Last year, in what baseball will soon call “the forgotten year,” the San Francisco Giants had a remarkably impressive, and miraculous World Series win. A team with such scarce hitting, built from misfits all around the league, the Giants’ win was not only against all odds, but it was against just about all of baseball’s desires. In their outstanding 6-win defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series, headlines topped newspapers and sports stations everywhere, “Phillies knocked out,” or “Disappointing Phillies Finish.” Since baseball didn’t care about the Giants, it was as if the Phillies didn’t even have an opponent.
A season later, the MLB has forgotten about the 2010 World Series, but us Giants fans cherish it. However, it’s time to look ahead this season. How are the Giants going to be this year? Well, they have almost an identical lineup, so they must be just as good, right? I don’t know anyone in the world who believes that. This is what it looks like:
Projected Starting Lineup:
Starting pitcher: Tim Lincecum
Catcher: Buster Posey
First Base: Aubrey Huff
Second Base: Freddy Sanchez,
Shortstop: Miguel Tejada (new to team)
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval:
Right Field: Cody Ross
Center Field: Andres Torres
Left Field: Brandon Belt (rookie)
Key bench players: Mark DeRosa (OF, 3B, 1B), Pat Burrel (OF), Mike Fontenot (INF), Aaron Rowand (OF), Brandon Belt (OF, 1B), Nate Schierholtz (OF)
Losses: Juan Uribe (INF), Edgar Renteria (SS)
Additions: Miguel Tejada (SS)
Other starting pitchers: Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito
Key relief pitchers: Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Santiago Casilla
Starting Pitching: Luckily, the Giants 5-man rotation is completely intact and in the same position as last year. The key to San Francisco’s success is pitching, which should be equally as effective last year. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, and Zito, (hopefully in that order) are close to the best staff in baseball. There have been recent concerns about this staff’s ability to recover this offseason, as it is particularly short due to their post-season success. Provided that they overcome this fatigue (particularly the very young arm in Bumgarner), these pitchers each have the capacity to be elite starters, as they were last season.
The X-factor this year is going to be Jonathan Sanchez. The man who had the lowest batting average against and hits per nine innings, has the best stuff in baseball when he is on his game. If he can remain calm and be even half as good as he was during the last month of last season, he will easily be one of the top five pitchers in baseball.
I am confident in Lincecum and Cain to have solid outings just about every night, and Zito’s mediocrity is one that shouldn’t change this season. (That being said, he would still be probably the best number five starter in the game, if he were to get that job).
Bumgarner’s success is one we can’t necessarily count on, and if there is one pitcher I would expect to fall below the expectation this year, it would be him. Bum is clearly asserting himself as a fan-favorite, and showed the best of what he has by shutting out the Rangers and defeating Cliff Lee in Game 4 of the World Series. However, Bumgarner is only 21 years old, and his inning count will continue to be monitored all year long, since he is someone we do not want to lose long term. However, if Bumgarner is able to have the stuff he did last year for the Giants, I would call the Giants the best starting staff in baseball, even in front of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. While the Phillies have bigger names on their staff, the Giants have key role-playing pitching by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner that subtly have stats that match up to those of the studs.
Bullpen: Complementing our starters, I expect big things from our bullpen this year. Our “Fear the Beard” campaign from last season was a headline of the Giants, but in reality, we had a few disappointments at times in our ‘pen.
I do not expect Brian Wilson, the real fan-favorite, to have near the same season as he did in 2010. While the fans’ facebook campaign for him to host Saturday Night Live is nearing 50,000 likes, and doesn’t seem like too much of a long-shot as this point, Wilson is becoming a main face of the Giants, due not to his numbers, but rather the energy he creates. Wilson’s incredible, and often very lucky talent for getting us in and out of trouble kept the Giants alive in 2010. However, we cannot forget previous seasons when he has been a major disappointment.
Despite Brian Wilson’s potential to go back to his 2008-09 pitching, I will say that I expect even bigger things from our bullpen this year. Having untouchable relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez for the whole season will be great insurance for our starters. Our other key relievers, such as Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and Dan Runzler, will also do big things in 2011.
Infield: There shouldn’t dilemmas over who will play first base now that Buster Posey is the established catcher. Aubrey Huff should get the majority of the starts. However, depending on rookie sensation Brandon Belt’s ability to play left field, we may see him make an appearance at first base as well, and Huff starting in left. Belt is already being called “2011′s Buster Posey,” although I think it will certainly depend on his ability to adapt into the majors before making any such claims. I am expecting very little from Huff, in comparison to last season, and I think that his 2-year 22 million dollar contract is quite excessive. Yes, Huff was seventh in the MVP voting last season. Can he do this for two more years, though? No. Regardless, Huff should be a solid everyday starter and hit about 15 homers this season.
