This is the first in what will be an occasional series comprising MLB season previews.
The San Francisco Giants’ 2016 season ended in the most devastating of ways: with a ninth-inning bullpen implosion that allowed the Chicago Cubs to come back from a 5-2 deficit to send the Giants packing for the offseason. The Cubs were the rightful winners of the NLDS, as well as the World Series, and there was no reason to get too bent out of shape about the Giants being eliminated. No body expected the Giants to make it out of the division series, though some fans held out hope for a continued even-year championship streak. The devastation of that loss came not from the loss itself, but from the fact that the Giants unraveled the same way they did all year, with the bullpen puking on itself and managing to blow a game that at one point had a 98.3-percent win expectancy the San Francisco’s favor.
It was hell, and it was fitting. During the regular season, the bullpen—anchored by closer Santiago Casilla—blew 32 saves, nine by Casilla himself. That’s the most blown saves of any team in 2016, and comes out to a cool 57-percent save percentage for the season. That mark beat out only the Diamondbacks, Angels, Rockies, Twins, and Reds, all of which were sub-.500 teams.
The Giants clearly were as unhappy with this bullpen as their fans were, and went about patching some holes this offseason. They acquired closer Mark Melancon, who is coming off a stunning season in Washington and Pittsburgh. He ranked in the top-five for relief pitchers with 50+ innings pitched in ERA, ERA+, and total saves (47), and he tied Mets closer Jeurys Familia for most games finished (67). If Melancon brings that magic to the bay, he and Giants fans will get along just fine.
Let’s start with who you can forget: Angel Pagan, Jake Peavy, Javier Lopez, Gregor Blanco, Sergio Romo, Ehire Adrianza, Chris Heston, and—mercifully—Santiago Casilla.
That’s a lot of weight off the Giants’ rickety frame. All but Heston were at the end of their contracts anyway. Many of those names—Pagan, Blanco, Lopez and Romo in particular—were fan favorites thanks to their tenure with the club and their place on the Giants’ World Series rosters. It stings a bit to see them all leave en masse, but it was time.
Besides, there are still plenty of old familiars (Buster, the Brandons, Pence, Panik, and other friends who aren’t as alliterative) in the everyday lineup. Two big holes remain: Eduardo Nunez is the starting third baseman, and Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson will share left field. Williamson and Parker came up for the Giants in 2015, and got some good playing time in 2016—121 and 151 plate appearances, respectively—so we have some time to see where they go. As for Nunez, he’s fine, but he’s probably just a stopgap until the Giants can find a longterm replacement for Matt Duffy, who they’ll miss a lot this season if he has a good year for the Rays
The rotation, anchored by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto and filled out adequately by Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, has an interesting—and depressing—question-mark at the end.
The once-great Matt Cain is battling rookie lefty Ty Blach for a place as the fifth starter. Blach got a few opportunities at the end of the 2016 season (including a start in which he gave up three hits in eight innings), and two brief appearances in relief in the NLDS. Cain has pitched a total of 240.1 innings since the beginning of the 2014 season, has a cute lil’ 5.13 ERA, an ERA+ of 74, and is really bad. There have been some hopeful moments for Cain during spring training, but I’m still feeling cautious. This will be Cain’s final season on his contract, and then he’ll presumably go to a farm upstate to be with his pal Timmy. Also, I want to be dead.
Melancon will close behind Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Will Smith, George Kontos, and friends. Law was the team’s best reliever in terms of ERA, ERA+, and WHIP, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he does during his sophomore season.
Should be fun!
There can only be one:
Fangraphs projects the Giants to go 87-75 this year, which is the exact record they finished with last year. No matter, this season will end familiarly: with them half-dozen games behind the Dodgers, who still won’t win shit. I can sleep easy with that outcome.
Everyone is sick of the Giants, except Giants fans, who seem to still be wound up about every plate appearance, as if a single loss can undo the three recent championships and plunge the team back into the darkness of 1985. If you’re still willing to join us, though, you can probably be lured in by the chance to watch Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto slice up opposing lineups. If that’s not enough for you, then, well, whatever.