Giants built for postseason, but can they get there?

This is my Sunday column on the Giants. WARNING — this is a baseball column. 49ers’ fans, feel free to skip this.

The Giants are built to dominate the postseason, but they are not built to get there this year.

In the postseason, the Giants can pitch Madison Bumgarner one hundred times and the other starters only three or four innings, and the incredible bullpen can handle the rest.

The regular season doesn’t work that way. The regular season requires teams to have five starting pitchers. The regular season is way more challenging for the Giants, who almost didn’t survive it last year, who won only 88 regular season games, fewer than every other playoff team in the National League. Getting through the upcoming regular season will be even more challenging.

Start with pitching, and remember the Giants are always a pitching-first team. Who are the Giants’ five starting pitchers?

I will ask the question a different way. We know Bumgarner is the Giants’ best pitcher, an ace, one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. But Bumgarner has issues. Although he’s only 25, he pitched 270 innings last season including the playoffs. Human arms aren’t meant to pitch 270 innings in seven months. Who could blame him if he has a down season this year?

Who is the Giants’ second-best starter?

Not Tim Lincecum, one of the worst starters in the majors the past three seasons when he was in the Giants’ rotation. The Giants may use him as a reliever if they use him at all.

Not Ryan Vogelsong, who probably will pitch his final season this year. He turns 37 in July.

Not Tim Hudson, who won just two games after June last season. He turns 39 in July.

Not Matt Cain, who won just two games in 15 starts last season, and then had surgery on his throwing elbow and his ankle. Cain hasn’t pitched well since 2012. Cain has to prove he’s not washed up, has to prove he still is an effective starter.

That means Jake Peavy is the Giants’ No. 2 pitcher by default, although he’s not much of a No. 2 pitcher. He would be the fourth or fifth starter in a good rotation. He turns 34 in May.

Compare Peavy to the No. 2 pitchers on the Giants’ rivals in the NL West. The Dodgers’ No. 2 pitcher is Zach Grienke, an All Star who is 31. The Padres’ No. 2 pitcher is Tyson Ross, an All Star who turns 28 in April. The Dodgers and Padres have better and younger starting rotations than the Giants.

Most of the key Giants are old. Not just the starting pitchers. The position players. Angel Pagan turns 34 in July. He’s falling apart. He has missed about half of the past two seasons with injuries, and he doesn’t seem to want to play unless he’s 100-percent healthy.

Hunter Pence turns 32 in April. He’s in great shape, but 32 is 32, and Pence is Pence because he hustles. He is turbocharged, like Sonic the Hedgehog, a blur darting around the outfield and the base paths.

Pence will slow down at a certain point. It’s inevitable. He stole 22 bases in 2013, but only 13 in 2014. Is he slowing down already?

Nori Aoki is the starting left fielder. He hit one home run last season, but his primary asset is supposed to be speed, not power. He stole 30 bases in 2012, 20 in 2013 and 17 in 2014. He is 33 years old. Is he slowing down, too?

Casey McGehee is the starting third baseman. He hit four home runs last season for the Marlins. He is 32 years old. He replaces Pablo Sandoval, who hit 16 home runs last season and is 28 years old.

Sandoval was the Giants’ cleanup hitter, the second-most feared hitter in the lineup, second to Buster Posey. Sandoval can hit any pitcher, any pitch, any location. Pitchers know it. Pitchers pitch carefully when Sandoval is at the plate. His mere presence in the lineup made life easier for Posey and Pence and the rest of the Giants’ hitters.

McGehee has no lineup presence. Opposing pitchers don’t worry about him. He bats seventh or eighth in a good lineup.

McGehee isn’t a good fielder, either. He’s decent at best. Sandoval was an excellent fielder, one of the best fielding third basemen in the Majors. McGehee is a tremendous downgrade from Sandoval in every way.

Posey, Pence and Brandon Belt must be great for the Giants to overcome an aging roster and the losses of Sandoval and Michael Morse, must be great for the Giants to win just 88 games and squeak into the playoffs again.

