MLB ’16 Comeback Candidates: San Francisco Giants

The Giants will be without the services of outfielder Hunter Pence for at least two months.

We continue with our 2016 MLB Comeback Candidates with perhaps the most obvious of all obvious choices, the San Francisco Giants. Sure, we could have started with the Giants, but that seemed too easy. After all, 2016 is an even-numbered year, so should Bay Area fans mark their calendars for another late October/early November parade? That might be a tad bit premature, but certainly the Giants will be a factor in the National League this year after an injury-riddled 2015 campaign that saw them miss the playoffs for the third straight time following a World Series title:

The Lowdown

Once again, a World Series title was followed by a non-playoff season for the on-again, off-again Giants. Still, despite a rash of injuries, manager Bruce Bochy’s squad won 84 games and received contributions from a number of youngsters in the absence of key starters. That bodes well for a team that not only will get some star players back, but added a few in free agency as well.

Reasons for Hope

Besides the even-numbered year, you mean? For starters, let’s examine the missing P’s that should return to full health and, Bochy hopes, full form. That would be outfielders Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan, second baseman Joe Panik, and starting pitcher Jake Peavy, all of whom missed significant time due to injury a year ago. That put added pressure on the Giants’ stars like ace Madison Bumgarner, catcher Buster Posey, and third baseman and surprise rookie sensation Matt Duffy, and the lack of depth ultimately hurt the Giants. There should be no such issue this time around.

Did I say “for starters” before? How about adding two former All-Stars to the rotation, which posted a 3.95 ERA but was only 18th in baseball in terms of innings pitched. Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are arguably number one starters who will be slotted two and three (with the order to be determined) in San Francisco’s rotation. With Tim Hudson now retired and Peavy no longer in Cy Young form, the big wild card remains Matt Cain. When healthy, Cain is not only a top-of-the-rotation arm, he is a bonafide star. A bounce-back from his 2-4 record and 5.79 ERA in 2015 would go a long way toward making the Giants title contenders once again.

The defense will also be stout, with Denard Span added to the outfield mix after signing a three-year deal last January. The bullpen was once again solid last year, with a 3.33 ERA that ranked seventh in baseball, and has normally been dependable during Bochy’s tenure in San Francisco.

Reasons for Doubt

There are still questions about the back-end of the rotation, even with the enticing possibility of what a rebound season from Cain would mean. Rookie Chris Heston was a revelation last year but started to wear down in the second half. Peavy had a strong season but will be 35 in May.

Offensively, the Giants were an enigma in 2015, but the troubling part is how much they struggled at AT&T Park. They were 20th in runs scored at home and were tied for the third-fewest home runs. On the flip side, they were fourth in runs scored on the road.

Health-wise is where the Giants’ 2016 season will be made or broken. The outfield was hit hardest by the injury bug, most notably Pence, who played in only 52 games. While the personnel losses did allow the Giants the get a glimpse of youngsters like Kelby Tomlinson, Mac Williamson, and Jarrett Parker, the team will only go as far as its key cogs will take it.

Will they or won’t they?

Even with the Arizona Diamondbacks beefing up their starting rotation in a major way and the Los Angeles Dodgers being a perennial threat, the Giants should contend for the National League West title, if not another pennant. They appear to be as well-balanced as they have at any point throughout this run of success, and they have the game’s best manager in Bochy. It’s extremely difficult to envision them not returning to the postseason, where they have won nine consecutive series dating back to the 2003 Division Series.

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