Don’t sleep on San Francisco, the team everyone needs to be worried about

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25: Andrew McCutchen
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25: Andrew McCutchen /

They may not be the team to beat in the National League, but don’t sleep on the San Francisco Giants.

Tied with the Detroit Tigers last season for the worst record in the league, it’s safe to say the San Francisco Giants were not good. They weren’t expected to be world-beaters in the first place, and they did have some tough obstacles to overcome if they were going to go anywhere. But it was still a surprise to see them finish at the very bottom.

After all, they had reached the NLDS just a year prior. You don’t generally see a team go from contender to bottom-feeder in the span of just a year unless they’re selling the farm for one long-shot chance. That wasn’t the case with the Giants, though. They were built to last longer than that.

So what went wrong? For starters, their bullpen completely fell apart. Coming off seven straight stellar seasons, right-hander Santiago Casilla just didn’t have it for some reason. The team acquired three-time all-star closer Mark Melancon to help round out the pen, but he struggled mightily. After posting an ERA under 2.00 for six seasons in a row, Melancon could only muster a 4.50 ERA in just 30 innings pitched.

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Perhaps the biggest blow to the Giants’ season was losing star pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who missed more than two months due to a dirt-biking accident. For an already struggling team to lose the face of their franchise so early in the year felt like the final nail in the coffin for the Giants.

They didn’t get much help from the rest of their starters in Bumgarner’s absence, either. Jeff Samardzija went 9-15 with a 4.42 ERA while Johnny Cueto went 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA. Trading for Matt Moore in 2016 seemed like a smart move at the time, but the once-touted left-hander was nothing short of awful for San Francisco.

Despite all their struggles, though, they look like a potential sleeper team this year. Their depth chart has a much different look this time around. In years past, the Giants had been severely lacking in the power department. That problem now looks to be solved. At least temporarily.

Newly acquired veterans Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria will give them some much-needed pop in their lineup. If history is any indication, they’ll both be good for at least 20 home runs. Beyond homers, McCutchen and Longoria can provide the kind of clubhouse leadership the Giants appear to need.

One bright spot for the Giants in 2017 was the always-reliable Buster Posey. Despite the Giants’ multiple mishaps throughout the year, Posey retained his status as the best catcher in baseball. And that’s not likely to change this year, either. Budding stars Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez are getting closer, but they’ve still got a ways to go before they catch Posey.

Slashing .320/.400/.462 with 12 home runs and 67 RBI in his age-30 season, Posey is a machine that just won’t quit. There’s a lot of questions surrounding this team going into the season, but the Giants know exactly what they’ll get from their five-time all-star catcher.

The Giants will also hope to have first baseman Brandon Belt back for a full, healthy season. On the cusp of setting a career high in home runs, Belt was forced to miss the final two months of the season when he suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by an Anthony Banda curveball. It was the fourth concussion of his career. But the start of a new season means a fresh start for Belt as well, as he hopes to put his concussion problems behind him.

They’ll need bounce-back years from certain players, but this San Francisco team should not be overlooked. They may not have the depth to beat out the Dodgers for the top spot in the NL West, but it’s not at all inconceivable that they could get close.

At the very least, the Giants look like a Wild Card team. They don’t necessarily need Samardzija and Cueto to perform as well as they did at the peak of their careers. They just need some improvement from them. Mark Melancon’s disastrous year could just be an anomaly. He may very well return to being the dominant closer we’re used to seeing. Having Madison Bumgarner, one of the best pitchers in the game, back for a full season, would be huge.

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A lot of things need to fall in place for the Giants to put all their troubles behind them. But they’ve had a good offseason. This is a new-look San Francisco team. One that is poised to be more consistent and stable than they were in 2017. It would have been easy for them to sell assets and set up for a rebuild this year, but they remained persistent in their pursuit of another championship. Don’t sleep on the San Francisco Giants in 2018.