SF Giants: Early Season Questions the Team Will Have to Answer
The San Francisco Giants are off to a solid 8-5 start and are pretty much firing on all cylinders. Pitching has been solid, and the lineup is showing off its power.
But the Giants are coming off a highly disappointing season, and it's early—extremely early. There are still some burning questions with answers that will ultimately determine the fate of the team by the bay.
Can Matt Cain Prevent the Long Ball?
Pitcher Matt Cain has always been the picture of consistency in the Giants rotation. That is, until last season, when Cain posted a disappointing 8-10 record along with a 4.00 ERA.
But those numbers don't tell the entire story. Cain has always been a pitch-to-contact type of pitcher, and in years past, those contact hits stayed in the ballpark. In 2013, he allowed 23 long balls, the most he's surrendered in a single season over his career.
Still, it's just a few above his 162-game average, which is 20 home runs allowed.
But this season, Cain has already allowed three long balls in just two starts.
His first two starts of 2014 were less than impressive, but Cain rebounded with a tough-luck loss against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, yielding just one run. The alarm sounded when Cain gave up three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his second start, but that's why pitchers have short-term memories.
WIll Pablo Sandoval Return to Former Dominance?
The Kung Fu Panda looks slimmer and in shape, but can he string together a few seasons of consistent play?
Sandoval made a name for himself in 2009, when he batted .330 and hit a career-high 25 home runs. He disappeared during the 2010 season, largely missing out on playing time as the Giants made their historic World Series run.
Then, in 2011, Sandoval batted .315 and cut his strikeout total by nearly 20, showing more patience at the plate. He made back-to-back All-Star Game appearances in 2011 and 2012, and slammed pitcher Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers for three home runs in the first game of the World Series. However, injuries plagued Sandoval in 2012, and he only played 108 games in the regular season.
The importance of Pablo Sandoval returning to form and playing like he can and should is huge for the Giants. The Giants lineup is actually pretty potent this year: Angel Pagan, Sandoval, Buster Posey, Mike Morse, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence solidify a deep-hitting batting order.
Sandoval is a key component in the Giants offense and could take it over the edge into top-of-the-league territory this year.
What Is Tim Lincecum's Ceiling?
Pitcher Tim Lincecum remains a perennial question mark. After starting his career as a Cy Young-caliber staff ace, Lincecum has been in an undefinable limbo in terms of his role in the rotation.
Is he a starting pitcher still, or should he be moved to the bullpen? What can a team expect from him during the season? What will happen in an individual game during a Lincecum start? The questions are endless, and despite a few seasons of struggle, have yet to firmly be answered.
The Giants have opted to keep the right-hander and place him in a relatively permanent spot in the starting rotation. It's early, but so far Lincecum has struggled: He's 0-1 with a 9.90 ERA. The Arizona Diamondbacks and, in particular, Paul Goldschmidt, have had tremendous success against the right-hander, and he's had to face them twice already.
Who Will Play Everyday in the Middle Infield?
The Giants have put themselves in a predicament that doesn't seem altogether necessary. John Shea at SFGate.com reported before Opening Day:
Bruce Bochy said he’ll use somewhat of a platoon at shortstop, meaning Brandon Crawford won’t play regularly against left-handed pitchers...Joaquin Arias will be the Opening Day second baseman. But for the most part, when lefties pitch, Arias will move over to short and Brandon Hicks would play second.
The idea of platooning Crawford when the old everyday second baseman is Marco Scutaro, who is out until at least March 21, seems insane. Giants fans are frustrated every year with endlessly shuffled-up lineups and players can find not having a secure, well-defined role disheartening.
On the other side, the Giants all of a sudden have depth in the middle infield. Joaquin Arias is a consistent presence off the bench, and Brandon Hicks is also establishing himself. Hicks is batting .368 with a home run and two doubles, but Arias is off to a slow start, batting only .118.
Crawford, meanwhile, has shown the most power of the three so far with a walk-off home run against the Rockies, a triple and five doubles. But his defensive prowess and ever-improving bat are both reasons Bochy should give Crawford an open chance at the starting shortstop position, and not as part of a platoon.
Can Brandon Belt Sustain His Early Season Tear?
First baseman Brandon Belt is having the season every Giants fan dreamed of when the powerful lefty came up to the majors.
Belt is on an absolute tear thus far, smashing five home runs in 12 games. Similarly to Sandoval, Belt is a key component to the Giants lineup, especially manning a typically powerful position as a first baseman.
If Belt can continue to hit the stitches off the ball, the Giants offense becomes all the more potent. They haven't had a legitimate home run threat since Barry Bonds, and if Belt can take that role, the Giants become really scary.
There were a lot of ifs in that last paragraph. But it's entirely possible that Belt could post 20-plus home runs this season.