By John Shea @real_johnshea on March 21, 2014
The San Francisco Giants enter the 2014 season with hopes of reclaiming the NL West title and contending for their third pennant in five seasons. The Giants suffered through a brutal mid-season stretch in 2013 that saw them fall into last place of their division. General manager Brian Sabean made a couple crucial upgrades over the offseason, but San Francisco flaunts a lineup nearly identical to what they began last season with.
The top of the Giants' order is key to their potential success on offense. Lead-off hitter Angel Pagan is a catalyst who can ignite run production with his ability to hit into the gaps at pitcher friendly AT&T Park. Pagan missed significant time due to a torn hamstring that required mid-season surgery in 2013. His absence from the everyday lineup crippled the Giants' ability to score runs and also forced pressure onto reserve players.
Scutaro is similarly vital in fueling the Giants' ability to score runs. He's a table-setter in the No. 2 spot of the lineup and is also one of the best contact hitters in the game. Scutaro was able to play in 127 games last season while battling a nasty injury to the pinky finger on his glove hand. Now Scutaro is fighting nagging lower back pain, which has sidelined him from baseball activity for most of Spring Training.
The middle of the Giants' order is static in comparison to recent seasons, although it's possible for first baseman Brandon Belt to consistently bat third in the lineup. Belt took strides toward becoming an All-Star caliber hitter last season and could be bound for a breakout season in 2014. He registered a .289 batting average with 17 home runs and 67 RBI in 2013 but was virtually impossible to get out in the season's second half.
Former NL MVP Buster Posey will hit in the cleanup spot and resume his duties as the Giants' backstop. It's pivotal for Posey to have a big season statistically for the Giants. His production tailed off in the second half of last season, disabling the Giants from making a late-season run. Posey managed a dismal .244 batting average with two home runs and 16 RBI after the All-Star Game. That can't happen if the Giants are going to contend in 2014.
Right fielder Hunter Pence will be slotted in the fifth spot of the lineup where he thrived in 2013. Pence bashed a career-high 27 home runs and played in all 162 games last season. He's a critical component of the Giants' offense and will look to build on what he's already accomplished in 2014. Pence owns a .285 career batting average in seven big league seasons. He's arguably the most valuable hitter the Giants possess because of his power.
Slimmed down third baseman Pablo Sandoval is entering the first contract year of his big league career. He'll begin the regular season perhaps in the best shape of his life, which will ideally help him excel at the plate. Sandoval's production has dipped a bit over the past few seasons. He recorded a respectable .758 OPS with 14 home runs and 79 RBI last season, but hasn't consistently performed at a high level.
Slugging left fielder Mike Morse will supply the Giants with much-needed power and will also help balance the lineup. Morse was signed to a one-year 'prove it' contract over the offseason. He was disappointing while splitting playing time between two big league clubs last season, combining to hit 13 home runs while battling injury. His outfield range is a liability, but his upside as a perennial power hitter is significant.
Slick fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford will hit eighth and look to develop greater consistency. The bottom half of the Giants' lineup is key to improving overall run production. As a team, the Giants averaged less than 3.9 runs per game in 2013. San Francisco needs to drastically increase the total number of runs scored if they're going to post a winning record in 2014. Their lineup remains mostly the same in comparison to last season.
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