Could happen, but 78 wins and no playoffs seems more realistic.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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  1. Grant, this is a fair article and its pretty much on point. However, you have set yourself up to fail. your like the boy who “cry’s wolf”. Every article you write is critical. You ooze pessimism! optimist people such as myself cant stand you.

    So on the rare occasion when you actually WRITE A GOOD ARTICLE, one that is full of fair criticism… its hard to take you seriously because every article you write is blathering pessimistic criticism

  2. Based on little Cone’s previous “predictions” of winners and losers, I am heading for Vegas and putting everything I have on the Giant’s in 2015.

  3. Negative Grant, you sure like to bash the Giants players, When was the last time the Dodgers or the Padres won a World championship ? You even rip Mum and Pence, . Pence can play solid for another 5 years.

  4. I thought McGehee had the best fielding % among NL Third Basemen last season?
    But none if this matters because it is the off year/odd year.

  5. I have a hard time taking your Giants coverage serious after your
    “He is not Buster. He’s a bust.”
    article from last season.
    Hard to be so negative towards a team that has won 3 out of 5 World Series. Stick to the easy targets like the 49ers.

  6. First Grant takes a large steaming dump on the Warriors, the team with the best record in the NBA and the most entertaining squad to watch in all sports. Next he takes shots at the Giants, the current World Series Champs. Soon, I’m predicting Grant will agree with Bill Walton and say that Michael Jordan was only an average basketball player.

    Grant, Bill Walton’s brain got fried by too many drugs and Grateful Dead concerts. What is your excuse?

  7. you’re underselling Cain as having to prove he’s not washed up. The guy had minor surgery. He should be back to be a pretty good to great pitcher. he may not be the pitcher he was in 2010-2012 (though he could be). But it’s not a stretch to think he can return to be at least a 3.5 ERA type of pitcher. there’s little reason to think otherwise.

    all the other pitchers could be considered really good 3-5s. Sure they’re not great options for #1 or #2s. But they’re pretty good back half of the rotation types.

    Plus they have a safety net in Petit who is an excellent long reliever and possible starter who can come in for any of the starters should they struggle.

    So sure it’s a patchwork solution. But then that’s been the Giant’s solution for the past 5 years; a patchwork solution around some core players.

      1. well……the dodgers and padres have spent about a billion dollars on player contracts combined, since 2010, to try and pass us up.
        It hasn’t worked before, why will it work this year?

      2. I agree that starting pitching will be a huge question, but the beauty of 3 in 5 is that they didn’t have to go out and overpay for the Lester/Sheilds/Sherzer type (or even overpay Pablo for that matter). Also note the story on yahoo about Shields turning down the Giants offer (and several other teams) of 80/4, getting stuck without a contract, and then settling for 75/4 from the Padres.

        Remember that Hudson may not start the season, and Lincecum and Vogelsong won’t get very long leashes. If the dreaded odd year is indeed coming for the Giants, I look forward to seeing some of the minor league pitching come up mid season and get some seasoning. If there’s one thing you can say about the Giant’s championships, its that they all required significant “help” from the farm system. I’d love to see a repeat, but I won’t be devastated by down year with the chance to develop another wave of young starting pitching.

      3. Makes no sense, big deal, 1/2 of the Giants position players would be on the bench compared to the Dodgers position players, where does that get you, not a World championship since the 80’s.

      4. not according to career ERA. Expecting Cain to return to his career ERA 3.39 (which is higher than his 2010-2012 seasons) is not out of the question.

        look, any 5th grader can look on paper and figure that in a man for man straight up comparison that the Giants don’t stack up to their competition.

        again, look at the 2-6 starters. they’re all good but not great. the key to the Giants is if they are able to get mostly the best out of their players (or chew up innings and mitigate any scoring/damage) and then sub in someone (like Petit or maybe Lincecum or Voglesong) if they start to struggle. It’s a mix and match patchwork solution. Lots of juggling and moving pieces. It’s not a simple 5 man rotation, this is what you get and then here’s you’re 7th, 8th and 9th inning relievers. As with any complicated structure, it’s easy to see it falling apart. and that’s the weakness/problem with the Giants as they are now. But there is a game plan to beat their competition.

