The 2009 season was a fantastic surprise for the Giants with huge performances from their pitching staff, and offense. It brought San Francisco into competitive September baseball for the first time since 2003, and heralded a new era of pitching dominance when Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive Cy Young Award.
Looking now to the ever approaching 2010 regular season, the SWOT outlook is good and most look for Giants to be in the running for the National League West title. For those not familiar with the term, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
This article will look at those strengths and weaknesses—mostly internal—and the opportunities and threats based on their opponents' offseasons.
Pablo Sandoval had a monster year in his first full season in the majors. He led the Giants in almost every offensive category, hitting .330 with 25 HRs and 90 RBI.
And guess what? He couldn't even see right.
In a game where picking up the spin on a ball going 90-plus MPH means the difference between the batting title and Mendoza line, imperfect vision is a as big a handicap as having a glove with a hole in the pocket.
In a routine exam this spring, Sandoval discovered that he did NOT have perfect vision. Since then, he started wearing prescription glasses, saying in an interview with Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, "Things are so much clearer now."
After whacking the cover off the ball at every level of baseball to the tune of a .312 career average, things are clearer.
Pitchers, be warned.
Mark DeRosa headlines a cast of veterans that look to provide some valuable experience to the 2010 Giants. Although often criticized for shunning young internal options for the sake of signing "proven winners," general manager Brian Sabean put together a solid group of vets who, if they perform like history says they should, could put this team over the top.
Moreover, this team is NOT going to have any problems with players missing games because of its depth. DeRosa can play multiple positions. Super utility player Juan Uribe can step in at any infield position. Pablo Sandoval can play both corners. Travis Ishikawa can still play a great first base.
The "old legs" of DeRosa, Bengie Molina, and Edgar Renteria will be well-rested, and those taking their place won't be slouch subs, or easy outs. The bevy of prospects chomping at the bit also offers an option that wasn't always there.
Thomas Neal and Francisco Peguero look ready to take over the future outfield. Brandon Crawford, Nick Noonan, and Emmanuel Burriss are already comfortable in the infield.
The development of top prospects in their minor league system is a strength that has been overlooked by most, even though the Giants went from one of the most depleted minor league systems to a top-10 farm system, and the No. 1 organizational record in all of baseball.
Depth, versatility, and fresh legs will be a boon to San Francisco this year.
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The Giants' pitching staff was no doubt, one of the best in baseball last year. At the start of the year, it was the ONLY staff in baseball to boast three Cy Young winners (Lincecum, Zito, Randy Johnson), and by the end of the year they added another one to their trophy case.
Compared to all other major league teams, they had the second-lowest ERA (3.55), the second-lowest WHIP (1.28), far and away the most complete games (11), shutouts (18), and strikeouts (1302), also giving up the least amount of earned runs (571).
When you look at the fact that the only team ahead of them in a majority of categories was the Dodgers, it gets a little cloudy. If the Dodgers have better pitching stats, why should the Giants pitching be regarded as more formidable?
Take into account that Dodger relievers threw over 100 more innings than Giant relievers. That's about the equivalent of 11 full games. At the end of the year, those relievers are taxed to their breaking points, and playoff teams with a tired bullpen almost always finish with an early-round exit.
The top three Dodger relievers (Broxton, Belisario, Troncoso) combined for 230 innings in 215 games last year, and compiled a 2.48 ERA. The Giants' top three (Affeldt, Wilson, Bob Howry) combined for only 198 innings in 205 appearances with a 2.63 ERA.
When it comes to September, your pitching staff should be surging, not petering out, and the Giants have the strong starters and durable relievers to maintain that consistency throughout the year.
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The Giants seem to have this problem more and more. Although they aren't fielding the all-time ancient outfield of Barry Bonds, Marquis Grissom, and Moises Alou anymore, they aren't getting as young as they claim to be.
In fact, the only sub-30 starters on the team heading into the season are Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz. Aaron Rowand is 33, Bengie Molina is almost 36, and Edgar Renteria is almost 35. New additions Aubrey Huff (33) and Mark DeRosa (35) aren't getting any younger either.
The fact that the Giants have depth is a plus, but "cagey veterans" can only bring so much to the table. Luckily, it's not like these guys are clearly at the end of their careers; DeRosa seems to be getting better with age, and Huff had a monster 2008 before a less than stellar 2009 campaign.
The thing that the veterans to bring is experience, and lots of baseball knowledge. But on creaky knees and bad backs, knowledge can only go so far.
The "Giants' Way" is supposed to be one of hustle and small-ball baseball. That only works when you've got some speed on the team. The 2010 Giants are definitely more lumbering than they are light on their feet.
