The San Francisco Giants will begin spring training with the collective goal of reclaiming the National League West crown and winning the pennant. The Giants were dubbed as perennial NL contenders after winning their second World Series championship in three seasons before the 2013 campaign, but they floundered in the depths of inconsistency and failed to make the playoffs.
The new season will present a familiar ideal for the Giants, but it also offers the arduous challenge of defeating a pair of championship-ready pennant contenders. San Francisco needs to not only defeat the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers but also prove their legitimacy by beating teams like the defending NL Champion-St. Louis Cardinals.
The Giants ranked well behind the two teams that reached the league championship in nearly all major statistical categories in 2013. San Francisco scored just 20 fewer runs than Los Angeles but allowed 109 more runs than their NL West counterpart. The Cardinals scored more runs (783) than any other team in the NL and also posted the best team-wide fielding percentage (.988). The Giants and Dodgers both struggled defensively, ranking 13th and 14th in the league, respectively.
San Francisco will return up to 19 players from last season’s 25-man roster in 2014. It remains to be seen if offseason acquisitions like slugging outfielder Michael Morse and veteran right-handed pitcher Tim Hudson can make a significant difference in how the Giants stack up against elite NL competition. Morse is expected to supply the Giants with legitimate power in the middle of the order whereas Hudson represents a substantial upgrade over junk-balling left-handed starter Barry Zito.
The Giants are banking on rebound seasons from pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum who flashed signs of promise in 2013 despite struggling for a majority of the season. San Francisco also needs big-time performances from franchise cornerstone Buster Posey, center fielder Angel Pagan and gritty right fielder Hunter Pence. In essence, the Giants need a majority of their best players to reach their peak potential in 2014 to upend teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers who boast more talent.
The Dodgers will enter the 2014 campaign as the hands-down favorites in the NL West. Los Angeles features a stellar starting rotation led by perennial Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers, like the Giants, endured countless injuries throughout the 2013 season. But the Dodgers have more depth than the Giants, allowing them to handle the brutal circumstances of losing players like 2011 NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp for extended periods of time.
In comparison, the Giants cannot afford to lose an offensive catalyst like Pagan for elongated segments of the season. That was proven last season when the Giants’ offense sputtered without their lead-off hitter.
The Cardinals are arguably the most well-rounded team in the NL. They don’t feature a ton of star power, like the Dodgers, but have quality players up-and-down their roster. Cardinals’ first baseman Allen Craig is a possible MVP candidate in 2014. The 29-year-old slugger has recorded at least 44 extra-base hits and 92 RBI in each of the past two seasons. He’s developing into one of the best hitters in the game and could be the primary proponent of another title run for the Cardinals in 2014.
The Giants certainly have players of their own on the rise, like first baseman Brandon Belt who could be headed toward a monster season considering his outstanding second half performance in 2013. Formerly chunky third baseman Pablo Sandoval is also expected to post better numbers in 2014 after reportedly losing 42 pounds this offseason.
San Francisco could certainly contend with the likes of the Cardinals and Dodgers this season, but they need big-time performances from several key players and desperately need to avoid crippling injuries. The Giants simply don’t have the depth to overcome significant losses. The Cardinals and Dodgers will be the likely favorites to reach the World Series from the NL in 2014, though. The Giants will aim to stun the baseball world for the third time in five seasons, regardless.