5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the San Francisco Giants' 2014 Season

Dan MoriCorrespondent IApril 4, 2014

5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the San Francisco Giants' 2014 Season

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    Giants manager Bruce Bochy has a team that should contend in 2014.
    Giants manager Bruce Bochy has a team that should contend in 2014.Associated Press

    The San Francisco Giants are off to a 3-1 start in the 2014 season. The Giants' offense looks more potent than in years past, and although the pitching has been a little shaky at times, there does not appear to be anything to worry about.

    Manager Bruce Bochy is missing two players he was counting on. NatsLady of sportsinjuryreport.com reports on reliever Jeremy Affeldt and second baseman Marco Scutaro. Affeldt is due to return in a few days, but the news on Scutaro is not favorable.

    Scutaro has made little progress; his return is undetermined. Meanwhile, the Giants will continue to mix and match with Ehire Adrianza, Joaquin Arias and Brandon Hicks filling in.

    Already, early in the season, we are seeing some very positive trends, and the 2014 outlook for the Giants is good. Let's take a look at five of the most positive signs thus far.

    All stats are courtesy of mlb.com.

No. 5: Angel Pagan Is Healthy and Producing

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    Angel Pagan gives his customary salute after hitting a home run to give the Giants the lead in the final game against Arizona.
    Angel Pagan gives his customary salute after hitting a home run to give the Giants the lead in the final game against Arizona.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Angel Pagan is an extremely valuable player for the San Francisco Giants. His importance to the Giants was underscored in 2013 when Pagan suffered a hamstring injury and was only able to play in 71 games.

    Pagan's absence forced the Giants to play Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres far more than they hoped to.

    At the start of the season, manager Bruce Bochy planned to platoon Blanco and Torres in left field. After the Pagan injury, he was forced to play them every day. Neither player was successful in his enhanced role, and the Giants suffered.

    Bochy then tried a number of other options, including Juan Perez, Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick and Jeff Francoeur. No player stepped forward to seize the opportunity, and the Giants got very little production from two of their three outfield positions.

    Pagan worked through a couple nagging, minor injuries this spring, but looks strong and fast. When healthy, Pagan has the ability to ignite the Giants' offense at the top of the order.

    Defensively, Pagan also looks good. His speed is there, and he has already made a couple of outstanding plays in center field.

    Pagan is off to a fine start, with a batting average of .421 and an OPS of 1.105. He has one home run, which provided the margin of victory in the Giants' final game at Arizona. Pagan has hit well in the clutch with six RBI and also has one steal.

    If Pagan can stay healthy and continue to produce, the Giants' offense will continue to be very dangerous.

No. 4: The Los Angeles Dodgers Have Some Concerns

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    The 2013 Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, is already on the disabled list.
    The 2013 Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, is already on the disabled list.Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers compiled a record of 92-70, winning the NL West in by 11 games. The Diamondbacks were second, with the Giants and Padres tied for third, 16 games back.

    On paper, the Dodgers looked virtually unbeatable this spring, but some issues have developed in L.A.

    Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been placed on the DL with a bad back, and it looks like he will be out until May. Setup man Brian Wilson has also been placed on the DL with nerve irritation in his pitching elbow.

    The Dodgers started their season early, as they and the Diamondbacks opened in Australia. Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that there is speculation that this rushed the pitchers and could have been a factor in the injuries to Kershaw and Wilson.

    Matt Kemp, out with an injured ankle, has yet to play in a game. Kemp hopes to be ready for the home opener, however. In 2013, Kemp played in only 73 games as injuries plagued him throughout the year. Whether Kemp can play a full season is a major question mark for the Dodgers.

    With the health of Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier always a concern, production from the Dodgers' outfield is far from a sure thing.

    Yasiel Puig, who burst onto the scene in 2013, has also shown some major flaws. At his best, Puig is a dynamic player and devastating hitter.

