The Giants are inching nearer to the beginning of the 2019 regular season, and they are looking very healthy and ready to meet the challenge of toppling the perennial powerhouse Dodgers and their stranglehold on the N.L. West.
2018 proved to be a difficult grind, as numerous injuries conspired to severely hamstring – for lack of a better term – the G Men. Perennial position-playing starters Buster Posey (57 games missed), Brandon Belt (50), Joe Panik (60), and newcomer Evan Longoria (37) each missed substantial chunks of the season due to injury, which no doubt had a profoundly negative impact on that season's success.
On the mound and in the pen, starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, as well as relievers Will Smith, Mark Melancon, and Hunter Strickland were each significantly limited by various ailments:
Bumgarner: 21 starts
Cueto: 9 starts
Samardzija: 10 starts
Smith: 54 appearances
Melancon: 41 appearances
Strickland: 49 appearances
*Starting pitchers typically start at least 32 games in full-season duty, while moderate to heavily-used relievers tend to appear in 60-80 games.
Heading into their annual three-game Bay Area exhibition series with the A's (3/24-3/26), gearing up for the start of the regular season, each of the aforementioned players who are still with the team – with the exception of Johnny Cueto – appear to be healthy and ready to flip the script, following last season's failure.
With the exception of reliever Will Smith, who stepped into the closer role after Strickland succumbed to injury, every player listed above had what can be considered a "down" season in '18. Health is a crucial factor in determining the potential for players to meet or exceed their career averages, especially at the plate and on the mound. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that almost all of these players have had multiple seasons shortened by injuries – some very serious, some merely "nagging"-type issues.
So, you may be asking yourself, "When was the last time all of the Giants' players were healthy over the course of a full season?" And that would be an excellent question.
In 2012, the Giants had what I would consider seven everyday players manning their eight fielding positions, with second base being filled throughout much of the season with platoon-type players (until the late-season acquisition of Marco Scutaro). Of the seven everyday players, one was suspended for 50 games due to violating the league's substance abuse policy (Melky Cabrera, LF) and another (Pablo Sandoval, 3B) was limited to 108 games, mostly due to injury. The remaining five everyday starters each played at least 141 games, including: Posey (148), Belt (145), Angel Pagan (154), Brandon Crawford (143), and Gregor Blanco (141). For an MLB roster, over the course 162 games, this Giants team was remarkably healthy.
What about the pitching staff, you ask? The starting rotation featured a full five consistent players: Tim Lincecum (33 games), Bumgarner (32), Matt Cain (32), Barry Zito (32), and we'll include Ryan Vogelsong (31). That's a stable full of horses most managers dream of. The bullpen? There were five relievers with 60 or more appearances, each with sub-three ERAs, save for Clay Hensley (4.62 ERA). That, too, is equally solid in terms of the number of quality arms capable of enduring a hefty load of appearances.
So, what does a nearly clean bill of health, over the course of 162-plus games, earn a franchise? Most Giants fans are old enough to remember that magical run: Hunter Pence's popcorn-laden pregame speech, Posey's grand slam in the clincher vs the Reds, Zito putting the stopper in the Cardinals' potential clinching effort, Pence's broken bat-double contact hit which spun away from the Cardinals shortstop, and the incredible four-game sweep of the Tigers in the World Series. That backdoor sinker on the outside corner, from Sergio Romo to a frozen Miguel Cabrera, will be forever seared into the minds of San Francisco fans for a lifetime. That is what a clean bill – or as close to it as possible – can produce for a team, a city, and a fanbase.