SF Giants: Predicting the Starting Lineup at the All-Star Break

Dan MoriCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2012

SF Giants: Predicting the Starting Lineup at the All-Star Break

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    San Francisco Giants' manager Bruce Bochy was forced to juggle his starting lineup tremendously in 2011. Injuries and poor performances from several of his regulars dictated this.

    Over the course of the year, the Giants fought injuries and ineffectiveness to key regulars like Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, Miguel Tejada, Pat Burrell, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt and Jonathan Sanchez.

    The Giants of 2011 also had to integrate Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger into the mix around the trade deadline. Beltran got off to a slow start, then just as he began hitting, he was injured. Beltran did not show real flashes of himself until it was too late.

    Keppinger started out just fine, but faded badly down the stretch when the Giants needed him most. He was also a weak defensive player with little range.

    The Giants are hoping for good health in the 2012 season. If they get it, they will have a legitimate shot at winning the NL West. Let's take an advance look at who I expect to be playing major roles by the All-Star break, in 2012.

Starting Pitchers

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    The Giants will open the season with four solid starters and a huge, expensive question mark in the fifth slot. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong look to be excellent for the Giants, in 2012.

    The fifth spot will be Barry Zito's to lose, coming out of spring training. The Giants still owe Zito $46 million, so they are going to hope that he can have a decent season.

    Zito had injury issues in 2011 and his velocity also was very inconsistent. For 2012, I think the Giants would take a 10-12 record, 4.50 ERA and 180 innings pitched, from Zito. Unfortunately, they aren't going to get it.

    By the All-Star break, Zito will be out of the rotation and Eric Surkamp will likely be his replacement. Surkamp had mixed results in his brief stint with the Giants in 2011. He will be asked to solidify that fifth spot in the rotation for the Giants.

Closer: Brian Wilson

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    San Francisco Giants' closer Brian Wilson was riding high in 2010, as he closed out post-season victories against the Braves, Phillies and Rangers. He was a major factor in the Giants' World Series victory.

    2011 was a different year for Wilson. He suffered through some arm injuries, which is very alarming for any pitcher. With their excellent bullpen, the Giants were able to largely cover for Wilson, when he was out.

    It scares me to predict that Brian Wilson will be our closer at the All-Star break in 2012. The main issue is his arm. Can he stay healthy over the course of the entire season?

    I am banking on the fact that Wilson is healthy in 2012. If he is, he is the closer, plain and simple.

Catcher: Buster Posey

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    Buster Posey suffered a severe injury last May and was lost for the season. Following surgery and the required rest period, Posey has resumed training and baseball activities.

    Barring any setbacks, Posey will be the Giants' starter on opening day. Posey will also get some time at first base, in order to keep him fresh and not overwork his repaired ankle behind the plate.

    I believe Posey will have a good year and perhaps even win the Comeback Player of the Year award.

First Base: Aubrey Huff

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    Few players were bigger disappointments in 2011 than Aubrey Huff. Simply put, he had a terrible year.

    Many people will question my feelings on Huff, but I believe he will have a good year, much like his 2010 season, where he led the Giants in many offensive categories. Huff helped lead the Giants to the World Series crown in 2010, as he hit .290 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI.

    Huff appeared to get complacent and 2011 was an abysmal year for Huff, as he hit only .246 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI.

    If you were to look back at Huff's career stats, you would notice a trend where Huff has a big season every other year. I firmly believe 2012 will be a bounce back year for Huff. In addition, his contract expires this year, so he is going to come into camp in shape and should have a very good year.

    Although Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and perhaps even Brett Pill will see action at first base, I believe that Huff will be the regular at the All-Star break and have a good year.

Second Base: Mike Fontenot

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    The Giants are hoping Freddy Sanchez can stay healthy and be a regular in 2011. Sadly, I don't think that will happen. Sanchez has had injury issues for the past several years.

    Not since the 2008 season has Sanchez been able to play more than 111 games. I think the Giants would be thrilled if Sanchez was able to play 130 games.

    My gut feeling is that Sanchez will be injured again in 2012. He is now 34 years of age and quite fragile. This is too bad because Sanchez is a good defensive player and a very solid contact hitter, ideal for the No. 2 spot in the batting order.

