This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
After winning two World Series titles in the past three years, the San Francisco Giants are having a disappointing 2013 season. The Giants are seeing why it is so difficult for reigning World Series champions to win the World Series again the next year.
In 2011, the Giants had an excuse for why they weren’t able to repeat as champions. Buster Posey suffered a gruesome left ankle injury in May of 2011 and was out for the rest of the season.
This season though, the Giants have an almost identical roster as last season’s championship team. Yes, there have been some injuries to key players such as Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong, but this isn’t the main reason why the Giants are struggling.
The Giants have been inconsistent all season. Right now, they are consistently bad. They are a season-high 12 games below .500 and have a 46-58 record. They also are 10 games out of first place and fifth in the NL West.
So have Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean been given too much credit for constructing and developing this team that’s played so horrible this season?
The simple answer is no. Despite the team’s struggles this season, Bochy and Sabean have found the winning formula. The team just hasn’t displayed it this season.
The Giants have done so well in the past few seasons because they have followed the general formula for success in baseball: pitching wins championships. The Giants have had stellar starting pitching and relief pitching the past few seasons.
With quality pitching, it takes some pressure off the offense, because it allows hitters to play more naturally and not grind too hard to get hits. If the starting pitcher is struggling, players feel more pressure on defense too to limit the damage the starter caused.
The Giants haven’t been known for their high-powered offense in the past couple seasons, so their starting pitching carried them. If the Giants were only able to score a run or two, they knew they could still win the game behind a quality outing from their starter.
This hasn’t been the case for the Giants this season though. Bochy and Sabean brought back the same starting rotation from last season’s World Series run: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Vogelsong.
Cain has struggled with command all season, and he’s supposedly not dealing with any hidden injuries. Bumgarner has been the most consistent starter. Lincecum, despite throwing a no-hitter recently, has also been inconsistent, even though he has been pitching better in the past couple months. Zito has been good at home, but, on the road, he is a completely different pitcher with a sky-high ERA. Vogelsong has been out with a right hand injury since May, but he started to show improvements in his command in the start where he got injured.
There’s no way that Bochy and Sabean could’ve predicted these types of struggles. In fact, no one predicted that Cain would be as inconsistent as he’s been. Lincecum and Zito’s struggles might have been predictable, but Bochy and Sabean weren’t going to trade them or demote them after some incredible pitching performances in last season’s playoffs. Of course, Vogelsong’s injury couldn’t have been predicted either.
Because of the inconsistent starting pitching, the Giants’ offense has felt more pressure to score more runs, especially recently. In the month of July, the Giants are hitting .230, which ranks last in the NL. Posey has had a fantastic season so far, but as of now, he hasn’t gotten a hit in his last 18 at-bats.
Defensively, the Giants are one of the worst teams in the league, which probably can be connected to the team’s poor starting pitching, as mentioned before. The Giants have 76 errors so far this season, which ranks second-to-last in all of MLB.
Given all these problems, some fans have criticized Sabean for not being active enough at the trade deadline. Right now, with the Giants struggling as much as they are, they don’t even really have the option to be buyers. The Giants haven’t been playing well enough to be able to score a deal (other teams could be wary of the Giants’ struggles or raise the price due to their desperation).
Some fans say that the Giants need to be sellers at the trade deadline. This past homestand was a key part of the Giants’ schedule, and they went 3-7. This might be the time that Sabean should concede the season and starting building for next season.
With Lincecum and Zito becoming free agents at the end of this season (Vogelsong has a team option for next season), the Giants need to address their need for a starting pitcher soon. The Giants don’t have many starting pitching prospects in AAA, so perhaps they can start selling some players, such as Hunter Pence or Javier Lopez, in order to start re-building their starting pitching rotation.
Sabean has been questioned for some trades in the past, but in the past few years, he’s made several key trades that have allowed the Giants to be as successful as they have been. In 2010, he brought in players such as Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Juan Uribe, and Lopez. Even though these players were outcasts and misfits, Bochy believed in them and put them in a position to succeed.
In 2012, Sabean brought in Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. Bochy again made it possible for his players to succeed by putting them in new roles and constantly encouraging and believing in them. For example, he made Sergio Romo the closer, used Lincecum out of the bullpen, and stuck by his young players, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, despite some struggles at the plate.
Even though the Giants have had a disappointing season, it does not mean that Bochy and Sabean have been given too much credit for this team’s past success. They were the two masterminds behind constructing teams who won two World Series titles. The Giants have won two World Series titles in three years for a reason, and both Bochy and Sabean have played key roles.