By Will Sherratt
As baseball season begins, these 10 questions (in no particular order) will be ones that the Giants will have to answer in order to improve on their 88-74 record from last year.
1. Will Lincecum and Cain continue to be one of the most dominant duos in baseball?
Laughing at all the hitters they make look like fools
Yes! Why shouldn’t we think so? These two have dazzled for the past few years in their own unique ways. Lincecum is a flashy phenom who makes professional hitters look silly on a consistent
basis. Cain is a dependable pitcher who has an uncanny ability to dominate with his fastball, especially up in the strike zone. A constant victim of hard-luck losses, Cain has not realized the same success in the win column as his partner in crime, though he has still impressed in his young career. Last year these two were a combined 29-15 with an ERA of 2.68 for a team that was at or near the bottom of almost every statistical offensive category. As much as Giants fans believe the pair are unflappable, each season will present different challenges for players to overcome. Therefore, their success will have the biggest impact on how the Giants fare this year. If they can still find the mental toughness to pitch through what appears to be another anemic offensive showing in 2010, the Giants will once again find themselves in the thick of the NL West race.
2. Can Sanchez and Zito find consistency throughout the year?
Barring unforseen circumstances where Zito acquires a consistent low 90’s fastball and regains his knee-buckling curveball from his early days with the A’s, the southpaw will never live up to his contract. Similarly, unless he finds better control and mental toughness, Jonathan Sanchez will not live up to his potential. However, Zito and Sanchez are arguably as vital to the success of the team as anyone else on the staff. Although you can never assume anything, Lincecum and Cain both appear poised to have another great year. But if the Giants are actually going to make a run at the division both Sanchez and Zito need to be more consistent. They both had a much better second half of the 2009 season, which will hopefully transfer over into 2010.
3. Will Pablo continue to evolve?
Vote for Pablo!! It is still disappointing that the Panda did not have the opportunity to play in the midsummer classic last year in St. Louis. He stormed onto the scene in 2009 by hitting .330 with 25 hr’s and 90 rbi’s in his first full season in the big leagues. The league now knows about Sandoval, who will surely be an all-star in 2010 with those kind of numbers. It will be interesting to see if he can replicate that kind of production in a lineup that offers very little protection. He has thrived at every single level, punctuated by his emergence in 2008 as a 21 year-old kid. Hopefully Sandoval can once again thrive as the lone power threat in the Giants lineup.
4. Can Huff and DeRosa make the offense more potent?
Mark DeRosa gives the Giants great versatility
With a weak group of free agent hitters the Giants did not secure a legitimate power threat to complement Pablo Sandoval. Luckily they didn’t throw tons of money at Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, which would have left them handicapped when trying to fill other holes on the team. Whether fans like it or not, this team is not a Bay or Holliday signing away from going to the World Series, so Sabean and Co. brought in veterans (big surprise) to help strengthen the team in multiple areas. Mark DeRosa is a versatile player who can play either corner outfield position along with various positions in the infield. Aubrey Huff will hopefully bring more offensive production to first base, a position that has lacked strong offensive output since the J.T. Snow days. Both Huff and DeRosa are coming off tough seasons as they hit .241 and .250 respectively. Needless to say these two acquisitions will play a key role if the Giants become a respectable offense in 2010.
5. Can a strong defense help pick up some of the slack from a poor offense?
Especially for a team that lacks offensive firepower, the Giants will need to once again play solid defense to back what appears to be one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. Last year the Giants ranked seventh in the NL with a .985 fielding percentage. However, both the Rockies and the Dodgers had higher team fielding percentages, so the Giants will need to pick it clean in order to keep pace with their division foes.
6. Another strong year for the bullpen?
The bullpen was a strong area for the Giants in 2009 with the emergence of Sergio Romo and dominance from Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson. Affeldt led the league with 33 holds and Wilson was tied for third in the saves department with 38. Although Wilson has a knack for making nearly every one of his appearances into a high pressure situation, he also has proved to be a consistent performer and one of the most successful closers over the past couple of years. If Henry Sosa, Guillermo Mota and Co. can match their teammate’s performance, the bullpen will yet again be a strong suit for San Francisco.
7. How much of an impact will Posey and Bumgarner have this year?
Giants fan salivate over these two prospects, as they have both been rightfully billed as future stars in San Francisco. Both had stints in the majors last year, with mixed results. As much as everyone wants to see them in major roles this year, remember that they are just kids who have raced through the minor leagues. Giving them time to develop is not a bad thing, but rather something that will benefit them in the long run. However, both will most likely see time in the majors whether it is a midseason or September call up. The Giants brass will have serious decisions to make as to how long they keep these two studs in the minors, as they have the potential to be contributors this season.
8. Can Renteria redeem himself?
Two years, $18 million for a broken-down, has been shortstop. Ok, thats a little harsh, but it’s how Edgar Renteria performed last year. Granted he had shoulder problems that plagued him nearly the entire season, but he, like many other Giants hitters, severely underperformed last year. Renteria needs to continue to provide his veteran leadership while improving on his poor performance from last year. Mediocre defense and consistently stranding runners are not what got Renteria that contract. Was 2009 merely a down year for Renteria or was it the beginning of a rapid decline in production for the aging shortstop?
9. Healthy Freddy?
The Giants need to have a healthy Sanchez in 2010
Huge, huge, huge. If Freddy Sanchez can stay healthy it will go a long ways towards bolstering the lineup. Without Freddy the Giants are a much different team, as players find themselves in spots in the lineup that they may not be accustomed to. A former batting champion, Sanchez is perfect for AT&T park. He can take advantage of the huge alleyway in right center, something that the Giants can definitely use to their advantage. He is also a solid defender, a facet of the game that the team has to continue to improve upon to assist the strong pitching staff. A healthy Sanchez improves the Giants chances of winning the NL West astronomically.
10. Can they cure their road woes?
The Giants were a phenomenal 52-29 at home in 2009, the best record in the National League. However, that success was not duplicated on the road, as they posted a 36-45 record away from AT&T park. Playoff teams find ways to win away from home and for whatever reason, the Giants could never overcome their road issues last season. Even a .500 record on the road will give them a chance to be in contention down the stretch in Spetember.