5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the San Francisco Giants' 2015 Season
The San Francisco Giants embark on the 2015 campaign with one goal in mind: They want to defend their World Series title and win it again.
The baseball season is a long, arduous process, which makes the Giants' three world championships in the past five years a tremendous accomplishment.
On paper, there are teams that look better than the Giants, but that was also the case in 2010, 2012 and 2014, when the Giants won it all. Fortunately, the game is not played on paper, and there are injuries and other intangibles that factor into whether a team is ultimately successful.
Looking at the 2015 team, two key players, Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, have departed. The Giants have replaced Sandoval with Casey McGehee, who was acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins. McGehee is a solid hitter and decent defensive player, so the loss of Sandoval is minimized.
McGehee does not have Sandoval's power, as he hit only four home runs last season, compared to Sandoval's 16. However, McGehee actually had more RBI, as he contributed 76, compared to 73 for Sandoval.
The Giants will miss Morse, however, as he carried the team early in the season and came up with some huge hits in the postseason. Morse hit 16 home runs and drove in 61 runs during the regular season.
Nori Aoki was signed as a free agent and will get the opportunity to replace Morse. He is a completely different type of player. Aoki has good speed, is a good contact hitter and gets on base. His OBP last year was .360. Although not great, Aoki is a better defensive player than Morse.
The Giants hope the assets that Aoki brings to San Francisco will offset his lack of power in comparison to Morse.
The key for the Giants, however, will come down to pitching. If the Giants pitch well and play good defense, they have shown an uncanny ability to win close games.
Let's take a look at five key reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2015 season.
No. 5: Brian Sabean
Success for the San Francisco Giants starts at the top with a solid ownership group and CEO Larry Baer. The Giants also have the longest-tenured general manager in baseball in Brian Sabean. He has been at the helm since 1996.
Sabean has more than proven his worth to the Giants, building the rosters for all three of their world championship teams.
In addition, Sabean has made crucial deals at the trade deadline to give the Giants the necessary personnel to get over the hump in their championship seasons.
In 2010, Sabean acquired relief pitchers Javier Lopez, Chris Ray and Ramon Ramirez, who all helped. Lopez remains as one of the four core relievers who have pitched on all three of the Giants' World Series-winning teams.
Sabean also brought in Cody Ross and Pat Burrell off the scrap heap, and both contributed mightily. Ross was the National League Championship Series MVP for his heroics against the Philadelphia Phillies, when he hit .350 with an OBP of .435 and OPS of .950. He also hit three home runs and drove in seven runs.
In 2012, Sabean dealt for Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro prior to the trade deadline. Pence became an emotional leader for the Giants and is a fan favorite in San Francisco.
Scutaro, like Ross, was the NLCS MVP. He blistered the St. Louis Cardinals with 14 hits in 28 at-bats and an OPS of 1.140.
In 2014, Sabean acquired Jake Peavy from the Boston Red Sox after Peavy had compiled a record of 1-9 and an ERA of 4.72 with a WHIP of 1.427. With pitchers like Jeff Samardzija, David Price and Jon Lester on the market, it was easy to scoff at the Peavy deal.
However, Sabean got it right. Peavy was rejuvenated in San Francisco under his former manager Bruce Bochy. In 12 starts, Peavy compiled a record of 6-4 with an ERA of 2.17 and WHIP of 1.042. He threw 78.2 innings and allowed only 65 hits and 17 walks while striking out 58.
With Matt Cain out due to injury, Peavy was a savior, and without him, the Giants would not have even made the playoffs.
Sabean is a master of these types of moves, which initially go under-the-radar. If the Giants are in contention near the trade deadline, look for Sabean to make the necessary moves to give the Giants the best chance of reaching the postseason.
No. 4: A Full Season from Joe Panik
Joe Panik joined the Giants in late June, as second base had been an ongoing problem. The Giants tried several options at second base, with none being able to sustain any success.
