Thursday, July 2, 2015

Giants Challenging Dodgers in NL West

Many predicted that the Dodgers would easily cruise to a third straight division crown in 2015, myself included. After all, it was an even year, and the Giants have had a trend of missing the playoffs following a World Series championship. Plus, they lost Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse from last year's team. The Padres made big moves that were supposed to thrust them into contention. The Dodgers had an eventful offseason that saw the additions of Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson, and rookie Joc Pederson. For a defending World Series champion, the Giants entered the season under the radar.

Besides losing Sandoval and Morse, the Giants also had concerns about their rotation. There were questions about age, injury, and performance behind postseason ace Madison Bumgarner. The injury concerns proved true with Jake Peavy limited to two starts, and Matt Cain is just coming back. However, the team had enough depth to overcome that. Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, and Ryan Vogelsong have been serviceable starters this year. 27 year old rookie Chris Heston has stepped up to fill in, and has been the team's second best starter so far this season. Heston also recently pitched a no-hitter. Yusmeiro Petit is also an option if needed.

Bumgarner hasn't showed any ill effects over the postseason workload last year, and is poised to make his third straight All Star appearance. He has been the Giants stopper, and has beaten Clayton Kershaw twice this year. The bullpen has been outstanding as usual, and loaded with experienced veterans who have been around for several postseason runs.

The other question mark for this season was the team's offense. Losing Sandoval and Morse was a big hit for the team's offense. Sandoval had been known for his clutch hits, especially in the postseason. Morse had been one of the team's best power threats last season. Even worse for the Giants, Hunter Pence has been limited to 18 games this season. Pence is not only one of the team's best hitters, he is the heart and soul of the team.

The Giants offense has been better than expected this season, ranking fifth in the National League in runs scored. A big reason why is other players have stepped up. Angel Pagan has returned from injuries that ended his season prematurely in 2014. New acquisition Nori Aoki was batting .317, although he has recently been placed on the disabled list. Buster Posey is putting up another monster season, helping pick up his teammates.

That said, the Giants homegrown infield has been the key to replacing the lost offense. Each one of their infielders has an OPS over .800. Brandon Belt has been healthy this year, after being limited to 61 games last season. Belt hasn't had the breakout year that some of predicted from him, but has been a solid contributor to a winning team. Brandon Crawford debuted the same year as Belt did in 2011, and is likely to earn his first All Star spot this year. Crawford has been known for his glove, but has made a name for himself with his bat this year. He has already tied his career high of home runs (10) midway through this season.

Joe Panik solved the team's second base hole in the second half of 2014. The Giants faith in Panik paid off, and he made a terrific defensive play during Game 7 of last year's World Series. Panik has proven that last season wasn't a fluke, and is currently 7th in the NL in batting average. Casey McGehee was acquired to replace Sandoval, who left as a free agent to Boston. McGehee struggled early on, and lost his job to Matt Duffy; and has since been released. Duffy was a rookie bench player last year, but looks to be the Giants long term solution at third base. He has hit .297 with 8 home runs, and has outperformed Sandoval this season.

The Dodgers currently have a 2.5 game lead in the West. On paper, the Dodgers look better than the Giants. They don't seem to have the heart or desire of the Giants, though. Kershaw for all his regular season dominance, has gained a reputation as a pitcher who can't win the big game. That may not be fair, but Kershaw will have to win in the postseason to shed that label. Yasiel Puig is one of the game's most electric talents, but doesn't seem to be focused at all times. Still, the one two combination of Kershaw and Zack Greinke, combined with a dynamic offense; is one of the league's better teams. This should be an interesting race between a very talented team and a three time championship team.

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