Hello Giants fans. If you’re like me today – a few days removed from game 162 of the 2013 regular season – you’re feeling a little empty. No playoff rally song, no Twitter hashtag mojo #rallyzito or #rallyenchiladas (enchiladas are Ryan Vogelsong’s pre-game meal), or the sunflower seed flying, pep rally scrum led by Hunter Pence that began in the dugout prior to Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS to rally a team facing elimination.
No, it’s all but a memory now, albeit a very good one, and come late October a new team will be crowned champion. But despite a poor 2013 campaign, it’s been a great run for the Giants. After 50 years of disappointment, fans were spoiled with two World Series titles in three years. For someone who has spent his entire life watching/listening to 90 percent of the games, the team’s recent success has left my Giants gas tank at full.
That’s not to say that watching this team play this year wasn’t frustrating. It’s still hard for me to process how fast they fell into oblivion. There were points in the season – particularly the month following the All-Star Game – that the team just flat out stunk. Nobody was hitting, they were kicking and throwing the ball all over the field and their body language was embarrassing – especially as the defending World Series champions.
Make no mistake about it though – the run with this team, as we know it today, is officially over. It’s time for General Manager Brian Sabean to retool, and as part of that rebuilding process, determine if it’s going to be built similar to prior years (great pitching, small ball) or a totally new approach. But before we dive into that discussion, what exactly happened in 2013 that led to a stinker of a season?
Without question, the one constant to the season was injuries, both in volume and magnitude. None were more costly than the injury to Angel Pagan, who on May 25 (after hitting an inside-the-park homerun) aggravated his left hamstring, which eventually led to surgery to replace the tendon.
At the time, the Giants were in first place (27-22) and playing pretty well. Fans didn’t realize this at the time, but Pagan’s injury proved to be the beginning of the end as San Francisco never did find a suitable replacement to handle leadoff duties. Pagan missed over three months and the Giants never recovered.
There were also injuries to starter Ryan Vogelsong, who missed 2 ½ months with a broken hand, second baseman Marco Scutaro who battled back, hip and finger issues and lefty bullpen specialist Jeremy Affeldt who missed 50 games to a groin injury (and was later shut down for a sports hernia).
Injuries are not an excuse, but the guys they lost were key cogs to their success from the prior year. Injuries are part of the game, and some years you’re going to have better luck than other years. Regardless, there is no way to avoid the fact that the injuries exposed how thin the team’s bench really was…which they were ill prepared for. No disrespect to mid-season minor league call ups Nick Noonan and Juan Perez, but they were just not ready to make contributions the Giants needed. A veteran player or two would have been huge.
The other overarching theme to the season was the lackluster play from basically everyone except a handful of players such as Hunter Pence .288, 27 HRs, 99 RBIs and Madison Bumgarner 13-7, 2.77 ERA, 1.04 WHIP.
In so many ways, 2013 was so much different than 2012. The reigning 2012 National League MVP and Batting Champion, Buster Posey, hit just .294, with 15 HRs and 72 RBIs in 148 games compared with his 2012 season (.336, 24 HRs, 103 RBIs, 148 games).
The lovable Pablo Sandoval was out of shape once again and struggled throughout the season with lower back issues, which made him a liability at third base (18 errors in 2013 compared with 13 in 2012). Weight may or may have not played a role in his constant back issues, but it opens the door to criticism when you’re a professional athlete and it looks like you can’t pull yourself away from the table.
And the pitching – particularly the starting rotation – was not very good. Again, Bumgarner was solid, but Matt Cain (8-10, 4.00 ERA), Tim Lincecum (10-14, 4.37 ERA), Ryan Vogelsong (4-6, 5.73 ERA) and Barry Zito (5-11, 5.74 ERA) just did not get it done.
The poor starting pitching was only exacerbated by the fact that the Giants scored nearly 100 runs less runs in 2013 from just a year prior. And, to make matters worse, they were the second worst fielding team in the National League and committed the third most errors of any NL team.
So it was a rough year. I really believe that at the end of the day, the toll of playing two out of three years deep into October finally caught up to the team. And you know what, that’s ok, because the simple fact is you’re not going to win a World Series title every year.
Notwithstanding my previous paragraph, now that the season is in the books, what does General Manager Brian Sabean need to do retool and get the team back to winning? To me, there are a couple of keys. First and foremost, the players that have been grinding since 2010 need to take some time away from the game to refocus and rejuvenate.
Secondly, signing Hunter Pence to a five-year, $90 million contract last Sunday was a great first start to the off-season, but the Giants need to add another player who can knock the ball out of the park, because Pence can’t be the only player on the team who hits over 20 homeruns. I understand that the Giants play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but you do play 81 games on the road and you can’t just rely on small ball.
The Giants also need to add depth on their bench. It just killed them this year, whereas in years past, it was a strength. They also need to resign lefty specialist Javier Lopez and figure out whether to resign (or can they resign) Vogelsong and Lincecum. Zito is definitely gone, but I believe you have to find a way to resign Lincecum and Vogelsong. Giants fans seem to be split on whether we should resign Lincecum, but he’s been too valuable for this franchise and the Giants have historically honored that loyalty. If Timmy wants to remain in a Giants uniform, I think they find a way.
Finally, the Giants will need to re-think how they pursue international players such as the Dodgers’ 22 year-old right fielder Yasiel Puig, who defected from Cuba and signed a seven-year, $42 million contract. The Dodgers were initially criticized for taking such a huge risk on a player that had no MLB experience, but it has paid off tremendously. Clearly the Dodgers saw something in Puig that 29 other teams missed. But it’s not like the Dodgers just lucked out. They spend a great deal of time and money scouting international players just like every other team, but they have proven to be more aggressive when push comes to shove. The Giants have a budget and they will stick to close to it, but moving forward, I would just like them to invest and be more aggressive in this area.
All things considered and injuries aside, the team is in good shape and should be competitive for the next several years, which allows time for the rebuilding of their farm system. Guys like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt continue to show signs of progress and should only get better, and I’m confident Sabean will do the necessary tweaks this off-season to position the team for another run.
So enjoy the off-season Giants fans. It’s been a great ride and I truly believe with our core of young players, combined with a solid ownership group and strong baseball operations, good times await the Giants moving forward. April is not as far off as you think.
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