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Are the San Francisco Giants a Playoff Contender in 2015?
The departure of Mike Morse and Pablo Sandoval
The recent trend that the Giants have developed following their last two World Series wins, is to miss the playoffs the following season. That trend could hold true once again in 2015 after the team lost two of their best power hitters from 2014. The Giants still have the pitching staff in place that led their 2014 run, and they get Matt Cain back from the disabled list this season. The concerns surrounding this Giants team are not with their pitching staff however, as their strong bullpen and above average starting rotation remain intact. Their batting lineup is now left with only two different batters who are a threat to hit 20 or more homeruns this season. Lacking the power necessary to drive in the runs needed to win a significant total of the games on their schedule, could be problematic for the San Francisco Giants in 2015. With teams like the Padres, Cubs and Mets improving throughout the National League, winning more games than all of those teams may prove to be a tough task for the Giants this season. A further look at the Giants' starting lineup along with an in depth look at the Giants' pitching staff, will help to determine if San Francisco has enough talent on their roster to be considered a playoff contender in 2015.
Is the Giants lineup good enough?
For most of the top playoff contenders in baseball, a significant portion of their offensive production comes from their outfield. For the Giants, their only outfielder who is capable of that impact production at the plate, is right fielder Hunter Pence. After losing power hitting left fielder Mike Morse as a free agent this offseason, the Giants do not appear to be in position to field an outfield that produces at or above the league average at the plate. With this in mind, here is what their starting lineup is likely to stack up as when Hunter Pence is once again healthy.
1. Angel Pagan CF
2. Norichika Aoki LF
3. Buster Posey C
4. Hunter Pence RF
5. Brandon Belt 1B
6. Casey McGehee 3B
7. Brandon Crawford SS
8. Joe Panik 2B
While this lineup is not without good hitters, and does not have bad hitters mixed in throughout, it is lacking in impact offensive talent. Buster Posey with 22 homeruns, Hunter Pence with 20 homeruns, Brandon Belt with 12 homeruns and Brandon Crawford with 10 homeruns, were the only four hitters in this lineup to reach double digit homerun totals in 2014. Also, those eight batters combined for only 73 homeruns last season with one of the lowest combined extra base hit totals for eight hitters in Major League Baseball for 2014. Even though Buster Posey is very good and Hunter Pence is well above average, the efforts of those two by themselves are not enough to elevate a lineup to league average or better without much help from the rest of their teammates. For the Giants playoff hopes to stay alive, thorough analysis of their pitching staff will have to prove that they have enough pitching to pick up the slack for what appears to be a well below average offensive team.
Madison Bumgarner takes over the role of Giants' ace
After Madison Bumgarner's performance the past two regular seasons, and his performance in the Giants' World Series run, he has taken over the role of staff ace for San Francisco. The rest of the Giants' pitching staff is where some questions arise with the starting rotation stacking up like this.
1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Jake Peavy
3. Matt Cain
4. Tim Hudson
5. Tim Lincecum
Jake Peavy when healthy can be a top of the rotation starter, but the only problem is that his health has been questionable for much of his recent career. Matt Cain was a top of the rotation starter before his recent injuries. Jake Peavy finished last season pitching at a high level for the Giants, and if Matt Cain is able to make a successful return from elbow surgery, the top of the Giants' rotation could be strong throughout the 2015 season. With Tim Hudson playing out the final seasons of his career and with Tim Lincecum no longer the pitcher who won two National League Awards, the back end of the San Francisco rotation is not strong enough to pick up the slack for their below average offense.
The Giants bullpen
The Giants bullpen was strong throughout their championship run last season, and it remains intact for 2015. By closing out plenty of close, low scoring games, the Giants should be able to earn a higher win total than their offensive talent suggests. Their strong bullpen stacks up like this for 2015.
1. Santiago Casilla RHP (CL)
2. Sergio Romo RHP
3. Jeremy Affeldt LHP
4. Jean Machi RHP
5. Javier Lopez LHP
6. George Kontos RHP
7. Yusmiero Petit RHP
While this was a very successful bullpen for the Giants last season, there is some weakness on the back end of it. Santiago Casilla does not strike out batters at quite the rate that a dominant closer typically does, and Sergio Romo experienced significant struggles last season when in the closer's role. Beyond those two pitchers though, the left handed setup options have been dynamite for the Giants. Machi, Kontos and Petit have also been solid when called upon for either middle or long relief for the team. Overall the bullpen for the Giants grades out to be above average, and they should be able to once again close out plenty of close ballgames.
Are the Giants a playoff contender?
The Giants have the starting pitching rotation of a playoff contender, but it is only equal to some of the National League playoff contenders heading into the 2015 season. Their current pitching rotation is on a level with the opening day rotations of the Cubs, Pirates and Marlins, while being a step behind the opening day rotations for the Dodgers, Nationals, Padres and Cardinals. Every one of those teams should have a starting lineup of position players that out-produces the offensive lineup that the Giants are going to put on the field in 2015. While relief pitching may be an issue for the Cubs and Dodgers, enough of the other playoff contenders in the National League have strong bullpens, that the Giants are likely to be on the outside looking in on the playoff picture in 2015. With the season just starting and some of the other contenders likely to have injuries to try to overcome, the Giants' playoff chances do exist. However with their current roster their chances of making the playoffs in 2015 do not appear promising.