Could this be the first year since 1954 that the Giants take the crown?
From 1997 to 2003, the San Francisco Giants made General Manager Brian Sabean look good. Damn good. His GM skills took the Giants to seven straight winning seasons and playoff appearances, even a World Series appearance which was taken to seven games. But in the last three years, the team that was once best in the west, has taken huge steps backwards and has missed not only the playoffs, but also a winning record. Luckily for the fans of the Bay Area, the Giants play in the best ballpark in the world. So with all that money from the countless sold out games, they had the resources to make a push at the pennant this year. Here is my break down of the 2007 Giants.The Lineup:
1. Dave Roberts, CF- the San Diego import gives the Giants their first legitimate leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton. His speed and experience is obvious. His 49 stolen bags in 2006 would’ve been the most for a Giant since 1990 when Brett Butler stole 51. That kind of improvement in speed is a major plus for the G-men, but Roberts shaky defense in centerfield might become a problem with AT&T’s Parks 421 foot “Death Valley” that eats misplayed balls. If the less than stellar defense becomes a regular problem, we could see a shake-up of outfielders that could include Ryan Klesko, Mark Sweeny, Jason Ellison or Todd Linden.
2. Omar Vizquel, SS- This may be the last year to watch Omar being Omar at shortstop. He’s 39. I don’t care who you are, when a shortstop reaches 40 and beyond, the Gold Glove play will eventually disappear. But Omar showed no signs of slowing down in 2006 when he picked up yet another Gold Glove. He can still steal 20 bases a year, and his small ball skills will come in handy when moving speedy Roberts from first to second. But with Bruce Bochy entertaining the idea of batting Barry Bonds 3rd, a more powerful hitter like Ray Durham might thrive batting in front of the future Hall-of-Famer outfielder, just like Rich Aurilia did in 2001 when he had career stats in Bonds’ record breaking season.
3. Barry Bonds, LF- There are several ways this season could turn out for Bonds. 1) He could be indicted for perjury against a grand jury and serve jail time. 2) He could finally churn out a test positive of HGH and be suspended for a minimum of 50 games. 3) One of his bad knees could give out and he could be on the DL for a long, long time. 4) He could play his 120 games, hit 22 home runs and give the Giants front office what they paid for, huge home game revenue in his chase for Hank Aarons home run record. 5) He could be temporarily deafened by the unrelenting BOO he will hear at every park that isn’t AT&T.
4. Ray Durham, 2B- His jump in power numbers during the 2006 season were quite impressive, just not all that convincing. Bochy will hit him behind Bonds whether Bonds hits 3rd or clean-up, but if Durham gets injured or slumps out of the gate then Bochy will have no problem testing out the hundreds of different possibilities he has for the infield. Kevin Frandsen will be right on Durham’s heels all season.
5. Randy Winn, RF- Winn defiantly did not live up to the expectations Giants fans had in 2006 following his awesome post All-Star break 2005. Regardless, he’s a versatile outfielder than has the potential to be a five tool guy. The worry here is, with Ryan Klesko, Jason Ellison and Todd Linden chomping at the bit to get playing time, Winn might feel added pressure to perform for the sake of his starting job. Good ballplayers thrive off pressure, bad ones crumble. This season could shape Randy Winn, hopefully in a good way.
6. Pedro Feliz, 3B- Again, this is a player who needs to perform to stay on the line-up card day after day. Feliz showed signs of maturing last year when he hit 22 homers and drove in 98 runs. The glaring problem is the .244 batting average and 112 strikeouts. In the past three seasons, Feliz has averaged just a hair under 100 strikeouts, by far the most of any Giant in that span. Although he just became a regular starter in 2006, he’s 32 years old and not showing any signs that would indicate a vast improvement this season.
7. Bengie Molina, C- His bat has pop, but watching him trot around the bases makes you hope they have an ambulance ready to cart him off when he passes out rounding second. To me, this was one of the more confusing decisions Brian Sabean has made in his tenure with the Giants. Paying Molina $16 million over three years seems far too much when the Giants farm system breeds solid catchers. Eliezer Alfonzo seemed like the more sensible choice since his numbers in his 87 games taking over for Mike Matheny were very impressive. But now that Molina has the job, don’t expect the same numbers as last year when hitting inside AT&T Park.
8. Rich Aurilia, 1B- For some reason, I was overjoyed when I heard that Rich Aurilia would be making a return to the Orange and Black. Although he is 36, he is going to play first base regularly and he should stay healthy. His power surge last year had a lot to do with playing home games at the Cracker-Jack box called Great American Ballpark, but his batting average climbed to .300 for only the second time in his career. A very solid number 8 hitter indeed.
1. Barry Zito, LHP- Signing a $126 million dollar contract comes with a lot of pressure. Zito was the ace in Oakland, but never had the sort of star-power a pitcher of his caliber should have since he played for the A’s. Now, with a simple flick of his pen and a fifteen minute drive across the bay, he’s one of the most talked about athletes in the country. Zito will be under a microscope in his first year of his historic contract, which can go without saying. While many people say that Zito is overrated for the amount of money he will get, I feel Zito is going to thrive with the Giants. He plays in THE pitchers park of all parks, he is playing in the National League. No designated hitter will mean lower ERA.
2. Matt Cain, RHP- The 23 year old Cain is a prototypical power pitcher. His 6’4 frame and thick legs allow him to throw 97 mph pellets to hitters. He isn’t afraid to challenge hitters with the high fastball or cutter. Expect 200+ K’s and 16 well earned wins out of this future star.
3. Matt Morris, RHP- I don’t know what it was about Morris’s arrival to San Francisco which led him to lose 15 games in 2006. His ERA approached 5.00 and was by far the highest in all his nine years in the Majors. But he’s only 32 so I wouldn’t think one hiccup in 2006 will shape him as a pitcher fort the rest of his career. Morris only struck out 117 batters in 207 innings pitched. This could easily be a result of a lack of confidence in his control. Once Morris starts to regain his confidence in his pitches, he’ll return to form.
4. Noah Lowry, LHP- The 26 year old Lowry has yet to evolve into the star he is destined to be. Like the three pitchers ahead of him, Lowry with be pitching with something to prove. The crafty left hander has struggled with his control and has rarely seen late-inning action. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti has been molding Lowry into the type of crafty lefty that was given a $126 million contract in December.