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Friday, October 31, 2008

Let the Off-season Begin

The World Series is now over with the Phillies being crowned baseball's champion of the 2008 season, so the off-season is officially underway. With the Giants in full rebuilding mode and with Bengie Molina and Randy Winn both entering the final year of their contracts, they could be amongst the players the Giants have on the trading block as the off-season gets going. The team also has two young players in Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz who have proven all they can at the minor league level and could provide adequate replacements for the two veterans. According to Rotowire, the New York Mets have had internal discussions about pursuing Bengie Molina. The Mets showed some interest in Molina before the trade deadline over the summer, but talks never got too serious, but at that time, the Giants didn't know quite what they had in Sandoval. They also have 2008 top pick Buster Posey a year or 2 away from being in the mix, so Molina doesn't have much of a future with this team. The names that rotowire discussed as possible targets for the Giants were 22 year-old lefty Jonathon Niese and 23 year-old third basemen, David Murphy. Both could fit needs for the Giants. Niese is ready for the big leagues now (5-1, 3.40 era in 7 starts in AAA) and could allow the Giants to shop Noah Lowry or Jonathan Sanchez for a power bat. Murphy had a solid overall season and including a .313 average with 2 home runs and 17 RBI in 131 at-bats with the Mets. Neither are premiere-type prospects, but both should be serviceable major leaguers with some upside. Molina is still very valuable to this team though and shouldn't be given away. He has worked wonders with the young pitchers on this staff and with more on the way next year, it would be nice to have that veteran presence that Molina brings behind the plate.

There has also been a lot of talk around the bay area of Matt Cain possibly being on the trade block. Cain hasn't quite advanced the way the Giants have hoped yet and his been pretty inconsistent over the last couple years despite his solid era and strikeout numbers. Of course the Giants won't part with Cain unless they land an all-star caliber young hitter at the same level as an Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman, but I still think dealing him would be risky. The Giants are still unsure of Noah Lowry's health at this point, as well as Barry Zito's effectiveness. They do have young pitchers in the minor leagues that are very close which is the reason why they will even entertain offers of Cain, but I still have a hard time visualizing any deal actually being made that involves him. One guy that comes to mind as someone who I would be willing to deal Cain for though is Matt Holliday, and the Rockies are making him available this winter. It's not going to happen because you just don't see superstars being traded within their division, but a Cain/Winn for Holliday deal could actually make some sense for both teams. Matt Cain has always pitched brilliantly at Coors Field and Clint Hurdle and the Rockies front office have always gushed over the Giants 24-year old righty as he has given their team problems over the years. Matt Holliday would provide the Giants with a legit replacement of Barry Bonds who they could build a lineup around. Never going to happen, but it would be an interesting proposal.

Note: Former Marlins' first baseman, Mike Jacobs, a bat the Giants could have used a name discussed as a possible target for the Giants, was dealt to the Royals on Tuesday for Leo Nunez, a young reliever. Leo Nunez is a nice young hard throwing righty, but I think the Giants could have made a better offer than that. Mike Jacobs isn't the best hitter out there and needs to get on base more often, but he could give you Adam Dunn-type numbers for a fraction of the price as an everyday first basemen and he's just now entering his prime. Nice deal for Kansas City.
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Lincecum Voted NL Pitcher of The Year

With the World Series in full swing, and the baseball world outside of Tampa and Philadelphia extremely quiet, one Giant made news over the last week. Tim Lincecum is still waiting for the big announcement coming November 8th regarding the NL CY Young, but he already has the endorsement of his peers. Lincecum was named NL Pitcher of the Year last week, an award that is voted on by the players and coaches. He also garnered The Sporting News' honors for the same award. Arizona's Brandon Webb did finish the year with 22 wins for a team that finished 2 games over .500 while Lincecum won 18 with a team that finished 18 games below the .500 mark. Not trying to take anything away from Webb, he's one of the top 5 pitchers in the NL and had a great season, but Lincecum outpitched Webb in every single category this season besides in the win department. I've made my claim for Lincecum deserving this award many times over the last month or so and I won't keep beating the subject anymore until the actual award gets announced, but after he won the two awards last week, I had to bring it up one last time.

