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A Giants season preview for the oddest of years

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SB Nation 2015 MLB Preview Jane: Odd year? Frank: No. The worst.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

If you're not a Giants fan, you're reading this preview for the carnage. You're here to see exactly how the Giants crash in an odd year, exactly how they will fail. It doesn't have to be a silly odd-even superstition to pique your morbid curiosity, just the knowledge that 97 percent of baseball teams fail at the end of every season, so the odds are against everyone. You want me to tell you how the Giants are going to fail, like they should have last year and the years before that.

If you're a Giants fan, you're excited about the baseball season! Should be a humdinger. Say, wasn't last year fun? You want me to tell you how the Giants are going to succeed and troll the world again.

I cannot promise anything either way. The only truths I know are these:

  1. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a better team than the Giants
  2. The Giants have some serious, noticeable, terrifying holes
  3. This was true before 2014
  4. This was true before 2013

The Giants have clubbed us into baseball nihilism. There is no sense worrying. There is no sense believing in anything. Baseball will come at us quickly, a nine-story tidal wave rounding the corner like something out of a B-movie. We'll pretend we can outrun it, but it always catches up with us, always drowns us. Gives us gentle tidal wave massages every other year. But mostly drowns us. The Giants will be as good as they were last year, unless they're as awful as they were in 2013, unless they're somewhere in between.

They have a chance to be awful. They basically have the same team as last season, which means they could be great. Welcome to your 2015 Giants, the most confusing team in the world. Let us preview them.

Roster changes

IN: Casey McGehee, Norichika Aoki, about 13 or 14 minor league free agents

OUT: Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse

RETURNING: Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo

It's tricky to count those last three as the "IN" crowd, but the Giants will spend over $20 million on them this year, so they count in some capacity.

Starting pitching

If the Giants crumble into itty-bitty bits of trophy dust, this will be the reason. This, the way they started this whole bizarre quasi-dynasty. It will be the pitching. I knew it was you, pitching. You broke my heart.

The Giants have a seven-deep rotation if they want, but they'll choose five. All seven, though, have issues worth mentioning. Possibly in hushed tones.

Madison Bumgarner became a national sensation after his mesmerizing 2014 postseason. He deserves every accolade. He's also a couple months older than Zack Wheeler, yet threw an additional 100 innings, most of which were high-stress.

Jake Peavy was something of a mess in Boston last season, and he was something of a mess in the postseason. In between, he was Greg Maddux. Maybe not the award-winning version, the one who used his superlative command to irritate hitters long after his fastball disappeared, but a pitcher who could really help a team absorb innings.

Matt Cain is coming off elbow surgery. That's it. That's the only red flag you need.

Tim Hudson is coming off ankle surgery, following hip problems last year. He's going to turn 40 this year, and he finished last season horrifically.

Tim Lincecum has been bad -- actively bad at pitching, compared to his peers -- for the last three years.

If Ryan Vogelsong wins the fifth spot, you can note that he was bad in 2013 and sorta iffy last year. If Yusmeiro Petit wins the spot, even though he won't, note that he's unproven and has a problem with dingers. Whichever permutation you use, the Giants' pitchers are the 17 question marks in a YouTube comment that shouldn't have been posted.

Look at the best-case scenario, though. Bumgarner is predictably awesome. Peavy is workmanlike, if not a little better, and Hudson is the same. The difference between the old Cain and the one from the last two seasons was bone chips, and those are gone now. Lincecum pitches to the average-ish ability that the FIP suggests. That would be a fair-to-good rotation, with a couple of emergency options in the queue. It's certainly the kind of rotation that would work well with an above-average offense, which the Giants have an outside shot at.

You know all the names. More importantly, the Giants know all the names, which is why they're all back. Familiarity doesn't necessarily breed success, but at least they know what the wi-fi passwords are.

Lineup

The Giants were projected to hit 26 dingers. Hunter Pence got hurt. Now the Giants are projected to hit six dingers. Make the most of them, fellas.

