COMMENTARY | "Offensive juggernaut" has not been a term associated with the San Francisco Giants for quite some time now. Though they've had enough hitting to propel them to two World Series championships in three years, the strength of the Giants over that time has been the pitching staff. And while the starting pitchers get most of the press and the credit for the Giants' run of dominance, the team's bullpen has been just as impressive.
It's no surprise, then, that the Giants have taken the necessary steps this offseason to ensure that their bullpen has the chance to be successful once again in 2013. And if all goes according to plan, the Giants should have one of the strongest relief units in the game.
Sergio Romo figures to get the lion's share of save opportunities after his impressive run as the team's closer in last year's postseason, and his numbers suggest he'll thrive in that role. The only question is Romo's durability, since his repertoire of breaking pitches isn't exactly easy on his elbow. It won't be surprising to see the Giants shut Romo down on certain days, and it also wouldn't be a surprise if they limit Romo's back-to-back appearances at least early on.
Luckily, the team is well-equipped with pitchers who can fill in for Romo on days when he isn't available. The Giants brought back both of their primary setup men, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla, on three-year deals and both of them will likely see their share of save chances. Affeldt is the rare lefty who can get both lefties and righties out with regularity, while Casilla and his blazing fastball can be very tough to hit late in games. Both have some experience closing, especially Casilla who filled in admirably as the Giants' closer for a good portion of 2012.
Left-handed specialist Javier Lopez also returns, and while he didn't have his best year statistically in 2012 he's still a tough assignment for opposing left-handed batters. If Lopez's struggles worsen this season, the Giants could turn to Jose Mijares as their second lefty out of the bullpen. A waiver claim last summer, Mijares held left-handed batters to a .211 average and pitched better as the season went on after a somewhat rough start to his Giants tenure. Expect to see more of him this year.
George Kontos is another pitcher the Giants will likely use more often, after he established himself as one of their more reliable relievers in his first full Major League season. Kontos showed good command and the ability to get a big out when called upon; in fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Kontos eventually surpasses Casilla in the Giants' bullpen hierarchy. Kontos could also see himself earning save chances this season if the situation calls for it.
The last spot in the bullpen could go to a veteran like the recently signed Chad Gaudin, or it could go to one of the Giants many minor league relievers: Heath Hembree, Dan Otero, Jean Machi, Brett Bochy, or a host of other names could find themselves getting the ball this year. If any of them have a break out spring, they'll probably be the last man out of the 'pen.
The Giants have positioned themselves well to cover for the loss of Brian Wilson at the back end of the bullpen. While they may not have an established closer anymore, they do have tremendous depth and an impressive collection of pitchers who can get the last three outs of a ballgame. Plus, they've proven their ability to win without Wilson closing games. Will they have the same kind of success in 2013? Whatever the answer, they've certainly given themselves the tools to do just that.
Now if only one of them would grow a ridiculous beard.
Dave Tobener has been a Giants fan longer than he's actually been alive...it's science. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants or his Giants blog www.GoldenGateGiants.com
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