Outside of Lincecum's awards, there really hasn't been much to talk about regarding the Giants as of late. A few of their notable youngsters have gone off to play some fall and winter ball including Emannuel Burris, Kevin Frandsen and Buster Posey. The Giants have their possible double play combo for '09 playing in the AFL with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Manny Burris is playing shortstop everyday and his hitting .321 with 7 steals in 15 games. Kevin Frandsen, who missed all but one game of the 2008 season, is trying to get back into everyday playing shape and has looked good so far, carrying a .333 average through ten games. The Giants could still go for some outside help up the middle this winter, but right now, Frandsen and Burris are your most likely candidates to be the teams' starting second basemen and shortstop. Buster Posey has been bounced around a bit since the season ended, starting off in the AFL, then moving onto a Hawaii fall league, and now back in Arizona playing in an Instructional League. I'm not quite sure about what he's done so far this fall, although I do know he had 6 hits in14 at-bats in his short stint in Hawaii.

Since this will very likely be my last post before the end of the 2008 World Series, I did want to touch on that a little bit. I didn't think Tampa would get by Boston in the NLCS, as I thought the pressures of the post-season and playing against a semi-dynasty in Boston, they would eventually buckle. It looks like my prediction came one series late. The Rays bats have gone stone cold in the World Series and the team is finally showing it's age. Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, the Rays two biggest run producers, have wilted during the Series and has looked lost at the plate, and they aren't getting much help from their bullpen. In no way am I trying to bash the Rays, they've put on a helluva show this fall, but it's tough for a team with so little post-season experience and such a thin bullpen to win the whole thing. Not saying it's impossible, just saying it's tough and we're seeing it in this series. The Phills are up 3-1 and they have Cole Hamels, who could very well end up the World Series MVP tonight after taking the NLCS honors against the Dodgers, on the mound in frozen Philadelphia backed by 50,000 hungry Philly fans wanting that elusive World Series trophy. I would be very surprised if the series gets back to Tampa and it should end tonight. However, if it does get back to Tampa, and with Hamels likely unavailable anymore this series, all bets are off.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

2008 Minor League Review

We've already taken an in depth look at what went on this season that lead the Giants to their 72-90 record, so I wanted to use this post to discuss some of the things that happened in the Giants' minor league system. This year, Giants fans got to know some of the young offensive talent (Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz, Connor Gillaspie) which hasn't really been the case over the last decade or so so. We also got a glimpse of some of the young relievers (Sergio Romo, Alex Hinshaw) who could be a part of the bullpen for the next decade. What we didn't get to see was some of the young arms that could allow the Giants to make Matt Cain or Jonathan Sanchez expendable.

The talk of the Giants 2008 minor league season surrounded the organization's pitching depth. Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson were picked up early in the 2007 draft and both could be pitching for the Giants by early 2010, and in Alderson's case, maybe sooner. Bumgarner was un-hittable at times this year in Augusta playing for the Giants low-A affiliate. He finished the year with a 15-3 record and a 1.46 era but his peripherals make those numbers look even better. He struck out 164 batters in 141 innings while sporting a 0.93 WHIP ratio. Not to mention, he also won the South Atlantic League's Pitcher of the Year as well as the Minor League Baseball's most Spectacular Pitcher award (given to the minor league starter with the lowest era in all leagues). Bumgarner should be in San Jose to start next season and may end up in Connecticut or Fresno depending on how things go there. Tim Alderson's numbers aren't quite as impressive as Bumgarner's, but he was pitching at a higher level than the lefty and still looked pretty darn good. Alderson finished the year at 13-4 with a 2.79 era in 26 starts. The hard throwing righty also k'd 124 batters in 145 innings while allowing about a base runner per inning. He also allowed only 4 home runs in those 145 innings which isn't a bad ratio itself. Other minor league arms to take note of were 24 year-old lefty Jesse English (13-7, 3.19 era, 135 k's in 135 IP) and 23 year-old Kevin Pucetas (10-2, 3.02 era, 102 k's in 125 IP). Ben Snyder and Clayton Tanner also get honorable mention as they were part of the San Jose staff as well, and that was one of the better rotations in all of minor league baseball.

