SF Giants Are Ready for More Even-Year Magic in 2016

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 16, 2016

San Francisco Giants' Hunter Pence, left, and Sergio Romo celebrate during the 2014 World Series championship ring ceremony before the team's baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, April, 18, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, Pool)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

The look on Bruce Bochy's face made it clear this wasn't the first time he was hearing the phrase "even-year magic." Heck, since leading the San Francisco Giants to the first of three straight even-year World Series titles in 2010, the veteran skipper has probably heard it a million times.

And he now seems prepared to hear it a million more times in 2016.

"A lot of us are already kidding around about the over/under on how many times we hear, ‘Hey, it’s an even year, so it must be our year!’" Bochy said when Bleacher Report asked about the Giants' even-year magic during a Giants media function at AT&T Park last week.

Take the over? Yeah, take the over.

Just like in 2011 and 2013, the 2015 Giants responded to an even-year championship with an odd-year regression that kept them out of the postseason. But at 84-78, they at least finished with a winning record this time, unlike 2013.

And after a $250 million offseason spending spree that netted a pair of accomplished starters in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and a talented outfielder in Denard Span, they're going into 2016 with all sorts of good vibrations.

And if nothing else, the mere mention of the magic that guided them to championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014 gets the juices flowing.

"I think it puts your mind in the right place early on," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "Not that we don’t think about it in odd-numbered years, but just hearing it so much when it’s an even-numbered year makes you focus and say, ‘All right, our goal this year is to win a World Series.’"

From the outside looking in, what's happened with the Giants in even years seems easy to explain. They had talented teams with noticeably good chemistry in 2010, 2012 and 2014, sure, but Robert De Niro's character from Silver Linings Playbook would say it was all about the juju.

In October 2010, the juju took the form of unhittable pitching and an endless string of timely hits. In October 2012, the Giants won six elimination games just to get to the World Series. In October 2014, there was Travis Ishikawa's Bobby Thomson impression and Madison Bumgarner's god mode.

During that most recent magical run, even a now-former adversary couldn't ignore there was something different about the Giants.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

"They just had a different aura about them," Span said, referring to when San Francisco beat his Washington Nationals in the 2014 National League Division Series. "They were confident. They knew their jobs. And they did the little things right. I think that was the difference in them beating us. I felt like we had more talent on paper, but they just outplayed us."

But for those who actually were involved? Well, they're not in a hurry to sell anyone on the idea that they've had a special aura in even years. This is most certainly a team that prides itself on the chemistry that seems so instrumental in making the magic happen, but the Giants insist it's there every year.

"We’re confident every season," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "Whether it’s an even year or odd year, it doesn’t really matter for us."

Rather, it may not be a question of what goes right in even years. Instead of even-year magic, perhaps what the Giants have been dealing with is an odd-year curse.

"It just seems like bad luck," Belt said. "We’ve had a lot of injuries, and it’s tough to go out there and win a World Series when you don’t have your best players. You don’t want to blame it all on that. There have been a lot of times when we haven’t really played well. But at the same time, you hope you can keep everyone healthy and on the field."

The data nods its head. Per BaseballHeatMaps.com, the Giants have averaged about 730 disabled-list days in the last three even years. In the last three odd years, the average jumps to more than 880 days.

For this, the obvious scapegoat is the offseason that follows a World Series win. It doesn't provide an atmosphere conducive to recuperation, as there are frequent demands for attention and little time to rest before spring training. And some Giants don't mind pointing a finger.

"We’re human beings," outfielder Gregor Blanco said. "It’s not easy when you play all the way to the World Series because you play so many games. Your body is exhausted. You’re mentally tired. And then spring training comes quick. You only have about a month-and-a-half to prepare yourself for the next year."

Crawford also lent some credence to the notion that the offseason following a World Series title can have an effect, noting in particular that it "might show towards the end of the year than it does toward the beginning."

This bit of smoke also leads to fire. In 2011, the Giants fell apart in the second half. In 2013, they fell apart after starting strong in April and May. Last year, the club went 28-32 after August 1 and dealt with late-season injuries to Matt Cain, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Mike Leake, Angel Pagan and Nori Aoki.

After a full offseason, it's easy to think things will be better in 2016. There's also the notion the Giants' solid 84-78 record in 2015 actually undersells how good they were, as their Pythagorean record—a projected record based on runs scored and runs allowed—was actually the same as the NL West champion (and archrival) Los Angeles Dodgers.

That's to say, the 2015 Giants' true talent level may have been better than that of an 84-win team. And following the club's hot-stove wheelings and dealings, the total package for 2016 looks even better.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Among the things the Giants are carrying over from 2015 are an elite catcher in Buster Posey, an elite ace in Bumgarner and a bullpen that posted a top-10 ERA (3.33). And in Belt, Crawford, Panik and Matt Duffy, the Giants have a homegrown infield that is arguably baseball's best.

"I look at that infield, and I think how lucky and fortunate we are to have these homegrown products that all came up through our system," Bochy said. "I think it’s one of the best infields in baseball. And now that they’ve played a year together, I think they’re only going to get better."

Top Infields by WAR, 2015
RankTeamInfield WAR
1Giants27.8
2Blue Jays26.1
3Cubs23.5
FanGraphs

What clearly needed to be fixed, though, was the depth behind Bumgarner in the Giants' starting rotation. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. According to FanGraphs, there was nearly a four-win gap between Bumgarner and the Giants' next-best starter, Chris Heston, in 2015.

Enter Cueto on a six-year, $130 million contract and Samardzija on a five-year, $90 million contract. Both are workhorses who were among the best pitchers in baseball as recently as 2014, so the Giants are right to have high hopes for how much they'll help. And not just in the rotation, either.

"Now we've got two guys who can go out there and throw 200 innings and keep you in ballgames," said George Kontos, who was one of three Giants relievers to top 70 appearances in 2015. "When you’ve got proven guys who can do that, it helps keep your bullpen fresher. And when you can keep the guys in the bullpen fresher for longer, you can have better success down the stretch."

With Aoki departing via free agency, the only other notable item on the Giants' checklist this winter was an outfielder. Enter Span on a three-year, $31 million deal. If he can stay healthy following an injury-plagued 2015, he figures to be a consistent presence atop Bochy's batting order, as well as a much-needed defensive upgrade in center field.

All told, Span likes his new team just as much, if not more, than his old one.

"I think this team is more well-rounded," Span said. "We don’t have a lot of big hitters, per se, but we’ve got contact hitters and guys that will make you pay if you make a mistake. And it’s a very athletic team in the infield and in the outfield, and even with our catcher. And with the guys they’ve brought in, the pitching staff now speaks for itself. I definitely like where we are."

For what it's worth, the computers do, too. FanGraphs projects only three National League teams to do better than the Giants in 2016. If that pans out, San Francisco will be back in the postseason at year's end.

And then, well, clearly all it would have to do is sit back and wait for the magic to take hold. The explanation for it may vary, depending on who you ask, but that doesn't mean the Giants can't be excited about keeping the trend alive.

"We know what we’ve done in the past, and it would be pretty storybook if we pulled it off again this year," Cain said. "And that’s the plan."

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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