Finishing up the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the San Francisco Giants, who finished in second place in the division last season
The Giants will look to pass the Dodgers and win the division this year after a quiet offseason in which their most significant move was signing RP Mark Melancon to a four-year deal, taking over the closer’s role from RP Santiago Casilla, who is now with the A’s. SP Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the best starting pitchers in the majors, continues to lead the pitching staff as he throws to C Buster Posey, himself one of the best in the game. OF Hunter Pence and 1B Brandon Belt also lead the offense as the team hopes to return to the playoffs to avenge last season’s LDS loss to the Cubs.
The Giants hit .258 last season, which put them near the middle of the pack among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Their hitters didn’t show much power, as their 130 home runs were the third-fewest in the majors, and their .728 OPS ranked in the bottom half of the league. Pence led the team with a .289 average to go along with his 13 home runs and a .858 OPS. Posey finished the year with a .288 average, 13 home runs and a .796 OPS. Belt led the team with home runs, but he hit just 17; his average was .275 and his OPS was a team-high .868. SS Brandon Crawford set a career high with a .275 average, but his 12 home runs were nine fewer than he hit in 2015. He also hit a career-best 11 triples, which put him in a tie for the most in the majors.
The pitching staff ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.65 ERA, but the Giants’ pitchers were in the middle of the pack with 1,309 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 43 saves, which matched the MLB average. Bumgarner, of course, led the staff with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 226.2 innings, putting him in the top 10 in the majors in all of those categories. His 34 starts tied him for the National League lead and was one behind the major-league leader. Bumgarner’s 5.0 WAR was the best of his career and was tied for the eighth-best among NL pitchers. SP Johnny Cueto’s numbers were right up there with Bumgarner’s. Cueto posted a 2.79 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings over 32 starts, and he put up an impressive 18-5 record. He posted a 5.6 WAR, which placed him in a tie for the second-best among pitchers in the NL and fourth among all pitchers. SP Matt Moore, who the Giants acquired in a midseason trade with the Rays, posted a 4.08 ERA for the season with 178 strikeouts in 198.1 innings. But perhaps most importantly, his 33 starts was the most of his career and it was the first season he stayed healthy since he made 27 starts in 2013. With the Pirates and Nationals last season, Melancon posted a 1.64 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 71.1 innings, and he saved 47 games in 51 chances.
The offense was a bit of a disappointment last season, and it likely won’t get much better this year since the team didn’t add any notable hitters this winter. One guy to watch to perhaps step up his game this season is 3B Eduardo Nunez, who hit 16 home runs in 141 games last season — just his second season of 100-plus games in his career — if he can get up to the 20 range in home runs, it would help the offense a bit. Otherwise, it seems like the team will again be relying on Cueto and the rest of the pitching staff to lead it through the season. The Giants have one of the best 1-2 punches at the top of the rotation of any team in baseball and Melancon gives them an upgraded option at closer. If the middle-of-the-rotation guys like Moore and Jeff Samardzija can give the team more than they’re expecting to get out of those guys, their pitching would be even more formidable.
The Giants won 87 games last season, which wasn’t enough to win the West as the Dodgers won 91. It’ll likely take another 90-win season to take the division this year, and I’m not sure the Giants quite have what it takes to get there. While the Giants have a good team — particularly pitching — I think the Dodgers are better overall and will again finish a few games ahead of the Giants, who should get another second-place finish in the division and have a good shot at landing a wild card.