Jeff Sullivan did most of the heavy lifting when he analyzed the Giants' remarkable lack of power.

The Braves and Phillies project to hit relatively few dingers, and they’re also projected to suck. The Giants are projected to hit even fewer dingers, but at the same time they’re projected for almost as much position-player WAR as the Orioles, who have the highest team dinger projection. It’s almost like the Giants know what they’re doing.

There's still a part of me that wonders about the value of stringing homers together, if there's some sort of cumulative effect that's not easy to discern through the stats we're used to. Though if there were, I'm sure the smart people would have figured out by now. All I know is that when the Giants were hitting a bushel of home runs, they won a lot. When they didn't hit home runs, they didn't win. Seems like science to me.

This will be a punchless lineup, certainly, and one that will threaten some historically punchless teams of recent vintage with a few injuries. The good news is it's also packed with vitamin OBP, even if the vast dimensions of AT&T Park make the numbers less sexy than they otherwise might be. There aren't too many slugs in the group, and they mostly make solid contact, so this should be a 1986-approved fundamentally sound team that doesn't need your stupid dingers. They hope.

Norichika Aoki does almost everything well, other than hit for power. On another team, that might not be noticeable or worrisome. On the power-bereft Giants, it's something worth worrying about. The good news is that he's the same valuable player the Brewers and Royals have enjoyed over the years.

Joe Panik was a revelation, considering the Giants were literally willing to play Dan Uggla instead of calling him up. While his surprising play in the regular season and occasional postseason heroics made him the unquestioned starter going into 2015, there are still questions about his offensive potential. If the Giants didn't have the same questions, they wouldn't have messed around with Uggla (or Brandon Hicks, or been active in all those sweet Emilio Bonifacio rumors) in the first place.

Angel Pagan is an underrated marvel when healthy, a switch-hitter with power, speed, and charisma. He's already sitting games out in the Cactus League because of back pain, which doesn't auger well.

Buster Posey is one of the streakiest players in baseball today, capable of award-winning stretches of transcendent play or months of Brad Ausmus-like production. They average out to one of the best players in baseball, so it's not like the Giants should complain.

Hunter Pence is broken right now, but he should be twitchy good when he gets back, just like he always is. He'll be replaced by Gregor Blanco, who is the world's best fourth outfielder who never gets to be a fourth outfielder. He always worms his way into the outfield rotation. He's probably a suspect if you're looking at this like a grizzled cop. Look for the person who benefits, that's what I always say.

Blanco should be fine for a month. Pence should be better after that. There's no need to bring Allen Craig into this.

Brandon Belt is the wild card, the surprise-in-training who could build on his powerful start to last season. The Giants are probably counting on it. There's exactly one player in the lineup whose ceiling is largely unknown, and that's Belt. He can be the 25-homer bridge that helps buck the power-free projections.

Casey McGehee might be the sabeaniest move of the last few years -- a veteran with good clubhouse marks, with obvious skills that are easy to overlook if you focus on his deficiencies. He's still not likely to improve on Sandoval, but he could be a worthwhile stopgap. The alternative was to spend many millions on Chase Headley or go with in-house options, and the in-house options are still there if needed.

Brandon Crawford is a known quantity, a solid-to-outstanding glove who is the defensive Tim Raines to Andrelton Simmons's Rickey Henderson right now, but still has some latent doubles power left to squeeze out, yet. It's a minor coup that he ever hit this much, so anything more than this would be welcome.

Even with Pence out, the Giants don't have a get-that-guy-outta-here pile of misery in their starting eight. If McGehee reverts to his pre-Japan ways, there will be activity at the deadline, and if Pagan goes down at the same time as Pence, it will be a serious mess for a while. It's not a bad lineup, though, even with the dearth of dingers.

Bullpen

Usually I make fun of bullpen predictions because there's always someone random who succeeds, someone reliable who falters, and a carousel of pitchers who either pitch better than expected or worse. There is no glory to be found in bullpen predictions.