  8. You’re analysis is interesting.
    But it assumes this coming season will be a lot like last season, which is unlikely.
    Many unexpected events will likely occur, such as happened last season with the great Joe Panik coming from nowhere to solve the second base problem and help the Giants once again become magical in October.
    Angel Pagan’s back surgery might allow him to play a full season.
    Yusmeiro Petit and maybe even Tim Lincecum might become reliable starters.
    Brandon Belt (age 26) might gain consistency with the bat and become an All-Star first baseman.
    Looking forward to spring training.

  9. I think the irony here…..is that the Dodgers have been trying to buy a championship since the new owners took over. Just spending crazy amounts of cash. passing the yankees and redsox as the biggest spenders in MLB. this year the Padres are doing the exact same thing.

    All the talk around the 49ers is: is the GM, who stacks the roster with expensive talent , the most important piece…..or is it the head coach, who meshes personalitys and squeezes the most out of the guys?????

    Most 49ers fans will tell you its the coach. baseball backs up this theory. We dont have to look past the National league west division. We have teams that spend tremendous amounts of $. Every off season, the dodgers win! the giants are always being criticized for not spending $. Come October however……..

    The Giants FO has EARNED the right to do things their way…..and us fans trust them!
    The 49ers FO has earned NOTHING! The York ownership has been a nightmare! the only decent thing they have done, was hire JH ( i dont count the stadium, because its horrible! 40K people staring into the sun for the entire game). There is absolutely no track record from either York to justify giving them the benefit of the doubt.

  10. Grant – You failed to mention Bruce Bochy (one of the greatest managers in the history of MLB) and team CHEMISTRY!
    I have experienced team chemistry (at lower levels of baseball) but I’m somewhat qualified to speak on this subject.
    I started on a high school team that won a CIF Championship in So Cal, I started in CF for Cerritos J.C. and we won the Calif State Championship in 1985 and I was starting CF in 1986 for Oklahoma State (played along side of Robin Ventura) and we made it to the College World Series. (I was drafted by Minnesota Twins in 18th round in 1985).
    All of these teams I played on had amazing team chemistry and outstanding head coaches. We hung out together off the field and played for each other between the lines….It wasn’t the big leagues but we were very similar to the Giants in those aspects. So don’t count out the Giants in 2015. If the World Series was won on paper, the Yankees and Dodgers would win the WS nearly every year.

    1. not that I disagree with you. I agree with the Bochy factor.

      but let me play Billy Beane for a second. Do you think your teams would have had such great chemistry if you had not been so successful? Does winning breed chemistry?

      It would be interesting to figure out what role chemistry plays in helping a team rebound. The Giants had a horrible slide by late June last year before they got back on track by late August. Obviously experience is probably the greatest factor in being able to rebound. Technical adjustments, personnel changes…etc…are also big factors. But I wonder how chemistry factors in it.

  11. The Giants are loaded at every position. They have an Allstar Team roster. If they don’t win the World Series it will only be because of Kaepernicks horrible pitching.

  12. Thing is, baseball (and every sport) is unpredictable. I’m not impressed with the Giants lineup, either. However, in the years the Giants won their three pennants, I’ll bet very few sportswriters picked them to be better than third in the division. At the start of each of the playoffs, very few sportswriters thought they had a realistic chance at winning the World Series. So I’m a little reluctant to write them off.

    But I have to admit that it doesn’t look too promising. One very good starting pitcher and a bunch of rotation question marks. A downgrade in power. Pagan may or may not be himself, probably won’t stay healthy.

    Still, Joe Panik came out of nowhere, so it’s possible that one of the minor league pitchers or position players will save the day. Or Belt or Crawford will catch fire. Or if the Cuban floodgates open, maybe the Giants will land a good one. But I’m frustrated with Sabean’s inability to sign good young talent, his unwillingness to open this very wealthy franchise’s checkbook. He could have signed Sandoval early and didn’t. I know the Giants have been willing to spend money, but Sabean’s either trying too hard to save a nickel or just isn’t a good negotiator. Except for huge, unwise contracts to pitchers past their prime – Zito, Cain, Lincecum.

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