As far as the positional players go, there wasn't a whole lot that happened that went unnoticed. Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa were both tearing the cover off the ball all year long at various minor league stops and both ended up in the bigs before the end of the season and have been discussed in the season review. Now the two guys who will have the spotlight on them heading into next season are Buster Posey and Angel Villalona. Posey was the #5 overall pick in June's amateur draft and the Giants have extremely high expectations for this kid. Bengie Molina's contract is up after next season and the Giants hope that Posey will be ready to contribute in 2010 and he may even get his feet wet with the September call-ups next season. Posey signed late and didn't get to do much (13-37, 1 hr, 6 RBI) in the minors this year, but he will certainly be on display and under a microscope starting next spring. The 18 year-old Villalona didn't have a great season in Augusta, but he did finish strong and showed glimpses of what he can become. Villalona finished the year with 17 home runs and 64 RBI to go along with a .264 batting average in 464 at-bats. His average was actually in the .250's and .240's for most of the year so he did heat up in August, but his 118 strikeouts prove that he still has a ways to go before he will be discussed in San Francisco. Among other offensive standouts that didn't get the September call-up this year were 24 year-old infielder Matt Downs ( .294 20 hr, 82 RBI split between A and AA) and 23 year-old outfielder Michael Ambort (.328, 9 hr, 34 RBI in 116 at-bats).

AWARDS:

Player of The Year: Pablo Sandoval (.350, 20 hr, 96 RBI, 1.002 OPS in 448 minor league ab's)
Honorable Mention: Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa
Starting Pitcher of The Year: Madison Bumgarner (15-3, 1.46 era, 164 k's in 141 innings)
Honorable Mention: Tim Alderson, Kevin Pucetas
Reliever of the Year: Justin Hedrick (1.37 era, 74 k's , 0.94 WHIP, 9 SV in 65 IP)
Honorable Mention: Osiris Matos, Scott Barnes
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2008 Season Review Part 3/3

Over the last 2 weeks, we've discussed what went right and what went wrong with the Giants in 2008. So, now that the off-season is right around the corner, we will take a look at what the Giants can (realistically) do to get better this winter.

Of course we all want Mark Texiera and C.C. Sabathia, even an Adam Dunn would bring some excitement to one of the lowliest offenses in the game, but after spending 126 million in January 2007 for Barry Zito, and another 60 million over 5 years for Aaron Rowand in December of last year, the Giants won't have a whole bunch of money to throw around at free agents. Heck, with the way it has gone with Zito and after a sub par first year from Rowand, I wouldn't bet on the Giants being very active in free agency at all. Therefore, in order to make changes with this team, the most logical way to do so would be the good old fashion way, making trades, and the Giants will actually have some pieces to move. With the playoffs in full swing, it's still a little tough to predict exactly what will transpire come November and December, but it's never to early to speculate.

Jonathan Sanchez had a breakout this year in his first season as a full-time starter, and although he didn't finish the year in strong fashion, it looks like all that talent he has is starting to surface, and teams will have interest in him this winter. There is also Noah Lowry, who is less likely to be dealt because teams aren't clear on his health, who the Giants may dangle in exchange for some offense. Tim Lincecum will not be dealt anytime soon after the year he just put together, so Giants fans can breathe easy knowing he'll stay put. I also don't think the Giants are willing to deal Matt Cain, unless it lands them an all-star caliber bat in their 20's (Prince Fielder, Garret Atkins?). However, the Giants do have a plethora of young pitchers in their system so Cain may not be as untouchable as we all think. Henry Schulman came out with an article before the end of the year mentioning the Giants and Marlins as possible trade partners because the Marlins have an abundance of infielders entering arbitration's (Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, Dallas McPhereson and Mike Jacobs) who the Giants may have interest in. Dan Uggla is particularly interesting because of his power. However, I would not give up Matt Cain for Uggla. Sanchez and Burris or Velez; maybe, but no way I give up Cain. Uggla is a decent player, but he'll be 29 before the start of next season and his career .262 average doesn't exactly jump out at you. But he's averaged 30 home runs over the last 3 seasons while no Giant (besides Barry Bonds) has hit even 20 over the last 2 years, so they could use the power. He also reminds me a little of Jeff Kent when the Giants acquired him from Cleveland back in '97. A lot of power from the second base spot, but not much average yet. If he can learn like Kent did, he would be well worth Sanchez and Burris, but I'm not totally sold on Uggla right now. Joe Crede and Hank Blalock are potential free agents so if the Giants decide to hold onto their pitching and sign someone this winter, it would probably be one of those 2 guys.

