Can the Giants repeat as world champions? When I had a telephone conversation with Steven Goldman, editor of Baseball Prospectus (absolutely the best book if you want to know what’s really happening), I asked him two specific questions:
1. What are the reasons you think the Giants could repeat?
“Well, obviously the pitching staff. You can’t predict injuries, but Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are all young, so you assume they’ll stay healthy. Plus, this year, the Giants will get a lot more of Madison Bumgarner, who will be in the rotation from the start.
“Everybody talks about Barry Zito and, of course, he’s vastly overpaid, but Zito is right at the league average for a starter, with an ERA of around 4.50. That’s quite a luxury, to have your fifth starter be a league-average pitcher.
“Among the position players, Buster Posey is the biggest reason for optimism. He should be a solid performer for several years.
“And the other reason to think they’ll at least be in the playoffs is the falloff of their competition. The Dodgers have had the problem of the divorce of their owners. They still seem to have found the money to bring in players, but I can’t see that they’re improved over last year. The Padres traded their best hitter [Adrian Gonzales], the Diamondbacks are rebuilding. The Rockies collapsed at the end of last season and I’m not sure why.”
2. What are the reasons you think the Giants won’t repeat?
“They got a lot of unexpected contributions. Aubrey Huff bounced back from a bad year to have a near-MVP kind of year. I think he’ll have a good year, but it’s unreasonable to expect him to duplicate his 2010 season. Pat Burrell regained his hitting stroke after coming over from Tampa Bay. Cody Ross came to them in late season and had a hot hitting streak in the postseason, but realistically, he’d be best as a fourth outfielder.
“Andres Torres had a breakout year and he’s 33. I think he’ll have a good year, but probably not quite as good. You could put Miguel Tejada in the question-mark category, too. He didn’t play well at third base for the Orioles last year, but looked fine at shortstop when he was traded to the Padres. But it’s asking a lot of a 37-year-old to play a full schedule at shortstop.
“So, the big question about the Giants is still their offense. Pablo Sandoval could help a lot if he returns to his 2009 form. Brandon Belt might give the Giants a jump-start, too. We’ve got a very small sample on Belt [to evaluate him], but the scouting reports are all positive.”
I agree with Goldman’s reasoning and believe that Sandoval and Belt are the keys. If Sandoval fails, the Giants have to play Mark DeRosa, who can’t stay healthy. If Belt doesn’t make it, Huff stays at first and Burrell and Ross, who should be part-timers, are regulars.
The Giants won last year on a combination of great pitching and timely hitting. Their pitching should get them into the playoffs again, but don’t expect another world championship.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.