“Countdown to Opening Day” is a beat that will address questions about the San Francisco Giants going into the 2011 season as well as questions from around the MLB.

Everyone knows the San Francisco Giants, winners of the 2010 World Series, are a team built around pitching so it seems apt to start with the starting five. Last year multiple pieces came together in a magical combination to aid the team on their playoff run, but the starters stellar performances were arguably the biggest reason why the Giants were able to win the World Series.

How will the Giants starting pitching do in 2011?

Postseason highlights from the Giants starters:

Yo, Tim, what's up with the ponytail? Don't worry though, Lincecum will be dominant this year.

Staff ace Tim Lincecum set the tone for the playoffs with his shutout over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS. Lincecum dismissed any doubts about his lack of postseason inexperience when he blanketed the Braves lineup, striking out 14 and only allowing 2 hits in a 1-0 win. Big Time Timmy also had series clinching wins for both the NLCS and the World Series. Matt Cain followed up an uncharacteristically rocky outing by Tim Lincecumwith his typical, steady outing, allowing no runs over 7 2/3 innings in a game the Giants won 9-0, taking a 2 games to none lead vs. the Texas Rangers. Jonathan Sanchez was worn down during the postseason, and it showed. Sanchez struggled in Game 2 of the NLCS versus the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game of the World Series, both games the Giants lost. However, no one will forget the Giants clinching the NL West on the last day of the regular season, defeating a pesky Padres ball club 3-0. It was Sanchez who got the win, after guaranteeing that the Giants would overtake the Padres and win the NL West. Perhaps the greenest Giant of them all, midseason call-up Madison Bumgarner became the 4th youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game when he went 8 innings, giving up no runs in a convincing 4-0 win over the Rangers in Game 4. And lastly, Barry Zito was left of the Giants playoff roster, but that’s to be expected.

My boy Matt Cain will be solid as usual this year.

Theories:

The chief concern is that the young starting staff, after such a short offseason due to their playoff run, will pay the price for their heavy workload in 2010 with a disappointing 2011 season. Either the staff won’t be as effective or there will be injuries, or some combination of the two.

It could be a rough year for the lefty with electric stuff. (Jonathan Sanchez)

I didn’t totally buy this argument at first and some quick Google searches didn’t yield any results backing up this theory. My optimistic side tells me that some aspects of the Giants won’t be as good this year, (almost every hitter) but that the starting staff will be even better. After all, Tim Lincecum’s 16-10 record belied some rough patches. In August when Tim was 0-5 and his velocity was down there were whispers, myself included, that he was just not the same pitchers as he was earlier in his career. We also messed around with the atrocious Todd Wellemeyer for a good chunk of the season before Bumgarner mercifully stepped in once Wellemeyer was injured. Lastly, our staff just has so much potential that it’s easy to think that they will just keep getting better.

Remember Todd Wellemeyer? Fattest scrub ever.

Verdict:

However, I think it’s unrealistic to think that the starting pitching as a whole will be as good as last season. Lincecum will have a beastly year after rededicating himself to his fitness and long toss regimen and Matt Cain will be his workhorse self again. Barry Zito will go through some hot stretches where everyone thinks he’s “back,” and then will cool down and be his usual mediocre self. But putting things in perspective Zito is probably one of the top #5 starters in the league. At least we can count on Zito to chew up innings because he never gets injured. The biggest risks are the other two lefties, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.

Maybe if Barry Zito weren't so darn handsome and artsy he'd be a better pitcher.

I honestly don’t see much upside for these two this year, no way both of them remain healthy and effective throughout the entire 162 game season. Maybe they won’t get injured, but at least one of them won’t duplicate their success from last year. Will it be the fragile and inconsistent (not to take away from his electric stuff) Sanchez or the extremely young Bumgarner who succumbs in 2011? And despite the Giants amazing starting rotation, there’s no one waiting in the wings to replace them. No good prospects really in the minors that I know of, the #6 starter is looking like veteran journeyman Jeff Suppan. Suppan is like insurance, you pray that you don’t have to use it.

Easiest way to identify a "band wagon" Giants fan = people who pronounce it "Bumgardner." (Madison Bumgarner)

So, in conclusion, the Giants starting pitching as a unit will not replicate last season’s success. They’ll still be better than the starting pitching of most team’s in the big leagues, but not as fearsome as last year’s rotation due to ineffectiveness or injuries to Sanchez and/or Bumgarner.

Don't know who this guy is? Good, because if we see too much of him it means things have gone very badly. (Jeff Suppan)

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