The Baseball Notebook

March 18, 2010 2:00 PM

San Francisco Giants Preview

San Francisco has moved into the post-Bonds era with great pitching, as Tim Lincecum establishes himself as the best right arm this town has seen since Joe Montana. Lincecum has won two straight Cy Young Awards and is the ace of a staff strong from to bottom. He’s followed up in the rotation by Matt Cain who won 14 games and also had a sub-3.00 ERA. Lefthander Barry Zito, a former Cy Young winner in Oakland (2002) who had been mostly a bust since signing a $126 million free agent deal with the Giants after the 2006 season, got a little bit of his form back and had a 4.03 ERA in 192 innings. Jonathan Sanchez was a respectable fourth arm. The team hopes rookie Madison Bumgarner can fill out the fifth spot.

The bullpen is rock-solid as well. Sergio Romo, Brandon Medder and Guillermo Mota make up a strong setup corps. And that doesn’t even bring up Jeremy Affeldt, the top setup man in the National League last year with a buck-73 ERA. Brian Wilson is steady, if unspectacular at the end of the line, closing 38 games last year.

It isn’t just the arms that make San Francisco so difficult to score against. Once you get the bat on the ball, it still has to fall somewhere against this defense. Edgar Renteria plays a good shortstop and Juan Uribe is excellent at second base. Pablo Sandoval handles the hot corner, and Aaron Rowand patrols centerfield. The only caveat is that second is customarily the province of Freddy Sanchez, who isn’t as effective as Uribe in the field.

But Sanchez can hit, and that’s the rub for this team. The former Pirate second baseman is one of the few who the Giants can hope to complement Sandoval in the attack. The third baseman used his first year of full-time duty to be an elite offensive threat, with a .387 on-base percentage and .556 slugging. But he had little help. Sanchez has the capacity to be a good table-setter. San Fran went and picked up Aubrey Huff to play first base. They are hoping for the same thing Detroit was hoping for last season when they acquired him from Baltimore—that he can find the lefthanded stroke that made him the top DH in the league in 2008. Huff was horrid down the stretch for the Tigers and one of several reasons they let a seven-game slip away in September. Rowand is another one who has to hit better, although the evidence suggest that his productive ’07—the one that inspired Frisco to give him a big free-agent contract—was the exception, not the rule. He’s a defender, not a hitter.

And in that, Rowand is a microcosm of the team. Last year that was good enough to put them in contention to the very end and to be the fifth-best team in the National League. That’s not bad, and it might be well enough to jump them up even one notch into the playoffs. But if they want to win big, they need at least two more bats to appear, either from within or via trade.

Up Next: Chicago White Sox tomorrow
Final NL West Picks & Preview: March 31

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