COMMENTARY | It's pretty tough finding anything to be happy about when a team loses 86 games in a season, let alone five things.
But, hey, who doesn't like a challenge?
The San Francisco Giants had one of the worst followups to a championship season in baseball history, yet there were still a few bright spots during an otherwise awful year.
In no particular order, here are five things Giants fans can feel good about as they try to get through the long, cold winter:
Brandon Belt has arrived: This was the year Giants fans had been waiting for from Belt, the hitter who had destroyed pitching at every level of the minor leagues but struggled to find consistency at the major league level. In his second full season, Belt posted a batting line of .289/.360/.481 with 17 HRs, showing increased power at the plate while still possessing his trademark patience. Belt still strikes out too often, but the '13 season showed he's absolutely the lineup building block everyone hoped he'd turn out to be. He should continue to build on that success next year.
Madison Bumgarner is an ace: Whenever a pitcher merits Cy Young consideration on a team that lost 86 games, you know he's had a good year. Bumgarner came into his own this year, posting the lowest ERA of his young career (2.77), the most strikeouts of his career (199), and was the Giants' most consistent starter in a year where their starting rotation failed them miserably.
Bumgarner will be just 24 next season and already has the look of dominant, top-of-the-rotation starter. He's had three strong seasons already, but 2013 was arguably his most impressive. And the fact that he's signed for the next six years at an incredibly reasonable salary is the icing on the cake.
Sergio Romo can carry the load: Any questions about Romo's durability as a closer were answered this year. He delivered another strong season as the full-time closer, posting 38 saves to go along with a 2.54 ERA while striking out almost a batter per inning. Like Bumgarner, Romo's success is even more impressive considering how bad the Giants were overall. He's had always been one of the better setup men in baseball but 2013 proved Romo could be just as dominant as a closer, too. The Giants should feel good about having him at the end of their bullpen in 2014.
Hunter Pence delivered: The Giants wanted to see how Pence bounced back from a poor showing late in 2012 before signing him to long-term deal, and Pence didn't disappoint. Still a streaky hitter, Pence nevertheless provided a dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup and was one of the Giants' more consistent run producers. The Giants may have overpaid for him (OK, they probably did) but Pence's season made that overpay a little easier to swallow.
They finished strong: The Giants actually had a winning month of September, impressive for a team that was far, far out of contention and could have easily packed it in. They played well down the stretch and showed flashes of the team that won it all in 2012. Angel Pagan showed he's a difference-maker when healthy, and the Giants looked like a completely different team than the one that slogged through a terrible summer. The way the Giants finished makes it a little easier to think that, if healthy, they'll again be a contending team in 2014. Or it might mean absolutely nothing at all -- but at least it made the last month watchable.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer whose work on the Giants has appeared on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Sports' Big League Stew. Follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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