As the 2014 version of Spring Training comes to an end, the San Francisco Giants‘ projected Opening Day 25-man roster has already suffered a significant setback. Second baseman Marco Scutaro is expected to remain at the Giants’ training facility in Scottsdale while the team takes off for a three-game exhibition series against the Oakland Athletics in the Bay Area. The Giants have not yet made an official announcement regarding Scutaro’s status, but it appears imminent that he will begin the regular season on the disabled list.
Scutaro is an integral part of the Giants’ offense. He led the team with a solid .297 batting average in 2013, collecting 488 official at-bats. Scutaro spent a majority of the season battling a pinkie injury on his glove hand, which hampered production in the field and at the plate. Now, he’s fighting lower back pain, which isn’t the type of nagging injury that suddenly disappears. Utility man Joaquin Arias and rookie Ehire Adrianza will likely fill the middle infield void created from Scutaro’s indefinite absence.
The Giants suffered several season-crippling injuries in 2013, derailing their attempt to defend a World Series title. Their depth is an on-going concern. The Giants simply aren’t built to handle to duress of everyday players missing substantial playing time. Their bench will be immediately tested at the start of the season, which could prove detrimental to their ability to contend if the injury factor becomes a recurring trend throughout the season.
San Francisco needs bounce-back efforts from their starting pitching staff if they’re gong to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Giants’ pitching staff took a nosedive in 2013, registering an alarming 4.00 team ERA to rank 22nd in baseball. That can’t happen if the Giants are going to post a 90-plus win total this season. The Giants’ bullpen should be solid, led by closer Sergio Romo, who saved 38 games in 2013, but starting pitching could lead to their demise. Southpaw Madison Bumgarner appears primed for the best season of his career, whereas Matt Cain and Tim Hudson figure to be dependable.
The cause for concern is at the back end of the rotation. Tim Lincecum must develop greater consistency on a start-to-start basis in order to give the Giants a chance to win more games. The same could be said for Ryan Vogelsong, who was horrific in Cactus League action, registering a whopping 9.00 ERA while allowing 33 hits in 19.0 innings of work. San Francisco has a few could-be stop-gap rotation solutions in the minor league ranks, but it would be somewhat of a desperate measure to give up on Vogelsong, even if he struggles early in the season.
The Giants’ band of everyday players must also improve upon a dismal 3.9 runs per game average from last season. That won’t be easy to do without Scutaro, a legitimate table-setter, but it’s entirely possible. Perennial MVP candidate Buster Posey is bound for a big season after adding 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, improving his durability. Posey recorded a .581 slugging percentage while striking out just twice in 43 at-bats this spring. He’ll be protected in the lineup by Hunter Pence, who is coming off a season where he slugged a career-high 27 home runs.
San Francisco’s success in 2014, or lack thereof, is entirely dependent on whether their everyday players can stay healthy. The same could be said for a majority of big league ball clubs, but the Giants don’t feature eye-popping talent in the minor leagues, nor do they boast an offensively competent bench. San Francisco will lean on their starting pitching to carry them through the 2014 campaign. If they falter, it could spell disaster. Still, the Giants are capable of contending. After all, the 2014 version of the Giants features several key players from their 2012 championship team.
2014 Finish: 89-73, 2nd in NL West