2016: Another Giant Year

There are two things to keep in mind when prognosticating the rapidly approaching 2016 major league season. To begin, it’s an even numbered year, so the campaign is already on tilt, but of utmost importance, the San Francisco Giants are a team built to not only reach the postseason, but excel there.

And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the other 29 teams are merely playing for second place.

True, the Giants have a pair of franchise players in Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, but let’s not look past the pair of premium pitchers they added to bolster the rotation. They boast of one of the best bullpens in baseball and, for a team that led the National League in batting last year, San Francisco will have the most productive everyday lineup the club has had since this run of even-year championships began in 2010.

Before we tackle the strengths of Bruce Bochy’s squad, let’s look at his question marks.

Can Hunter Pence stay healthy, do Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have anything left in the tank and is Matt Duffy capable of producing consistently at the hot corner once again?

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite newborn deer.

Pence suffered not one but two injuries a year ago. One shelved him for an extended period of time and the other ended his season.

Though he’ll be 33 in April, Pence has not appeared in fewer than 154 games, with the exception of his rookie year (108 games in 2007) and the injury-shortened 52-game stint in ’15. Pence’s 162-game averages for his career show a slashline of .284 / .337 / .472 with 25 home runs and 93 runs batted in to go along with 14 stolen bases. Pence will be fine.

Peavy and Cain on the other hand simply need to log innings and keep the Giants in games by finding a way to get them through five frames. Can they do that? Peavy posted a 3.58 ERA last season and Cain, well, he won’t be 32 until October 1, but whether he can ever resemble the pitcher he once was remains to be seen.

Duffy is the biggest wild card. The third baseman batted .295 with 12 home runs, 77 runs batted in, scored 77 times and swiped 12 bases, though he hadn’t produced like that either in college or the minors. Duffy may be one of those rare players who are inexplicably better in the majors, but if he can approach that type of performance again (batting in front of Posey doesn’t hurt), the Giants are devastatingly dangerous.

Speaking of Posey, as we segue into San Francisco’s strengths, the Giants are incredibly strong up the middle with their franchise catcher, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and the newly acquired Denard Span.

Crawford established himself as the best shortstop in the league a year ago, but with career bests for average (.256), slugging (.462), OPS (.782), runs (65), hits (130), doubles (33), homers (21), RBI (84), steals (6) and total bases (234), it would behoove one to strongly expect a regression in ’16. Even with that inevitable offensive slide, it seems clear that Crawford has turned a corner into a more consistent threat at the plate who remains a Gold Glove defender.

Panik, meanwhile, finished with a .312 / .378 / .455 slashline and joined Crawford and Posey at the All-Star Game.

Posey batted .318 and drove in 95 runs on the strength of 19 bombs and walked (56) more than he struck out (52). The San Fran backstop made his third All-Star appearance in four years and continues to build on a resume that has already witnessed three World Series championships, a batting title and an MVP.

Span is the key, however.

Though the center fielder and lead-off man only played 61 games last season, since the beginning of the 2014, his slashline reads .301 / .358 / .421, and let’s not forget that he led the NL with 184 hits two years ago and also scored 94 times.

At the age of 26, Bumgarner has already established himself as one of the all-time great Giants pitchers, and with names like Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal peppered throughout franchise history, that’s truly saying something. While we’re on Hubbell, we should point out that Bumgarner was the first Giants left-hander since the Hall of Fame screwballer to log 200 innings in five consecutive seasons. Furthermore, MadBum’s 234 strikeouts were the most by a G-Men southpaw since Rube Marquard in … 1911. Never mind the 2.14 career ERA in October or the fact that he launched five big flies last season.

However, the additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija make San Francisco a treacherous opponent. They’re All-Star hurlers who are heading into a pitcher’s park with a solid defense behind them.

The issue for the Giants last season was sparing the bullpen from entering the equation early in ballgames, but with Cueto and the Shark on the scene, that concern should be remedied in ’16, which means that Bochy will actually be in a position to get the match-ups he wants late in games with relievers who were fantastic a year ago.

George Kontos, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla posted a collective 2.45 ERA, so if they can appear from the sixth inning or later more often than not, that only spells doom for the rest of the NL West.

Including its Wild Card game victory over Pittsburgh in ’14, San Francisco have won its last ten postseason match-ups. This is a battle-tested group with players capable of carrying the club when need be.

That it’s an even numbered year will only serve to fuel the superstition that there is something beyond baseball brilliance afoot, because the Giants are the best team in baseball and will win the 2016 World Series.

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