Can Giants Bring Magic to 2011?

Jordan Plaut

Is it just me or are the San Francisco Giants, the team that just won the 2010 World Series, getting no respect across the country? Yes, I know I’m a biased Giants fan and last season did seem a bit like a magic carpet ride for the G-Men but there really does not seem to be anyone out there who hasn’t already boiled each league down to the Phillies and Red Sox. The only question that seems to matter coming into the baseball season is whether the bats of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will be enough to overcome the one through four punch of the Phillies rotation come October.

Clearly, there are at least four good reasons to go with the Phillies to win it all. The com­bined forces of Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Lee leaves you with a two-time Cy Young win­ner, last year’s NL leader in WHIP and a two-time 20 game winner, a World Series MVP and another Cy Young winner. Still, the Giants pitching out-dueled all four of those pitchers on their way to the title, beating Lee twice in the Series. Really, when you factor in the bullpens of the Giants and Phillies, I could say with some confidence that the Giants staff is better – the Phils don’t have the best closer in the game in Brian Wilson.

There’s no doubt that the Philly starters are going to make them tough to beat, but fans around baseball have seen the proven success of the Giants staff when it matters most. “Big- Time Timmy Jim” and “Matty Ice” Cain can pitch with anyone on any given day, Jonathan Sanchez has matured and isn’t as erratic has he once was and Madison Bumgarner absolutely shined in the post-season. In fact, both he and Sanchez can be among the toughest pitchers in the game at times. How many number three starters can you come up with that lead their team with a 3.07 ERA and post 205 strikeouts?

No, pitching is not the real issue when we’re talking about the possibility of a repeat. For that, we have to examine the hitting.

Yes, the Giants bats as a whole were nothing to be proud of last season. Though they got hot in the playoffs, the team hit just .257 on the season with a 19th-ranked on-base percentage. But you know what? They won 92 games and the division, so some things must have worked out alright. One of the most important things to remember is that they did it without the help of Pablo Sandoval.

Sandoval, a big disappointment last year, is only 24 and has trimmed down to 240 pounds. So far in spring training, the Panda has looked very good and he is just a year removed from his .330 season with 25 HR and 90 RBI, finish­ing seventh in the NL MVP voting. The Giants have last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, behind the dish. Freddie Sanchez and Aubrey Huff are very solid at their positions, especially if Huff can come through again with a big year. The replacement of Juan Uribe with Miguel Tejada is an upgrade as far as I’m con­cerned and, with a healthy Mark DeRosa (as crazy as that sounds) the Giants outfield will be very good defensively. Plus, having Pat Burrell coming off the bench will be a huge boost.

The key to the Giants’ offensive prowess will be determined by when GM Brian Sabean de­cides to bring up top prospect Brandon Belt. After hitting .352 with 23 homers and 112 RBI throughout the minors last year, and a solid start to spring training, Belt will be more than ready to take over first base and push Huff into the out­field. If he can do something close to what Posey was able to do last season, the Giants offense will no longer be a weak spot.

Just like most teams in baseball, the Giants could definitely use some more offense and could stand to trade a pitcher or two to get it. However, Sabean is a “pitching wins champion­ships” kind of guy, and he doesn’t need to move a key member of his rotation to improve his of­fense. With the validation of a title, how could you argue against him? Additionally, with Bruce Bochy pulling the strings, the Giants have one of the very best managers in baseball to mix and match his rosters and work some magic.

Let’s look at some of the competition the Gi­ants would have to deal with for a repeat. With­out Cliff Lee, the Rangers will not be as good as they were last year. The AL Central has not been able to produce a World Series-caliber team in the last few years. The Rays lost pitching and picked up old hitters in Damon and Manny, the Yankees’ pitching can’t hold and the new-look Red Sox look like a good bet to conquer the American League.

Not one team in the NL improved enough for anyone to notice, even the Phillies. The competition in the West might come down to the Giants and Rockies, but Ubaldo Jimenez is not likely to repeat his performance from the first half of last season. The Dodgers overpaid for Juan Uribe and do not have the pitching to keep up, the Diamondbacks are going nowhere fast and the Padres’ loss of Adrian Gonzalez speaks for itself. In the Central, the Cards lost Wainwright for the year so it may be time for the Cubs or Brewers to take that division if the Reds falter. No team poses a real threat to the Giants or Phillies, however. The Braves should do well again, in theory, and will fall in line behind the Phils.

With a young and somehow improving pitching staff, a better lineup than last sea­son and only the Phillies as final competition, there’s no reason why the Giants shouldn’t be able to extend their magic carpet ride for one more year.