Hopes that Marco Scutaro could return were quickly extinguished, as chronic back problems have likely ended his career. He played in only five games in 2014 and is still not close to returning.
The Giants tried a host of other players at second base, including Ehire Adrianza, Brandon Hicks, Joaquin Arias, Tony Abreu and Dan Uggla.
It was not until Panik stepped in that the Giants solved their second base problems. He played in 73 games and hit .305 with an OBP of .343 and OPS of .711.
Panik's emergence as the Giants' regular second baseman was a major reason they won in 2014. He was steady on defense and a tough out.
With the second half of 2014 and a full run of postseason games under his belt, the Giants hope that Panik can continue his upward trend.
No. 3: Madison Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner gives the Giants a true ace on the mound. He has ascended to the top of the Giants' pitching staff and looks like he can stay there for quite a while.
At the age of 25, Bumgarner led the Giants with 18 victories and complied an ERA of 2.98 and WHIP of 1.090 in 2014. Including the postseason, Bumgarner threw 270 innings, but he looks strong heading into the 2015 season.
Bumgarner is more impressive when the stage is bigger. He dominated the 2014 postseason, throwing 52.2 innings, allowing only 28 hits and six walks while striking out 45. He had an ERA of 1.02 and WHIP of 0.646.
Bumgarner's performance in Game 7 of the World Series was one for the ages. Emerging from the bullpen on only two days rest, Bumgarner shut down the Kansas City Royals for five innings to earn the save and give the Giants their third world championship in five years.
Bumgarner has consistently shown the ability to step up and perform very well in big games. His unassuming attitude and folksy, back-country speech notwithstanding, Bumgarner shines the most under the brightest lights.
No. 2: Relief Pitching
The one group that largely goes unnoticed for how effective they are is the Giants bullpen. Four members of the bullpen—Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez—have been on all three World Series-winning teams.
Casilla enters the season as the Giants closer after assuming the job last summer when Romo was struggling. Romo finished the year strong and is the primary setup man from the right side.
Affeldt is a left-handed setup man and has shown the ability to get both right- and left-handed batters out. Lopez is the Giants' lefty specialist and is typically called upon to get one or two outs, facing dangerous left-handed batters.
The Giants will open the season with Ryan Vogelsong as a middle or long reliever. He will likely be given the first opportunity to start should one of the Giants starters falter.
Yusmeiro Petit is a long reliever who can also start. Petit has been extremely effective in his role, and last year, he set a major league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters.
Rounding out the bullpen is Jean Machi, a right-handed middle reliever. In 2014, he had a string of 27 consecutive outings where he did not allow a run.
During the Giants' three championship runs, the bullpen has always been a core strength of the team. If the starters can consistently complete six innings and turn the ball over to the relievers with the game close or the team in the lead, the Giants will be in good shape.
This unsung group of pitchers has repeatedly come through in the clutch. They are one of the Giants' greatest strengths.
No. 1: Bruce Bochy
Bruce Bochy is entering his ninth season as the manager of the San Francisco Giants. He has led the team to three world championships in five seasons and has compiled a record of 667 wins and 629 losses.
Prior to joining the Giants, Bochy managed in San Diego for 12 years and led the Padres to their only World Series appearance in 1998.
Bochy's calm demeanor belies his intensity and passion for winning. He is revered in San Francisco and well-liked by senior management, his coaches, players, fans and even the media.
Bochy has a way of getting the best out of his players and giving them the confidence they need to succeed. His managerial decisions have an uncanny way of working out successfully, and he is constantly thinking several innings ahead, anticipating potential situations.
To a casual fan, Bochy's managerial prowess may not even be sensed, but those who follow the Giants closely know how valuable he is to the organization.
We have seen him routinely outmanage opposing managers in the postseason, sometimes making the difference between winning and losing.
Bochy demands that his players respect the game and play it the right way, and in return, they are treated with professionalism and class. He has the respect of his players, and they play hard for him.
Bochy is arguably the best manager in the game today and has earned his way into the Hall of Fame after he retires.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.