State of the Franchise: San Francisco Giants
March 10, 2011 Leave a comment
To say the Giants are heading in any other direction besides up would be silly. The defending world champions from the 2010 season have the pieces in place to maintain a long string of winning seasons for the foreseeable future. However, that doesn’t mean this team doesn’t have its fair share of holes going into the 2011 campaign.
Offensively speaking, on paper, the Giants are middle of the road. Not only middle of the road, though. This Giants offense is also finding itself to be very old, with the exception of two key players.
The first of which is 2010 National League Rookie of the Year and National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, catcher Buster Posey. Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 runs batted in for the Giants after a mid-season promotion full time to the Major Leagues. Posey also provided solid leadership from behind the plate, guiding one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball and throwing out 37% of potential base stealers. Posey will again be expected to carry the load offensively for the Giants, which is a tall task to not only ask a second-year player, but also your starting catcher, who needs more rest than other players across the diamond.
The second young player the Giants will need to record a rebound season in 2011 is the Kung Fu Panda himself, Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval struggled mightily in his second full season, one year after finishing seventh in the Most Valuable Player voting. Last year, the Panda hit .268 with only 13 home runs and 63 runs batted in. With not much power to be found elsewhere in the Giants line-up, Sandoval will need to approach his 2009 numbers of 25 home runs, 90 runs batted in and a .330 batting average if the Giants want to match the offense of inner-division rivals like the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Looking down the Giants line-up after Posey and Sandoval, we find a mixed bag of grizzled veterans and inconsistent players. With super utility-man Juan Uribe signing with the Dodgers in the off-season, the Giants signed free agent shortstop Miguel Tejada to a one-year contract. Last year between Baltimore and San Diego, Tejada hit .269 with 15 home runs and 71 runs batted in. However, Tejada will be asked to replace Uribe’s strong 2010 power numbers of 24 home runs and 85 runs batted in. Those standards maybe be too high for the again Tejada, who won’t be as versatile defensively as Uribe proved to be.
Also, the Giants re-signed two World Series heroes, first baseman Aubrey Huff and outfielder Cody Ross. Huff had a surprisingly strong season for the World Champs, hitting .290 with 26 homers and 86 runs batted in. His play in the World Series helped him land a two-year contract extension with the ball club. But, the Giants must be careful; Huff is only two years removed from a season in which he hit a lowly .241 with only 15 home runs to show for it. The team hopes that 2010 Aubrey Huff wasn’t a flash in the pan from the days of old.
Ross, coming over to the Giants as a late-season waiver wire pick up, had great power numbers in the playoffs. Ross belted five home runs in 15 post-season games, but had only three in his first 33 with the Giants in the regular season. The team will also be watching outfielder Pat Burrell carefully as he looks to maintain his promising 2010 numbers of 18 home runs and 51 runs batted in while accumulating 289 at bats.
Much like the Oakland A’s, the Giants bread and butter is their dominant pitching staff. Many people around baseball were quick to anoint the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff comprised of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels the best in baseball. But, as the Giants love to point out, they beat all those pitchers at some point during the 2010 post season to take home the World Series title (Giants beat the Phillies in the NLCS, while the finished off Lee’s Rangers in the World Series). As of today, the Giants could make the case that they have the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball: Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Lincecum has been a true ace since the day he broke into the Major Leagues. Using his long, quirky delivery that somehow pumps out a 95-mph fastball from his 5’10”, 160-pound frame, Lincecum has captured two Cy Young Awards and three All-Star selections in his first four seasons. Last year, Timmy compiled a 16-10 record with a 3.43 ERA and league-high 231 strikeouts in his 212 innings of work.
Matt Cain, however, will probably go down as one of the greatest pitchers with the worst luck. In his six-year career, Cain maintains a 3.45 ERA and 906 strikeouts. However, for some unexplained reason, his career win-loss record sits at 57-62. How that is humanly possible is hard to explain. Last season, Cain went 13-11 with a 3.14 ERA and 177 strikeouts while getting the lowest run suppose in the National League.
The Giants rotation is deeper than just Lincecum and Cain, though. Lefty Jonathan Sanchez won 13 games a year ago, with an ERA of 3.07 and 205 strikeouts in 193.1 innings. Rookie Madison Bumgarner, at the ripe age of 20, also made his Major League debut, winning seven games in year one and with an ERA of 3.00. Oh, and the foursome of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner? All under 27 years of age. The Phillies can’t say that.
Also, another piece this Giants pitching staff has that the Phillies lack is a dominant, end of the bullpen stopper. Closer Brian Wilson made a name for himself with his crazy antics and ridiculous beard, but there’s more than meets the eye. Wilson, a two-time All-Star, had his best professional season in 2010. He posted an ERA of 1.81, saved a Major League-best 48 games, struck out 93 batters in 74.2 innings and finished seventh in the NL Cy Young balloting. But, he wasn’t the only stopper for the Giants in the bullpen. Relievers Santiago Castilla and Sergio Romo provided amazing seasons of their own. Romo had a 2.18 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 62 innings, while Castilla came close to matching Wilson’s ERA with a mark of 1.95. The Giants will need to continue to get solid production from all corners of their pitching staff to match the magic of 2010.
Heading into 2011, the Giants are very similar on paper to how the ended 2010. But, they will rely on a bounce back performance from Pablo Sandoval at third base, and continued success offensive from the likes of Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, Miguel Tejada and Cody Ross.
At the end of the day, the pitching will still be there for the Giants. Their rotation will guide them to one of the top two spots in the National League West, competing day in and day out with the fast-improving Colorado Rockies.
The golden rule in all of sports is that in order to become the champs, you must beat the champs. For the champ’s sake, let’s hope 2011 looks an awful lot like 2010.