A repeat performance not in cards for Giants
Rotation struggles, lack of offense hurt club's efforts to defend title
SAN FRANCISCO -- What's the best answer to the oft-asked question, "What went wrong with the Giants?" You name it.
The starting rotation, San Francisco's primary asset while marching to two of the previous three World Series titles, faltered early in the season. Later, defensive miscues cost the Giants a handful of games. Offensive consistency was lacking throughout.
A pair of Interleague games against the Yankees in late September illustrated the Giants' woes. They were outscored, 11-1. When the bullpen didn't falter, the starters did. A throw from the outfield should have been cut off. Obviously, nobody hit with authority.
"These last two games have been indicative of how the season went for us," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Injuries are so prevalent that every team learns to deal with them and avoids using them as an excuse. Still, the Giants weren't happy when five of their seven World Baseball Classic participants -- left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, center fielder Angel Pagan and right-handers Ryan Vogelsong and Santiago Casilla -- spent time on the disabled list. Though second baseman Marco Scutaro avoided going on the DL, he endured back problems since Spring Training.
"I don't know if it was bad luck on our part, but something happened to everybody who participated in the WBC," Bochy said.
The Giants became well-acquainted with bad luck by the end of the year. Spectacular catches by center fielders Will Venable of San Diego, Matt Kemp of Los Angeles and Denard Span of Washington robbed the Giants of game-winning or go-ahead hits.
Such events drained the Giants of the optimism they felt as the season began. Their Opening Day contingent included 22 of 25 members of the 2012 postseason roster. Common sense dictated that they at least should contend again.
But the Giants' flaws were quickly exposed. Sandoval again grappled with weight problems, as his power dwindled. The team lacked depth, so when the aforementioned injuries struck Scutaro, 37, or center fielder/leadoff hitter Pagan, the Giants couldn't recover. Left field was an offensive wasteland.
A 5-19 stretch lasting from mid-June through early July finished the Giants, who were just 1 1/2 games out of first place before that slump began. During that drought, Madison Bumgarner was the only starter to win a game, nine of the losses came by two runs or fewer, the team scored two runs or less 14 times and Cincinnati's Homer Bailey pitched a no-hitter.
"Part of it might be trying to be too aggressive, trying to do too much," Pence said, referring to the team's offensive struggles.
The Giants improved almost automatically when Pagan, who needed surgery for an injured left hamstring, returned on Aug. 30 after an 82-game absence. By then, the Giants were already talking and thinking about 2014.
"We can get ready for next year and use this year as motivation to prepare," Pagan said.
Record: 76-86, tied for third in the National League West
Defining moment: The Giants led the division by 2 1/2 games when they began a two-game series in Toronto on May 14. They weren't just swept, they were embarrassed -- losing by an aggregate score of 22-9. Barry Zito and Vogelsong yielded eight runs apiece, though of that 16-run total, only eight were earned due to the Giants' defensive lapses. In the second game of the series, the Giants were beaten by Ramon Ortiz, who turned 40 eight days later. That was the only Major League win of the season for Ortiz, who surrendered one run over seven innings.
What went right: Pence became the club's biggest offensive force. ... Tim Lincecum finished below .500 but threw better than he did last year, when he finished 10-15. His July 13 no-hitter at San Diego reflected his improvement. ... First baseman Brandon Belt continued to develop as a hitter, particularly after he began standing deeper in the batter's box and changed his grip on the bat. He established himself as the team's primary No. 3 hitter and just might keep that role for a while. ... Brandon Crawford continued to prove that he's a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop and contributed some timely hitting. ... Right-hander Sergio Romo performed admirably in his first full season as a closer. ... Javier Lopez quietly developed into one of the league's top situational left-handers.
What went wrong: The offense struggled early in the season, even while Pagan was healthy. Once a hamstring injury and the resulting surgery shelved him for 82 games, the Giants had to play Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres almost regularly, instead of platooning them as Bochy had planned. ... Except for Bumgarner, each member of the starting rotation endured prolonged stretches of ineffectiveness. Barry Zito endured such a rough year that he was removed from the rotation twice. And just when Vogelsong appeared to regain his best stuff, he broke a finger when he was hit by a pitch on May 20, sidelining him for about 2 1/2 months. ... Adding second baseman Kensuke Tanaka and outfielder Jeff Francoeur shortly before the All-Star break proved to be futile moves . ... Though Scutaro and Buster Posey remained respectable hitters, neither produced runs at close to their 2012 pace. The same could be said for Sandoval, who homered twice between May 22 and Aug. 3.
Biggest surprise: Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who appeared destined to remain an afterthought, pitched himself into competition for a 2014 starting role. The Giants won Petit's first six starts, including a Sept. 6 game against Arizona in which he pitched a perfect game for 8 2/3 innings before Eric Chavez delivered a pinch-hit single. Petit, who doesn't throw especially hard, relies on control and changing speeds.
Hitter of the Year: Pence. He belted a personal-best 27 home runs, which earned him a five-year extension. He proved capable of prodigious efforts, including games with seven RBIs at Los Angeles on Sept. 14 and six RBIs against Colorado on Sept. 10. He worked so hard last offseason that he managed to improve his speed, which helped him steal a career-high 22 bases in 25 attempts.
Pitcher of the Year: Bumgarner. He reached All-Star status, while ranking among the NL leaders in numerous statistical categories. Though other starters struggled, he remained consistent, making 19 consecutive starts in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer. At 24, Bumgarner conceivably can become the most successful left-hander in Giants history since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958.
Rookie of the Year: Juan Perez, outfielder. He appeared in just 29 games (update), but impressed observers in his Major League debut on June 9 at Arizona by making a difficult running catch in center field on the first ball hit to him. Perez continued to make dazzling plays, most notably a diving grab in Petit's near-perfect game, and hit .389 (7-for-18) on the Giants' final road trip of the season.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.