Here is a link to my preview of the Giants. I fly down to Arizona on Tuesday and start writing baseball on Wednesday. The full text of the column runs below;
The Giants have taken an interesting approach to the 2014 season. The team collapsed in 2013 finishing with a bleak 76-86 record. According to conventional wisdom, the Giants should have remade their team and brought in young blood. But for the most part, the Giants are recirculating old blood. They brought back most of last season’s players with a few key additions. Obviously this is a team with lots of questions. We limit ourselves to five.
Do the Giants have enough hitting, especially in the power department?
General manager Brian Sabean acquired one significant hitter in the offseason. One. That would be Michael Morse who hit with massive power in 2011 when he slammed 31 home runs for the Nationals. But his power production has declined since then and he’s coming off wrist surgery. And that means he’s no sure thing.
The Giants are depending on Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro to get things going in the one and two spots of the batting order. It’s just that Pagan missed much of last season with a torn hamstring that required surgery. He turns 33 this season. Scutaro is 38 and will need many days off. Pagan and Scutaro are a risky proposition to set the table, as they say.
Obviously, Buster Posey will hit. And Hunter Pence (27 homers and 99 RBIs last season) will hit. And Pablo Sandoval probably will hit. Probably. The Giants need Brandon Belt to progress from supporting player to star — he hit 17 home runs and drove in 67 last season, good but not great for a first baseman. First base is a power position. Brandon Crawford is a brilliant shortstop but a limited offensive threat.
Last season, the Giants hit 107 home runs, next-to-last in the entire Major Leagues. They need more power. Where does it come from?
Is Pablo Sandoval serious about being a world-class athlete
The Panda can flat out play baseball. We know that. He is a natural hitter with power from both sides of the plate who can carry the Giants. It’s just that his work habits are subpar.
Well, amend that. His work habits may be just fine. His eating habits are the issue. He is a lusty man in love with life and that includes all its bounties, food topping the list. At times last season, he looked blown up as if someone had placed a hose in his right ear and filled him with helium. He is said to be slim and ripped and motivated after playing ball in Venezuela this offseason. The Giants need him to be a world-class athlete and to stay slim and ripped and motivated.
He has a great throwing arm and soft hands, and it’s embarrassing when manager Bruce Bochy takes him out for defensive purposes in the late innings because he’s too heavy to bend over to correctly field his position. This is his contract year and the Giants expect — hope — he remains serious about his job. He hit 14 home runs last season with 79 RBIs. That won’t cut it. The team must decide whether to give him a big contract, to go all in with him. Important season for the Panda.
Can Tim Lincecum pitch?
He used to be able to pitch. Not the past two seasons — his combined record was 20-29. Ouch. For this, the Giants lavished on him a two-year deal worth a cool $35 million. The Giants are confident — they say they are confident — Lincecum has changed. He used to be a power pitcher. He kept trying to be a power pitcher even when the power shorted out. And he got blasted.
Apparently all of that changed. He learned his lesson. He learned how to pitch, no longer depends on blowing away batters.
He has picked up the nuances of his profession. He’s an artist.
We soon will find out if that’s true. Lincecum has a complicated delivery — lots of moving parts — and sometimes it’s hard to be nuanced when he can’t put his heater where he wants. He says he studies batters now — looks at film, charts tendencies. Why didn’t he do that before? A mystery.
Can Tim Hudson pitch?
Hudson is among the fiercest competitors alive. He is exactly what the Giants need, has a strong will rivaling Madison Bumgarner. But last season, he ran over to cover first base, got his leg stepped on and broke his ankle. That injury always is described as “gruesome.”
The Giants are confident Hudson is fully recovered from the injury and ensuing surgery and can contribute as the No.3 or No.4 starter depending on what Lincecum does. Two seasons ago, Hudson won 16 games and was an elite pitcher. He turns 39 in July and has something to prove.
The Giants desperately need both Tims to contribute. Both Tims have something to prove. You might call this the Year of the Tim.
Is Brian Sabean’s baseball philosophy out of date?
Sabean is a top-level general manager. Two World Series wins in three seasons — come on. He has accomplished such a distinguished record by adhering to a clear and strict philosophy. He gets pitching. Then he gets pitching. And after that, he gets pitching.
The other eight starters and the bench players, well, they can come and go.
He won his first world series with Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. He won the second world series with Huff and Ryan Theriot and Gregor Blanco starting in left. The constant was the dominating, scare-your-socks-off pitching, including a ferocious bullpen.
And that’s what Sabean did for this season, signed pitchers but did not sign significant hitters, except perhaps Morse. This approach has been mostly foolproof in the past.
In addition to the Tims in the rotation, he has Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. Those are fancy names.
Like Cain. It’s just that, of 43 qualifying starting pitchers in the National League, Cain had the 34th worst ERA last season. Hmm. His record was 8-10. And he’s supposed to contend for being the staff ace.
That means — might mean — Sabean’s absolute faith in pitching could be misplaced with this bunch. When you consider Vogelsong won only four games in 2013 — he was hurt much of last season — there are issues with four of the five starters. Only Bumgarner is a lock to be “money.”
It’s possible Sabean should have paid more attention to hitting. At second base, for sure. In center field. On the bench.
His pitching-at-all-costs philosophy worked in the past. But he doesn’t live in a vacuum. Things have changed in Los Angeles, the Dodgers putting together a virtual All-Star team, the Dodgers eager to bury the NL West. Do the Giants have enough hitting and pitching to keep up with them? If not, and if the Giants finish out of the running once again, Sabean better invent a new philosophy.