Brian Sabean has always been good at putting together a bullpen and that will be even more important this year because of all the questions with the starting pitchers.
Madison Bumgarner is obviously solid, the unquestioned No. 1 after his great showing in the 2014 postseason led to the Giants winning their third World Series title in five years. I expect Matt Cain to come back strong after having chips removed from his elbow. But after that, nothing is certain.
Tim Lincecum showed occasional flashes of his early career brilliance last season but there were more games when he struggled greatly to get command of his pitches. Lincecum should be in the bullpen but he’s resisted that.
Jake Peavy pitched well in the season, but then disappeared in the postseason; which Peavy will be back? Ryan Vogelsong has been a great feel-good story but he was inconsistent last season and he’s at the end of his career. Tim Hudson has been a consistent winner but he’s been plagued by injury and he’ll reach 40 in midseason. With this staff, the bullpen will probably be pitching at least the last three innings of many games.
With both Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse leaving in free agency, the Giants will have less power, although Brandon Belt may become their first 30-homer first baseman since Will Clark. Belt learned from Barry Bonds in spring training last year how to look for a pitch he can drive but his season was shortcut by two injuries. Buster Posey should hit for more power this year, too, and Hunter Pence has significant power.
At this point, the Giants lack a third baseman who can hit for power. They’ve signed Casey McGehee, but aside from one year when he hit 23 home runs in Milwaukee, he hasn’t shown much power. Traditionally, the corner infield and outfield positions are the ones which supply the power. At this point, the Giants have only Belt and Pence at those positions. None of their other outfielders is a power hitter.
Which means, the Giants will have to use a different offensive strategy this season, emphasizing speed on the base paths.
As Giants fans know, baseball is different at AT&T Park, which is reminiscent of early parks which were built to conform to the city areas in which they were built. AT&T Park has a right-field distance of only 309 feet (335 is standard) but it juts out rapidly into a cavernous right center known as Triples Alley because even slow runners can hit triples into that area.
So, an offensive strategy based on speed is not a bad idea when your home park is built like that.
All of this is relatively meaningless, because in the world created by Bud Selig, the regular season is just a prelude to the real season, the often-comical playoffs that include so many teams. The Giants didn’t win their division last year. The Los Angeles Dodgers did, but then they fell in their first playoff series.
The Dodgers will no doubt win the division again this year, but the Giants should be able to finish second again because the rest of the NL West is weak. But don’t look for another world championship. The Giants only do that in even-numbered years.