If the San Francisco Giants are going to win the National League West this season their hitters are going to have to get on base and drive in more runs. Last season, the Giants' 606 RBI's were dead last in all of Major League Baseball.
However, you need guys on base to drive in runs. The team was 25th out of 30 teams with an On Base Percentage of just .321 and scored only 640 runs. Only the San Diego Padres scored fewer runs. The Giants of 2008 also lacked home run power. They were the only team to hit less than 100 home runs (94).
So who can the Giants look to for getting on base, scoring and driving in runs? Well, there's a fresh crop of experienced and talented young players that, if they play to their potential, are going to propel the Giants upward in the standings.
Here's my Giants lineup for 2009:
1. Randy Winn, RF
2. Edgar Renteria, SS
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3b
4. Fred Lewis, LF
5. Bengie Molina, C
6. Aaron Rowand, CF
7. Travis Ishikawa/John Bowker, 1B
8. Kevin Frandsen, 2b
This is a lineup characterized by its balanced mix of experience (Winn, Renteria, Molina, and Rowand) and potential (Sandoval, Lewis, Ishikawa, Bowker, and Frandsen).
To me, experience is strength of the Giants lineup. Winn and Renteria are solid .300 hitters. These two men are going to score a lot of runs this year as they both hit a lot of line drives and run pretty well. I see a lot 1st and 3rd starts to ball games.
I like having Molina, a proven RBI man (95 in 2008), in the No. 5 slot. He's the Giants best clutch hitter and you need a guy like that hitting 5th. Rowand can flat out hit and he drove in 70 RBI's last year, the 2nd most on the ballclub. He's going to provide more than adequate protection to Bengie and keep rallies going.
The potential of the other hitters in the Giants lineup has me very optimistic and excited. Pablo Sandoval (.345) proved he could hit at the big league level last year. But, can he do it for a full season?
I have no doubts that he's already the best hitter on the team. This guy hits with power to all fields and he's going to create a lot of excitement for the fans as he rips shots into "triples alley" at AT&T Park.
I expect Fred Lewis to have a breakout year in 2009. Last year, Lewis quietly put up some solid numbers in mostly a leadoff role. I have him hitting No. 4 because I see him driving in a lot of runs with his smooth, compact swing.
Fred can also run, which means he'll beat out some infield hits and not kill rallies by hitting into double plays. With Bengie Molina hitting behind him, this would give the Giants best RBI man the chance to knock in an extra run or two.
It's time for Travis Ishikawa to step up. He's absolutely crushed the ball in AAA, but now he's got to win the 1B job and prove he belongs at the big league level. He has some pop in his bat and he plays great defensively.
In limited time last season, he did OK, so I still have him splitting time with John Bowker. Even though they are both left-handed hitters, I would go with whoever comes out of spring training the hottest and play that hand for as long as it stays hot and then switch it up.
Bowker has a very quick bat, but questionable pitch selection. He swings at way too many bad pitches and lets too many good pitches go by. I'd like Bowker to become more selective and strike out less. When he does connect, especially in San Francisco, good things usually happen.
Frandsen reminds me a lot of the Red Sox Dustin Pedroia. Fully recovered from the Achilles heel injury he suffered last year, my expectations from Frandsen are that he'll have a high OBP, hit .300, and steal a few bases.
He's a scrappy ballplayer and should get his uniform dirty everyday. This should equate to plenty of RBI opportunities for Winn and Renteria at the top of the lineup. Between the two of them, they drove in 119 runs, so they are more than up to the task.
The biggest concern going in is how the young talent will respond to playing everyday. The veterans, I expect, will maintain their solid play because they've been there before. The Giants are counting on Sandoval and Lewis an awful lot and yet neither ball player has played a full season at the MLB level.
Are they up to the challenge? I say, yes!