World champion Giants have plenty of change 

The season after the season to remember is upon us.

And for Giants fans, the 2011 season should prove to be another ticket to postseason drama.

The formula in 2011 will pretty much be the same one the Giants mastered at the end of 2010, transforming themselves from a last-gasp divisional winner to world champions: outpitch everybody, play error-free defense and get some timely hitting.

The worries about the championship hangover and the Giants’ pitching staff — all those extra postseason innings — could be a factor in Brian Wilson’s preseason drama. The Giants could be without their closer to open the season, the first hurdle in their title defense.

On paper, this Giants offense has added a full season of Cody Ross and Miguel Tejada while losing Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. Ross is a definite upgrade, but the Tejada-Renteria switch and Uribe departure is a loss. The whole thing appears to be a push with some downside risk.

However, there are plenty of positives that should make Giants fans confident coming into 2011. The team did win 92 games last year with an offense that will benefit from a full year of Buster Posey’s bat in the lineup.

If Pablo Sandoval can regenerate just some of his rookie-season mashing, it would feel like the Giants signed a free agent. Sandoval was a nonentity during the postseason last year. If Kung Fu Panda can step back up to the plate, it will be a big offensive boost.

So could the contribution of Mark DeRosa, who missed most of last season with injuries. He is a solid, play-anywhere major-leaguer and could prove a key factor if the Giants are to generate a few more runs for the outstanding starting rotation they bring into 2011.

With their starting rotation apparently in tact, all eyes will be on Barry Zito.

Honestly, Zito was the best pitcher in baseball in April last year — go back and look at his eight-inning, 10-strikeout domination of Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals on April 24 for proof. Unfortunately, Zito was miserable after the All-Star break. Now the question is whether there is anything left in Zito’s tank.

I honestly think this will be the year that Matt Cain joins Tim Lincecum in the Cy Young race. Cain was brilliant in the postseason last year, and now he must prove he can be that good for an entire season.

Madison Bumgarner has yet to show a ceiling on his potential. And I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Jonathan Sanchez. Sure, the critics made a big deal of the postseason game against the Philadelphia Phillies, but Sanchez had a terrific season last year.

All in all, the Giants should repeat as division champs. Only the Colorado Rockies look like they have the potential to pose a threat. The San Diego Padres without Adrian Gonzalez appear to be weaker, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks look awful on paper.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner Email him at

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