Know Your Enemy: San Francisco Giants 2011 Preview

2010 Record: 92-70 (1st) - 13-5 vs. Arizona
2010 OPS+ 95
(7th)
2010 ERA+ 121 (1st)
Key departures: Juan Uribe (2.0 WAR), Edgar Renteria (1.0), Chris Ray (0.1)
Key arrivals: Miguel Tejada (1.4 WAR), Jeff Suppan (-0.7)
2011 Projection:  87-75 (CAIRO), 91-71 (BP)

The Giants won their first division title since 2003, and then rolled their way through the playoffs, taking 11 of 15 games against the Braves, Phillies and, finally, the Texas Rangers to capture their first World Series since 1954, when they were still the New York Giants. There's no doubt how they did it. Their OPS+ was hardly any better than Arizona's, but the team ERA+ of 121 was nine points better than the second-placed team - the biggest margin in the NL, since the 2002 Braves posted a 133 ERA+, 16 points better than anyone else.

But can they do it again, and become the first repeat World Series champions for more than a decade?

As you'd expect, the focus of the Giants in the off-season was less on improving the team, than on retaining the talent who got them there. That wasn't too difficult, as the only hugely significant piece to be a free agent was Aubrey Huff, whom the team re-signed to a two-year, $22 million contract, with a 2013 option. Will they regret that contract? It's possible, since 2010 was, far and away, the best year of Huff's career - he posted 5.9 WAR, compared to just three over the previous four seasons combined. As he's now 34, there is definite potential for this to be the Giants' version of the Eric Byrnes contract.

Elsewhere on offense, San Francisco will be hoping for a bounce-back year from Pablo Sandoval, who suffered a distinct sophomore slump in 2010, his OPS+ slumping from 144 to 95. It's apparently a new, sleeker Pablo the Buffet Slayer who showed up in training camp this year, but this will in no way stop us from breaking out that GIF. The Giants will also hope that Pat Burrell can sustain the form he showed after being dumped by Tampa Bay: he improved his OPS from .625 to .872. However, as another 34-year old, that might be expecting a bit much. And then there's Buster Posey, NL Rookie of the Year.

However, the plan for the Giants is, obviously, to rely on what won them the World Series: pitching, and in particular starting pitching. They were certainly fortunate with regard to health, becoming the first NL team since the '97 Braves, to have four pitchers make 33 starts, and they'll be hoping for more of the same, with Madison Bumgarner now filling the fifth spot. I'm not sure what they have as far as depth goes, if one of those five were to go down for any extended period - it appears a potential weakness, with at least one SF blog, "more than just a bit concerned" about the lack of a credible sixth starter.

Still, assuming health, many pundits reckon the Giants rotation might be close to pushing the Phillies as the best in the National League. [Though Eric Stephen of True Blue LA points out, the 2011 expected Dodgers' rotation posted more quality starts last year than the projected Giants one. ] It's worth nothing that, by ERA, two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum was only the third-best full-time starter on the team in 2010, trailing both Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez (as well as Bumgarner in his 18 games), but the question of whether Barry Zito will ever post a winning season for his $126 million remains unanswered, as he enters the fifth season of his seven-year deal.

The bullpen will be anchored by Brian Wilson, though he probably won't be part of the Opening Day roster, due to a shoulder issue - yesterday, a scheduled throwing session ended prematurely. That would certainly be a blow, as the eccentric Wilson was lights-out last year. He had a 1.81 ERA over 70 appearances, and saved 48 games in the regular season, then followed that with 11.2 scoreless frames and six more saves in the post-season. If he isn't ready, rightie Santiago Casilla and southpaw Jeremy Affeldt appear to be first in line for opportunities, depending on who has to be faced.

The Giants start the campaign as favorites, given the apparently significant steps back taken by the only team to finish last year within nine games of them. Simply holding their ground should prove enough, and while I would expect some regression, for example, due to not being so lucky with health, that may be countered to some extent by a full season of Posey, and if Sandoval returns to above-average production. I'm calling the 2011 season at 87 wins for San Francisco, and a second-place finish in the West.

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