San Francisco Giants hope speed injection leads to more runs 

Pitching has been the Giants’ calling card ever since the Barry Bonds era ended. But that came at a price — a meager offense.

So with two trades, the Giants gave up key pitchers (Jonathan Sanchez and top prospect Zack Wheeler) for bats (Melky Cabrera and Carlos Beltran).

While the Beltran trade didn’t pay off in a playoff berth, adding Cabrera this offseason in addition to a swap of center fielders (Andres Torres is out and Angel Pagan is in) is key to the Giants making their offense productive and reducing the stress on the starting pitching.

Pagan stole 69 bases over the past two seasons with the New York Mets and is expected to provide a spark from the leadoff spot. Dave Roberts was the last Giants player to steal more than 30 bases in a season back in 2007.

Pagan and Cabrera are supposed to be the solution to a team that ranked 29th among 30 teams with 570 runs in 2011. Getting on base was also a problem for the team last season, finishing next to last in on-base percentage at .303. Having slugging catcher Buster Posey back from a devastating injury will obviously be a big boost.

“It’s definitely great to have some speed at the top of the lineup and it puts pressure on the opposing pitcher, it puts pressure on the defense,” Giants left-hander Barry Zito said. “Whenever there’s a guy on there like that, the defense is just conscious of it.”

But Zito and his fellow starters don’t have the luxury of prospects ready to step in should — shudder, Giants fans — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner or Ryan Vogelsong get hurt.

The Giants have just one starting pitcher on Baseball America’s top-10 list of organization prospects. But left-hander Eric Surkamp was rocky last season, posting a 5.74 ERA in six starts in the majors.

Projected starting rotation (Stats are from 2011 season)

Tim Lincecum, RHP (13-14, 2.74 ERA, 220 K’s, 86 walks)
Until further notice, you have to assume he’ll be healthy and mostly dominant for the bulk of the season.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP (13-13, 3.21 ERA, 191 K’s, 46 walks)
Based on what we’ve seen this spring, it’s pretty clear we haven’t yet seen his best. How great is that?

Matt Cain, RHP (12-11, 2.88 ERA, 179 K’s, 63 walks)
A master at compartmentalization, he’s brushed aside all sorts of potential distractions forever. Count on more steady excellence.

Barry Zito, LHP (3-4, 5.87 ERA, 32 K’s, 24 walks)
Are you over the contract yet? Probably not. But it’s not changing, so all you can do is hope for his first solid year in orange and black.

Ryan Vogelsong*, RHP (13-7, 2.71 ERA, 139 K’s, 69 walks)
The feel-good story of 2011 got off to a troublesome start in 2012. Fluke or late bloomer is the question.

Projected starting lineup (Stats are from 2011 season)

1. Angel Pagan, CF (.262, 7 HRs, 56 RBIs)
“Crazy Horse” needs to get busy early on; Gregor Blanco is breathing down his neck. Anyone miss Andres Torres?

2. Melky Cabrera, LF (.305, 18 HRs, 87 RBIs)
Was 2011 a career year? The Giants hope not, and that playing for his next contract ensures prime motivation.

3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B  (.315, 23 HRs, 70 RBIs)
More, please. Production and discipline, that is. Not pizza. Cheap shot? Yeah, but it is a concern. The talent level is not.

4. Buster Posey, C (.284, 4 HRs, 21 RBIs)
Most encouraging aspect of his readiness for Opening Day? His rehab effort level. Says a ton about his character.

5. Aubrey Huff, 1B (.246, 12 HRs, 59 RBIs)
Contract, veteran status gives him first shot. Last year’s faceplant, plus Brandon Belt, gives him a very short leash.

6. Ryan Theriot, 2B (.271, 1 HR, 47 RBIs)
Manny Burriss probably deserves the gig based on spring, but we all know the G’s love them some veterans. Freddy Sanchez will take over when healthy.

7. Nate Schierholtz, RF (.278, 9 HRs, 41 RBIs)
Deserves first crack; his defense is that good. But if he doesn’t stay healthy and hit, he could end up John Bowker.

8. Brandon Crawford, SS (.204, 3 HRs, 21 RBIs)
His offense will be better, but it’s almost inconsequential. The position and pitching staff call for a defensive stud.

* True, Vogelsong likely won’t be ready to start the season, but barring significant setbacks, he’ll be in the rotation after missing no more than a turn or two. Until then, think LHP Eric Surkamp or LHP Brian Burres. — Mychael Urban

Scouting the NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 record: 94-68
The defending National League champions stormed out of nowhere last season to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. In the offseason, Arizona traded for A’s ace Trevor Cahill to bolster the rotation and added outfielder Jason Kubel to an already-potent lineup.

Colorado Rockies
2011 record: 73-89
The lineup is always solid, anchored by Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who make up one of the game’s best duos when healthy. The question for Colorado usually boils down to pitching. Jeremy Guthrie and ex-A’s hurler Guillermo Moscoso are new additions to the rotation.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2011 record: 82-79
The Dodgers boast the near-miss NL MVP and reigning Cy Young Award winner in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, respectively, but all the distractions brought on by owner Frank McCourt’s impending sale could still prove to be a detriment.

San Diego Padres
2011 record:
The already offensively deprived Padres took a hit when outfielder Carlos Quentin had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss at least the first few weeks of the season. Veteran Huston Street should make up for the loss of closer Heath Bell. — Staff report

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Curtis Steudeman

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