Giants aim for playoffs

After winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the San Francisco Giants start an odd year without a World Series title. We can now officially say the even year championship streak is over.

The San Francisco Giants ended last season with an 87-75 record and clinching second in the division and a wild card game playoff berth just beating the St. Louis Cardinals to it by one game. Throughout the 2016 season, the Giants had to deal with injuries and an unreliable bullpen. The most prolific injuries last season were outfielder Hunter Pence’s torn hamstring in the middle of the season, second baseman Joe Panik’s concussion symptoms for most of the year and long-time Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain’s shoulder and elbow problems for most of the second half.

The injuries killed them during the season right after the All-Star break. However, that didn’t stop the Giants reaching the playoffs. The Giants lost their nine game lead in the NL West and hated rivals the Dodgers took over first place the rest of the way. Meaning the Giants would take the second spot in the wild card one game playoff in New York against the Mets.

I remember sitting in the living room with my Dad watching the Wild Card game, as it featured two of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball, Madison Bumgarner for the Giants and Noah Syndergaard for the New York Mets. If you didn’t witness the game, you missed one of the best pitchers duels of all time.

Syndergaard pitched great for seven strong innings dominating the Giants hitters, but Bumgarner was matching him pitch-for-pitch the whole game. Then the Mets did something no one saw coming, they took out their all-star pitcher in the seventh and a new breath of life went through the Giants line-up. Then the moment happened in the top of the ninth with two men on, San Francisco Giants back-up third basemen Connor Gillaspie hit a three-run home run to take a 3-0 lead. From then on it was all Madison Bumgarner as he finished the game for a complete game shutout and the Giants moved on to play the toughest team and favorites in the National League, the Chicago Cubs.

With talented players like National League MVP Kris Bryant and the best closer in the game Aroldis Chapman it had almost seemed they would finally win the World Series for the first in over 108 years.

The Cubs and Giants series wasn’t predicted to be nail biter games, but every game in that series had a sense of urgency to get the win for both teams.

In game 1, everybody predicted the Cubs to take a commanding lead early, but the second man of the 1-2 punch for the Giants pitching rotaition, Johnny Cueto threw 8 strong innings. However, then 2-time World Series Champion Jon Lester matched him. In the bottom of the 8th with two outs, second basemen Javier Baez hit a solo homer that gave the Cubs the lead 1-0, and won the game in the top of the ninth.

The rest of the series was most of the same as the Cubs took game 2, however the Giants were able to prevail in game 3 from a magnificent start from Madison Bumgarner and a hit parade from the Giants line-up. The hopes were high going into game 4 for the Giants, as they had newly acquired Matt Moore on the mound who pitched magnificently for the Giants in the second half of the season. From the start of the game it looked as if the Giants carried the momentum from game 3 and was ready to push the series back to Chicago and continue the pursued even year streak.

The Giants had a commanding 5-2 lead going into the top of the ninth, however the unexpected happened, and the Cubs came back to win the game 6-5 and win the series and would eventually become World Series champs.

Giants weren’t successful for many reasons. First, the bullpen had struggled the whole season to shut down opposing hitters, making it hard to win ball games. Second, they lacked depth and experience off the bench, which costs them late in games, with the struggling bullpen. Lastly, injuries were a huge problem as they had many stars out for extended period of time.

Going into the offseason the Giants had to answer a lot of unanswered questions about the Giants roster, and the first one they answered was the bullpen. The Giants were in line to sign one of the three top closers on the free agent market this past winter, with names like Aroldis Chapman, Dodgers sensation Kenley Jansen and the consistent work of Mark Melancon.

As a baseball fan I would’ve loved to see the Giants sign Aroldis Chapman, because of the way he throws over 100 mph fastball, and a breaking slider and change up that makes hitters look like fools. However that didn’t happen as he resigned with the team that traded him the New York Yankees.

Then there’s Kenley Jansen, whose a great closer and all, but he just didn’t fit the Giants mentality, though it didn’t matter as he resigned the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yet both closers didn’t matter to the orange and black because the Giants knew early on who they were going to sign, and who would fit in the Giants clubhouse, It was none other than Mark Melancon, former closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals in 2016. The Giants were able to sign the three time all-star for 4 years and over $80 million dollars.

The advantage of Mark Melancon was whom he learned from, the great Mariano Rivera back in his Yankee days. That name itself is feared among hitters today, because of his one pitch, the cutter. And that cutter is similar to what Melancon throws and added on with a devastating knuckle-curve, buckling the knees of the best hitters in the game today. All in all, the Giants got a steal in signing Melancon, for as cheap as they did, and should do great in a hitter’s ballpark like AT&T. 

The Giants didn’t stop during free agency there, as they had some under the radar deals that could mean something late in the season. For example, they signed former MVP Jimmy Rollins and though he’s getting up there in age, he’s not too far gone from hitting over .280 as he was just a few years ago. They also signed returning Giants player Michael Morse and veteran players Aaron Hill and catcher Nick Hundley, bringing a presence to an already experienced team.

The signings for the Giants were good, in the sense that it highlighted one of their weaknesses, which is depth on the bench, and I think with these signings and guys  in the minors that have a shot to make the team help the Giants become better as a team.

The big question still for the Giants is their bullpen. They went out and signed Melancon, but the guys behind him still have a lot to prove as the giants are going with young stars like Derek Law, Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich. Maybe I’m overreacting about how young and inexperienced they are, because all of them have playoff experience, but the key factor to look out for is the grind of 162 games and a heightened role in the bullpen for each of them. It’ll be interesting to see how the bullpen will shape up in 2017.

The one area that Giants fans don’t need to worry about is the starting rotation. With ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner leading the staff, Johnny Cueto who had a magnificent first season with the Giants, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore. The only question is who will fill in the final spot, will it be long-time Giant Matt Cain or Ty Blach, who impressed many by outpitching Clayton Kershaw, to secure a playoff spot in the last game of the season. Spring Training will be the place to watch that battle and by Opening Day we will have to see who takes that spot.

The Giants are a team primed for another playoff run this season, with most of the main guys coming back, it looks to be another fun year. In a very tough NL West division, the games between the Dodgers and Rockies will have a lot more meaning to it this year than most. So expect Posey throwing out guys from behind the plate, Hunter Pence hitting 400 foot bombs, Madison Bumgarner staring down batters and let’s get ready for Giants baseball.