By Darby Brown-Kuhn
With the signing of free-agent closer Mark Melancon, the San Francisco Giants decided upgrading their pitching staff was the most important upgrade for their roster heading into next season.
While the prospect of landing a superstar outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes or Andrew McCutchen was tempting, Giants general manager Bobby Evans made the decision to stick with the familiar philosophy of relying on pitching and defense to win games.
Considering the strategy has worked in the past for the Giants under Evans, there was no reason to abandon it and try something new.
After all, the bullpen was the main culprit of their ghastly second half collapse last season, which was summarized best by the meltdown against the Cubs in Game 4 of the
National League Division Series. The narrative for 2017 will likely be different.
With Melancon anchoring the closer role,the Giants bullpen should be much more formidable. Finesse relievers Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez have been replaced with younger arms who all boast 90-plus mph fastballs and high strikeout rates.
Derek Law impressed fans and management as he became the Giants most reliable reliever in his rookie campaign last season.
Both he and the rocket-arm endowed Hunter Strickland will be a formidable presence in the later innings next season.
Beginning his first full season with the Giants, Will Smith is still the go-to left-hander out of the pen, but the Giants could have an impressive lefty tandem if Josh Osich can overcome the command issues that plagued him last season.
With a rebuilt bullpen, it’s not foolish to expect some impressive numbers from the Giants starting rotation next season.
Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are one of the most formidable one-two punches in the game, and will be followed by Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore in the rotation.
Moore came up huge down the stretch after he was acquired from Tampa Bay, and could very easily be an ace on another team. Samardzija is inconsistent but has shown the ability to dominate major league talent.
Ty Blach’s clutch performance in the postseason may have solidified his position as the fifth stater, which means the Giants will sport three lefties in their starting five.
On paper this may be the best rotation in the National League, and top-to-bottom is the best in the National League West.
The Dodgers are the only division rival with comparable starting pitching, but after Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill the talent level dips.
Kenta Maeda had durability concerns last year and Julio Urias, while gifted, is still learning how to pitch at the big league level.
Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy are good when healthy, but the Dodgers are currently shopping both players, so they might not be on the team once spring training begins.
And if their top reliever Kenley Jansen signs elsewhere, the already inconsistent Dodgers bullpen could have serious problems.
The Giants know all too well about what can happen without a strong bullpen, and with their new closer, San Francisco is in position to end the Dodgers streak of four consecutive division titles.
And if the roster is intact at the end of the year, another post-season run in October is in the cards.