Welcome to the 2011 National League West Pre-Season Preview, hosted by RJs Fro. Each day this week a different NL West team will be poked, probed, and otherwise analyzed by asking five generic questions, and five questions submitted by fellow NL West bloggers. So, let the probing begin...
Check out How the West Was Won from Bloguin's outstanding NL West blogmeisters:
San Francisco Giants Preview The Giants Cove
San Diego Padres Preview RJs Fro
Colorado Rockies Preview The Rockie Mountain Way
Los Angeles Dodgers Preview TetreaultVision
Arizona Diamondbacks Preview D'Backs Venom
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
1. 2010 record
92-70 1st NL West (and, as you may have heard, 2010 MLB World Champions).
2. Player additions
On July 4, 2010 the Giants were 41-40, wallowed in 4th place in the NL West. During the 2010 season, the Giants' roster underwent several tsunami-like changes, and Bruce Bochy was still recreating his line-up almost on a daily basis right through September. Everything came together in the post-season and will again in 2011.
Key team rebuilding moves in 2010:
> outfielder Pat Burrell was picked up in June;
> Andres Torres became the lead-off hitter and center fielder a month before mid-season;
> relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez were picked up at the trading deadline in July;
>catcher Buster Posey and starter Madison Bumgarner were brought up from the minors at mid-season.
>outfielder Cody Ross was added from waivers in August.
For the 2011 season, only one player has been added who was not on the team last year: shortstop Miguel Tejada, signed to a 1 year deal for $6.5 million.
3. Player Losses
Five players who were on the roster in September have left the Giants: infielders Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, outfielders Jose Guillen and Eugenio Velez, and reliever Chris Ray.
4. Strengths going into 2011
The Giants will start 2011 with a set line-up that can produce runs, arguably the best starting staff in franchise history, and a bullpen with the second best pen ERA in the Majors last year.
There are eight significant differences between Opening Day 2010 and Opening Day 2011 that make the Giants a powerhouse:
1) Buster Posey is the starting catcher instead of Bengie Molina.
2) Cody Ross is the starting right fielder instead of John Bowker (and later, Nate Schierholtz and Jose Guillen).
3) Madison Bumgarner is the #5 starter instead of Cardinals cast-off Todd Wellemeyer.
4) Relievers Lopez and Ramirez start the year in the bullpen.
5) Pat Burrell will play some left field and add his power bat to the Giants' bench.
6) Andres Torres is the starting center fielder instead of Aaron Rowand.
7) Mark DeRosa will be an everyday starter in left field or third base (he was injured and out of the line-up for almost all of 2010).
8) Miguel Tejada is the starting shortstop instead of Edgar Renteria.
5. Weaknesses going into 2011
Again this year the Giants' batting order does not have a 100+ RBI, 30+ home run, high OBP power hitter. They will have to score runs the way they did in 2010: hitting a lot of team extra base hits (476, 7th in the NL tied with Atlanta) and home runs (162, 6th in the NL). San Francisco was 9th in NL runs scored (697), and the revamped line-up needs to improve on that number in 2011 to succeed.
While the Giants made only 73 errors in the field (4th best in the Majors), their infield defense featured a distinct lack of range in 2010. But even Miguel Tejada's sub par range factor was better than the RFs put up by Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. The infield defense takes another hit if Pablo Sandoval wins the third base job over DeRosa.
Currently, veteran pitcher Jeff Supan is a very shaky plan B if one of the five starters goes down. Top minor league prospect RHP Zack Wheeler appears to be a year away from a possible call-up, and up and coming hurlers RHP Jose Casilla and RHPJorge Bucardo are a couple of years away.
6. Is there any indication from the Giants' organization that Tim Lincecum's struggles in 2010 were a fluke, or has Lincecum become more hittable? (RJ's Fro)
Lincecum's 2010 problems occurred in August, when he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA. The rest of the year he was 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA. As you might expect, there was intense speculation among fans, the media and (especially) sports talk radio during Lincecum's troubles. Everyone had a theory, and for a minute it seemed like Tim Lincecum's superman days were over. The Giants front office never publicly discussed what happened, but one local TV/radio sports commentator, F. P. Santangelo, apparently identified Lincecum's lack of ongoing conditioning as the cause for the stumble.
