With the NFL playoffs in full swing and conference showdowns this weekend bringing the four remaining teams closer to the ultimate prize, it’s easy to see why football is on the mind of the sporting world. With the college football season finally at its end, fans of the sport are eagerly turning towards the pro circuit and how could they not?
Jets at Steelers? Intense matchup.
Packers at Bears? Great rivalry.
Last weekend’s games were really exciting as well. All right, well maybe not the Seahawks game, but my point is clear enough.
Even with these (mostly) great games, I still somehow find myself contemplating the upcoming Major League Baseball season and the chances of a repeat for the 2010 champs, my hometown San Francisco Giants. Maybe I’m focused on baseball because spring training tickets just went on sale or maybe it's simply because the astonishing fact that the Giants won the World Series continues to amaze me, but San Francisco baseball remains at the pinnacle of my sports brain.
While those explanations are certainly true to an extent, I believe the true reasoning behind my great interest in the best of the west is my apprehension in regards to the team’s credibility. Most fans following a World Series victory by their team would not have to worry about it because, after all, the best way to silence critics is to go out and win it all, right? Right? Well, apparently not for this team.
Even with the title, and a convincing one at that, the Giants still don’t seem to get the recognition one might expect. It seems that every few days I’m reading a new article about how the Giants will likely finish an uncompetitive third in a supposedly revamped NL West or how one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball will falter in 2011. It seems that to everyone outside of the Bay Area, the Giants are destined to return to their post–Barry Bonds form. It seems to me that one is not enough for 2010’s most surprising team. Still, written or spoken words of grandeur are easy to use and it remains uncertain how and if Bruce Bochy can really engineer a repeat performance.
Remember that the Giants were incredibly fortunate all year in that their pitching staff stayed fairly healthy, especially the starters. That luck can simply not be expected again and some members of bullpen core like Dan Runzler or an improved Alex Hinshaw may have to step in. You can also never expect to have the highest ERA of all your starting pitchers to be 4.15, courtesy of Barry Zito. Although with a full season of Bumgarner and the rest of the staff, I’d say they have a pretty good shot. However, this pitching staff is still young and I believe it is only going to improve.
On the offensive side of the ball, the 2010 Giants simply managed. The hitters were hot and clutch in the playoffs (a deadly combination) but only Aubrey Huff was consistent during the regular season and Juan Uribe provided some pop. With Uribe gone and Huff far from a lock to go .290/26/86 again, the bats need to improve and improve with the pieces that are already there. A full year of Buster Posey at the plate will help and Miguel Tejada should be an improvement at shortstop. The variable will be minor league prodigy Brandon Belt, a big, lefty first baseman who I had the pleasure of watching at Single-A in San Jose before he tore through the farm system. If Belt’s .352/23/112 numbers in the minor leagues are a sign of things to come, the Giants will be as ready as any other team to win it all in 2011.
I’m clearly ready for baseball season but, for now, I guess I’ll just have to wait for Spring and hope that football will tide me over until I can finally smell garlic fries and freshly mown grass at the ballpark.