After a disappointing 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants look to bounce back this year and claim their third NL West pennant since 2010.
To overtake their rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants need three key components to perform well this season. Starting pitching has to improve, Angel Pagan must have a comeback year and Pablo Sandoval needs to stay in shape.
Let’s take a look at why these factors are critical to the Giants winning an NL West pennant in 2014.
Will Starting Pitching Improve?
Last season the Giants' starting rotation heavily disappointed as Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong all struggled.
In order for the Giants to win another NL West title, these three starting pitchers have to improve.
Cain has been the horse of the Giants rotation, but finished last year with a 4.00 ERA, his highest since 2006. He has to limit the early-inning runs and throw for over 200 innings this year, something he failed to do last season. If Cain can bounce back in 2014, he and Madison Bumgarner could become one of the best one-two starters in the National League.
2013 was a tale of two halves for Vogelsong. Before breaking his hand on May 20, Vogelsong had a 7.19 ERA. From his return on August 9 until the end of the season, Vogelsong lowered his ERA to 5.73. Vogey has to pick up from where he left off last season and solidify the back end of the Giants rotation.
Lincecum has the opportunity to reinvent himself as a pitcher in 2014. He may not be able to blow away hitters with a 95 mph fastball anymore, but Lincecum proved in his no-hitter last season that he can still dominate. If he can pitch to contact and limit his walks, Lincecum could turn around his career in 2014.
Can Angel Pagan Have a Comeback Year?
After injuring his hamstring in May last season, Pagan missed 91 games and the Giants lineup suffered. Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres replaced Pagan at the top of the order, but neither hit above .265.
In 2012, Pagan had the third-highest batting average among center fielders in the National League. He hit .288, swiped 29 bags and led the majors with 15 triples. The Giants need Pagan to get on base and set the table for Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
Will Pagan have a comeback year in 2014?
Can Pablo Sandoval Stay in Shape?
This is the burning question surrounding the Giants in 2014.
Sandoval can be one of the best hitters in the league, as he proved in 2009 and 2011 when he hit .330 and .315. He can also struggle to stay in shape and underperform, which he has done the last two seasons.
If Sandoval keeps his weight down and hits over .300, he would largely help out the middle of the Giants' order.
In 2013, Sandoval was well overweight and it showed. The “Kung Fu Panda” hit just .278 and committed a career-high 18 errors in the field. Having a fit Sandoval would be big for the Giants in 2014.