Trying to rebound from a 98-loss 2017 season, the San Francisco Giants have two major injuries to two starting pitchers. In his final tune-up before his Opening Day assignment against the Dodger Clayton Kershaw, who hasn’t allowed a run in the Cactus League, a line drive struck and broke Madison Bumgarner’s pitching hand. Earlier Friday the Giants announced right-handed starter Jeff Smardzija will begin the season on the disabled list with a strained pectoral muscle.
Since the All-Star break of 2016 when the Giants had the best record in baseball, nothing has gone their way.
The Giants depleted their farm system while acquiring players to win three world championships from 2010 to 2014. Now they are paying for it.
Not wanting to field a non-competitive team in 2018, the Giants obtained Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays and Andrew McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates to strengthen the offense. After spring training began, they signed left-handed reliever Tony Watson to a three-year deal. It appeared the Giants would make some noise in the highly competitive National League Western Division.
Brandon Belt finally recovered from his concussions, so he should have a good offensive 2018 season. Pablo Sandoval, returning from the Boston Red Sox where he performed dismally, will give the Giants a power-hitting switch-hitting reserve third baseman.
Everything looked fine for the Giants. In baseball with an older team, things can change in a blink of an eye.
This spring Buster Posey, the Giants’ best player and catcher, tweaked his left ankle. It is the same one that he injured and had successful surgery in 2011. However, crouching puts unusual strain on the ankles. The Giants need to rest Posey more to prevent further injury and the post-All-Star break offensive swoon occurring in both 2016 and 2017.
Resting Posey is difficult. Besides being an incredible offensive force in their lineup, he is a Gold Glove catcher. He knows how to handle the pitching staff.
Coming off a disappointing 2017, Smardzija hoped to contribute greatly to the Giants’ starting rotation. Entering the third year of his five-year deal, Smardzija hoped to improve on his performance in a Giant uniform. The pectoral strain can linger for a considerable period and decrease his velocity and command for the entire season until he has sufficient time to rehab and build up strength in the upper torso. Smardzija is the fifth best Giant starter, so he should not be difficult to replace if the Giant organization has any starting pitching depth.
On the other hand, replacing Bumgarner is nearly impossible. He definitely is the best starter for the Giants. Bumgarner broke his fifth metacarpal, and the doctors estimate he will be out 6-8 weeks. He will have pins inserted to stabilize the bone. For the second consecutive year, Bumgarner will miss significant time because of injury. Last year in a well-publicized dirt biking accident on an off day in Colorado, Bumgarner partially separated his pitching shoulder. He made only 17 starts in 2017 instead of his customary 32 starts.
Manager Bruce Bochy said about Bumgarner’s injury, “It’s just a downer.”
Johnny Cueto figures to replace Bumgarner as the Opening Day starter against Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, but he hasn’t had a good spring training with a 5.79 ERA. The domino effect will be felt in the Giant starting rotation.
A team trying to rebound from a dismal season shouldn’t have to deal with injuries, particularly to their ace. However, it happens in baseball. It will be interesting how the Giants proceed until Bumgarner and Smardzija return.