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The Oddest of Odd Years - A San Francisco Giants preview

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A look ahead at our final new opponent of 2017

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Man, the San Francicso Giants sure are committing hard to this even-year thing. They may not have won the World Series in 2016 like they did in 2010, 2012, and 2014, but they did get into the playoffs and win the NL Wild Card Game. They’re currently following that act up with their traditional odd-year down season. The problem is, they’ve taken the “trough” concept to an extreme. It’s been bad enough that it’s fair to wonder whether “even year magic” will resemble anything better than a dead cat bounce in 2018.

The Giants have been in the conversation for worst record in the major leagues all season long and they have the least effective offense in all of baseball to thank for it. They rank in the bottom three in OBP and dead last by a country mile in home runs. That’s not a recipe for success regardless of how pitcher-friendly your ballpark is. The offense was never supposed to be great, but it has been a considerable surprise that they’ve fallen this flat. First baseman Brandon Belt was on pace to be the only guy to crack 20 homers, but he’s been out with a concussion and has been replaced by Ryder Jones, who’s given the Giants absolutely nothing. Catcher Buster Posey has been his typical fantastic self (albeit with a step back from usually-great framing numbers). Other than Posey and Belt, the rest of the Giants’ regulars have been below-average at the plate.

The single biggest issue has been the abrupt decline of Hunter Pence, one of the few Giants that could typically be relied upon to be an above-average bat in the lineup. Pence has seen a drop-off in BABIP from his typical season but there’s nothing unlucky about it. His power numbers are down and he just isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to. At age 34, declining bat speed seems like a probable culprit. Brandon Crawford emerged as a very good two-way shortstop over the last several years, but slight deterioration in his performance against southpaws, his contact quality, and luck have all conspired to sap his production.

The rest of the lineup is all pretty punchless. The Giants re-acquired Pablo Sandoval for some reason and he’s hitting in the middle of the order. You may remember him as the guy the Red Sox cut for being terrible with about $50 million remaining on his deal. Guys like Joe Panik and The Ghost of Denard Span can get on base a little bit but don’t do enough to compensate for sandbags like Gorkys Hernandez, who’s spent an awful lot of time in an outfield corner this year for a guy who hasn’t hit a home run yet. The Giants have tried out a litany of scrubs this year to find someone who can post an OPS beginning with “7” and have had little luck.

Equally disappointing has been the pitching staff, which should have been the anchor of a hypothetically competitive Giants team. No one would’ve expected a rotation containing Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore to struggle, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Cueto has probably been the biggest disappointment as he’s deteriorated from an ace to a homer-prone guy who’s lost both his pinpoint control and a tick or so on his heater. Expectations were lower for Moore, but he, too, has seen his velocity decline and he’s been smacked around this season.

The cutter-chucking lefty Bumgarner has once again been excellent when healthy and Samardzija has actually been awesome, as he’s integrated a tough-to-hit curveball into what’s now a six-pitch repertoire. However, Bumgarner has missed a lot of time this year and you can’t build a reliable rotation out of one Shark and several minnows. The Giants have tried a few different guys to serve as a fifth starter and fill-ins, but the entirely washed-up Matt Cain, the deservedly-anonymous Ty Blach, and the control-starved Chris Stratton have failed to give the Giants much. Stratton has at least been able to keep the ball in the park, but it’s fair to be skeptical of that ability being sustainable, particularly from a guy who doesn’t rack up a ton of grounders and has unremarkable fastball backspin.

The Giants now find themselves in a difficult situation going forward, as they don’t have a roster that lends itself naturally to a rebuild. Cueto, Posey, Samardzija, injured closer Mark Melancon, Crawford, and Belt are all under contract at least through 2020 for a combined $109.4M (at least) per season. Even if the Giants wanted to, only about half those guys are assets at their price tags and the hefty financial commitment would probably limit their markets in the absence of money-eating. Rather than blow anything up, San Francisco will probably write off 2017 as a disappointing year and hope that the next season will bring far more good fortune and excitement. After all, that plan has already worked out for them like, four times this decade.

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This concludes the 2017 team preview series on South Side Sox. I hope you all found these to be enjoyable. From all of us here at...me, thank you very much for reading!

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Friday, September 8: Matt Moore vs. Lucas Giolito

Saturday, September 9: Jeff Samardzija vs. James Shields

Sunday, September 10: Madison Bumgarner vs. Carson Fulmer

Key Personnel

Probable Lineup Pitching
Probable Lineup Pitching
1. Denard Span - CF SP1. Madison Bumgarner - LHP
2. Joe Panik - 2B SP2. Jeff Samardzija - RHP
3. Buster Posey - C SP3. Johnny Cueto - RHP
4. Brandon Crawford - SS SP4. Matt Moore - LHP
5. Pablo Sandoval - 3B SP5. Chris Stratton - RHP
6. Hunter Pence - RF CL. Sam Dyson - RHP
7. Jarrett Parker - DH RP1. Hunter Strickland - RHP
8. Ryder Jones - 1B RP2. Cory Gearrin - RHP
9. Gorkys Hernandez - LF RP3. Josh Osich - LHP