    I believe that Mike Fontenot will be starting at second base by the All-Star break. He is a veteran utility man, but is not your ideal, every day starter.  In 2011, Fontenot hit .227 with four home runs and 21 RBI. He played 85 games and had 220 at-bats.

    The greatest value of Fontenot is that he can play a solid 2B, SS or 3B and is a super utility player. He is not the ideal starter for every game, however.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval

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    Pablo Sandoval just completed a three year, $17.15 million contract. After a terrible year in 2010, where Sandoval had major problems keeping his weight down, he rebounded with a strong 2011.

    Sandoval hit .315 with 23 home runs and 70 RBI, despite missing roughly five weeks of the season with a broken bone in his hand.

    Sandoval also worked out religiously and improved his diet, which enabled him to lose about 40 pounds, heading into the 2011 season. With the decrease in weight, Sandoval also became a very good defensive player at third base.

    With this contract extension, the Giants' management is making a statement that they trust Sandoval to keep his weight in check. As long as he does that, I believe he will continue to have stellar seasons.

    I fully expect Sandoval to start and play the entire season as the Giants' third baseman.

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford

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    Brandon Crawford is a Major League caliber defensive player at shortstop. The question is whether he will hit enough to stay in the lineup on an every day basis.

    In 2011, Crawford had 196 at-bats for the Giants and hit .204 with three home runs and 21 RBI. His OBP was a very weak .288 to go along with an OPS of only .584. The Giants, with their salary constraints, have decided to go with Crawford as their starting shortstop.

    The other issue is that San Francisco really doesn't have any other options, unless you move Mike Fontenot into the position, but he will likely be needed to play second base if Freddy Sanchez goes down again.

    The only other option currently in the mix is Manny Burriss, but he is not a strong Major League player, in my opinion. If he is receiving a lot of playing time, the Giants are in trouble.

    Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean will stay with Crawford and his defense will win the Giants some games. If he can hit even .230 with a .315 OBP, they will be thrilled.

    The question is can he do that?

    Unfortunately, I think the answer is no, but the Giants have no other strong alternatives. If a quality shortstop is available at the trade deadline, the Giants could go in that direction. However, barring that, expect Crawford to be the Giants' shortstop at the All-Star break.

Outfield: Four Players, Three Positions

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    The San Francisco Giants will have four players for three positions. Manager Bruce Bochy will go with the hot bat and work the match-ups with Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Belt.

    I believe all will get significant playing time and this four-man rotation will become the norm for the Giants.

    Starting the season, I expect to see Cabrera in left field, Pagan in center and batting in the lead-off spot and Schierholtz in right. By the All-Star break, I believe Brandon Belt will be firmly in the mix and be receiving significant playing time.

    In 2011, Cabrera, while playing for the Royals, hit .305 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI and also stole 20 bases. Although he will be entering his eighth season in the Majors, Cabrera is only 27 years old and should be coming into his prime.

    Pagan had a down year in 2011, batting only .262 with seven home runs and 56 RBI. He does have a career batting average of .279 and the Giants are hoping that he can provide a spark at the top of the order. Pagan has excellent speed and collected 32 steals last season.

    As a lead off hitter, the Giants are hoping that Pagan can improve his patience and OBP, which was a low .322 last year.

    Schierholtz is by far the best defensive outfielder of the group. He will play right field and will need to prove that he is an everyday player and can stay healthy.

    Schierholtz played in only 115 games last season, as he battled injuries that limited his playing time. He batted .278 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in 335 at bats. The Giants are hoping for a major improvement on those numbers.

    The wild card is Belt. He struggled in 2011, as injuries and irregular playing time hurt his production. He hit only .225 last season, with nine home runs and 18 RBI in 187 at-bats. Belt has always produced in the minors and now it will be up to him to do it on the big stage.

    I do believe Belt will emerge as a Major League quality hitter in 2012. He will be 24 years old early in the season and the Giants are hopeful that he will produce.

The Giants' Lineup Should Be More Stable in 2012

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    The Giants will still be a team led by their great pitching. They have improved their offense and should score more runs in 2012, which is a must, if they are to win consistently.

    The Giants were beset by an incredible run of injuries in the 2011 season and if they can stay relatively healthy in 2012, will be a much better overall team.

    Manager Bruce Bochy had to patch together his lineup throughout the season and that hopefully will not be the case this year.

    I definitely expect the Giants to be in the mix, battling for a playoff berth, in 2012.