And so the trend continues. The San Francisco Giants have won titles in three of the last six MLB seasons, and each one of those titles was succeeded by missing the postseason altogether. Big name acquisitions dominated NL West headlines this spring, but it was quite the opposite for the Giants as they lost Pablo Sandoval to free agency and failed to pick up a starting pitcher to help shore up their starting rotation. While free agency wasn’t a huge loss for the Giants, spring training would begin a season-long trend of injury issues when right fielder Hunter Pence broke his left arm, forcing him to miss games — for any reason — for the first time as a member of the Giants.
Where It Began
The outlook for the 2015 Giants had the forecast for most pundits teetering between the second or third best team in the NL West. The Giants were coming off a World Series run that was improbable at best due in large part to any consistent pitching from any starter not named Madison Bumgarner. And while there were attempts to bring in a No. 2 starter (James Shields ended up with the Padres), they went into the season with the same rotation, with the lone addition of rookie Chris Heston and the hopes that Matt Cain’s elbow would prove to be healthy enough to have him regain some of the form that made him one of the best in the National League three years ago.
The Giants also lost huge contributors to last season’s team in Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse, who both left the team in free agency. Casey McGehee replaced Sandoval while Nori Aoki replaced Morse. Both Aoki and McGehee made immediate impacts ultimately proved to be beneficial for San Francisco, but for entirely different reasons. Aoki became a stalwart at the top of the lineup, rarely having terrible at-bats. McGehee was was so abysmal that it forced Bruce Bochy to replace him with Matt Duffy, who would go on to have a fantastic rookie season and give the Giants a young, very talented infield at every position.
Even with Pence out, the Giants showed some promise as Brandon Crawford found his comfort zone at the plate, Joe Panik picked up where he left off last season, while Brandon Belt and Buster Posey continued to be themselves – for better or worse.
Where It Went Wrong
The Giants got off to a tremendous start following the All-Star break, winning 10 of 13 heading into the most difficult stretch of the season. In August, the Giants played 22 of their 29 games against teams that ended up making the playoffs, a stretch that coincided with the Giants injury problems starting to ramp up. However, it was still manageable in the sense that if they could play close to .500 baseball, they would stay in both the Wild Card and Division races for the last month of the season. During the month, they lost Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Nori Aoki, and Hunter Pence for a second time.
To make matters more complicated, rookie pitcher Chris Heston, who began the year pitching phenomenally, began to lose his arm, and the rest of the starting rotation struggled to get through any lineup twice. This put a tremendous amount of strain on a bullpen that had been one of the best over the previous five seasons. The result, of the Giants’ 16 losses in August, eight of them were one-run games or decided in extra innings. And of those eight games, they held a lead past the 5th inning in five of them.
An exhausted bullpen and a depleted lineup made things difficult heading into September for the Giants, but it didn’t kill them.
Where It Crashed And Burned
The Giants last game of August was their first game in a crucial three-game series with the Dodgers in Los Angeles. To this point, the Giants had already won three series against the Dodgers and defeated Clayton Kershaw twice. This time around, it would be different. On August 31, the Giants lost 5-4 in extra innings. They lost a 2-1 game to Zack Greinke on September 1. Lost another 2-1 game to Clayton Kershaw on September 2. Heading into that series, the Giants were 3.5 games back in the division heading into the series and were 6.5 games back when they left.
To add insult to injury, the Giants flew to Colorado and lost by a combined nine runs in the next two games, which ultimately, yet far from mathematically, eliminated them from postseason play. The Wild Card was out of the question with both the Cubs and Pirates continuing to play well, and winning the division title was a long shot. The Giants went into their final series against the Dodgers, not only needing a sweep but to win out and have the Dodgers lose out the rest of the season. After a gritty win in the first game, Bumgarner would get shelled for three home runs in the second game, and the Giants got to watch the Dodgers celebrate an NL West title on their home field.
Where Do They Go From Here
More than anything else, the Giants just need to be healthy. Even with a lackluster starting rotation, this team proved that they have the bats to compete for a playoff spot in 2016, and they have a wealth of young talent who proved that they can help this team win. Duffy and Panik have been fantastic additions to an all-homegrown infield with Crawford and Belt. Aoki and Pence, when healthy, are great at the top and in the middle of the Giants lineup. And Buster Posey will continue to, well, be Buster Posey.
In the offseason, they’re going to have to address their whole pitching staff. They traded for Mike Leake in the offseason, and from all reports it looks like he’d be willing to return to the team if the price is right. Chris Heston would be a nice as an end of the rotation starter, but they’ll need a clear No. 2 if they’re to compete with the Dodgers for a division title in 2016, and there will be plenty of options this winter. The bullpen is losing Jeremy Affeldt to retirement, but there is promise in Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich.
The Giants are a team with an incredible number of flaws going into next season, but it’s also a team that is as scrappy as they come and have a track record for winning when least expected. Despite missing the postseason, this is still a team with a positive outlook for the 2016 season. An extra month of rest should do this team good, and getting eliminated by Los Angeles should provide extra motivation.
Phillip Barnett featuring Phillip Barnett.