How the San Francisco Giants Could Return to Mediocrity in 2015

World Series - San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals - Game Seven
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If you think about it, the San Francisco Giants were destined to win the 2014 World Series. After all, the club lost one of its key starting pitchers for the year, were 12th in runs scored, and placed 10th in pitching among MLB teams. OK, so maybe it wasn’t destiny. The unremarkable 88-74 record (the worst of any playoff team) suggests timely hitting and an extreme dose of Madison Bumgarner were the keys to the 2014 title run. That could turn around quickly in 2015. In fact, the Giants could be headed back to mediocrity next season, just as they did following their 2012 Series win.

 First (2012) to fourth (2013) to second (2014)

Consider the Giants’ 76-86 record and fourth place finish in 2013, and the 2014 regular season seems like a whopping success. Only the second Wild Card (a phenomenon dating back to 2012) allowed the Giants to enter the 2014 MLB postseason. With the subtraction of Pablo Sandoval and uncertainty surrounding the Giants rotation, there is no reason to expect more than 88 wins in 2015. In fact, there are several reasons to expect fewer wins, not to mention the unlikelihood the Giants make the postseason at all.

Panda Sandoval’s production (.279 BA, 16 HR) will not be hard to replace, though his oversized personality and exquisite glove will be. Brandon Belt should play a full season in 2015, so there is reason to expect the offensive hole will be filled. The Giants’ bigger problem revolves around pitching. With Matt Cain returning from injury and Tim Hudson offering up his last MLB season, there are no guarantees there is any money pitcher beyond Madison Bumgarner. Giants GM Brian Sabean could remedy this weakness with one of the available free agent aces, but so far the Giants have little cooking on the hot stove.

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants
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Cain: Maybe not able

Besides the loss of a slick-fielding third baseman, the Giants have holes in the outfield beyond Hunter Pence. Yet nothing is scarier than the rotation situation. Since Cain’s remarkable run through 2012 (probably the last year the Giants were feared), the handsomely paid ex-ace has been a thorn in the side of the Giants’ payroll. In 2013, Cain went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA, followed by his injury-plagued campaign (2-7, 4.18 ERA) in 2014.

Two surgeries later, the 30-year-old will look to regain his form in 2015. (The 8-year, $140-million contract through 2017 is officially treading The Zito Line for San Francisco.) As for Tim Lincecum, don’t expect the $18 million reliever to bully his way back into the rotation anytime soon. The second half of Tim Hudson’s season was equally discouraging, though Yusmeiro Petit has potential in the starting five.

Whatever optimistic predictions are circulating about the Giants, the ones that try to ignore the club’s lack of rotation depth are the most troubling. This team was hardly a playoff club in 2014. The Boston Red Sox proved it’s possible to go from a last-place team to a World Series team and back to a last-place team in consecutive years. That’s impossible in the paper-thin National League West, but without some major work by the front office, the Giants have a shot at slumping back into MLB obscurity in 2015.