Every championship team has something, or a few things, that change their season. These things sometimes catch you by a surprise or are simply expected.
Last year, the Giants had plenty of these “things” occur, such as Marco Scutaro’s dominance, Gregor Blanco’s deftness to step in for Melky Cabrera, and Tim Lincecum’s struggles.
Next season will bring plenty more of these happenings. However, the Giants will need a few players to step up if they are to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.
The Dodgers improved their roster through signings and trades, while the Giants kept their championship team intact. So, San Francisco will have to pray for internal improvements or comeback seasons to match the rivals.
Here’s what’s on their wish list:
1. The Old Tim Lincecum
Of all, the Giants need the Tim Lincecum that once carved up the National League on a daily basis. Last year, that Lincecum didn’t show up. The two-time Cy Young award winner posted an NL worst 5.18 ERA, and was one of only four qualified starting pitchers to walk over four batters per nine innings. The lone bright spot were his maintained strikeout numbers.
In result, Lincecum is faced with a crucial upcoming season both for his own personal sake, but also for the Giants. Personally, he enters 2013 in hopes to land a lucrative next offseason when he’s set to become a free agent. This could both benefit and scorn the Giants.
For one, a productive season from Lincecum will again give the Giants one of the deepest and most talented rotations in baseball. Even discarding Lincecum, their rotation is still considered to be one of the best as they proved last year. Plus, all players in contract years generally perform at their highest level.
On the other side of the spectrum, a Cy Young-like season for Lincecum could set the Giants up to lose him in free agency given that there’s such a weak market for pitchers next offseason.
Either way, to overcome the Los Angeles Dodgers’ signing of Zack Greinke, a comeback year from Lincecum would be just what the doctor ordered.
2. Andres Torres Repeating His 2010 Success
Obviously, this is a true long shot. There’s no better word than “fluke” to describe Torres’s 2010 season that fueled a Giants’ World Series run. The journeyman triple-slashed for .268/.343/.479, hit 16 home runs, and had an .823 OPS. That type of production just wasn’t expected out of Torres, who never compiled more than 185 at-bats with any team prior to 2010.
So, it’s highly unlikely that he will recapture the mojo he had pumping during 2010. But if he does, general manager Brian Sabean will have hit the jackpot again.
Sabean, who no longer makes the big splashy moves, makes the wise and cost efficient moves that eventually have the impact similar to a big splash. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, for instance, are two pieces of his best work.
While Giants’ fans can dream, the likelihood of Torres bringing back his 2010 magic is quite small, especially considering that he will likely spilt time with Gregor Blanco until one of them catches fire.
3. Hunter Pence Hitting Up To Par
When the Giants acquired Hunter Pence from the Phillies on July 31st, they expected him to produce runs, which he did, as the quirky right-fielder drove in 45 runs in just 59 games. But, his overall consistency faltered, as he hit just .219 with a mere .287 OBP and .671 OPS.
Luckily, Pence’s struggles got caught up in the chaos, and there was no harm done. In 2013, however, a lot will be expected of Pence. Perhaps he will find some form of consistency now that his every action won’t constantly be under the microscope. Either way, he will be the piece that puts the Giants over the top, or keeps them below the mean. Moreover, he will also be a pivotal piece in protecting Buster Posey.
Pence, like Lincecum, can test the open waters after this season, which is another incentive for him to produce. Truth be told, if the long-time Houston Astro gets back to the days where he hits in the high .280’s and continues to drive in runs, he will in for a big payday come next offseason.
4. The Brandon’s Take the Next Step Up
By the “Brandon’s” I’m referring to Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, of course.
Belt and Crawford are both products of the Giants’ productive farm system, both had high expectations burdened on them from Day 1 and both are core pieces for the Giants’ future.
However, next season, they will have to take on a larger role given that they’ve both had roughly two years of experience in the majors. Or in other words, they’re no longer considered “extras” if they do produce. Instead, they’re expected to produce.
Except for the fact that Belt and Crawford play different positions, they’ve followed a similar path and share similar skills. For instance, they’ve both been juggled around between the lineup, bench, and minors. And skill-wise, they could both be Gold Glovers someday.
Offensively, they’re a shade different. Belt occasionally showed signs of brilliance last season, hitting home runs in three straight games off of three different left-handers. He never hit for power consistently, though. Crawford, meanwhile, showed some intriguing streaks as well, but he wasn’t exactly impressive from a broader standpoint.
While Belt and Crawford don’t necessarily have to have All-Star campaigns, they need to continue to progress.