Complete San Francisco Giants 2015 Season Preview

Dan MoriCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2015

Complete San Francisco Giants 2015 Season Preview

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    Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy hope for a repeat performance in 2015.
    Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy hope for a repeat performance in 2015.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    As the San Francisco Giants embark on their quest to defend the 2014 World Series title, there are many questions that must be answered over a very long season.

    The fact that the Giants have three world championships in five years is nothing short of amazing. Every season is a grueling marathon, both mentally and physically. 

    Mental toughness, clutch execution and team chemistry are all critical factors behind the Giants' success.

    Manager Bruce Bochy has been the steady hand that guides the Giants and keeps the team focused and moving in the right direction. His leadership has paid huge dividends, as the Giants have championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

    The question now is whether the Giants can win in an odd-numbered year. So much has to go right just to make the playoffs in the first place. Winning in 2015 will definitely not be an easy task.

    Let's review the outlook for 2015. Hopefully, we can provide a balanced view of the Giants' chances this upcoming season.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Spring Training Recap

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    Hunter Pence will miss the first couple weeks of the season due to injury.
    Hunter Pence will miss the first couple weeks of the season due to injury.Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    The biggest news out of spring training occurred when Hunter Pence was hit by a Corey Black fastball, which broke his left forearm. Pence will miss the first few weeks of the season as his arm heals.

    Showing the class that has made him a fan favorite, Pence forgave Black for the wayward pitch, as reported by Grant Brisbee at McCoveyChronicles.

    Outside of the Pence injury, the Giants have meandered their way through a relatively quiet spring training.

    The team started the spring slowly and were admonished by manager Bruce Bochy. They were off to a 4-12 start and not playing well.

    Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News reported about Bochy's unhappiness with the Giants' lackluster play. This occurred on March 17, and since then, the Giants have gradually begun to play better and with a greater sense of purpose.

    Spring training is plenty long and with the Giants ending their season at the end of October, it was natural for the veterans to take it slow early on.

    Now, with Opening Day less than one week away, the Giants have had much more focus as they prepare for the long season.

    Another important thing we saw in the spring was that Tim Hudson and Matt Cain appear to be rounding into form. Both had surgical procedures this winter but are expected to be in the starting rotation when the season begins.

    The only other major health concern is the status of Angel Pagan. He is a catalyst for the Giants offense but has struggled with back issues this spring. 

    Pagan had back problems last year, which ended his season and resulted in surgery. Injuries always seem to be a concern with Pagan. He played in just 71 games in 2013 and 96 last year.

    Bochy, along with general manager Brian Sabean, opted to send Andrew Susac, Hunter Strickland and Juan Perez down to the minors.

    Although these three players most certainly would have liked to make the Opening Day roster, getting them consistent playing time and allowing them to develop should prove more beneficial in the long run.

    The one major surprise on San Francisco's roster appears to be outfielder Justin Maxwell.

    The Pence injury opened the door for Maxwell. He is a right-handed hitter and can provide some power off the bench and in a spot-starter role. Maxwell's best season was in 2012, when he hit 18 home runs and drove in 53 runs in only 315 at-bats.

    Power is something the Giants are sorely lacking, so Maxwell has a chance to stick, even when Pence returns.

Injury Updates

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    Angel Pagan's health is a huge question mark for the Giants.
    Angel Pagan's health is a huge question mark for the Giants.Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    The best news this spring is that Matt Cain and Tim Hudson appear healthy and ready to open the season in the Giants starting rotation.

    In addition, Hector Sanchez has recovered from the concussions he suffered in 2014 and has beaten out Andrew Susac for the backup catcher job.

    Hunter Pence is on track with his recovery from a broken forearm and should be back in late April or early May.

    The one lingering health concern revolves around the very fragile Angel Pagan. After undergoing surgery last year, back issues have again limited Pagan this spring. Although he is playing now, his balky back could flare up an any moment.

    If Pagan can play in even 120 games, the Giants would most likely be thrilled. However, judging by recent history, don't bet on him playing that many.

    Injuries always play a key factor in which teams are successful. The 2015 Giants are no exception. They will need to stay relatively healthy in order to have a decent chance of reaching the postseason.

