The Giants organization in recent years has never been one to panic. And why would they? Under the direction of General Manager Brian Sabean and the managerial skills of Bruce Bochy, San Francisco has defied the odds in winning three of the last five World Series titles. But, with just under three weeks left until opening day, the Giants could be facing their most daunting challenge before the start to a season, yet.
San Francisco, who is 5-12 this spring, has not played the type of baseball that resembles a team worthy of being called reigning World Series champions. Some may say, “It’s only spring training, it does not matter until the regular season,” but you can count Bochy in as someone who does not like what he sees so far.
“We’re not doing anything very well right now,” he said recently. “We’re not even close to being ready.”
The Giants have struggled both at the plate and on the mound this spring.
Entering Tuesday’s game, San Francisco was next to last in the National League in hitting this spring with a .235 team batting average. While the Giants have never been known as an offensive force, their pitching has usually been a stabilizing force that has been relied upon to carry the team to wins. But the starting pitchers are also struggling this spring with a 6.06 ERA. If San Francisco hopes for a chance to repeat this year, things will need to improve immensely before the start of the regular season.
The struggles that San Francisco is facing at this time could be chalked up to a couple different things.
Since former third baseman Pablo Sandoval squeezed the final out of the 2014 World Series, a variety of undertakings have caused Giant fans to worry about what the 2015 season will hold. Forget the obvious fact that San Francisco has failed to make the playoffs following the previous two World Series titles, which makes even the staunchest Giant fan nervous about 2015; it is the front office’s inability to lure a big-name free agent to the Bay Area, instead settling for lesser free agents.
The Giants traded minor leaguers Luis Castillo and Kendry Flores for third baseman Casey McGehee, who has put together a nice spring following a bounce-back 2014 season in Miami, to replace Sandoval, and outfielder Nori Aoki to take the place of the energetic Michael Morse. Both McGehee and Aoki are solid professionals, but not the big names that the fan base was clamoring for, especially after the dynastic run the Giants have been on.
While the Giants failed to attract free-agents the likes of Jon Lester, James Shields and Cuban-slugger Yasmany Tomas, San Francisco also lost one of their own in Sandoval, a key piece to their championship runs. The slightly overweight, jovial third baseman left the west coast for Boston, taking with him hard feelings towards the organization that gave him his start.
If the swinging-and-missing in free agency wasn’t enough, the Giants have endured several key injuries that could cause a rough start to the season.
During just the second game of Cactus League play, right fielder Hunter Pence was hit on his left forearm by Cubs’ prospect Corey Black. The pitch caused a non-displaced fracture of the left ulna, just above the wrist. Pence is expected to miss 6-8 weeks of action, including at least 12 days during the regular season.
If missing Pence, the emotional leader of the team isn’t bad enough, the Giants also need to be concerned with their table setter, Angel Pagan, missing time.
Recently the center fielder has missed three-straight Cactus League games while dealing with stiffness in his back. This is especially troubling as Pagan was limited to 96 games during the 2014 season. During a stretch from June 15, 2014 to Aug. 7, 2014, Pagan missed 44 games, which coincided with the Giants allowing the Los Angeles Dodgers to take over first place in the National League West. Pagan tried to return, but the back kept troubling him and he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery on Sept. 25, 2014 to repair a bulging disk and inflamed nerve in his back.
This is not the first time that a Pagan injury has had a significant impact on the Giants season. With San Francisco looking to repeat following the 2012 season, the Giants got off to a great start, led by Pagan’s ability to spark the lineup. Unfortunately, San Francisco’s hopes of a repeat came crashing down on May 25, 2013, ironically on an inside-the-park walk-off home run by Pagan against the Colorado Rockies. This time it was a hamstring injury that did in the talented outfielder.
If Pagan’s back continues to cause problems during 2015, the Giants will probably play Gregor Blanco in center field. Blanco filled in admirably for Pagan during San Francisco’s title run. While he can provide comparable defense to Pagan, Blanco and the Giants will struggle to replace Pagan’s offensive capabilities.
