Gearing up for the 2015 MLB season, I have been watching a lot of San Francisco Giants World Series retrospective DVDs lately. It’s one of the spoils of fandom for a team that had won three world titles in five years – you get to reminisce and bask in the glory of those teams for the rest of your natural life.
For example, considering the current state of the pitchers involved, the 2010 Giants rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner was probably their best of all three World Series teams. Lincecum was still “The Freak”, coming off two Cy Young Awards, and looking as strong as ever; Cain was coming along as a potential ace, in his own right; Sanchez, leading the team in ERA (3.07) probably had the best raw stuff of all four; and Bumgarner was an unflappable rookie, four years away from one of the best postseason runs the game has ever seen.
And we all know what happened that season – in a run not many saw coming, the Giants beat big-batted teams like the Phillies and Rangers en route to the franchise’s first world title since 1956.
As a matter of fact, all three World Series teams centered around great pitching – whether it was the Freak-led 2010 squad, a stellar rotation backed by Ryan Vogelsong that led the team back from two-game deficits in both the NLDS and NLCS in 2012, or a rotation that Bumgarner carried on his back for most of the 2014 postseason.
So, for a team known so well for its ace pitching, why is it being seen as a probable liability heading into the 2015 season?
After all, it’s all analysts – both outsiders and those within the organization, alike – are talking about when it comes to the defending World Champions. Judging from a World Series pitching performance that essentially was a one-man show, many pundits wondered aloud whether this was a rotation ready to handle the rigors of possibly repeating. After all, in the World Series, pitchers that didn’t have the No. 40 on the back of their jersey racked up a ridiculously bad 9.92 ERA against Royals hitters. Late October may have been Bumgarner’s finest hour, but that certainly wasn’t the case for Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong.
Which brings us to now. Lincecum has continued struggling to find his Midas touch from his two no-hitters (albeit vs. the San Diego Padres, one of the worst offensive teams in the game) and his Cy Young days.
Vogelsong and Peavy, tainted by their World Series performances and considered to be free agent casualties this offseason, both came back to the Giants on short-term deals – the former of which was thought to be gone to Houston until a last-second reprieve to return.
Hudson is still recovering from a procedure to remove bone spurs in his ankle in January, and he turns 40 in July. Cain, coming off elbow surgery, is a question mark coming into this season.
And Bumgarner is coming off a Herculean season that saw him throw a total of 270 innings in 2014.
At best, this is an over-the-hill rotation filled with too many “what ifs” and injuries to call it a contender in a reloaded NL West with the Dodgers and Padres looking to dethrone them.
You couple the discouragement of the rotation, as currently constituted, with the fact that the front office struck out in efforts to bring in big names like Jon Lester and James Shields – names that could have put this rotation over the top for a repeat title run – and Giants fans have reason to be pessimistic with their pitching staff this season.
But, take a second look, and maybe you’ll find that things aren’t THAT bad.
Take Big Time Timmy Jim. His last three seasons have been pretty bad as a starter, and respective ERAs of 5.18, 4.37 and 4.74 make that pretty clear. Lincecum had tried to fix it on his own, to no avail – so, recently, he sought out his father in Seattle, to fix both his complex mechanics, and a broken relationship that likely led to his downfall in the rotation. Said Lincecum in a recent interview:
My dad knows my mechanics better than I do. He’s always been the one who kind of reaffirmed and reignited that idea of “our mechanics.” I lost grasp of that over the past few years trying to do it myself.
With an intense training regimen with his father in the offseason, there is at least a glimmer of hope that The Freak can find his old Cy Young form again – or at least, find what’s left of it – to be an effective starter again.
Then you look at Cain. While a question mark, he has had six months to recover and rehabilitate from his elbow surgery in August. He will probably take it slow, but there is no reason to believe that he has regressed significantly from his prime pitching days. By many accounts, Cain has looked good since reporting to Spring Training.
Bumgarner will likely have a normal workload this season, but manager Bruce Bochy and the rest of the coaching staff will monitor him for fatigue or injury. He has proven that he can be a thoroughbred when he has to be, but knowing the Giants pitching coaches, he will not see any more innings than what will jeopardize his health or status as an effective hurler.
With all that said, Bumgarner, Peavy and Cain will likely be slotted in primary rotation roles – Lincecum, Vogelsong, Hudson and Yusmeiro Petit will fight for the remaining two regular season slots. It doesn’t have the ring of a Bumgarner/Lester/Cain/Shields rotation, but it’s not the worst rotation in the world to have, either.
On top of that, Hudson and Vogelsong will likely be off the books come 2016 – a time, many pundits and fans project, the Giants can go after intriguing big-name free agents like Doug Fister, Jeff Samardzija, David Price and Jordan Zimmerman. Just in time for that even-year Giants magic to kick in.
But, let’s see if this rotation, full of question marks, but with an untapped potential for odd-year greatness, can pull off a thoroughly unexpected postseason repeat – and, in the process, give me another World Series DVD to happily reminisce upon.