Friday, April 3, 2009

San Francisco Giants 2009 Season Preview

Tim Lincecum will be the main man for the Giants this season from the get-go.


I love the season previews. I buy them. I read them. I can't get enough of them. Even as a newspaper editor for the school paper, I take a certain joy in making previews, even if it may not be for a sport that's worth it. (e.g. college soccer).

I was tempted with the thought of doing a full-length division by division AL and NL preview, and I still may do it, but I decided to center on the Giants because in all reality, all I really care about is the Giants. I've been following the Giants since January, when there was the slight possibility that they might have gotten Manny Ramirez. Unfortunately, because of Brian Sabean's tendency to make bonehead signings, we lost out to the rival Dodgers who basically did everything in the world to basically lose their guy but because of the economy and because Manny burned bridges in Boston so badly, they were able to get him back. I absolutely hate Manny now, and I hate Sabean even more because we could have automatically went from fringe contender in the weak NL West to bonafide favorite if we had Manny. But since he's a Dodger now, I have nothing but scorn for the guy.

All right, enough of the anti-Manny, Dodger, Sabean talk. They'll be plenty room for that. Let's get onto the preview.

Last season recap:

The Giants last season, in all honesty, overachieved, despite how crappy a 72-90 record looks on paper. I thought the team was going to be terrible, everybody thought the team was going to be terrible. Heck, people thought last season the Giants were going to compete with the 1962 Mets for the worst record in baseball and I wasn't exactly ruling that out. For years we had put everything behind Barry Bonds and then in an asinine move we decided not to go that route anymore even though the Giants had in no way shape or form prepared for such a maneuver. However, the Giants got big performance from their pitching staff, specifically Tim Lincecum who won 18 games and led the league in strikeouts en route to the Cy Young award (which I am glad he won because I would've been furious if C.C. Sabathia won it despite playing only half a season in the NL). Furthermore, the Giants finally found their closer in Brian Wilson after a six year odyssey of mediocrity that spanned from Matt Herges to Armando Benitez. Wilson saved 41 games and was named to the All-Star team.
Offensively, the Giants were not great, but they got good years from Bengie Molina, whose position in the cleanup spot produced career years in RBIs, Fred Lewis, who showed he was not just a month-long phenom, and even Emmanuel Burriss, who made Giants scratch their heads why they were going with Brian Bocock for so long.

Offense:

Big things are expected out of Pablo Sandoval after he hit .345 in a 45 game stint.

  • Edgar Renteria was the big offensive signing for the Giants, which is either a good or bad thing depending on how optimistically you want to look at it. Renteria had a real down year last year in Detroit, but he has struggled in his stints in the American League. He had a real down year in Boston the year after his stint with the Cardinals. However, in St. Louis and Atlanta, he had real good years, and now that he's back to being under the radar, there is the possibility that the NL-familiarity along with less pressure will result in a better season for Renteria. In all honesty, I don't care if he does have a down season like last season. A .270, 10 HR, 55 RBI down season is a heck of a lot better than anything we got at shortstop last season.
  • The big guy though everyone is talking about from local to national media is Pablo Sandoval. The guy, known for his pudgy stature and tendency to swing at everything and hit a majority of what he swings at, is being labeled as a big-time breakout player. Like I said in an earlier post about my fantasy draft, I'm a bit skeptical. I do think he's capable of breaking out. He's got uncanny contact abiliy and he's a gap to gap hitter, which is what works in a spacious ballpark like AT&T Park. However, I'm not sure if he can do what he did through 43 games over a 162 game span. I'm hoping he can because if he does the Giants could be a sleeper, especially if Manny struggles due to his late report to camp. However, thinking Sandoval is going to lead us to the promise land right off the bat I think is unrealistic. I'll be happy if he produces, but if he doesn't, I won't exactly be sorely disappointed.
  • Other guys to watch on offense are Fred Lewis, who is coming off a great season and is capable of doing more, Burriss, who will be the starting second baseman, and Travis Ishikawa, who is slated as the starting first baseman. I'm not totally huge on Ishikawa. I would rather start Sandoval at 1st, make Ishikawa a platoon player and have somebody like Juan Uribe and Eugenio Velez split time at third and second with Burriss. It's not that I don't think Ishikawa can't be good, it's just that we went down this road with Lance Niekro before and look where that led us.

Pitching:
Hopefully Matt Cain will get the kind of run support that can result in a decent record this season.

