Thus, with that optimism in mind, I wanted to look over five good things Giants fans will remember from this 2009 season.
1. Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval are the "real deal"
--To be frank, I think a lot of Giants fans were worried about these two players (because I know I was). Tim Lincecum was coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season, and Pablo Sandoval was coming off a very hot 41-game, late-season stretch.
However, the main question was this: are these two players capable of putting together back-to-back good seasons? Or are they one-hit wonders in the mold of Mark Fidrych and Angel Berrora?
Well, both guys answered the call, and not only came up with more than stellar statistical seasons, but they have both solidified themselves as concrete figures for this Giants organization.
While Giants fans won't know until later this month if Lincecum will win his second-straight Cy Young, he certainly put up the numbers to merit consideration. This year, Lincecum carried the Giants rotation on his back again, and maintained his reputation as a strikeout, inning-eating artist.
Even though his record was not as good as his 2008 campaign (he was only 15-7 this year after going 18-5 in 2008), his ERA was better (2.48 this year in comparison to 2.62 in 2008), he allowed 14 less walks, and 'The Freak" posted a better WHIP as well (1.04 in comparison to 1.17 in 2008).
And when you also factor in that he lead the National League in strikeouts again (with 261), as well as shutouts (two) and complete games (four), then the case for Lincecum to repeat as the Cy Young seems incredibly stronger.
As for Sandoval, the "Kung Fu Panda" lived up to the preseason hype many experts bestowed upon him in Spring Training. Sandoval led the Giants in every offensive category, highlighted by a .330 batting average, 25 home runs, 90 RBI and .943 OPS. Sandoval pretty much carried the Giants offense the whole season, and if the Giants are able to get a hitter to offer some protection to stocky, third baseman, then it's crazy to think what Sandoval will be capable of in terms of offensive numbers in the future.
With a little help, we could see Sandoval verge into Vlad Guerrero territory. Seriously. That's how impressive his 2009 season was considering the lack of help around him.
2. Matt Cain is a solid No. 2 starter (though not an ace)
--A lot of Giants fans wondered if Cain was a victim of bad luck, or if he was simply not as good a pitcher as we once thought back when he first broke into the league in 2005. However, Cain was able to avoid the pitfalls of the last couple of years (e.g. lack of run support), and was able to put together a solid, All-Star caliber season as evidenced by his 14-8 record, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and four complete games.
However, despite Cain's solid year and numbers, Cain faded after having a hot first half of the season. He ended up going 2-6 in his last 13 starts, with five no decisions (which aren't completely his fault, considering he had some pretty good outings during those four NDs, including a game against Pittsburgh where he threw nine innings of shutout ball).
While that late-season fade doesn't destroy Cain's reputation completely as a pitcher, any argument that Cain could be a better ace of the staff than Lincecum was discredited by the end of the year.
Cain is a very good pitcher, and the Giants should look forward to the young, dynamic punch of Lincecum and Cain for a long time. That being said, Cain should only be thought of as a No. 2 starter, and not as a potential No.1 like some people were thinking back in the first half of the season.
3. This Giants bullpen could be very good
--This may be the most stable and promising the Giants bullpen has looked in Sabean's tenure as GM in San Francisco. The Giants are locked up at the closer position in Brian Wilson, who followed up his solid 2008 season with an even better 2009 campaign. Wilson pitched more innings this year than in 2008, and while he had less saves, (38 to 41 in 2008), he had a better ERA (2.74 to 4.62 in 2008), a better WHIP (1.20 to 1.44 in 2008) and a better SO/BB ratio (3.07 to 2.39 in 2008).
Yet Wilson is just the tip of the iceberg. The Giants will return Jeremy Affeldt, (who is coming off a season where he had a 1.73 ERA and 1.17 WHIP) and Sergio Romo, who will both be a lethal 7th and 8th inning set-up punch. Furthermore, the young arms in the bullpen showed a lot of promise as well. Waldis Joaquin has the potential to be a fireballer, and Dan Runzler impressed with his superb velocity and command in his short September callup. Even Joe Martinez, who struggled as a starter, showed some potential to be a very good long-reliever next year for the Giants.
I think it's safe to say that the prospects of the Giants bullpen are a lot better than the days when the Giants had guys like Jack Taschner and Matt Herges as the prime setup guys.
4. The Giants finally got some bang for their buck in terms of Free Agents
--I remember reading a post on a blog earlier this year about the Giants, and a fan complaining that the Giants' problem was they never struck it rich with any players they signed to cheap deals. They used the Russell Branyan in Seattle comparison and said that the Giants either overpaid their veterans, or got production from within, but never really got more than they paid for when it came to free agents.
Well...that changed this year thanks to Juan Uribe and Andres Torres.
Both Uribe and Torres made a combined 1,400,000 dollars this year and yet they brought an incredible amount of production to the Giants lineup. Uribe hit 16 home runs and 55 RBI, while Torres hit six home runs, eight triples, stole six bases (and was only caught once) and posted a .343 OBP (third best on the team).
In comparison, Edgar Renteria, who shared shortstop duties with Uribe at the end of the year, only hit .250 with five home runs, and 48 RBI and he was paid eight million dollars, over four times what Uribe and Torres made combined.
I bet Giants fans wish they could've done that one again, huh?
5. Randy Johnson getting his 300th win and Jonathan Sanchez's No-Hitter
--I think for the most part Randy Johnson will be known as a bust in his tenure in San Francisco. He pretty much only played for three months during the season, and he was far from the "Big Unit" we knew back in Seattle and Arizona.
However, RJ will be known for some key things: his tutelage to the pitching staff (especially Jonathan Sanchez), perhaps playing his last season for his hometown team (he is from Walnut Creek) and of course, notching his 300th win.
While it was against Washington, it was a cool little moment that added to his illustrious career and also brought some much needed attention to a Giants team that hadn't got any big-time press since Barry Bonds left.
Then, after RJ notched 300, the Giants got even more press, thanks to Jonathan Sanchez, who threw the first Giants no-hitter in 33 years (the last one to do it was John "The Count" Montefusco who threw one in 1976). Sanchez's no-hitter was an incredible moment, mainly because it came from a pitcher whom many Giants fans thought was a disappointment, and was on the verge of being traded.
Instead, Sanchez turned his season around after the no-hitter, and could be a dark horse pitcher next year that may be on the verge of having the kind of breakout Matt Cain had this season. Sanchez's stuff has always been undeniable, but in the second-half, he finally was able to put it together with his command.
If he can fully get a hold of his command to go along with his great stuff, the National League better take note. Yet what makes this prospect great though is that it seems like it is capable of happening, and I don't think Giants fans like myself would feel that way had it not been for the no-hitter in late June.
And to add even more fairy dust on those two great moments from Johnson and Sanchez, it was nice to see some Giants milestones that didn't have the word "tainted" attached to them.