Since winning their first World Series in 56 years back in 2010, the San Francisco Giants have become the kings of the even year in Major League Baseball. It is an even year, so does that mean it is again time for the Giants to win the World Series?
Though the Giants posted a respectable 84-78 record last season, they were well off the pace of the playoffs as they finished eight games behind the division winning Los Angeles Dodgers and 13 games out of a Wild Card spot.
Their past championship teams have been built on a foundation of strong pitching and that will certainly have to be the case again if they hope to make a run in 2016.
The addition of Johnny Cueto would appear to be a great move in that direction. Though he finished 2015 with an 11-13 record and struggled during his tenure with the World Champion Royals, Cueto should benefit from returning to the National League this season. He registered an ERA under three runs a game in each of his final five seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (including 2.62 before being traded to KC in 2015).
In addition, Jeff Samardzija is back in the National League after posting an 11-13 record with 4.96 ERA pitching for the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Though he has registered only one winning season during his career, Samardzija has shown signs of greatness and should benefit from being part of a solid rotation.
The remainder of the staff includes three pitchers with All-Star pedigrees. Madison Bumgarner was 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA last season and is the clear staff ace. Jake Peavy was 8-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 19 starts last season.
Matt Cain has struggled the last three seasons, but if he is able to regain the form he showed while winning 55 games between 2009 and 2012 he will be a great end of the rotation anchor for the Giants.
The position lineup is led by perennial All-Star catcher Buster Posey. The 2012 MVP has been a steady performer since missing most of the 2011 season due to a horrific home plate collision. He has played at least 147 games in each of the last four years and in 2015 hit .318 with 19 home runs and 95 RBI.
The infield is young and talented with everyone under 30.
Brandon Crawford has emerged as a standout at shortstop and in 2015 had career highs with 21 home runs, 84 RBI and a .256 batting average. First baseman Brandon Belt had a career-high 18 home runs and 68 RBI last season and could be due for a breakout campaign.
The two youngest members of the infield, third baseman Matt Duffy and second baseman Joe Panik, both emerged as solid performers a year ago and could be staples for the Giants for years to come. Panik, hit .312 while earning a spot on the All-Star team. In his first full season, Duffy hit .295 with 12 home runs and 77 RBI.
The outfield is much more experienced with three 30-somethings roaming the grass at AT&T Park. Rightfielder Hunter Pence will look to rebound after playing on 52 games a year ago. Leftfielder Angel Pagan is a solid veteran, but must improve on his 2015 numbers of .267 batting average, three home runs and 37 RBI in 133 games.
Joining the outfield this season is 32-year old veteran centerfielder Denard Span. After having his best season in 2014 with the Washington Nationals, Span played in only 61 games last year. So like Pence, he must get back to his previous performance if the Giants want to continue their even year streak.
For the Giants in 2016, the biggest key may simply be getting into the playoffs. They proved in 2014 when they won only 88 games and skated in as a Wild Card team that they have the pitching capable of winning the championship.
The Dodgers will still be a formidable opponent, but with Zach Greinke moving from LA to Arizona, the Diamondbacks also seem to be a potential contender for the division crown.
The Giants will need for their vaunted starting rotation to lead the way in 2016 and their young infielders to all keep building on their recent success. If that happens, the Giants will be in contention for a spot in the playoffs. Then, as they have proven three times this decade, once the postseason starts anything can happen.