This is the seventh edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the San Francisco Giants.
After World Championships in 2010 and 2012, Giants fans were looking for another trip to the promised land in 2013. It (obviously) didn't work out that way, as the Giants have been contending for the basement in the NL West for most of the second half. But the series of unfortunate events that doomed the 2013 Giants doesn't seem to be something that would be easily replicated in 2014.
Angel Pagan scuffled through the first two months of the season before landing on the DL at the end of May with a strained hamstring. In 11 games since coming off the DL, Pagan has murdered the ball, a good sign considering that he still has three years left on his contract. San Francisco also doesn't have to worry about losing franchise catcher Buster Posey after his long-term extension this offseason, and while Posey didn't put up MVP numbers again in 2013, he still retained his spot as the best hitting catcher in the National League. That's a valuable asset to have, and the Giants don't need to bother with questions about their catcher for years, something that some teams seemingly need to do on a regular basis.
San Francisco also has another young talent in the field that has finally come around in Brandon Belt. Belt has been touted for awhile, and his emergence into an above average option at first base finally gives some stability to a position that has seen no less than 11 players log at least 400 innings since the departure of JT Snow following the 2005 season (including luminaries like Shea Hillenbrand, John Bowker, and Lance Niekro). With Belt putting it all together, the Giants don't need to worry about first base, something they've been fretting for years.
There are some other bright spots for the Giants this year, but all come with caveats. Matt Cain's second half ERA is more than two runs lower than his first half ERA, but the fact that he pitched that poorly in the first half is a big reason for the Giants' struggles this year. Tim Lincecum's been a little better in 2013 than he was in 2012, but his velocity took a dip and he still isn't the same pitcher he was when he won back to back Cy Young awards. Madison Bumgarner has carried the Giants' pitching staff on his back this year, but...well, there's no caveat with that, he's been flat-out awesome and could be a a Giant until the end of the decade.
And in possibly the best news imaginable for Giants fans - money is coming off of the payroll next year, allowing San Francisco to lock up some of their young talent or fill holes in free agency. The eight figure salaries that the team paid to Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Hunter Pence will vanish for 2014, with the team owing just a $7 million buyout to Zito. Now, that doesn't mean that the team won't move to resign Pence and Lincecum, but the duo along with that buyout will likely end up costing less than the trio cost in 2013, allowing money to be funneled in other directions, like possibly towards an extension for Belt.
But let's be honest: if you're a Giants fan and you're complaining about the 2013 season, you probably shouldn't watch baseball. After two World Championships in three years, excellence has become the standard in San Francisco. A lot of things went wrong, but this team isn't exactly devoid of young talent. It sure would be disappointing for Giants fans if the Dodgers won the World Series this year, but this Giants team is one that's put together pretty well and can be contenders year in and year out unless something disastrous happens. 2013 was a lot like 2011 for the club in that the snowball just kept rolling down the hill and growing larger and larger, to the point where it couldn't be stopped. Their rotation will get younger next year, and the Giants look poised to once again be in the mix of the NL West, which is always an up and down division.