Another goal of this off-season should be to try and find Nate Schierholtz a permanent position, or at least give him a shot somewhere. The Giants must find a way to get this kid 400+ at-bats in 2009 to see exactly what he can do at this level. He's proven himself everywhere but San Francisco, but he also hasn't had much of a chance here. The Giants need to make sure he get's his chance next year or else they should try and package him in a trade somewhere because this dude needs to be playing. The outfield is a bit crowded though right now, but if the Giants want to play for the future, an outfield of Lewis-Rowand-Schierholtz is the way to go.

The Giants also must shore up there bullpen. Their were some bright spots that emerged this summer, but they could use another veteran or 2 for influence and stability. Tyler Walker and Jack Taschener were supposed to be those veteran leaders for the pen this year, but both were horribly ineffective and the Giants found themselves a new pair of set-up guys in Alex Hinshaw and Sergio Romo to get the ball to their new young closer, Brian Wilson. Ideally, I'd like to see the Giants acquire another quality righty and lefty to help fill out the pen, but the free agent market for relievers isn't very good either. Kyle Farnsworth and David Weathers would be upgrades, but not if there seeking outrageous deals. Juan Cruz and Jeremy Affeldt are also available and each of those guys have been solid and have some upside. Maybe they add a Weathers or someone like that, but Sabean has never been one to spend on the bullpen unless he absolutely has to (Armondo Benitez) so look for him to try and fill the bullpen vacancies in house or with Spring Training invitees (like Keiichi Yabu in 2008).

What I would like to see the Giants do is try to get a few guys on the cheap this year as Florida did last year with Cantu and McPhereson. One guy who immediately comes to mind is Rocco Baldelli. The Giants don't really need more outfielders, but this guy is pretty special (as seen this postseason) when healthy. The only problem with him is that he's rarely healthy enough to play. If the Giants could get him on the type of deal the Marlins got Cantu, I'd be ecstatic, but my money is on him returning to Tampa on an incentive laden contract. However, those should be the guys that Sabean should target this winter. 20-somethings that have had some success and could be had on the cheap. My guess is that they will make a move this winter that catches some headlines. Not as big as the Barry Zito move, but maybe a little bigger than the Aaron Rowand deal. We'll see, the team needs a lot of work and should we should see a much different product at the opening of 2009 than we saw this year.

2009 Depth Chart (as of October 15th 2008):
C: Bengie Molina, Pablo Sandoval
1B: Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa
2B: Kevin Frandsen, Eugenio Velez
SS: Emmanuel Burris, Alex Ochoa
3B: Ryan Rohlinger, Connor Gillaspie
LF: Fred Lewis, Dave Roberts
CF: Aaron Rowand, Dave Roberts
RF: Randy Winn, Nate Schierholtz
P: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jon Sanchez, Noah Lowry, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Alex Hinshaw, Sergio Romo, Merkin Valdez, Billy Sadler
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Season In Review Part 2 of 3

Last week we kicked things off in the Season Review by going over the things that went well, or things the Giants figured out in 2008, albeit there wasn't much. Today we will get into why the Giants lost 92 games as we examine the things that didn't go so well.

WHAT WENT WRONG

First and foremost, the Giants 126 million dollar man, Barry Zito, pitched even worse than he did a season ago. The teams so called "ace" went 10-17 with a 5.15 era that was in the 6's or 7's for most of the year. He set career lows in strikeouts (120) and innings pitched (180) while setting new career highs in the categories you want to keep down: era (5.15), whip (1.6), walks (102), and baa (.270). I will be the first one to tell you that while the Giants overpaid, I was actually on bored with the Zito signing at first. I thought he was built more in the mold of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and would be able to learn how to pitch as his stuff deteriorated. However, his stuff has deteriorated a little quicker than I think everyone thought, and he certainly hasn't learned how pitch with the stuff he has now. I am still holding out hope that Zito will be laughing at all the doubters in a few years and wins comeback player of the year in 2009, but as of now, Zito is a number 5 starter, at best. Everybody else in the rotation did their jobs for the most part, although Kevin Corriea never seemed to get on track due to injury and Jonathan Sanchez struggled mightily in the second half of the year.

