They say that hope springs eternal during MLB Spring Training, but for some teams, the odds of reaching the World Series are getting worse by the day. This is especially true of the San Francisco Giants. Baseball’s defending champions have struggled to a record of five wins and 16 losses this spring, good for dead last out of the MLB’s 30 teams.
On the surface, this seems to be a surprising development — after all, the Giants roster has a host of familiar faces, and the team has won three of the last five World Series. Simply put, the Giants have become baseball’s most prolific dynasty since the turn-of-the-millennium Yankees.
Unlike those teams, however, these San Francisco squads have not necessarily excelled during the regular season; in fact, last year’s champion was an average team for the second half of last season, and they wound up with an 88-74 record. An 87-75 Pythagorean record suggests that they were a slightly worse team than that unremarkable record suggests. The MLB’s playoff system, however, is a breeding ground for randomness. The Giants got hot, and, thanks to a series of unbelievably strong pitching performances from ace Madison Bumgarner, they took it all the way to the World Series.
After an uneven offseason, lowlighted by the departure of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, there were those who doubted the Giants, but few people envisioned an abysmal spring like this. They got off to a bad start when star right fielder Hunter Pence was hit by a pitch. He won’t miss too much of the regular season, so he can help turn things around, but Pence’s was the only serious injury to any Giants player this spring. Superstar catcher and 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey has been floundering, hitting just .182. Holdovers Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, Travis Ishikawa and Brendan Crawford have been equally unimpressive, while new addition Nori Aoki is doing little to prove that he’s an upgrade over the departed
Mike Morse, who’s been having a great spring with the Marlins.
The pitching hasn’t been much better. Among the starters, veteran Tim Hudson has turned in the only acceptable performance. Meanwhile, Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have pitched poorly, and Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have been downright awful. All five have ERAs above 5.00. The bullpen hasn’t been much better. Incumbent closer Santiago Casilla and setup man Jeremy Affeldt need to be better than they’ve been this March.
There have been bright spots — new third baseman Casey McGehee has been fantastic and holdovers Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco are also exceeding expectations. But make no mistake: the San Francisco Giants are a team in trouble. Many fans scorn Spring Training as meaningless, but the team’s stars are failing it, and while a few of them will surely turn it around, these March statlines cannot simply be dismissed. There’s no excuse for such a wide gap between our expectations and Giants’ performance. If they want to make it four World Series titles in six years, something will need to change.