March 21, 2011

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Can Giants Repeat As Champs?

By: Anson Whaley

With only about a week left in Spring Training, baseball teams are gearing up for the regular season. Managers are sweating over cuts that are being made, rookies are being assigned to the minor leagues, and General Managers are hoping free agent signings pay off in a big way. But the San Francisco Giants are the only team thinking about what it would be like to repeat as World Series Champions. The Giants have lost a few pieces but are returning most of their team’s core to make another run at the title in 2011.

The most notable departures are shortstops Juan Uribe and World Series Most Valuable Player, Edgar Renteria. Uribe signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers while Renteria is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals. Uribe is the greater loss, as he was one of the team’s greatest power threats (24 home runs in 2010) and, at 31 years old, is just now entering the prime of his career. Renteria is a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove winning shortstop and has 15 major league seasons under his belt. Last year, that experience paid off for the Giants as he batted over .400 and slugged two big home runs in the World Series.

Fortunately for the Giants, they filled the gaping hole left at shortstop with a very capable player in free agent pickup Miguel Tejada. Now 36, Tejada is likely a short-term replacement and also past his prime. But he’s still a solid player and, in 2010, hit 15 home runs and batted .269. The best news for the Giants is that Tejada has also shown he’s extremely durable, playing at least 150 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

But if San Francisco is to repeat, it’s not going to be Tejada that makes the difference – it will be the pitching. With all the talk about the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation which will include Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and newly-signed Cliff Lee, the Giants have a somewhat underrated staff in comparison. The starters are led by two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, and also includes former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, All-Star Matt Cain, young star Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, who has thrown a no-hitter. The Giants also added free agent Jeff Suppan to the mix, and he could contend for a spot in the rotation in 2011.

Lincecum is the gem, however, and is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Even though his 2010 numbers dropped off slightly from his Cy Young years of 2008 and 2009, he still managed to win 16 games and strikeout 231 batters in only 212 innings pitched. Lincecum also thrived in his first postseason with a 4-1 record, a shutout over the Atlanta Braves, and a combined ERA of only 2.43 – a full run lower than his regular season average.

The pitching talent isn’t limited to the starting rotation, though. All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, led the league in saves with 48 and had a microscopic ERA of 1.81. Setup men Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla also combined for 12 wins and had ERAs of 2.18 and 1.95 respectively.  The Giants may have the most talented bullpen in the majors.

Offensively, the Giants’ lineup isn’t as strong as some teams, and, with the loss of Uribe, it just became a little weaker. The Giants aren’t completely devoid of power, but Aubrey Huff led the way in 2010 with only 26 home runs—the Giants may not have that one player capable of hitting 35-40 to serve as a legitimate longball threat. The player closest may be 2010 Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, who as a first-year player hit 18 home runs in only 108 games.  He’s a catcher, though, so Posey won’t be playing a full 162-game season. But he is only 23 and should develop into an excellent power hitter for many years to come, possibly approaching 30 home runs this season if he stays healthy.

But again, it’s the pitching that will lead this team…and they’ve got plenty of it to make another World Series run in 2011.