Every team in baseball loves the dream of going from worst to first in a single season. But nobody wants to be the team that falls in the other direction. Nobody wants to be the defending World Champion 2013 San Francisco Giants.
Actually it sucks to be a Giants fan these days. That's not to say the boys in orange and black won’t always have their devout fans, but it's hard facing up to the fact that the charmed San Francisco nine of last year, haven’t been able to find that magic in 2014. Instead of playing to defend their championship, the Giants in the second week of September are playing with the hope of not finishing dead last in the NL West.
Thanks to the Marlins, the Giants are in no danger of finishing dead last in the NL (though it is mathematically possible, it would take a remarkable swoon by the Giants and an improbable run by the Fish for that to happen due to the 10 win difference). As I write this the Giants are 16 games under .500 with just 63 wins against 79 losses.
There are plenty of reasons that the Giants have fallen from grace hard. The most obvious of those would be the failure of Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong to maintain the level of excellence that they’ve shown in the past two seasons. Cain’s ERA is more than 1.5 runs higher than it was last year while Vogelsong’s has been more than 2 runs worse. Neither is over .500.
However, if it had just been those two who had slid, the Giants might still have remained competitive. But the 2012 resurgence of Barry Zito seems to have been mirage and he’s reverted to being a a pitcher whose ERA is flirting with 6.
And the offense has suffered too. The name for the majority of that might well be Melky Cabrera. The Giants last year scored 4.43 runs per game; this year they are managing just 3.8. Cabrera’s incredible PED-fueled run last year included a .346 average with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs in 113 games contributing a big chunk to the Giants offense. Still by itself, that’s not nearly enough to account for the difference in records between the 2012 and 2013 team.
You could argue that the Giants aren’t getting quite as much out of the bullpen, but the difference isn’t that great. You could argue that they aren’t getting quite as much out of their role players, and that’s true. But the Giants top five hitters are all hitting over .275, and seven of their regulars are hitting over .260. Considering the team average is just .261 (they hit .269 last year) you can tell that the bench players and part timers have been less productive.
Each of those factors is significant, but so is the fact that the division on the whole has gotten a lot better, especially the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Yet the Giants have pretty much dominated the D-backs, and have played well against the Dodgers.
But a look at their record shows a big change. In 2012 the Giants feasted on the NL Central going 27-14 and dominated the West going 45-27. This year the Astro-less Central proved to be a big barrier as record of 11-23 shows. And while the Giants still have a winning record against the West, they are just 34-28 there being roughly .500 against the Dodgers, Rockies and Padres.
Those were games the 2012 Giants could have put in their pocket. But when you are scoring fewer runs and allowing more it’s hard to win. Between the decline in pitching and hitting the Giants are essentially allowing their opponents an extra run per game. That’s why 2013 has been rough. That’s why it’s been a hard time to be a Giants fan.
But it’s hardly anything insurmountable for 2014. Odds are good that Matt Cain will return to form after this season. He along with Madison Bumganer are locked up contractually, as are the majority of the Giants key offensive players. They’ll need to shore up pitching this offseason (Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong are all potential free agents), as well as to spend the money to re-sign Hunter Pence (and add another good outfield bat). But there is reason to think that this should be the low point for the Giants and that there is nowhere to go but up.
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