Entering the 2008 season, the San Francisco Giants were a team high on its young pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, both 24 now. Cain struggled through a disappointing season, totaling just an 8-14 mark. Lincecum turned in a spectacular campaign which included leading the entire M.L.B. in strikeouts (265), an 18-5 record, and receiving the well-deserved National League Cy Young Award.
It's February 2009 now, less than two months until opening day. The Giants will begin spring training with a different view of their pitching core this time around. Lincecum will take the role as rotation ace. Will he be able to handle the pressure and responsibility? Yes, the ex-Washington Husky turned N.L. All-Star is legit.
If Cain is able to turnaround last season, he could very well be a reliable compliment to form a Lincecum-Cain 1-2 punch. Jonathan Sanchez, 26, is another shot of youth in the Giants rotation. Sanchez showed glimpses of brilliance, then periods of inaccuracy and inconsistency, but signs show promise.
The projected five man rotation is set to include the three aforementioned players, and completed by two seasoned veterans:
The city of San Francisco has yet to see the Zito they all expected when in 2006 he received what then was the largest contract a pitcher had ever signed. The Giants organization and fans want the 2002 version of Zito to reemerge. Don't hold your breath. Although Zito did play decently well in September, his season as a whole was disastrous. He ranked first in the N.L. with 17 losses and third with 102 walks.
Zito will need to significantly improve his K:BB ratio in order to earn more victories. If Zito improves his velocity and avoids injury, perhaps people will see some flashbacks of old Barry.
The Big Unit reporting to Giants training camp. Has an O.K. ring to it. Randy Johnson's addition to the Giants pitching staff slips under the radar, but is no small matter. Johnson brings more to the table than just his 295 career wins.
He's a 21-year veteran with a winner's attitude. His experience will prove influential in the continual development of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Noah Lowry. What exactly can people expect from Johnson? In his own words:
"I'm riding off into the sunset in a lot of people's eyes, but not mine, because I'm still motivated to go out there and win," he said. "I'm surely not about five wins. I'm about winning anywhere between 15 and 20 games."
The Giants' starting rotation has been built the right way. Now it's about waiting for each part to do his job. Of the five potential starters, Lincecum and Johnson are probably the most reliable.
Cain and Sanchez will become more reliable once they can become consistently accurate. Each possess the talent to strikeout batters with the best, it's reducing the free passes that will keep them effective in the rotation.
Barry Zito is a question mark for everyone. Maybe even himself. It's not easy living up to a contract he's playing with, but earning at least half of it would be more acceptable. As stated, steady increased velocity on his pitches and staying healthy is key.
The Giants starting pitching staff contends with each team in the N.L. West.
The Colorado Rockies do not own a dominant starter. Aaron Cook is decent. Jeff Francis struggled last season. Jimenez is still potential. Added Jason Marquis, but he's just average, good at best.
San Diego's pitching staff is two-headed, for now. Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Beyond those two, the Padres have little to display with much confidence.
Similar to the Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace is a young gun. Chad Billingsley had an extraordinary year in 2008. After a rough start to the season, he took off and became the Dodgers most reliable starter. The Dodgers rotation also includes Hiroki Kuroda and last year's prospect Clayton Kershaw. The team lost Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to free agency.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are last because they present the biggest challenge. Their projected opening day rotation will likely consist of Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jon Garland, Doug Davis, and Max Scherzer. Webb and Haren are both excellent, star-caliber pitchers. Jon Garland is a strong third option if he returns to his 2006 form. Davis and Scherzer both are pitchers who will contribute success.
The N.L. West is open for a winner. If the Giants pitching staff does its job to accommodate the team with success, will the hitting hold up its end? The answer will determine where the Giants finish this season.