And then there is catching prospect Andrew Susac, who adhered himself well to the majors during his stint last season, serving as Posey’s primary backup after concussions impacted Hector Sanchez’s season. Susac, who still has rookie status entering 2015, was expected to win the job of Posey’s backup this spring but has had several minor setbacks that have opened the door for Sanchez.
Early in spring Susac suffered from an illness caused by an infection from a root canal. The Giants’ top positional prospect lost some weight as a result of the infection.
Susac has also been battling a sore right wrist, which has hampered him since last season. He recently underwent an X-Ray and MRI, which both came back clean. Susac is trying to work his way back to being ready for opening day, but the Giants may carry three catchers at the start of the season.
If injuries to the position players aren’t bad enough, San Francisco should also have concerns about the health of some of their key pitchers.
Tim Lincecum, who was showing flashes of the pitcher once known as “The Freak,” has been hampered by a sore neck. He initially tried to pitch through the neck soreness, but had his worst outing of the spring, allowing three runs on three hits with a walk and no strikeouts against the Milwaukee Brewers. Prior to his outing against Milwaukee, Lincecum had recorded seven strikeouts in three innings of work.
Unfortunately, Lincecum was scratched from his next scheduled outing as a result of his neck. This is frustrating for the former two-time Cy Young Award winner as he worked extremely hard in the offseason in hopes of regaining some his old form. Despite wanting to be out on the mound preparing for the season, Lincecum said that he needs to listen to what his body is telling him.
“I’ll work with what I’ve got to make the best of it,” he said of his neck soreness. “Hopefully the offseason work I did will make up the difference.”
While Lincecum is recovering from a stiff neck suffered during camp, the Giants should also be concerned about the recovery process of right-handers Matt Cain and Tim Hudson, who both underwent surgeries.
Cain is working his way back from season-ending elbow surgery, which removed bone chips from his right elbow. While he was recovering from his elbow surgery, Cain also had bone spurs removed from his right ankle. The Giants have been slow to work the former All-Star Game starter back, but he has shown flashes of being ready for the start of the regular season.
Hudson, who started Game 7 of the World Series, also underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. This is the second-straight year that Hudson has undergone surgery on his right ankle. The right-hander previously had surgery on the right ankle after it was broken when he was a member of the Atlanta Braves. Hudson was attempting to cover first base when Eric Young Jr., who was a member of the New York Mets, accidentally stepped on the back of the pitcher’s ankle, causing it to break.
Hudson is expected to be ready for opening day.
There are also some concerns, although only heard as whispers and rumors, that left-handed ace Madison Bumgarner may have thrown too many innings last season. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound pitcher threw 270 innings last season, including the regular season and postseason.
Those concerns gained traction as Bumgarner struggled during his first start of the spring, allowing four runs (all earned) on five hits in 1.2 innings of work. He did strikeout two hitters. In his next outing, Bumgarner lasted two innings, allowing two runs (both earned) on three hits while striking out one San Diego hitter.
Things started to turn around for Bumgarner over his next two starts, although he has yet to make it through three innings in a game.
Against the Chicago White Sox, Bumgarner worked 2.2 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits. He did show some dominance, striking out three hitters. Bumgarner followed up that performance with a two-inning stint against the Arizona Diamondbacks, in which he allowed a solo home run while again striking out three.
It was somewhat surprising that Bumgarner only threw two innings against the Diamondbacks; some speculated that the Giants were hiding the left-hander from Arizona because the teams play one another during the season-opening series. Bochy denied these claims, saying that coaches saw something they wanted to work on with Bumgarner.
“We wanted to tweak some stuff,” said Bochy, adding that Bumgarner got some more work in the bullpen.
Bumgarner was pleased with his latest outing and work in the bullpen, saying he believes he is close to being ready for opening day.
“I was pretty happy with everything,” he said.
So, yes, there are obviously things that could cause complete and utter panic for Giant fans. But, it is still just spring and the Giants can go a long way in quelling some of the fan base’s distress by improving their play and coming away with a few more spring training wins, like their 3-2 victory over Milwaukee on Thursday, March 19, as the Cactus League starts to wrap up.