Lineup Preview

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    The Giants will need a big year from Buster Posey.
    The Giants will need a big year from Buster Posey.Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    • Nori Aoki, LF
    • Joe Panik, 2B
    • Angel Pagan, CF
    • Buster Posey, C
    • Brandon Belt, 1B
    • Casey McGehee, 3B
    • Brandon Crawford, SS
    • Gregor Blanco, RF

    Reserves:

    • Hector Sanchez, C
    • Joaquin Arias, Inf.
    • Matt Duffy, Inf.
    • Justin Maxwell, OF
    • Travis Ishikawa, OF-1B

    Even when Hunter Pence returns, this is not a lineup that will produce a lot of home runs. It will be essential for the Giants to have a high on-base percentage and manufacture runs. This is a team that is not built to out-slug anyone.

    In addition to the health of Angel Pagan, a key to the Giants season will be the emergence of Brandon Belt. In 2014, Belt played in only 61 games due to several injuries. He hit .243 with an OBP of .306 and OPS of .755. He hit 12 home runs along with 27 RBI last year.

    Belt was off to a hot start but suffered a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch. Upon his return, he suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head by a thrown ball during batting practice.

    Belt has shown great promise but has yet to have a breakout season. The Giants will miss the power that Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval provided last year, but a strong season from Belt will help to offset that.

    Good pitching and defense along with some timely hitting has proven to be the winning formula for the Giants. That will again be the mantra in San Francisco this season.

Starting Rotation Preview

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    Madison Bumgarner leads the San Francisco pitching staff.
    Madison Bumgarner leads the San Francisco pitching staff.Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Starting Rotation:

    The San Francisco Giants starting rotation has been a strength of the team in their past three world championship seasons. If the Giants are to have a chance to win again this year, the rotation must perform well.

    Madison Bumgarner is the unquestioned ace of the staff, but after him, there are question marks everywhere you look.

    Will Jake Peavy be able to perform as he did following his trade to San Francisco? Or was his poor first half in Boston more indicative of his current ability?

    Can Matt Cain and Tim Hudson stay healthy and give the Giants quality outings over the course of an entire season?

    Hudson started the 2014 season very well but faded down the stretch. He will be 40 years old in July, so he will need to prove to Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti that he can be effective as the season wears on.

    Tim Lincecum had an ERA of 4.74 last year, which is too high, especially considering he pitches half his games at the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. He has not had an ERA below 4.37 since 2011. Lincecum is at the end of his contract, so if he has anything left, now is the time to have a resurgence.

    In the event any of the starters falter, the Giants do have some depth behind them. Ryan Vogelsong will open the season in the bullpen but can be inserted as a starter.

    In addition, the Giants long reliever, Yusmeiro Petit, who in 2014 set an all-time Major League record by retiring 46 consecutive batters, can also be called upon to start.

    With a solid bullpen, if the San Francisco starters can give the Giants six or seven quality innings, the Giants will have a chance to win every game.

Bullpen Preview

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    Santiago Casilla will open the season as the Giants closer.
    Santiago Casilla will open the season as the Giants closer.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Giants bullpen is arguably the most unsung group on the team. However, in the Giants' championship years, the bullpen was outstanding.

    Giants Bullpen:

    • Santiago Casilla, Closer
    • Sergio Romo, Right-handed setup man
    • Jeremy Affeldt, Left-handed setup man
    • Javier Lopez, Left-handed specialist
    • Jean Machi, Right-handed middle reliever
    • Yusmeiro Petit, Right-handed long / middle reliever and spot starter
    • Ryan Vogelsong, Right handed long / middle reliever and spot starter

    Stability has been a hallmark of the Giants bullpen, as Casilla, Romo, Affeldt and Lopez have pitched in all three of the Giants' World Series title runs.

    The winning formula for the Giants relies heavily on their bullpen. The starter keeps the Giants in the game and the relievers come in around the seventh inning and shut down the opposition.

    The Giants offense comes through with a timely hit or even a sacrifice fly or infield out and the team scratches out a run to win the ballgame.

    This style of play has helped the Giants prepare for the postseason. They know how to execute in the clutch and are used to playing in tight games. Quality relief pitching is a key to this being a successful methodology.

    In addition to these seven pitchers, the Giants also have George Kontos and Hunter Strickland waiting in the wings. Both are likely to be in San Francisco at one time or another over the course of the season.

