MLB March Report: San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants seemed to be flying high at the July 31 trade deadline a year ago. Coming off their World Series run of 2010, they still had some of the best pitching in baseball and the addition of Carlos Beltran looked to have them primed for a repeat performance. For whatever reason, nothing went right the rest of the year. Beltran went to St. Louis in the offseason and San Francisco looks to see if they can rebound and take the NL West back from Arizona. TheSportsNotebook breaks down the Giants based on our four usual pillars of the ability to get on base, hit for power, starting pitching and relief pitching.

ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: The Giants were desperate enough to improve their offense over the offseason that they dealt promising lefthanded starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City for outfielder Melky Cabrera. I like Cabrera. He was a scrappy player for the Yankees’ World Series team of 2009, and he stepped up and had a nice year in Kansas City last year. But there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to be a sparkplug this year and his .339 OBP last year was the best of his career. At 27, maybe it’s a case of him slowly ascending to a peak. But I suspect asking him to be more than a pesky lower-of-the-order hitter is to request too much. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez may start the season on the disabled list, but when healthy is good to hit about .290. The problem is that Sanchez does not draw walks or hit for power, so his value is not nearly as high as the batting average makes it look. Cabrera and Sanchez are not bad players—in fact, they’re good ones. But they aren’t the table-setters that a good offense needs.

POWER: Two players who can get on base—and circle them for that matter, are Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. The catcher and third baseman are complete offensive threats. Posey had a big year in the   2010 title run, and before he got hurt in ’11 had improved the one thing in his game that was lacking, and that was plate discipline. Manager Bruce Bochy will give him some time at first base to minimize injury risk and keep his bat in the lineup. Sandoval is only 25 years old and already had two All-Star caliber seasons sandwiched around one bad one. He’s got a tender shoulder that may limit some of the power at the beginning of the year, but this is a top player still trying to get by only $500,000 a year, so I have to think the hunger for a big contract is going to motivate him. Again though, there’s not enough good hitters in this lineup. Hoping Aubrey Huff regains his ’10 form at age 35 is a hope, not a plan.

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STARTING PITCHING: Tim Lincecum has already won two Cy Young Awards and can be expected to contend for one annually. He just piles up 200 innings with ERAs under 3. Matt Cain is just a half-step behind, having tossed at least 200 IP for five straight years, with the ERA now hovering around the 3.00 mark the last three seasons. To borrow a phrase I used in describing the LA Angels top two pitchers—this is a duo that can stop losing streaks and win playoff series. And Lincecum and Cain have already shown they can do both.  Both are just 27 years old. Madison Bumgarner is 22 and in his first full year as a starter had a 3.21 ERA. The bottom of the rotation is filled by the vets. Ryan Vogelsong is 34 and last year was only the second time in his career a team let him be in the rotation. After a 2.71 ERA, he’ll get a third chance. If Barry Zito stays healthy, he’s good for an ERA around 4, which is hardly something to brag about in the National League West, but if he gives you 175 IP at that level in the five-spot, I’m sure Bochy won’t complain.

RELIEF PITCHING: If the starting pitching is good, the relief corps is even better. Brian Wilson is slowly working back from the elbow problems that prematurely ended his season a year ago, but if all’s kosher on that front, he’s good for 35+ saves and a solid ERA. Sergio Romo’s ERAs in regular setup duty the last two years are 2.18 and 1.50. Enough said. Santiago Casilla turned his career around once he left Oakland and crossed the bridge to Frisco, throwing 50 IP each of the last years with ERAs under 2. Jeremy Affeldt is a steady and consistent veteran. Javier Lopez has done an excellent job in situational work against lefty hitters. Even Guillermo Mota, while not a lights-out pitcher, takes the ball consistently and gives you reliable innings.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 87—The Giants have been between 86-92 wins each of the last three years, so this total is hard to argue with. I’m very concerned about the Giants this year, as the offense is really going to test the baseball notion that you win with pitching. And the trade of Sanchez means there’s no depth in the rotation if Vogelsong or Zito hit the end of the line. Having said all that…this is not a good division, and SF is as good as anyone. I guess I go Over, but not by much and with little enthusiasm.