As far as the positional players go, the Giants were the worst collective offense in baseball this year, so things weren't too pretty when the team was at the plate. Out of all 32 teams in baseball, the Giants finished dead last in home runs, second to last in runs scored and 30th in slugging percentage. Pretty easy to see how the team lost 92 games when you look at that line. It wasn't like anybody had particularly bad year though, the team wasn't expected to score many runs and they didn't. Aaron Rowand showed his grit and his all out style of play, he was also a leader on the team in his very first year in San Francisco. However, he's getting paid 12 million dollars a year and needs to produce better numbers than the .271, 13, 70 line he put up this year. Yes, everyone knew his power numbers would go down at AT&T Park, but I was expecting him to have more extra-base hits and be more of a run producer. That said, I am not ready to call him a bust and I fully expect to see improvements in his second year in SF. However, I said the same for Zito last season, but look how that turned out. Omar Vizquel's season wasn't one to remember either as the future hall-of-famer looks to probably have played in his last game. Other than that, everyone else was very mediocre.

The Giants didn't get much production out of their corner spots which is normally where you get the most. 1st and 3rd base were revolving doors all year long but for the most part it was Jose Castillo (.244, 6, 35) at third and Jon Bowker (.255, 10, 43) at first and while Bowker is still young and has upside, you need better production than that from your corner infield spots. The corner outfield spots had two similar players in Randy Winn and Fred Lewis. Both are sort of top of the order, high on-base percentage, base stealing threats. It's good to have one of those guys in the outfield, but two along side Aaron Rowand doesn't exactly portray a strong offensive outfield. Lewis has a little bit of pop and is still improving and finished the year with 9 homers in 468 at bats while Winn had only 10 in 598 at bats. The Giants will need more than a combined 19 home runs from their corner outfield spots next year.

The bullpen, overall, wasn't great, but it was a lot better than it's been in recent years. There was a major improvement overall from last year as the Giants have finally found a closer to rely on (Brian Wilson) and a few setup guys (Sergio Romo, Alex Hinshaw and Merkin Valdez) to help get him the ball, but it took almost all year to find the right formula. Tyler Walker was a colossal (in all senses of the term) mess and take away his decent April and June and his era would probably have been in the 7's or 8's. Jack Taschner also proved that while he shows glimpses of solidness, he is pretty much garbage as well. He sported a 1.69 Whip and a .292 baa, both of which where highest on the team. He can get a strikeout, but he also gets pounded and shouldn't have a spot on this roster next spring.

The Giants also got bitten by the injury bug this season. The team leader in wins from last year and a big piece of their rotation, Noah Lowry, ended up missing the year with nagging elbow soreness that eventually led to a couple of operations. Also, the teams projected starting second basemen, Kevin Frandsen, a guy who hit .370 while playing full time last September, missed the season as well with a blown out achilles tendon. Frandsen isn't very well known around the league so that injury may not seem as serious as the Noah Lowry one was, but this team got very little production out of second base this year and you can't help but think of what Frandsen could have done if given 600 at-bats there. He did heal up in time to sneak in one at-bat before the end of the year and both him and Lowry should be at full strength come spring training. I am a little more concerned about Lowry though because he hasn't put together a full, healthy season since 2005. Dave Roberts was another guy who missed the majority of the season with an elbow problem. In his 2 seasons in San Francisco, Roberts has really done nothing. Fred Lewis is a better hitter and has a way better arm in the outfield than Roberts and has leaped over him to take over as the everyday left fielder for this team. Maybe the Giants can find a taker for Roberts, who has only one year left on his contract, over the winter, but that's probably wishful thinking.