Lincecum reportedly went back to his normal workout and conditioning routines and he rebounded in the month of September, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. Of course, the two-time Cy Young winner followed that up with an incredible post season: 4-1, 2.43 ERA, .92 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts in 37 innings.
7. Will the Giants' reality TV program deal with Showtime, in which cameras follow the team up close throughout the year, be a distraction? (RJ's Fro)
Maybe a little, but that's not the issue. As San Francisco Chronicle sports writer Bruce Jenkins pointed out, Giants President Larry Baer is on a mission to spread and sell the Giants brand on a national scale, the way the Yankees and Boston have done. The team sees the exponential revenue generated by other franchises who aggressively pursue the media, territorial expansion, and outside business opportunities and they want to play. Shockingly, it's all about the money. As far as the players, they'll have fun-- and who knows what individual commercial endorsement opportunities could come their way as a result of the project.
8. Offensively, do the Giants have enough to carry the team to the 2011 post-season? (The Rockie Mountain Way)
See #4 above. The personnel changes the team made the second half of 2010 dramatically improved its extra base hitting and run scoring-- and all the elements of that improvement are in place for 2011. Buster Posey will be in the everyday line-up starting Opening Day, a year after winning NL Rookie of the Year.
9. 2010 was a bounceback year for Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell. Can they keep it up? And what about Pablo Sandoval? (D'Backs Venom)
Aubrey Huff is for real-- an extra base hitter who drives in runs and provides leadership in the clubhouse. Huff had 86, 85, and 108 RBI the last three years, and signing with the Giants re-energized his career and brought out his innate leadership skills. Huff agreed to a two year, $22 million contract three weeks after the World Series; he will play 155+ games at first base or left field in 2011.
Pat Burrell's best contribution in 2011 would be to come off the bench with his great plate discipline and power. The Giants need an everyday left fielder with better speed and range, and either Aubrey Huff or Mark DeRosa can provide that.
Pablo Sandoval is the biggest wild card in the organization. If he can continue to walk past the buffet table, and sticks to a conditioning program throughout the season, he could be a big contributor. If not, the Giants front office has publicly stated they will by-pass him quickly and Mark DeRosa will be the everyday third baseman.
10. Brandon Belt tore through the Giants' minor league system in his pro debut last year, hitting well at all levels. Is Belt ready to make a contribution at the Major League level in 2011? (D'Backs Venom)
Every local sports writer, TV commentator, sports talk radio guy, and Giants blogger has Belt as their number one can't-miss prospect-- and with good reason. Belt was recently ranked 26th on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects. If Brandon Belt wins the first base job out of Spring Training this year, Aubrey Huff would move to left field and the Giants' line-up would start to get seriously lethal.
Blocking that field of dreams is the fact that the Giants are more conservative than most clubs when it comes to bringing young talent up to the big leagues. Brian Sabean's philosophy has been to season the hell out of young prospects in the minors, and bring them up slowly. After Buster Posey hit .315 in Spring Training 2010, he didn't make the team because the Giants needed to keep Posey in the minors through the month of June to make him ineligible to be Super Two arbitration eligible in 2013. But catcher Bengie Molina's hitting and leadership skills went dramatically south in May, and Sabean was forced to bring Posey up earlier than he planned (which will cost the team a bundle in 2013).
Brandon Belt will have to put on a tremendous performance in Spring Training to prove to the Giants' front office he is ready. Two other young prospects who could make an impact in the upcoming year are outfielder Thomas Neal, who hit .291 with 40 doubles in AA Richmond last year, and slick fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Giants' Projected 2011 Starting Line-up
1. Andres Torres CF
2. Freddy Sanchez 2B
3. Buster Posey C
4. Aubrey Huff 1B
5. Miguel Tejada SS
6. Mark DeRosa LF
7. Pablo Sandoval 3B
8. Cody Ross RF
SP: RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Matt Cain, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, LHP Barry Zito, LHP Madison Bumgarner
Closer: RHP Brian Wilson
Projected final 2011 NL West standings
1. San Francisco Giants - 96 wins
2. Colorado Rockies - 91 wins
3. San Diego Padres - 86 wins
4. Los Angeles Dodgers - 78 wins
5. Arizona Diamondbacks - 67 wins