2011 was a bust for the San Francisco Giants. Coming off their improbable World Series victory in 2010, hopes were high for a chance at a repeat. Perhaps the Giants got a little too full of themselves with the Showtime cameras following them around. There were times I thought some players, Brian Wilson in particular, were playing to the cameras. Things really unraveled on the Giants in the form of injuries. Losing Freddy Sanchez hurt, but losing Buster Posey was a death knell to their playoff hopes.
Brian Sabean tried valiantly to keep the World Champs afloat by snagging Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger, but neither move paid any real dividends. Instead, the Arizona Diamondbacks seized control of the division and the Giants imploded.
The Giants had a pretty low key off-season. They signed Tim Lincecum to a 2-year contract and have yet to settle things with Matt Cain, who is seeking a contract extension. San Francisco added speed and defense by trading for Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera. They also added utility man Ryan Theriot via free agency.
The one sure thing in their batting order this season, which was their biggest uncertainty last spring, is Pablo Sandoval. He hit .315 last year with 23 homers and 70 RBI. He appears to be in great shape again and could very well push his offensive numbers back towards his 2009 line of .330, 25 homers, and 90 RBI.
Pitching should once again be an area of strength for San Francisco. They starting rotation is rock solid with Lincecum, Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and last year’s surprise ace, Ryan Vogelsong. The bullpen is built around Brian Wilson who has recorded at least 36 saves in each of the past 4 seasons. Sergio Romo was outstanding last year with a 2.33 era and 70 Ks in 48 innings pitched.
Here’s the 3 Up and 3 Down on the Giants
Best case scenario for 2012: In an ideal world for San Francisco, Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez will be ready to roll and at least near full-speed by opening day. Further, Brandon Belt will finally begin to realize the promise that the Giants front office has in him. One way or another they need to resolve things with Matt Cain’s contract so it doesn’t become a distraction for a guy that they need a big season from.
Most important Giants: Buster Posey – the greatest concern the Giants have is if, and how soon, Posey can return to form. His devastating injury in 2011 signaled the end of the Giants’ realistic playoff hopes. Any chance they have on a playoff bid in 2012 rests largely on Posey’s return as well as Tim Lincecum Despite finishing with a 13-14 record in 2011, Lincecum cut his ERA and WHIP down to 2.74 and 1.21 respectively. He is a strikeout machine having fanned over 200 batters in 4 consecutive seasons. He has to be the anchor of the rotation and there is no reason to think he won’t be.
Potential breakout players in 2012 – The Giants have high hopes for Brandon Belt and this could be his breakout season. He smacked 9 homers in 187 at bats last year, but posted a paltry .225 batting average. Brandon Crawford has good size, 6-2, 215, and a good left-handed stick with pop. He will have every chance to put a stranglehold on the shortstop position and become a fixture in the line up.
Worst case scenario for 2012: There are a lot of scenarios that could cause another disappointing season for the Giants. Chief among them are; If Posey struggles to get comfortable and resume becoming the star player he was before his injury. If Belt and Crawford don’t realize their potential it will cause strain on the roster. If Aubrey Huff can’t regain the magic he had in 2010 and continues to scuffle like he did in 2011.
Areas of concern: First base is such a key position, especially offensively, and the Giants are counting on one of two things to happen; Aubrey Huff bounces back from a bad 2011 or Brandon Belt can become a consistent hitter. Neither of those options are anything close to foregone conclusions and that has to be a bit unnerving for Bruce Bochy.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2011: The Giants are hoping that somehow Aubrey Huff will be the guy he was in 2010, which was a .290 hitter with 26 dingers and 86 RBI. I think it’s more likely that Huff’s magical season that year was just that – magical. My opinion aside, the Giants need Huff to bounce back, and if he doesn’t, they need Brandon Belt to arrive. Brian Wilson said he pitched through elbow, back, and hip pain in 2011 and as a result his era ballooned up to 3.11 and his WHIP to 1.47. If healthy he should bounce back to form and trim those numbers down closer to 2010 form when he posted a pencil thin 1.81 era and 1.18 WHIP.