Monday, March 5, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: San Francisco Giants

2011 Record: 86-76

Key Additions: Angel Pagan (OF), Melky Cabrera (OF)

Subtractions: Jonathan Sanchez (P), Carlos Beltran (OF), Ramon Ramirez (P), Andres Torres (OF), Mark DeRosa (IF), Miguel Tejada (SS)

2012 Outlook
After a magical 2010, the Giants fell back to earth in 2011, and then some. The offence was miserable, the defence just as bad, and key contributors Aubrey Huff and Jonathan Sanchez had off years. But the worst blow to the Giants last season came on May 25, when star sophomore catcher Buster Posey broke his leg in a collision at home plate with Scott Cousins. Posey had just come off a sensational rookie year in which he backstopped San Francisco to a World Series, and showed great abilities at the plate. If healthy, he will form a nice one-two punch with Pablo Sandoval, who is coming off an excellent year that saw him use his voodoo powers to hit for a .315 average with 23 homers, earning an All-Star selection.

Posey wasn’t the only key position player to miss extended periods of time due to injury. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez only played sixty games last year due to a separated shoulder. Both Posey and Sanchez are above average contributors with the stick when healthy, so their return is crucial to a Giants team that finished last in the NL in runs scored. Some of the onus for last year’s offensive debacle also falls on Huff, who failed to repeat his 2010 numbers after signing a two year extension. He needs to produce if he wants to keep his job, because he’s got budding star Brandon Belt hot on his heels.

Newcomers Melkey Cabrera and Angel Pagan should also help the offensive cause, but consider yourselves warned, there is no way Cabrera repeats last season’s numbers. He’s probably not going to fill the void that created when Carlos Beltran signed with the Cardinals. Still, this year’s bunch should be significantly better than last years, even with Brandon Crawford (career .266 hitter in the minors) and Nate Schierholtz in the lineup on a regular basis.

Due to their lack of offence, the Giants will count on their stellar rotation to carry them to the playoffs, much like they did in 2010. Tim Lincecum is the ace of this sensational staff, and is one of baseball’s best pitchers. He suffered from poor run support last year (just 2.8 runs per start!), resulting in a 13-14 record, despite his 2.74 ERA. Joining him at the top of the rotation is Matt Cain, who has quietly been almost as good as Tim for the past few seasons. Cain is often overlooked due to his lower strikeout rates (7.4/9 compared to Lincecum’s 9.9/9), but he has been one of the most consistently excellent pitchers over the past five years, throwing at least 200 innings per season, with a career ERA of 3.35 (for comparisons sake, Roy Halladay’s is 3.23). Madison Bumgarner became the first Giant’s pitcher to throw more than 200 innings in a season before turning twenty-two since 1960. He’s most certainly a plus No. 3. Ryan Vogelsong hopes to repeat his breakout 2011 season that saw him go 13-7 and make his first All-Star appearance, after a three year hiatus in Japan. Barry Zito will likely open up 2012 as the most overpaid fifth starter. That is, if he can win the job. The rotation should once again be one of baseball’s best, which is why GM Brain Sabean felt comfortable trading Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals.

The Giants have a top notch pen to complement their starters. Brian “The Bearded One” Wilson leads the Majors with 163 saves since 2008. Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Casilla round out the bullpen that had the second best ERA in baseball last year, and should be just as good in 2012.

The Giants have a solid bench, but outside of Belt, it’s nothing to write home about. Mike Fontenot is a solid veteran, and Emmanuel Burriss is a good utilityman. Last year, Posey’s backup Chris Stewart played over sixty games. This year, he should play about once a week to give Posey the day off. Anything more than that and the Giants will be in trouble, because Stewart is a career .200 hitter.

The Final Count: 86-76, Second in the NL West
This is probably a bit harsh based on the Giant’s staff, but I’m really concerned about the Giant’s offence. Cabrera is unlikely to repeat his career year; Huff is showing signs of age, and it’s yet to be determined how well Posey and Sanchez will play upon their returns. Unless the hitters take it to the next level, the Giants will once again play the role of second banana in the NL West. However, even if they don’t win the division, they still should be in contention for one of the wild cards.

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