    Bochy is one of the best managers in baseball and one of his strengths is utilizing his bullpen effectively. He and pitching coach Dave Righetti know how to keep their pitchers sharp but not overwork them. Solid depth and quality innings can be expected from the San Francisco bullpen.

Prospects to Watch

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    Andrew Susac played a big role in helping the Giants make the playoffs in 2014.
    Andrew Susac played a big role in helping the Giants make the playoffs in 2014.Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    The Giants minor league system has been much maligned over the years, but in reality, some fine players have come up through their system. These include Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and the recently departed Pablo Sandoval.

    The Giants have also done an excellent job in developing pitchers. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo are all products of the Giants' minor league system. 

    In 2015, there are several prospects who could be promoted and make an impact with the Giants. Injuries always crop up over the course of a long season, so having capable depth is important.

    The top prospect the Giants have is catcher Andrew Susac. After Hector Sanchez was forced to the sidelines last year due to concussions, Susac joined the team and held his own quite well. He impressed manager Bruce Bochy with his ability to learn and work with the pitchers.

    Susac also showed some pop in his bat. In 88 at-bats, he hit .273 with an OBP of .326 and OPS of .792. Susac also had three home runs and 19 RBI.

    Bothered during the spring by a sore wrist, Susac was send down to get more consistent at-bats and continue to hone his catching skills. He definitely has a future as a big league catcher.

    One of the best power arms in the bullpen belongs to Hunter Strickland. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90's and is refining his slider and an off-speed pitch so hitters cannot just sit on the fastball.

    Strickland pitched very well last September, appearing in nine games, working seven innings and not allowing a run.

    The hitters caught up to Strickland, however, as had a bad stretch in the 2014 postseason when he allowed six home runs in 8.1 innings. The Giants like Strickland's potential and sending him down to improve his overall command and develop his secondary pitches was the right decision.

    Adam Duvall is a corner infielder with a lot of power. If the Giants need someone at either first or third base, Duvall could get the call. He has big-time power and hit 27 home runs at the Triple-A level last year. In order to become an everyday player, Duvall needs to improve defensively.

    Steven Okert is an exciting left-hander out of the bullpen. He began 2014 in San Jose, the Giants' High-A affiliate then was promoted to the Double-A level in Richmond.

    Okert threw a total of 68.1 innings, allowing 57 hits and 22 walks while striking out 92. He complied an ERA of 2.11 and WHIP of 1.156.

    Okert also dazzled in the Arizona Fall League. This is a showcase for some of the top young talent in the minors. He threw a total of 12 innings, allowing just five hits and one walk while striking out 17. His ERA was 0.75 and he had a WHIP of 0.50. Opposing hitters batted just .119 against him.

    Also keep a close eye on starters Kyle Crick and Chris Heston. Crick was a supplemental first-round draft pick by the Giants in 2011. He was the 49th overall player selected.

    Crick has a power arm but needs to improve his overall command. Last year, pitching at Richmond, Crick threw 90 innings. While he struck out 111, he also walked 61.

    Heston impressed the Giants this spring and is farther along in his development than Crick. If the Giants need to bring a starter up from the minors, look for Heston to get the call.

    The Giants have other decent prospects farther down the chain, but these seven have the best chance of making an impact in the next year of two.

Main Keys to Success

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    Matt Cain is one of the keys to the Giants' success in 2015.
    Matt Cain is one of the keys to the Giants' success in 2015.Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The San Francisco Giants hope to defy the naysayers and make another run at the World Series this year.

    However, because the offense is not as explosive as several of the teams in the National League, the Giants' margin of error is very slim. The team must pitch well, get timely hitting and play good defense. 

    Good health is a key to the Giants' success. The Giants were able to withstand the losses of Angel Pagan, Matt Cain, Brandon Belt and Michael Morse for long stretches last year, but everything just seemed to fall into place at the right time.

    Without strong contributions from their top players, it will be too much to ask if the Giants do not stay relatively healthy.

    Belt's improvement, a solid year from Casey McGehee at third base and the healthy return of Hunter Pence will go a long way to keeping the Giants offense productive.

    The key, as it has been in the Giants' recent run of success will ultimately come down to the pitching. If the pitching holds up, the Giants will be right there. If not, well, then just remember that 2016 is an even year.

    If the Giants are in the hunt towards the trade deadline, general manager Brian Sabean has proven that he can bring in talent that will make a difference down the stretch.

