After winning championships in 2010 and 2012, the San Francisco Giants limped to a third place finish in the NL West last year. “Limped” is the operative word, as Bruce Bochy’s club was stung by several nagging injuries and pitching staff fatigued from two postseason runs in the three years. There were other problems, too, and a team built on doing the little things committed some colossal gaffes in the field.
It’s a new year though, and fans in the Bay Area are rightfully optimistic.
The Dodgers, Braves, Red Sox, Tigers, and Cardinals may dominate baseball’s 2014 preseason polls, but its postseason will belong to the Giants.
1. THE OTHER TIM
A fluke – albeit gruesome – ankle injury may have cut Tim Hudson’s 2013 season short, but the 15-year veteran is far from losing his stuff.
Consider that from 2005 (Hudson’s first with Atlanta) to 2010, he compiled an ace-worthy 73-48 record. The Georgia-born hurler won 60% of the time, maintained a 3.57 ERA and averaged nearly 27 starts per year.
Subsequent years have been every bit as productive.
From 2011-13 – a period during which he turned 38-years old – Hudson averaged 27.3 starts per season, went 40-24 to the tune of a 62.5 winning percentage, and marched to a 3.55 ERA. And with the exception of 1999-2002, he allowed fewer hits per nine innings than during any three year period of his professional career.
The righty’s 6.6 SO/9 in 2011 and 6.5 SO/9 in 2013 were his best in over a decade.
2. PABLO SANDOVAL WILL HAVE THE BEST SEASON (OR CLOSE TO IT) OF HIS CAREER
That’s the average annual salary of battery-mates Hunter Pence and Buster Posey over the next half decade.
Sandoval, by contrast, is in the final season of a 3-year, $17.5 million dollar deal: a tidy payday, to be sure, but one he’d like to shed in favor of the annual variety.
Concerns over the third baseman’s squishy exterior, though, have left GM Brian Sabean leery of extending a long term, lucrative offer.
But nothing motivates like the almighty dollar and the affectionately named “Panda” arrived at camp last week with considerably less stuffing – a move that should pay dividends both at the plate and in the field.
Of course, Sandoval wouldn’t be the first ballplayer to raise his game during a contract year.
In 2010, another thick-in-the-waistline major leaguer, Prince Fielder, hit .261, to go along with 32 home runs and 83 RBI’s. A season later, Fielder upped his average to .299, mashed 38 dingers, tallied 120 RBI’s, and set careers highs in on-base-percentage and intentional walks. The Detroit Tigers, in turn, rewarded Fielder with a 9-year deal worth $214 million.
Josh Hamilton hit 43 home runs – 11 more than his previous career high – on the eve of free agency, while all Jhonny Peralta did was improve his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage some 64 points, 53 points, and 126 points, respectively.
3. JAVIER LOPEZ IS STILL A GIANT
In resigning Javier Lopez, the Orange & Black didn’t just retain one of the game’s best lefty relievers – they also kept him from landing with another contender.
Since coming over from the Pirates late in the 2010 season in exchange for John Bowker and Joe Martinez (pat yourself on the back if you know who they are), Lopez has sported a sterling 2.26 ERA. He’s appeared in at least 69 contests each of the last three seasons and in 2013, surrendered only eight earned runs.
With a Giants rotation expected to be improved from a year ago, Lopez, along with closer Sergio Romo, should shut the door on even more opponents.
4. BRANDON BELT WENT BACK TO BASICS
Stubborn though it was, Brandon Belt finally agreed to toy with his bat grip late last summer and oh what a difference it has made.
In 191 at bats from August 1st to the end of the 2013 season, Belt hit .346, slugged seven home runs, and doubled 17 times.
The 63 total bases he collected in August and 47 total bases he tallied in September were the two most productive months of his career, and his season total 17 homeruns surpassed the previous two years, combined.
5. SAN FRANCISCO’S OTHER MVP IS BACK IN ACTION
With the obvious exception of Buster Posey, no position player may be as critical to the Giants success as Angel Pagan. He can stretch a single into a double, owns the speed to chase down balls in San Francisco’s cavernous AT&T Park, and has a knack for the timely hit.
With Pagan last season, the Giants were 37-34. Without him, they went 42-52.
His hamstring no longer a problem, expect a performance more in line with the 2012 campaign in which he hit .288 and led the National League in triples and range factor.