St. Louis Cardinals against the National League: San Francisco Giants

Dec 17, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco senior vice president/general manager Bobby Evans shakes hand after the signing of pitcher Johnny Cueto at a press conference at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco senior vice president/general manager Bobby Evans shakes hand after the signing of pitcher Johnny Cueto at a press conference at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco Giants missed out on the Postseason after a mediocre 2015 campaign. With a reloaded pitching staff, the Giants will look to challenge for another World Series this year. The St. Louis Cardinals play the Giants seven times in 2016.

2015 Record: 84-78

Notable Departures: SP Mike Leake, SP Ryan Vogelsong, SP Tim Hudson, SP Tim Lincecum, OF Nori Aoki, OF Justin Maxwell

Notable Newcomers: OF Denard Span, SP Johnny Cueto, SP Jeff Samardzija

Against St. Louis in 2016: 3 games June 3-5 @ STL, 4 games September 15-18 @ San Fran

The Outlook:

Well, as it tends to happen on a pretty routine basis, it is an even-numbered calendar year once again. For the San Francisco Giants, that has to be music to the ears. I mean, they won the whole thing in 2010, then 2012, and most recently in 2014.

Adding to the strangeness of San Francisco’s run of titles this decade is the fact that they have completely missed the playoffs in all of the odd-numbered years. While the St. Louis Cardinals have been the National League’s most consistent team since 2010, the Giants have three rings to their advantage.

When it comes down to it, the rings are what you play for. As fortunate and privileged as I have been as a Cardinal fan, it would be tough for me to say that I I wouldn’t trade places with the Giants in terms of what each club has accomplished since 2010.

The Cardinals’ methodical and calculated approach to consistent excellence is something I will never take for granted. We have been spoiled as baseball fans with consistently high-quality teams that flat out play the game the right way.

Cardinal fans are phenomenal, I mean it’s only us and the Dodgers that beat out the third place Giants in attendance in 2015. Our 3.521 million (43,467 average) fans edged out the Giants at 3.376 million (41, 677 average).

But you cannot tell me that three rings in five years doesn’t sound like some sort of fairy tale. I think that alternating titles with missing out on the playoffs probably makes each ring that much sweeter for Giants fans.

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Central to it all, without a doubt, has been their Hall of Fame Manager Bruce Bochy. He is one of ten managers in the history of the game to win three rings, with Tony La Russa being the last to do so. The other eight are all in Cooperstown.

I am of the opinion that Bochy is head-and-shoulders above the other 29 managers in baseball right now. The man just always seems to push the right buttons (think Bumgarner Game 7 against KC in 2014).

In an survey of 50 MLB Scouts, Front Office personnel, Major League coaches and media personalities, Bochy was voted Best Overall Manager, taking 24.2% of the vote. Interestingly, Cardinal Manager Mike Matheny received just 3.4% of that vote, losing out to the likes of Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia and Bob Melvin.

Clearly, then, Bochy is at the very least among the top two or three managers in the game. He figures to have a pretty good ball club ahead of 2016 that will look to a reloaded pitching staff to lead them this year.

The Giants cleared space for the likes of newly acquired starting pitching talents Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija by saying goodbye to four-time All Star Tim Hudson (retirement) along with Ryan Vogelsong and Mike Leake (free agency).

Former back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum will reportedly hold a showcase in front of MLB teams in Arizona to prove that he is healthy after undergoing hip surgery. The 31-year-old has yet to find a home for 2016, and it appears that his only shot of staying in San Francisco would be in some sort of a bullpen role.

With Madison Bumgarner at the top of the starting rotation, the Giants figure to fill in with Cueto, Samardzija, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain. While Cain is the only arm with a Cy Young on his resume, there are a whole bunch of playoff starts spread amongst those five. The Giants should have a top-five rotation in 2016, assuming each of those guys stay healthy.

In addition, Chris Heston threw 177 2/3 innings in 31 starts last year. He could slot into a long-relief role in the Giants pen. There is also the interesting possibility that one of the older San Francisco starters could shift over to a late innings bullpen role with the 27-year-old Heston staying in the rotation.

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The back end of the Giants bullpen should be solid with Santiago Casilla (38/44 in saves last year) closing out ballgames and Sergio Romo holding down the 8th inning duties. There will be questions to answer in the middle innings, but with all their pitching talent, it seems to be no more than a matter of plugging guys in to the correct spots.

While the Giants had a +69 run differential in 2015 (9th in baseball) the offense will look to improve on their 12th-best ranking of 696 runs scored last season.

The Giants hit just 136 home runs last year (one fewer than the Cards), good for 27th in baseball. They were near the league average in team OPS (11th) and finished 20th in baseball in extra-base hits in 2015.

Without traditional big name power threats in their lineup, the Giants will look to guys like Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence to drive the baseball this year and produce more runs for the club.

Seven different Giants (with at least 175 at-bats) hit .280 or better last year, although only shortstop Brandon Crawford eclipsed the 20 home run mark, hitting 21.

The Giants were phenomenal a year ago defensively, when they turned in a .987 fielding percentage, good for second in baseball. They were second best in defensive efficiency in 2015 with a .706 rating. This means that 70.6% of balls put into play were converted into outs by the Giants.

Brandon Crawford is as good as they come at shortstop, the Giants have speed and plus arms across the outfield, and Buster Posey was the top catcher in baseball in terms of Defensive WAR a season ago.

So, then, should the Giants be considered favorites in the NL West this year? Do they have a better team than the Dodgers? In all honesty, it’s hard to tell.

With all the turnover in LA, the Giants having Bochy, and their recent run of success taken into account, they seem to be the common-sense pick in the West this season. You cannot count out the Diamondbacks after what they did this off-season, but I wouldn’t consider them among the favorites in the West quite yet.

The simple fact of the matter is that if the Giants make the playoffs in any capacity, absolutely nobody is going to want to face them. I mean, how would you when you think about what they did in 2010, 2012 and 2014?

The Cardinals/Giants season series will kick off with three early-June contests at Busch Stadium. The Giants are one of the few teams in Major League Baseball to have a winning record all-time against the Redbirds. The Giants hold the all-time series advantage 990-914.

Considering the Cardinals are 16-17 against San Francisco at Busch Stadium III since it opened in 2006 and 14-15 at AT&T Field over that same time period, this series is the toughest pick I’ve had yet.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals against the National League: Arizona Diamondbacks

I am going to go against history and take the Redbirds winning two of three in St. Louis in early June. Then, when the club’s hook up out west in mid-September with playoff implications all around, I like the team’s to play four ultra-competitive games that end in a 2-2 series split.

That result would give the Cards a 4-3 season series win, something I’m sure the majority of Cardinal fans would take happily.