Only the hopelessly optimistic fans can see the Giants as serious postseason contenders this year. Finishing at .500 may even be an unreasonable goal.
Pitching has been the secret to the Giants’ two World Series championships, but this year’s staff is one big question mark. Madison Bumgarner is the one bright spot, probably the second-best left-hander in the National League. Of course, No. 1 is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, this generation’s Sandy Koufax, so the gap is a considerable one.
Behind Bumgarner, manager Bruce Bochy is counting on veterans who are all coming off bad years or injuries: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson.
Of that group, the only one I think will bounce back is Cain, who suffered last year from pitching so many innings under intense pressure in the 2012 postseason.
Otherwise, Lincecum has to adjust with his fastball velocity down from what it was early in his career. He has to rely on his other pitches. Occasionally, he’s shown signs he can do that, but mostly, he’s been lit up.
Ryan Vogelsong was a feel-good story when his long odyssey brought him back to the Giants, the team which had first drafted him, and he won a combined 27 games in 2011-12. But last year, he was injured and ineffective when he came back. I don’t think there will be another chapter in his comeback story.
Tim Hudson has had a great career with the A’s and Atlanta Braves, but he will be 39 in July and he’s coming off a fractured ankle in July of last season. Hudson can probably help younger pitchers, especially Lincecum, with his advice. Just don’t expect the Hudson you may have seen when he was with the A’s to surface with the Giants this year.
The Giants have a strong and deep bullpen. Unfortunately, they’re going to be called on very early in games not pitched by Bumgarner or Cain. The only good news is that Barry Zito is finally gone. He’s said he’s taking a year off, which is code for “nobody wants me.”
The Marco Scutaro story has dominated spring training news. He’s on the disabled list, but is eligible to return shortly, though that seems very unlikely. Realistically, his career could very well be over.
It’s Freddy Sanchez all over again.
The Giants have no replacement for Scutaro, who is truly the thinking man’s ballplayer. He positions himself perfectly in the field and his bat control is extraordinary, making him a perfect if the Giants want to try a hit-and-run.
Joaquin Arias may get most of the starts at second base and he’s a slick fielder, but lacks Scutaro’s bat control. He’s also one of those players who looks good in short stints but flames out as a starter.
Bochy has talked of putting Hunter Pence or Brandon Belt in the No. 2 slot, depending on whether they’re facing a left- or right-handed pitcher. That’s a good idea because it would give the Giants more punch, with Buster Posey as the cleanup hitter and a slimmer Pablo Sandoval in the No. 5 spot.
With their starting pitching questions, they’ll need it.