The World Series Champion San Francisco Giants went on a wild ride last year.
Led by their elite young starting pitching, the team overcame numerous odds to come out on top. They refused give in, despite the fact that most experts picked against them in every series in the playoffs.
The truth is that had the Giants not won their final game of the regular season, they might not have even made the playoffs. Many of their games were tight affairs, prompting one on the team’s announcers to call Giants’ baseball torture.
Without improving over the offseason, it is not hard to see ways for the team to slide back out of the postseason.
There is a very real chance that Buster Posey and/or Madison Bumgarner could experience the dreaded sophomore slumps. Both are immensely talented, but will have to adapt once the league adjusts to them.
Few in baseball would be surprised if Aubrey Huff’s numbers slip or if Andres Torres is unable to replicate the fantastic year he had in 2010. They had surprisingly good years and expecting them to repeat what they did might be too much to ask.
Another major key is manager Bruce Bochy keeping all of the young players focused.
It would be easy for them to rest on their laurels after winning the championship. They will need to keep working hard through the grind of the regular season. Hopefully they worked as hard as Big Panda through the offseason to return in top shape.
The organization does not know what to expect out of veterans Miguel Tejada or Pat Burrell, and there is talk of removing Barry Zito from the pitching rotation. None of the three are locks to keep hold of their positions through the entirety of the season.
Add Zito’s contract to that of Aaron Rowand's contract and the team is spending a ton of money on two players who are not producing that much.
Despite all of the questions, there is plenty of reason for the team to believe their best baseball is in front of them.
As good as the Giant’s pitching staff was last year, Tim Lincecum actually had a down year compared to what he had done in previous seasons. His numbers were down across the board and still ended up having a very good year.
After spending more time on conditioning at the end of last season, one would have to think he would continue to do that with how strong he finished. Expecting his ERA to drop back under three would not be unreasonable.
Matt Cain is often overlooked when it comes to the top pitchers in the National League, but he shouldn't be. Despite not possessing overpowering stuff, he is one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball. Each of the last four years he has pitched at least 200 innings with over 160 strike outs and an ERA under four.
Eccentric closer Brian Wilson is expected to continue his dominance if he can shake the minor back problems which have plagued him this spring. He is the anchor on what was a great bullpen last year after the acquisition of lefty specialist Javier Lopez.
The bullpen was as much a reason for the deep run as their starting pitching and clutch hitting. With all the key components back for 2011, expect them to lock down many more close Giant wins.
Dave Righetti is one of the most underrated coaches in MLB and the job he does consistently with all of the pitchers is remarkable.
With the core of the team’s pitching staff in tact, it will once again remain up to the hitters to do their part. While none would confuse them with a modern day "Murderer’s Row," they could field a more than adequate lineup.
Even with some expected regression the team is still better than the atrocious batting orders the team had in 2008 and 2009.
Pablo Sandoval reported to Spring Training in the best shape of his playing career. If he can come close to matching his 2009 numbers, the Giants will be adding an impact bat they did not have last season. He still needs to improve his plate discipline, but he remains a dangerous bad ball hitter. Getting his batting average back up over .300 should be the first goal and the power will follow.
Just as the team had Buster Posey waiting in the wings last year, they now have top prospect Brandon Belt ready to emerge as a force in the lineup. After leading the organization in all of the major hitting categories in the minors last year, much is expected of the young man. Though it is doubtful he will start the season in the major leagues, he is fully expected to make an immediate impact once he is called up.
A healthy Mark DeRosa should provide insurance if Cody Ross underwhelms or Pat Burrell struggles. He was expected to be an impact player for the team last year before injuring his wrist. Getting production from him would help offset the potential slippage from other players.
All told, the Giants have quite a few holes that need filling, but the present and future have never looked so bright. For the first time in a long time, they have bright young hitters to accompany the pitching talent which has being carrying the club since Barry Bonds left the team.
Repeating will be a difficult task, though not an impossible one if the pieces come together once more.