SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A three-time champion team suffers injuries to significant players and has down years from others, and goes from a perennial contender to a team that’s having its worst year in almost a decade.
The Chicago Blackhawks might even miss the playoffs this year.
Oh, you thought I was talking about the San Francisco Giants?
Actually, I was. The parallels between what happened to the Giants last year and the struggles of this year’s Blackhawks are eerie. Last year the Giants lost Madison Bumgarner to an injury that shouldn’t even have happened; this year the Blackhawks lost Corey Crawford to an injury the team doesn’t even want to discuss.
Hunter Pence had a down year for the Giants last year. Jonathan Toews has disappeared for the Blackhawks.
There are others, but you get the idea. The Giants lost 98 games in 2017; the Blackhawks are likely out of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in a decade.
The Giants have done something about this, or at least acquired players that give them hope they can return to postseason contention.
The biggest acquisition is Andrew McCutchen, who has been the face of the Pirates franchise since 2009. After a down year in 2016, McCutchen returned to form in 2017 and the Giants hope he continues that. He’s a free agent after this year. It will be strange to see him in the orange and black uniform of the Giants.
Evan Longoria, another face of a franchise (Rays) for the last decade, was acquired as well. Longoria’s offensive numbers sagged a bit in 2017, though he still posted a good 3.6 bWAR season. He’ll finish his career with the Giants, most likely, as he’s under contract through 2022 with a team option/buyout for 2023.
The Giants traded away Denard Span and signed former Cub Austin Jackson, who will get a shot at the center field job. Other than those three, the Giants players who helped them win three World Series are back for another shot at it.
S.F.’s top three starters are solid: Bumgarner was good after he returned from the dirt bike shoulder injury, and Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are quality arms, despite both of them having mediocre 2017 seasons. Mark Melancon, signed to close before 2017, was bad and then injured and missed much of the season. The Giants acquired Sam Dyson by trade from the Rangers; he was pretty good apart from one horrific outing against the Cardinals in late August and two bad ones at the end of the season. If those two return to form the Giants bullpen could be pretty good.
Bruce Bochy, who will head to the Hall of Fame when his career is over, returns for his 12th season as Giants manager and 24th managerial season overall. He and his staff do a good job and it’s hard to believe there won’t be a significant improvement over the Giants’ 98-loss 2017. Incidentally, Bochy, who turns 63 in April and doesn’t seem anywhere near retirement, is 147 wins away from 2,000 in his career. He won’t get there this year, obviously, but when he does he’l become just the 11th manager in MLB history with 2,000 career wins.
The Cubs and Giants face each other six times in 2018: May 25-26-27 at Wrigley Field and July 9-10-11 in San Francisco.