2009 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS PREVIEW
The Giants struggled mightily last year, finishing with a 72-90 record. A chronic inability to score runs was a major factor in their struggles, thanks in part to the departure of disgraced but productive star Barry Bonds. However, the year was definitely not a loss. The Giants received some very solid efforts from their young pitching staff and Tim Lincecum was name the National League Cy Young Award winner.
The return of those young and talented hurlers is a major reason for optimism. The rotation was further bolstered by the signing of Randy Johnson, who is still an effective starter despite being 45 years old. The Giants also began the slow process of upgrading their offense by bringing in shortstop Edgar Renteria. 2009 should show improvement by the Bay.
The Giants have very good starting pitching, led by last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum (18-5. 2.62 ERA, 33 starts, 227 IP, 265K). Matt Cain (8-14, 3.76 ERA, 34 starts, 217 IP, 186 K) should also be excellent this year after being snakebit by a complete lack of run support last year. Randy Johnson (11-10, 3.91 ERA, 30 starts, 184 IP, 173 K) is closing rapidly on 300 career wins and should still be an effective middle of the rotation starter. Barry Zito (10-17, 5.15 ERA, 32 starts, 180 IP) is costing the Giants an arm and a leg for the next decade but his 5.15 ERA was actually a positive since he was relegated to bullpen duty in his first season in San Francisco. He’s too talented of a pitcher to continue struggling (He is a former Cy Young winner) and should continue to improve this season. The final spot is up for grabs between young flamethrower Jonathan Sanchez (9-12, 5.01 ERA, 29 starts, 158 IP, 157 K), who impressed in his first full major league season and Noah Lowry, who was injured most of the last two years but has a career ERA of 4.03 over 100 starts. The Giants should put together a very solid starting rotation this season and this group will be the backbone of the team.
San Francisco’s bullpen is also a very good group, led by closer Brian Wilson (3-2. 4.62 ERA, 41 SV in 47 SVO). Wilson’s 87% save conversion rate is excellent and he should continue to be a reliable option in the ninth inning. The bullpen behind him features some excellent relievers such as Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Alex Hinshaw. The Giants should have a very good bullpen this year. The question is: Will they have many leads to protect?
The Giants have a plethora of candidates to fill in their infield. In fact, there are only two spots set going into camp. Shortstop Edgar Renteria (.270, 10 HR, 55 RBI, .317 OBP) and Catcher Bengie Molina (.292, 15 HR, 95 RBI, .322 OBP) are both very solid veterans and will play a very big part in the Giants’ offensive success this year. However, much of the rest of the infield is unsettled. At first base, John Bowker (.255, 10HR, 43 RBI, .300 OBP) and Travis Ishikawa (.274, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .337 OBP in 33 Gm) are expected to split playing time while third base is going to be a battle between Pablo Sandoval (.345, 3 HR, 24 RBI, .357 OBP in 41 GM) and 25 year old prospect Ryan Rohlinger. Think that’s a lot of competition? Second base is even more confusing, as three players will be competing for playing time. Kevin Frandsen, who missed 2008 due to injury, will compete with the light-hitting but speedy pair of Emmanuel Buriss (.283, 1 HR, 18 RBI, .357 OBP, 13 SB) and Eugenio Velez (.262, 1 HR, 30 RBI, .299 OBP, 15 SB). While the Giants certainly appear to have plenty of talent on hand, there is a major experience gap, making this the division’s weakest infield.
The Giants’ outfield is a little bit more solid. Leftfielder Fred Lewis (.282, 9 HR, 40 RBI, .351 OBP, 21 SB) is a solid player who should improve upon his good numbers from last season. Centerfielder Aaron Rowand (.271, 13 HR, 70 RBI, .339 OBP) is a very good player in the field and at the plate and right fielder Randy Winn (.306, 10 HR, 64 RBI, .363 OBP, 25 SB) will cause opposing pitchers a lot of trouble. Look for 24 year old prospect Nate Schierholz (.320, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .370 OBP in 19 games) to see some playing time as well. This is a good outfield but lacks significant power production.
The Giants have a very clearly defined path to success this season: Pitching and small ball. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Giants’ pitching compares very well to anyone in the division when their rotation features so many good starters and their closer had 41 saves last year. However, the most home runs hit by any player last season was a very paltry fifteen! The Giants simply don’t have a home run bat in their lineup and that is going to mean trouble in run production. However, t he Giants also feature a number of players who stole a lot of bases last season, so expect them to try and manufacture runs at every opportunity this year.
Will the Giants compete in the NL West this season? No, probably not, but their pitching will definitely prevent them from having as bad of a season as they did last year. If the Giants can find some power in their bats this year, then they could be looking at a .500 season. However, there simply isn’t anyone currently on the roster who could conceivably fill that role. A realistic outlook for the Giants this year is 75-80 wins thanks to a strong pitching staff.
By Matt Baxendell
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