88-74, 2nd in NL West, WILD CARD, won World Series
Well, it was an odd numbered year. After winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the Giants made another improbable run through the playoffs after starting in the do or die Wild Card Game to win it all again in 2014. This is some trend that is developing. The other trend that always comes out of these even-yeared runs are the emergence of unsung heroes. Last year, Travis Ishikawa and Joe Panik fit that mold, but there is only one story to tell from last year: Madison Bumgarner. The MadBum had a postseason that will go down in history. We will be telling our grandkids 50 years from know, "We were there when Madison Bumgarner, as a starting pitcher, single-handedly won the World Series, finishing it off with 5 innings of scoreless relief on 1 day of rest." I don't care what era you are talking about, that is the stuff of legend. Babe Ruth calling his shot, Bobby Thompson wins the pennant, Don Larson's perfect game in the World Series, and Madison Bumgarner in Game 7. It is literally in that realm of baseball lore. It really seems that all the Giants have to do is get into the postseason, and they will go all the way. Their problem is they have yet in this run to follow up a World Series win with a playoff appearance.
2015 Additions / Subtractions
There are bound to be changes to your roster every year, even if the previous roster won it all. However, this team had very few changes. Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse moved on in free agency. To replace them, the Giants signed Casey McGehee and World Series opponent Nori Aoki. Other than that, this is pretty much the same roster as 2014.
Most Important Hitter
Buster Posey is by far the Giants' best hitter. He is also by far their most important hitter. The Giants' success since their first World Series run in 2010 have been directly tied to the success of Buster Posey. In 2010, Posey bursts on the scene, winning the NL Rookie of the Year, hitting .305 and 18 home runs in a partial season. In 2010, the Giants won the World Series. In 2011, Posey breaks his leg in a nasty collision at the plate and misses most of the season. In 2011, the Giants miss the playoffs. In 2012, Posey hits .336 with 24 homers and 103 RBI's on his way to winning the NL MVP. In 2012, the Giants win the World Series. In 2013, Posey has a down year, hitting under .300 (.294) with just 15 homers and 72 RBI's. In 2013, the Giants miss the playoffs. In 2014, you guessed it, Posey's batting average was back over .300 (.311) slugging 22 homers and 89 RBI's. In 2014, the Giants won the World Series. Literally, Buster Posey determines the success of the Giants. The team must realize this too, finding ways to give him some breaks at first base to keep him fresh. However, for the Giants to buck their trend and make their next run this instead of next year, Posey needs to consistently produce.
Most Important Pitcher
Going with Madison Bumgarner as the key pitcher may be a little obvious, but it really is true. Matt Cain has not been the same in recent years, Tim Hudson is ancient, Jake Peavy is solid if healthy (which is a big if), and who knows what to expect from Tim Lincecum. For the Giants to be successful, they need MadBum to be dominant and consistent, which doesn't sound as sure of a thing as you think. Yes, Bumgarner had a postseason for the ages in 2014, but he has yet to show that level of dominance in the regular season. Add to that the fact that he set a career high in innings pitched (217.1) in 2014, and then threw 52.2 more innings in the postseason. That's over a quarter of a full season of pitching in the postseason! I know everyone uses terms with him like "Country Strong" and "Effortless Motion," but that kind of work load in one season has to take its toll. For the Giants to be elite in 2015, Madison Bumgarner has to do what seems impossible and stay fresh and healthy while taking his postseason success to the regular season when the pressure isn't as high.
Player to Watch
The Giants' farm system is fairly thin this year, with only one prospect in MLB.com's Top 100, and he isn't likely to be ready this year. One player that could have an interesting role this year is Andrew Susac. He got a taste of the big leagues last year, and even made the World Series run with the team. He is a solid prospect and the Giants' most ready prospect heading into this year as a rookie. What makes him so intriguing is he is a catcher, which just happens to be the position held by Buster Posey. This could mean several different things for the Giants. If they trust Susac, it could lead to more games with Posey at first base. Also, if Posey gets hurt, he is a pretty good insurance policy. What I see as the most intriguing scenario is Susac becomes a top prospect to shop around the trade deadline to improve another aspect of the team for the stretch run. Every great Giants team seems to have someone they bring in at the Deadline that becomes an impact player down the stretch. Susac might be the way they achieve that this year.
3rd in NL West
This trend fascinates me. The only thing I can think of is with such a deep run in the playoffs the season before, the Giants struggle to fully recover for the upcoming season with the shortened break. For the 2015 Giants, there are too many questions and too many trends that have to reverse themselves. The roster is starting to age also, with McGehee and Aoki not really helping that issue. With little to no help coming up from the Minors this year, it all points to another Championship hangover. However, if the past has proven anything, it has shown that all they need to do is make the postseason any way possible. If they somehow scratch their way there, watch out.