When a team finishes 72-90 in 2008 and then jumps up to a 88-74 finish in 2009, 2010 expectations obviously skyrocket. The San Francisco Giants find themselves in such a situation.
After a 16 game improvement last season, the team expects to not only make the postseason in 2010—they expect to do it by winning the National League West.
Unfortunately, there are still way too many “ifs” when it comes to the Giants making the postseason for the first time since 2003. If the Giants want to break the streak of six straight seasons without playoff baseball, then the majority of the breaks must go their way.
In particular, there are four players on the roster who are practically coin tosses on whether or not they will produce the types of seasons needed to help the team improve in 2010.
Those four key players are as follows:
A salary of $126 million over seven seasons is a whole lot of money for a pitcher who didn’t come near his 2002 CY Young Award marks in the next four seasons before signing this mega deal in free agency.
Obviously this has been a contract that Giants management and fans would like to forget, but since it cannot be taken back, why not look at the positives of what Zito can bring the San Francisco rotation in 2010.
After a poor first half to 2009 where Zito capped off the last game before the All-Star break with an embarrassing nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the lowly San Diego Padres, the southpaw bounced back in the second half to the point where Giants fans were chanting his first name like his last name was “Bonds”. Zito lowered his 5.01 ERA at the All-Star break to as low as 3.94 by late August before finishing the campaign at a decent 4.03.
For the entire second half, Zito posted a stellar 2.83 ERA and, for the first time ever, had Giants fans behind him.
Now in order for the Giants to make the postseason with their mediocre lineup, they will need Zito to pitch the entire season closer to the way he pitched in the second half of last season.
Word around the block is that Edgar Renteria is 100 percent healthy after spending all of last season with bone chips in his right elbow. If this holds true, then Renteria needs to perform more like the Renteria of 2007, than the Renteria of ‘08 and ‘09.
In 2008 with the Detroit Tigers, Renteria hit just .270/.317/.382 in just his second season in the American League. Last season with the Giants, Renteria hit even worse, with a mark of .250/.307/.328.
But in 2007 (Renteria’s last healthy season in the more familiar National League), he hit .332/.390/.470 with the Atlanta Braves.
At his increased age, the chances he reaches those numbers are slim to none, but a line of .280/.340/.440 in 2010 should be reachable if Renteria truly is healthy.
And with the offensive depth that the Rockies, Dodgers and Diamondbacks have, Renteria’s possible increase in performance would help give the Giants similar depth and allow them a better chance to compete for the division.
San Francisco’s “no-hitter stud” wasn’t exactly a stud in 2009. The no-no helped boost Sanchez’s performance on the mound in the second half of last season but, despite having dynamic stuff, he still finished with a relatively high ERA of 4.24 in 2009.
The year before in 2008, Sanchez finished with a 5.01 ERA in his first full year as a starter. Now, after his memorable pitching performance in July of last year, Sanchez did improve overall, dropping his ERA from 4.69 to 4.24 after his no hitter.
But there were still some major inconsistencies with San Francisco’s No. 4 starter. In nine of the 15 games after the no hitter, Sanchez failed to complete six innings of work, which has always been a tendency for Sanchez. Even when he has been on his game, Sanchez typically falls apart in the fifth/sixth inning.
If the 27-year-old lefty can overcome his struggles and put together a strong season from beginning to end, it will majorly boost the Giants chances in the playoffs.
The Giants were obviously looking to upgrade offensively over the offseason, and Aubrey Huff ended up as their choice to play first base and hit cleanup. Unfortunately for the Giants, Huff has been incredibly inconsistent over the last three years, and of all the different positions he has spent time at over his career, the spot he has played the most is at designated hitter.
I don’t want to state the obvious, but to make the point clear, Huff won’t be able to be the DH at any point this season with the Giants being in the National League.
Even when San Francisco travels to American League ballparks, you can be guaranteed that Bruce Bochy will want to keep Bengie Molina’s bat in the lineup but give him days off from catching. Therefore, Huff won’t even DH in those situations.
Now Huff can claim that he isn’t as poor defensively as fans are making him out to be. But he has never played more than 94 games at first base in a single season, and obviously his defensive skills weren’t at a level where he was on the field.
Furthermore, after a midseason trade to the Tigers last year, Huff didn’t even have a fielding percentage. In 40 games, Huff never saw the field defensively. And with a minus-6.8 career UZR mark at first base, you can understand why he has spent more time at DH than any other position.
This poor defensive play could be forgotten if Huff were to hit .304 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI in 2010 like he did in 2008 with Baltimore. Only problem is that Huff’s amazing OPS mark in 2008 of .912 is sandwiched between a mediocre mark of .778 in 2007, where he hit just 15 home runs and a terrible 2009 mark of .694, also with just 15 home runs.
Huff will have to return to his ‘08 form in ‘10 if the Giants have any visions of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Adjusting Huff’s numbers from ‘08 in a power-friendly ballpark to the confines of AT&T, the Giants will need Huff to hit at least 20 home runs, with an OPS of .800 or better.
The problem for the Giants is that the chances Huff returns to his ‘08 form aren’t very high.