Except if you're looking for a new market inefficiency, check out the continuity of the Giants' bullpen and how it's worked over the last five years. Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo have been there all five seasons, and they'll be there next year, too. That leaves Jean Machi and Yusmeiro Petit as the Hello Kitty backpack-carrying rookies of the bunch. Bring us some Whatchamacallits, rooks! I don't care if you've been here two years, what is this sass?

There are a couple of wrinkles, though. The first is that the Giants have relievers they don't want to lose on options, like George Kontos and Erik Cordier, which means a trade could be in the works. Look for an injury to give one (or both) of these guys a shot because the Giants bullpen sure is old.

That brings us to the other wrinkle. The Giants have a bottom-feeding farm system at the moment, but the one thing they're producing in abundance are live-armed relievers. For all this talk about continuity, there's a chance the Giants could have three or four new names in the bullpen this season, and they might not get worse at all. They would probably prefer Corey Seagers at every position, but at least they have something resembling an organizational niche that can help the 2015 roster in some capacity.

Prospects who will see time

Andrew Susac will likely be the primary backup, starting 20 percent of the time while Buster Posey plays first or rests. He would start on half of the teams in the league, but considering the garbage-disposal nature of the catching position, easing him in and limiting at-bats for everyone behind the plate might not be the worst idea.

Kyle Crick looks like this when he's right, which is rarely. He's still a puppy when it comes to pitching -- he didn't start until late in his high school career -- and the Giants will be patient. The scuttlebutt is whispering "reliever," but the Giants can probably afford to keep trying him as a starter, considering their potential lack of relief depth.

Mac Williamson missed most of last year after Tommy John surgery, and he hasn't played much about Class-A, but if the Giants are looking for in-house power, this is their best bet. That goes for talent and opportunity, both.

Derek Law probably won't be back until the middle of the season, but he was on the fast track to slider-slinging success. Left-hander Steven Okert was the darling of the Arizona Fall League last year, and he's throwing well in the spring. Ray Black throws 103 miles per hour, but might have the dodgiest injury history in the organization, so he'll be treated gently. Hunter Strickland is an under-the-radar prospect you might not have heard of, but he's probably really good! One of these pitchers will log significant innings this year, either because of injuries or performance.

Random Prospect is the one who will actually see extensive time this year, either as an injury fill-in, relief arm, or emergency rotation option. We'll get used to him after three weeks and argue about his potential for months afterward.

How this will work

The Giants find five worthwhile starting pitchers out of the seven options they have, and they'll hit enough to make it work, just like last year. Hunter Pence will come back on schedule, and the team will enjoy a mostly healthy season without any fluke injuries.

How this will fail

Two or three (or more) starting pitchers will stumble into a pile of their worst-case scenario. The offense is powerless, and the OBPs aren't nearly good enough to make up for it, which leads to a bad offensive team that's completely interminable because of the park and era. Do you remember what 2011 was like before Carlos Beltran? Like that, but without the pitching.

The Giants used to be one of those teams that needed a World Series for a successful season because they hadn't won one since moving from New York. Now they're one of those teams that needs a World Series because they have the taste in their mouth, and because everything else would be completely deflating. What, you're going to get excited if they somehow get through the Dodgers, win the pennant again, and lose in the World Series?

...

Yeah, kind of. So there are grades of success. The Giants haven't lost a postseason series since J.T. Snow was thrown out at home, but I don't think there would be a way to be disappointed in any result that comes from a postseason appearance. At least, that's how it feels now. But there will be a month. Then another month. Then another month. Then another month. Then another month. Then another month. There will be ups, downs, and sidewayses. We'll get used to this team, for better or for worse, possibly worse. Then we'll have the hunger again.

We'll be greedy. We'll be greedy little pig-fans, who pretend like we deserve another championship. It's the only thing that will matter, and it's not likely at all to happen again, even if the Giants are one of the five best teams in the National League this season.

Happy base-balling, folks. Enjoy your season with the most confusing team in the sport.