No team has repeated a World Series title since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. It's just not an easy thing to do. But the Giants showed last year that they have the time of pitching that can win a short series. The problem is that they have to get there first. The Dodgers don't appear they can be as bad as last year, the Rockies have improved as have the Diamondbacks. What the Padres do depends on their pitching, but they don't appear to be the factors they were last year. The Giants won 92 games last year and it would appear they need to win 90 to repeat as division winners. Is their 2011 team within two wins of last year?
For the Giants, it all comes down to pitching. With Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner, the Giants may have three of the top ten pitchers in the National League. Barry Zito can still fill out innings, just don't expect much more. The real key is Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez mysteriously lost some velocity last year and was ineffective for much of the latter third of the season. And Sanchez was the weakest link on the post season rotation as well. Sanchez simply throws too many pitches. If Sanchez could ever find the key to pounding the strike zone, he could be a tremendous fourth starter for the Giants and that alone could be enough to carry the division. Of course, good health is crucial. The Giants did not lose any significant time by any of their pitchers last year, which is pretty remarkable in itself.
Another key for their pitching staff is Matt Cain. Cain has long been undervalued by analysts for a long time now. The post season showed what a great pitcher he can be. The prevailing wisdom is that Cain is simply lucky. Lucky? For two years in a row? His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABiP) was .267 in 2009 and .254 in 2010. Yes, you can look at that and say he's lucky. But is he? If he is, someone better find out his superstitious rituals then and copy them, because his string of luck has lasted a long time. All this Fan can tell you is that Cain led the rotation in Walks plus Hits for Innings Pitched (WHIP) and has lowered his walks per nine for three years in a row. Will his "luck" take a hit this year due to Tejada at short instead of Uribe? It could.
Tim Lincecum is always a question mark in this writer's mind. His slight build and the incredible torque he uses to pitch just seems bound for a short career. The Fan hopes he's wrong, but with Lincecum, the Fan is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It did drop for a while last summer when Lincecum struggled. But then he pulled it together down the stretch and into the post season, where he was terrific. Thankfully, the Giants have Bumgarner emerging as the new ace of the staff. Bumgarner possesses great control and good velocity, a hard combination to beat. For a young guy, he had the lowest walks per nine innings of all the starters.
The Giants' bullpen appears set. The big three of Wilson, Romo and Casilla were lights out all season. But we all know how unpredictable bullpens can be. There is a weakness in lefty relievers on the team, but the three pitchers just mentioned can get anybody out. Runzler was very good at many points last season, so he may be their top lefty. Affeldt walks too many batters to be a good LOOGY.
The Giants 2011 batters have so many ups and down sides. Posey will have a full season, which is an up side. Tejada will not replace Uribe's production. That's a down side. Sandoval has worked hard this winter to get in shape. That's an up side. There's no way that Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell repeat their success last season. That's a down side. Brandon Belt looks like the real deal, but how will he do out of the gate? If he falters, Cody Ross is just an okay player despite his post season heroics. The Fan can't see Freddie Sanchez repeating his mild success of 2010. Andres Torres should be better than last year. See all the ups and downs? Over the course of the season, the Giants just have to be a little better than last year with their pitching to repeat the division. But if the pitching falters at all and this line up doesn't at least produce last year's frail offensive performance, there won't be any repeats of anything.
Nobody expected the Giants to do what they did last year. But that's the glorious thing about baseball. Anything can happen and it certainly did with the Giants. If the Giants just play their game and forget about having to prove anything, they could be just fine. But a lot must go right for this team to avoid being a one-hit wonder.