If you look back to the first full year of the Giants' Way, it included speedy guys like Fred Lewis, Manny Burriss, and Eugenio Velez. Fast forward to this year and the fastest guy on the team is probably Tim Lincecum.
There are no legitimate threats to steal bases on this team. Edgar Renteria and Nate Schierholtz MAY be able to beat out a bunt here and there, but aside from backup outfielders (Velez, Andres Torres), the Giants are not fast in the slightest.
They plan on making up for it with smart baserunning. In fact, the moves to put Bengie Molina out of the middle of the lineup might even remedy some of their run-scoring problems.
The upside is that there should be a little more power this year, and less reliance on beating out hits. The additions to the team are gap hitters, and if a single and steal is just as good as a double, then the other way works too.
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San Francisco got their fair share of injury news before 2010 even started. Freddy Sanchez required surgery—twice. Renteria had surgery as well. Ishikawa fell down the stairs and tore some ligaments. DeRosa is coming off wrist surgery. Burriss was only as fast as his broken foot let him be last year.
These are guys that are not only penciled in to start but INKED in (on their contracts) to make a difference. Tim Alderson was a top prospect, and Giant fans deserve to have his departure mean something in return. Freddy Sanchez has been striving to make fans forget Alderson since the trade, and he's pushing hard this spring to make sure that happens.
Word is that Renteria looks infinitely better than he did last year when he was swinging with bone chips in his elbow. DeRosa is showing improvement in his wrist that required surgery, but still held up to hit 20 HRs last year.
Ishikawa, thankfully, did not require surgery but is still in a boot. Burriss claims to be at 100 percent, and is itching at another shot at the roster this year.
If they can stay healthy, the Giants have potential to improve on last year, which is what everyone wants. With their depth and versatility, injuries will affect them less than in years past. However, owners don't spend millions of dollars for people sit on the DL so head trainer Dave Groeschner had better stay busy.
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When the Los Angeles Dodgers ended their offseason shopping LAST season, their cart included a huge deal with Manny Ramirez, and a couple million for Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, and Randy Wolf.
This year they've spent significantly less and hauled in Jamey Carroll, Reed Johnson, and Ronnie Belliard as their headliners.
That's because the owners of the Dodgers are going through a messy, messy, very expensive, and messy divorce. Did I mention it was messy? Probably because Frank McCourt, the owner, fired his wife and CEO Jamie as part of their separation.
You've got to love a woman who loves sports, but when you fire her and divorce her, expect some backlash and team involvement. As a result of the proceedings, much of the financial freedom that gave the Dodgers the chance to go out and sign Manny and other expensive free agents is tied up.
For Giant fans, this is great news. If the Dodgers can't improve, and the Giants DO, that makes October baseball much more of a reality. The race between LA and SF was close last year, but the Giants just couldn't catch up to the Bums when it counted.
Maybe this year they'll be distracted by some attorneys, and not just the Giants in their rear-view mirror.
Much like the Dodgers, the Rockies had a pretty uneventful offseason. Their big signing was Miguel Olivo, who mashed 23 homers for the Blue Jays, but only hit .249.
The Rockies also seemed just out of reach for the Giants last year, but using the same logic as the Dodgers, if the Giants improved this offseason (which they did) and the Rockies didn't (which they didn't), San Francisco's got a good chance at winning the West.
Edwin Jackson (pictured) came over in a huge trade to the Diamondbacks, who arguably had one of the best off-seasons in baseball. They added a power hitter (Adam LaRoche), two top-prospect pitchers (Jackson and Ian Kennedy), and are getting their former Cy Young award winner back in Brandon Webb.
With Webb, Haren, and Jackson at the front of the rotation, the NL West has some great pitching staffs. Adding LaRoche on offense gives them some much-needed pop.
Although going from the cellar to the top West won't be easy, the D-Backs proved that they're willing to make the moves to make it possible. With other teams in the division seeming dormant, Arizona could be a surprise team to break out this year.
If—and it's a big if—the Giants do end up making the playoffs, the road to the World Series will not be easy. The St. Louis Cardinals are my early favorite to win the National League pennant, mainly because of mid-lineup presence.
Most of the big power-hitter combinations came up together in the minors. Ruth and Gehrig, Mays and McCovey—all played at the same time, for the same team.
But in St. Louis, Matt Holliday has played for the Rockies and the A's before moving over to the Cardinals to play alongside the best offensive force in the game, Albert Pujols.
And now he's signed for seven years. The Cards are also looking to lock up Pujols for about that amount of time as well. Combine that with the fact that their top two pitchers virtually split the Cy Young voting last year to NOT win, and you get a balanced team with no visible weaknesses.
Their offense is powerful, their defense solid, and their pitching is surprisingly dominant. If the Giants are going to get to and through the playoffs, it'll have to be through the Redbirds.