    However, Puig does have some holes in his swing that can be exploited. In addition, his reckless style of play puts him at a greater risk of injury.

    Puig and manager Don Mattingly have also had some conflicts based on some poor baserunning by Puig and his defensive mistakes. Puig lacks maturity and seems to be a very self-centered and egotistical athlete. We could definitely see more fireworks in L.A. before the season is over. 

    The Dodgers led all of baseball with an Opening Day payroll of $234 million. The Dodgers also have the money to make major acquisitions prior to the trade deadline if they need to. 

    A Dodgers repeat as NL West champions is far from guaranteed at this point. If the Giants can stay healthy, they will be right in the thick of things.

     

No. 3: Buster Posey Looks Strong and Ready to Have a Big Season

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    Buster Posey's home run won the opener for the Giants.
    Buster Posey's home run won the opener for the Giants.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Buster Posey wore down in the second half of the 2013 season. His numbers were dramatically lower after the All-Star break. 

    Fangraphs.com broke down the differences in Posey's production. In 367 plate appearances prior to the break, Posey hit .325, with an OBP of .395 and OPS of .931. His power numbers were also strong, with 13 home runs and 56 RBI.

    After the break, Posey had 228 plate appearances and batted only .246, with an OBP of .333 and OPS of .643. He hit only two home runs and had 16 RBI.

    The biggest discrepancy was in the number of extra-base hits Posey collected. He had 41 prior to the break and only nine after.

    Posey was disappointed with his season and worked very hard this winter to put on muscle and gain strength. He is noticeably stronger, and the hope is that Posey will have more stamina to keep his production up over the entire year.

    Posey is off to a good start. In the first series against Arizona, he is hitting .417, with an OBP of .500 and OPS of 1.167. He has one home run and three RBI.

    Look for Posey to have a very good year as he attempts to help lead the Giants back to the World Series.

No. 2: Tim Hudson Looks Healthy

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    Tim Hudson got off to a great start in his first game for the Giants.
    Tim Hudson got off to a great start in his first game for the Giants.Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Tim Hudson was masterful in his first start of the 2014 season. He threw 7.2 innings and allowed only three hits, with no walks, while striking out seven.

    Hudson allowed no runs to the very powerful Diamondbacks offense. The Giants' bullpen did its job, and Hudson came away with a 2-0 victory.

    The reality is that we cannot expect Hudson, at age 38, to dominate as he did in Arizona, but he showed he definitely has a lot left in the tank. It looks as though Hudson can give the Giants quality starts, and his sinker should play very well at AT&T Park.

    In July of 2013, Hudson suffered a severe ankle injury while covering first base. He was stepped on by Eric Young Jr., which left his ankle shattered.

    Hudson worked hard to rehab his ankle, and if his first outing is any indication, his ankle and his arm both look good.

    The Giants' pitching staff will benefit from Hudson's experience. He is a true professional and will be a good teammate.

No. 1: Brandon Belt Picked Up Where He Left off in 2013

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    Brandon Belt has three home runs in the Giants' first four games.
    Brandon Belt has three home runs in the Giants' first four games.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Brandon Belt had a big second half of the year in 2013. He made some much-needed adjustments at the plate with his stance, his swing and his grip, which paid off.

    Belt had been susceptible to the inside fastball, unable to get around on that pitch. The adjustments enabled him to better turn on the pitch and closed a major hole in Belt's swing.

    Baseballnewsshare.com reported on the amazing increase in production that Belt enjoyed after the All-Star break. Prior to the break, Belt hit .260, with an OPS of .784. After making the adjustments at the break, Belt hit .326, with an OPS of .915. 

    The Giants are hoping for a breakout season for Belt, and he has gotten off to a great start. In the first four games of the year, Belt is hitting .333, with an OPS of 1.167. He has three home runs and five RBI to start the season.

    Belt has a big upside—and if he can continue to produce, it will make the Giants' offense one of the best in the National League.