San Francisco Giants 2009 Preview: Things Will Be Better, but How Much Better?

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San Francisco Giants 2009 Preview: Things Will Be Better, but How Much Better?

The time has finally arrived. Only a few exhibition games at AT&T Park to go before the 2009 season begins and, let's face it...no matter how much the San Francisco Giants might piss you off, you love that they're just a few measly days away from playing games that count.

And no, not like that guy with the deep voice from the Fox All-Star Game adds, these games actually count.

By now I'm sure you've read plenty of previews, but a lot of them might not exactly be up to date considering they were probably pumped out at the start of the year. Now that spring training has run its course, there are a few new developments.

But first, what we do know—the pitching staff.

This season will certainly be built around pitching. When you have the reigning Cy Young winner and another pitcher who has won the award five times, I think it's safe to say that pitching is your strongest asset.

Obviously, Tim Lincecum will be the horse of the staff; there's no denying that. Not only is the franchise the 2008 National League Cy Young winner, but he's also planning to get better, despite his own admission that he's sort of in a funk as we head toward the opener April 6.

Despite his self-proclaimed funk, there's no reason to think that Lincecum won't continue to pile up the kind of strikeouts and wins that he did last year.

The Giants are certainly hoping, along with anybody who has followed him the past two years, that Matt Cain makes the same kind of jump that Lincecum did a year ago.

There's no denying that Cain has talent. Until Lincecum burst onto the scene, it was Cain who was looked at to be the staff ace heading into the future. Put together offensive output that would make you sick and an inning every game that reminded you of the Russ Ortiz days, and there's your answer as to why he's 15-30 the past two seasons.

While the young kids are getting attention for what they can do not only in the present, but also the future, there's a certain 6'10" five-time Cy Young winner who is just five wins away from the most exclusive club in baseball.

Randy Johnson's effect won't just be felt on the bump. He's made it perfectly clear that he's going to be just as much teaching as he is preparing for each start. That means fellow southpaws Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, along with Cain and Lincecum, will all be tutored by one of the best we have ever seen.

The bullpen has also been upgraded.

A major weakness a year ago, the likes of Lincecum and Cain will certainly appreciate some quality late-inning relief to help them hold a lead. Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt were brought in to provide some help to youngsters Alex Hinshaw, Sergio Romo, and All-Star closer Brian Wilson.

While the last few spots of the bullpen are still trying to be figured out, it seems pretty set in stone that things will be a little better than last year, even though it couldn't have gotten much worse.

But as it has the past couple seasons, the success of Los Gigantes depends on what kind of offense the orange and black will be able to generate.

As I have said for months and have seen other people write, when Bengie Molina is your cleanup hitter, you won't be blown away at all.

The Giants were by far one of the worst, if not the worst offense in 2008. They were the only team to not hit 100 home runs, just four fewer runs scored and they would've been the lowest scoring team in the majors.

I could honestly go on and on.

General Manager Brian Sabean didn't do a whole lot to upgrade the offense in the offseason, bringing in shortstop Edgar Renteria, who is coming off one of the worst years of his career and at age 33 is certainly entering the downward slope of his career.

However, there is reason to be optimistic. And unlike years before, it's because of homegrown hitters.

That's right, the Giants are actually producing hitters in their minor league system.

Last season, we got to see what Fred Lewis can do, even though he wasn't completely healthy, and Emmanuel Burriss, as well as cameos from Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa.

And the homegrown quartet have done nothing to diminish their standing this spring. Burriss has just recently been named the starter at second base, Sandoval has done nothing but rake as well as learn the tricks of the trade at the hot corner after an impressive debut and maybe more impressive showing this winter in Venezuela.

Yet the most impressive hitter of them all this spring has to be Ishikawa.

By no means am I writing his name on an All-Star ballot right now. I have been one of his hardest critics on this website, but he certainly has had one hell of a spring.

He leads the team in home runs, with six. and is just one RBI behind Juan Uribe, who looks to have a spot on the team, and Jesus Guzman, who despite hitting even more than Sandoval was just sent to the minors, with 14.

If Randy Winn, Renteria, and Lewis can get on base on a regular basis and set up the likes of Molina, Sandoval, and Aaron Rowand, it won't be as bad as last year. It certainly will be the determining factor on how far the Giants go.

We know the pitching is there, but just ask Cain how important some run support is when you're pitching your heart out.

They will at least hit 100 homers; I think that's a safe bet.

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