    In 2010, Sabean acquired Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, all of whom played important roles for the Giants' first world championship in San Francisco.

    In 2012, Sabean traded for Hunter Pence from the Phillies. He also acquired Marco Scutaro from Colorado for Charlie Culberson. Like Ross in 2010, Scutaro went on to be the MVP of the NLCS.

    This past season, it was the acquisition of Jake Peavy at the trade deadline that helped drive the Giants to the promised land.

    If the Giants are in contention, Sabean can make valuable additions to push the Giants over the top.

2015 Season Predictions

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    Clayton Kershaw won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2014.
    Clayton Kershaw won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2014.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    The National League West has improved this winter and it remains to be seen if the Giants have done enough to successfully compete in the division.

    On paper, the Los Angeles Dodgers have to be considered the favorite to win the NL West for the third consecutive year. They posted a 94-68 record in 2014 and have made some good additions for this season. 

    Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick were added to the Los Angeles roster. They solidify the middle infield for the Dodgers both offensively and defensively.  

    Although Matt Kemp has departed, Joc Pederson looks ready to step in and be a prime contributor.

    The Dodgers also upgraded their catching position with the addition of Yasmani Grandal.

    A key for the Dodgers will be whether their pitching can hold up. They have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation but the other three spots are highly uncertain. 

    Hyun-Jin Ryu has a shoulder problem and will likely start the season on the DL.

    The Dodgers brought in starters Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. However, neither can be considered a sure bet for success. McCarthy split the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and the Yankees but finished the year with a 10-15 record and 4.05 ERA.

    The oft-injured Anderson has not started more than eight games since 2011. If healthy, Anderson will be a good addition, but there is substantial doubt whether he can last a full season.

    A weakness of the Dodgers in 2014 was their bullpen and they already suffered a major blow to the unit this year. Closer Kenley Jansen had surgery on his left foot in February and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season.

    Age is also catching up with several key Dodgers. Outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier will be 34 and 33, respectively. The left side of the Los Angeles infield with Rollins and Juan Uribe will each be 36 years old. The right side of the infield with Adrian Gonzalez and Kendrick will be 33 and 32, respectively.

    With age, injuries are more common. This requires more judicious handling of playing time. Knowing your personnel and when they need a break is an area where Bochy gives the Giants a significant edge over Dodger manager Don Mattingly.

    The Dodgers do have the money to go out and spend on players at the trade deadline, but they are still not a sure bet to win the division.

    The team that has improved the most is San Diego. In addition to the Padres' acquisition of Kemp, they also added Justin Upton and Wil Myers. This revamped outfield gives the Padres some potent bats in the lineup. 

    Will Middlebrooks also joins the Padres at third base and catcher Derek Norris was acquired in a trade with Oakland

    The Padres solidified their pitching rotation by adding former Kansas City starter James Shields and veteran Brandon Morrow. Shields will pitch at the front of the rotation, which allows Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy to slide down a notch.

    Morrow's health is a question mark, but if he stays healthy, the Padres have the makings of a quality starting staff.

    San Diego general manager A.J. Preller, who was promoted last August, has made some bold moves in making the Padres a team to be reckoned with.

    The Colorado Rockies do not have enough pitching to contend, but when healthy, their offense is one of the most potent in the game. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, Nolan Arenado, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon are all extremely productive offensive players.

    The Rockies are a dangerous team that can out slug their opponents. Unfortunately, their pitching is well below par and they will give up as many runs as they score.

    Arizona made a big splash by signing Cuban star Yasmany Tomas and it has a healthy Paul Goldschmidt returning. The Diamondbacks also have Aaron Hill and Mark Trumbo, so they will score runs. Unfortunately, their pitching is lacking and they will give up more.

    The 2015 NL West race is too close to call between Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Look for it to go right down to the final days of the season with these three teams battling it our for the division crown. 

    The team that wins the NL West may well be the team that handles the Rockies and Diamondbacks the best.

    If forced to make a decision today, here's how the top three teams would be ranked.

    • San Diego 90-72
    • San Francisco 88-74
    • Los Angeles 87-75

    The Padres advance to the playoffs as the division winner. The Pirates are one wild card team with the Giants edging out Los Angeles, Miami and the Cubs for the second wild card spot. 

    Then, once in the playoffs, as we all know, magic can happen.