Sharks Have Joe Thornton, 49ers Have Frank Gore, Giants Have...?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IMarch 17, 2009

Granted, the San Francisco 49ers have been arguably as atrociously bad as their city's baseball team over the past few years, they have had the benefit of a premiere stud at running back in Frank Gore. The Bay Area's NHL franchise (the San Jose Sharks) has the benefit of perennial All-Star center Joe Thornton.

But who do the San Francisco Giants have the luxury of having on their roster?

One may argue that reigning Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum can be the Joe Thornton or Frank Gore of the Giants. However, for as good a season as the young hurler had last season, (18-5, 2.62 era, 265 strikeouts) he only participates in 20 percent of his team's games.

In any case, no matter how talented a pitcher is, he cannot carry his team. For example, fellow Giants starter Matt Cain (who has similar tools to Lincecum) endured a season with the stat line of 8-14, 3.76 era, and 186 strikeouts.

The difference in stat lines for Lincecum and Cain seem rather drastic considering they have similar talent and the same lineup providing offense or not providing offense (depending on how you look at it).

Now one may ask why is there the discrepancy between the stats of Lincecum and Cain. Well the answer is simple, Matt Cain is unfortunately amongst the bottom of the league in run support over the last two seasons.

Lincecum, indeed, performed better than Cain last season when it came to the parts of a game that pitchers can control.

For example, Lincecum walked less batters than Cain despite throwing more innings. Therefore, an issue for Cain to work on this season is to minimize the walks because, as the famous saying in baseball goes, "you can't defend a walk."

However, despite all that, even pitchers as talented as the Giants have on their roster need a formidable offense. Major League baseball teams need an everyday lineup that can produce runs.

Joe Thornton of the Sharks and Frank Gore of the 49ers are the face of their franchises because they can make an impact in every single game. To the contrary, there is nobody on the Giants roster that has the ability to make an impact on an everyday basis.

Due to the lack of such a player, numerous Giants fans, including myself, advocated for the Giants front office to sign Manny Ramirez away from the Dodgers.

Even though Ramirez is an intricate character who may cause problems in the clubhouse and negatively affect team chemistry, fans were pleading for the Giants to bring him in.

Why, you may ask? Because Giants fans cannot take another year with Bengie Molina as their clean-up hitter.

It is nothing against Bengie, he is a fan favorite amongst the die-hard orange and black, but he is not a difference maker. The Giants need a difference maker hitting clean-up in their lineup.

Joe Thornton, Frank Gore, they are difference makers.

When you look around the rest of the Major Leagues, and look at the team's most likely to make the playoffs, you see difference makers hitting in the clean-up position.

Alex Rodriguez for the Yankees, David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers, Derek Lee of the Cubs, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Vladmir Guerrero of the Angels, etc.

Forgive me if any of those players don't specifically hit fourth in their lineups (the clean-up spot) even if they don't, you get the gist of what I'm saying.

As a part of the San Francisco Giants faithful I was looking forward to the 2009 season a couple of months ago. I even wrote an article suggesting the Giants may be the favorites to win the NL West.

However, in hindsight, I was overzealous and was thinking too much like a Giants "homer" than an analytical baseball fan.

The fact is that the Giants pitching staff will once again need to be near perfect for the Giants to compete at all this season. The minor additions of shortstop Edgar Renteria, starter Randy Johnson, and reliever Jeremy Affeldt are nice additions but neither of them at this point in their careers are impact players.

The Giants offense is still anemic. They are essentially starting two rookies at the corner infield positions. Perhaps third-baseman Pablo Sandoval can be that difference maker, but he has yet to even play a full-season at the big league level.

And the starting rotation that the Giants claim is so great, may not even be the best in their own division as the Arizona Diamondbacks stout a Cy Young award winner in their own in Brandon Webb and former Oakland Athletics stud Dan Haren form a ridiculous 1-2 punch.

As for the Giants, they have Tim Lincecum, awesome. But what if Matt Cain's struggles from last year (specifically of having to deal with poor run support) continue?

What if the $126 million man Barry Zito never returns to his form from his days with Oakland?

What if 45-year-old Randy Johnson breaks down and only starts 15 games or less?

What if Noah Lowry's elbow issues continue to persist?

What if Jonathan Sanchez doesn't turn out to be the gem that Giants General Manager Brian Sabean deems him to be?

Look, as a Giants fan I am looking forward to the upcoming season more than I have in the past few years. If the Giants pitching staff can stay healthy and Pablo Sandoval can become the hitter all Giants fans hope he can be, the Giants may have a shot at finishing above .500 for the first time since 2004.

But, more than likely, with Bengie Molina as our clean-up hitter, we are still going to be stuck with the same old Giants that we have seen the past few seasons, in 2009.

Perhaps Sabean will make a deal for a marquee hitter midway through the season that will become the difference maker that the Giants so desperately need. Only then, can I see the Giants making the playoffs.


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