  • Lincecum once again is the main man in the rotation for the Giants, which is going to be interesting especially as he will face more number one starters to start off the season in comparison to last year, where initially he was going against the two and three guys of other teams. Lincecum though is a legitimate pitcher. If he gets more run support he could win over 20 games this year because he's so dominant. He strikes guys out and he has a lot of arm strength because of his youth. Rarely did Lincecum have a bad start and even when he did, his team usually rallied behind him to help cover him. I think Lincecum is due for another good year, and with the addition of guys like Renteria and Sandoval, mashers who could provide the run support he didn't have at time last year, he could repeat as the NL Cy Young winner.
  • A guy that is due for a breakout season is Matt Cain, the no. 2 starter. The guy has had a sub-par record the past two seasons, but that has been not because of his pitching but rather the utterly pathetic run support he gets in the games he pitches. Cain though could benefit much like Lincecum if the run support improves. He's a hard thrower, gets a lot of K's and has improved control wise ever since his first year as a full time starter where he had a lot of problems with walks. With Lincecum getting a lot of the focus and a lot of attention now on the newly acquired Randy Johnson, Cain could be that sleeper that might finally get those wins that have evdaded him despite solid numbers that last couple of years.
  • Speaking of starters, if there is one guy I want out of the rotation, my vote goes to Barry Zito. I don't care how much we're paying him. If Noah Lowry is healthy, I want him in the five spot over Zito. While Lowry may not be healthy and hasn't pitched in over a year, Lowry a couple of years ago was showing signs of being a solid middle of the rotation guy. He still can be a solid back of the rotation guy, for he has had solid experience as a No. 2 and No. 3 starter and could hold his own against 4 or 5 guys. However, Zito I have absolutely no confidence in, even against a spot starter. He has no stuff, his breaking ball sucks, he can't go more than six innings and the fact that he's being paid 126 million and was the sole reason why we couldn't get Manny drives me to the point where I want to cut my wrists. Do I hope Zito puts up solid numbers and finally earns at least 1/8 of his salary this season? Yeah I do. But I like the upside of Lowry a heck of a lot more, especially if he is healthy. If Zito struggles, Bochy better dump Zito from the rotation which I hope leads to Sabean dumping Zito in general. The guy is a sunk cost. Every Giant knows that, so why not get rid of him while we can?
  • While Wilson is solid, the Giants bullpen needs more help. Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt are supposed to help, but still I'm not all that confident in this bullpen. Too many times we stretched the starters far longer than they needed to because we were relying on middle relief guys like a 40 year old Keichi Yabu. Hopefully Howry and Affeldt can live up to their billing, and if they do, we might minimize a lot of those blown leads we had way too often this year.
Management:
Bruce Bochy has done a solid job of adjusting his managing style with changing team demographics the last two seasons

  • Let it be known I hate Brian Sabean. I think the guy has been GM for two years too long. While some of the minor league level talent we have has developed (Lincecum, Cain, maybe Sandoval), a lot hasn't. For every Lincecum there's a Tony Torcato and Jesse Foppert. Furthermore, Sabean basically mortgaged the entire future on Bonds for so long and did so so badly that he literally gave away guys who could have solved the Giants problems about four years ago. The biggest example? Giving away Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski, whom we had for one, high-turmoil, underachieving year. Sabean also dropped the ball big with the Zito signing, a move fans have been complaining about since day one. In order for Sabean to make his continued stay in San Francisco somewhat justified, he needs this team to produce, especially the younger players, a move that he has never really embraced before when he was constantly shopping younger guys for aging veterans.
  • I have really grown to like Bruce Bochy. I thought he was a bad hire initially, an overrated manager in San Diego, but he has really played to the team's strengths last season. He has let the Giants run a heck of a lot more, which is what is needed in this era of post-steroid baseball. Every speed guy increased their SB numbers last season and I think Bochy will steal even more this season. A lot of managers wouldn't be as open to change styles, but Bochy has embraced this team and tried to play to its strengths rather than shape it to his own image like some managers would do.

Overall:

This season hinges on two players: Lincecum and Sandoval. If both those guys produce, the Giants not only could be in good shape this season, but for seasons to come. A lot of the Giants veterans are good, but they are no way prepared to take a team on their back. Renteria has thrived in supporting roles, Molina is a quiet leader that shies from spotlight and Aaron Rowand showed that he just doesn't have the statistical fortitude to be the "man". Sandoval though can be a solid offensive guy that could have an impact on a team like Prince Fielder. Then again though, he could also be the next Randall Simon. As for Lincecum, he's obviously a proven commodity, but can he do it again? Is he the next Josh Beckett or next Mark Fidrych? The season hinges on how those two guys do and it could be a rough year if they don't live up to the hype. However, in a weak NL West where it is the Dodgers and everyone else, an LA slip and surprising performances from the Giants supporting cast could produce a competitive season that could result in the Giants slipping by LA for the NL West crown.

Projected opening day lineup and batting order:

RF-Randy Winn
SS-Edgar Renteria
LF-Fred Lewis
C-Bengie Molina
3B-Pablo Sandoval
1B-Travis Ishikawa
CF-Aaron Rowand
2B-Emmanuel Burriss
SP-Tim Lincecum
CP-Brian Wilson

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