggled to keep runners off base and allowed 13 walks in early innings.
If Cain can limit the free passes and keep runners off base, he will keep his pitch count down and be able to eat up more innings.
How many games will Cain win in 2014?
Sandoval has been facing the same question almost his entire career as a Giant: Can he keep his weight down and stay healthy for an entire season?
Sandoval has proved in the past that he can lose weight, but he has struggled to maintain it from year to year.
In 2010, Sandoval was out of shape and got benched during most of the playoffs.
He spent the offseason focused on becoming healthier and lost 38 pounds, according to Jorge L. Ortiz of USAToday.com.
The next season, the slimmer Sandoval hit for .315 and was voted to his first All-Star Game.
Since 2011, The Kung Fu Panda has put on weight as seen in this picture timeline:
Last season, it was clear that Sandoval’s weight affected him, as he hit for just .278.
Sandoval is a key middle-of-the-order guy for the Giants, and if he can stay healthy, he is capable of hitting 23 home runs like he did in 2011.
Sandoval has the ability to hit for both average and power and could do some damage in a lineup surrounded by Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Michael Morse.
Sandoval has to improve this season, because if he does not, the Giants could let him enter free agency next offseason.
The Giants have locked up their homegrown talent, such as Posey, Cain and Bumgarner, on long-term contracts.
If Sandoval wants big money too, he needs to maintain his new look for the entire season.
The Giants took a gamble this past October when they signed Lincecum to a two-year deal worth $35 million.
The former two-time Cy Young Award winner has been nowhere close to the pitcher he was from 2008 through 2011. His ERA was 5.18 in 2012 and 4.37 in 2013, finishing with sub-.500 records in both those seasons.
Cliff Corcoran of mlb.si.com wrote that “even as a sentimental move, it’s a failure. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to continue to watch an iconic player scuffle along as an overpaid shadow of his former self. Apparently, Brian Sabean does.”
So, what does Lincecum need to do?
He needs to prove this season that he can still be a quality Major League starting pitcher again. He no longer has the 94 mph fastball he had early in his career, so he can’t rely on blowing away hitters anymore.
Lincecum proved that he can still be dominant without the high velocity as we saw in his no-hitter on July 13 against San Diego.
Command is more important now more than ever for Lincecum, and he cannot afford to give up 90 walks in a season, which he has been doing recently.
If Lincecum can keep his walk totals down, look for him to have a turnaround season in 2014.