Next up in the NL West we find the Dodgers’ archrival, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants started out the season last year with dismal preseason predictions, with pundits far and ride questioning the team’s ability to score runs. And while the Giants did have offensive troubles, it wasn’t quite as terrible as predicted. Whether this was because of the weak division or if it was a side effect of the Giants great pitching, it’s hard to say. No matter what, though, San Francisco did outperform just about everybody’s 2008 predictions, giving Giants fans a reason for optimism. Being able to throw the league’s Cy Young every fifth day doesn’t hurt that optimism, either.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
San Francisco Giants
Last Year: 72 – 90, 4th Place, NL West
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
The Giants showed last season that they were a team with an overly impressive rotation and an equally impressive lack of offense. They went into the offseason hoping to add a bat to the lineup, but came away with only Edgar Renteria, who had a miserable 2008 campaign. Offensively, the Giants did not seem to impress anybody with their winter.
“The Giants are now a full season removed from their association with baseball’s home run king, and like Bonds, they’re finding the transition a rocky one. The franchise is searching for an identity, but all it has at the moment are aspirations of mediocrity.
In the eight year stretch from 1997 through 2004, the Giants averaged 92 wins a season under Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou. They made four playoff appearances and took the Angels to the limit in the the 2002 World Series.
The past four seasons: Not so great. The Giants have averaged 73 victories under Alou and Bruce Bochy, and they’ve struggled to put a coherent plan into place. While vowing to build from within and focus on their young pitching, the Giants spent $126 million on starter Barry Zito and $60 million on outfielder Aaron Rowand in free agency. The trend continued on a smaller scale last winter when they signed shortstop Edgar Renteria, whose better days are behind him. (Lindy’s)”
Thankfully, though, the Giants do have one very impressive piece in their organization: their pitching staff. Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is a very impressive figure on the mound, despite his small stature. His 18-5 record, 265 strikeouts and 2.62 ERA for a 4th place team impressed the voters enough to give him the award over the 22-7 Brandon Webb.
“He’s a young, skinny kid with a load of talent. He’s the guy you want on the mound for you. He goes out and blows people away. He’s an exciting guy to watch. He’s the kind of pitcher people pay to see. He’ll start drawing (crowds) like Fernando Valenzuela and Vida Blue did.
The key is having him stay healthy. He is small and he does have a challenging delivery, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, so far. (TSN)”
Outside of the pitching staff, the Giants’ strongest unit is their outfield, and even that is far from perfect. Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn are valuable pieces for an organization, though Rowand’s $60 million contract does give one pause. Fred Lewis, the third outfielder, is not exactly in the big leagues for his bat.
“Aaron Rowand got off to a tremendous start after signing a five-year, $60 million contract, hitting .330 through May. But with AT&T Park’s large dimensions getting in his head, he hit .239 the rest of the way and had only one RBI in September. His defense wasn’t Gold Glove caliber either, and he struggled to cover the large open spaces in the NL West. His arm was highly erratic as well. The Giants plan to rest Rowand more often, which will be easier because Fred Lewis and Randy Winn can both play center in a pinch. Lewis has poor instincts in the field and at the plate, where he takes too many strikes. The Giants plan to move him from leadoff to fifth, where they believe a more aggressive approach will turn him into a 20-homer guy. (Athlon)”
TSN’s “View from the Other Dugout” provides a different, more positive view of the Giants’ chances this season:
“This team is the sleeper in baseball. There’s no team that gets overlooked more but is in a better position to surprise and win a division. The one thing the Giants came into the new year lacking was a big bat, but they seemed intent on trying to find one. Drop a big bat into the middle of that lineup and there is reason to think about a division title.
The key is the pitching staff, and the Giants have the pitching staff, which is why if they can add one legit middle-of-the-lineup bat, they will be a factor.”
But Athlon’s “Final Analysis” probably says it best:
“The Giants didn’t see any value plays for a big bat on the free agent or trade markets during the Christmas shopping season, so they’ll enter the season hoping for incremental improvement from their young offensive players. In any other division, they’d cap their hopes at a .500 record. But in the miserable NL West, their pitching alone could keep them in contention long enough to warrant a midseason boost in the lineup. Crazier things have happened.”
There’s no doubt that the Giants are weak offensively (they scored the second fewest run in the National League last year), and that isn’t likely to change much this year. That should be offset by a couple of things, though: one, the weak nature of the NL West, meaning the team will not need to be too impressive in order to compete, and two, the fantastic strength of the rotation. With Lincecum, Cain and Randy Johnson at the top of the rotation and a talented Jonathan Sanchez at the back, there is very little to complain about.
The question remains, though, will a lineup that relies heavily on the bats of Bengie Molina and youngsters Pablo Sandoval and Fred Lewis be enough to compete into September. Randy Winn and a possibly-rejuvenated Edgar Renteria can definitely set the table, but if Sandoval, Molina and Rowand can’t drive them in, then it doesn’t matter much. In the end, I have to say that I really don’t know what to expect from the Giants. Obviously, the fact that they will be throwing Lincecum and Cain every fifth day will keep the Giants competitive, but I don’t know if they have enough to compete the other 60% of the time. The NL West is weak, but I don’t think it’s that weak. Still, the Giants should keep the season interesting for their fans for quite a while, and they can’t really complain about that.