At second, we have a sure starter in Freddy Sanchez, another very solid player, who will be singlehandedly carrying our infield with his glove. Surrounded by three sloths, Freddy Sanchez will look like Superman once again in the field, and judging by his heating up at the end of last season, should be a threat with the bat as well.
At shortstop, sorry fans, but we had to say goodbye to Uribe. And to the Dodgers, no less. But did we really? Or is Miguel Tejada the same guy, who delivers clutch homeruns that overshadow hundreds of strikeouts? In Sabean and Bochy’s attempts to build the same team as last year, they practically replaced Uribe with his twin: the slow, no-range shortstop who fans love, despite the fact that he plays like he’s five years older than he really is.
We also cannot forget about saying goodbye to Edgar, who had a tremendous end to the year, hitting a World Series winning 3-run homer and becoming the World Series MVP. We offered him a 1 million dollar contract, and despite his whining, I wouldn’t offer him a penny more. For once, Sabean made the right decision and decided not to offer a veteran who is past their prime to an obscene contract.
Third base will be a face-off. Bochy will be inspired by the fans to start the magic Kung-Fu Panda, who has supposedly lost about 25 lbs so far this offseason. If he is as big of a bust as his 2010 season showed, the start will probably go to Mark DeRosa, and perhaps Mike Fontenot. If he manages to perform however, we will see Fontenot platooning all over the infield and DeRosa becoming either the Left Field Starter, or the ultimate utility player.
Behind the dish, we have our same Jesus character, Buster Posey, being backed up by one of my personal favorites, Eli Whiteside. Posey is easily the overall favorite player by Giants fans after his Rookie of the Year season was a major part in leading the Giants to win the World Series. I do not expect a season nearly as high-caliber as 2010 for Posey, as the sophomore slump will probably kick in, but he will have timely hitting that will definitely assist the Giants in winning some games.
Outfield: In right, we have the playoff hero, NLCS MVP, Cody Ross. He should be the everyday starter, seeing occasional days off by means of Nate Schierholtz. I expect some decently big things from Ross, who can hopefully become our next Juan Uribe type player, hitting key homeruns. I think Ross will have between 15 and 20 homers next year, and based on his superb timing, it will seem like 40. However, I expect his batting average to remain right around the .269 mark from last year.
In center, we will still have Torres, who won’t be the same player of 2010. He clearly had a career season last year, and was even one of the elite leadoff hitters of the game in both average and power. Unfortunately, Torres died down quite a bit at the end of the year, and I expect that to be the Torres to be the one we see in 2011. I don’t think we will see many, if any, games started by Rowand in center, however, I do think this should be one of the main options Giants fans will consider when we see Torres’s likely struggle.
Left field is where the biggest decision will have to be made, and most likely we will see the most controversy. Fans would love to see Brandon Belt starting in left. However, if he does not provide the desired performance in spring training, and is not awarded with the starting job at either first or left, we are likely to see him in AAA, where he will hopefully be improving and maintaining his great prospect status.
If Belt doesn’t get the job, I would like to see DeRosa step up and be the player he once was. Although he batted under .200 before injuring his wrist with the Giants last year, I think DeRosa’s return could be a major boost in the Giants offensive production.
There have also been talks about moving Rowand to left, in which case I am okay with giving him another chance. He is never going to be the man he was on the Phillies, but he can still deliver some big homeruns for us when he’s called upon.
The last option for the job is Pat Burrel. Fans will hold onto his lack of success in the World Series, when he got no hits and struck out hundreds of times, but we can not forget the role he played in our success during the second half of the season. We must also keep in mind that he himself negotiated his humble 1 million dollar contract for the 2011 season. Pat the bat’s power was something we counted on endlessly through the season, and assuming he does not get the starting job, I think he would be a great “bat” to have off the bench.
In short, the Giants have the same team as they did last year. But to win, they needed not only great pitching and mediocre hitting, but key timing and a lot of luck. All the pieces fell together in 2011, which we certainly cannot count on this year. I am expecting an 85 win team, who finishes a few games behind the Rockies and Dodgers, just missing the playoffs. That being said, after what Giants fans have seen for the span of their lives, they cannot take an above .500 season as a disappointment. We have to continue to celebrate our World Series win as we probably will not see it again for a while.