This post is running a little long, but I could go on for days about things that went wrong this season, but I'll leave it at this. Bruce Bochy and to a lesser extent, Dave Righetti, if I were running the team, would be let go. Bochy is a lop, and maybe he is different behind closed doors, but from what we see, hear and read, he seems almost incompetent out there at times. Nobody expected the Giants to be very good this year and it's like Bochy played it like that. Why on earth Jose Castillo was starting at third for the better part of the season, or why Omar Vizquel was repeatedly used daily when he wasn't producing worth a lick is beyond me, but Bochy is the guy who was filling out the lineup card daily. He still has 1 year left on his contract as well, but the Giants need new energy and new life at the manager position.
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Monday, October 06, 2008

NLCS/ALCS Predictions

I know this is a Giants blog, but October baseball is still something that should be mentioned on all baseball websites, so I wanted to talk a little playoff baseball in this post. The NLCS is already cleared up and ready to get going with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies getting ready to take part in what should be one helluva series. Things aren't quite as clear yet in the AL, although if I had to bet, I would say the Rays' will hold of the White Sox and host the Boston Red Sox to start the ALCS at the end of the week. As I type this, the Rays are up 5-2 on the Sox in the seventh inning, so unless they or the Red Sox suffer a major meltdown, we should have your final four for the 2008 MLB season within 24-48 hours. Here's my take on how the "projected" league championship series' will break down:

NLCS

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Yes, the Phills do have home field advantage which is always big in the playoffs. They also have potential MVP candidates Chase Utely and Ryan Howard. However, the Dodgers have looked like a different team since the infusion of Manny Ramirez and their young talent (Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp, James Looney and Russel Martain) doesn't look intimidated by October baseball at all. The Dodgers have the clear edge in the pitching department as Chad Billingsley, Derick Lowe and Hiroki Kuroda are all throwing well and made very quick work of the NL favorite Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers also have Greg Maddux and Clay Kershaw to call upon if they need to and that bullpen is very good, with or without Takashi Saito. This series has seven games written all over it, and I will have to stick to my preseason pick as the NL champs and go with the Dodgers in 7. They have the momentum, the pitching, the speed and offense to give the Phills more than they can handle.

ALCS

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

All signs are pointing towards a battle of the AL East for the AL crown. The Tampa Bay Rays have been the Cinerella Story of baseball this season, but I think their luck will come to an end vs. the seasoned Red Sox. The Rays remind me a lot of the Colorado Rockies from last season just with a little more pitching and not as much offense. But like the Rockies last season, I have a tough time seeing them go from the bottom of the AL East to world champions, but I've been wrong many of times before. I really like the way B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena are playing but the Red Sox pitching is far superior to the that of the Chi Sox. Now, the Red Sox still need to take care of the Angels to get to the LCS, but up 2-1 with their "playoff ace", Jon Lester, going tonight, they should close things out. This series, like the NLCS will be a battle, but the Red Sox have experience and pitching on their side. They also have that Fenway Park crowd behind them that will do their best to get into the minds of the young Rays' players. If this ends up indeed being the ALCS match-up, I like Boston in 6.
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Friday, October 03, 2008

2008 Season Review Part 1

There is way too much to cover in one post the whole season in review, so I'm going to break it into 3 parts; what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be realistically changed. We'll get things started on a light note and talk about what went right this season.

The starting pitching, minus Barry Zito, was pretty darn good for the most part this year. Tim Lincecum very well could win the NL Cy Young Award in November and as highly touted as he was, I don't think anybody, including myself, expected this kind of dominance, this quick. The Giants won 72 games this season and Lincecum got 18 of those, that in itself shows how well he threw this year. Then there was the 2.62 era, 265 strikeouts and .221 baa in 227 innings. The Giants other young righty wasn't bad himself, though he could have been better. Matt Cain was a little inconsistent at times, but overall, pitched pretty well, again, without much run support. He once again lost more than he won, but sported a respectable era, and was again amongst the NL league leaders in strikeouts. And Finally, the breakout performer, Jonathan Sanchez. Due to a to a tired arm from throwing so many innings for the first time in his career, he definitely struggled as the season wore on and had to be DL'd at one point. However, Before the break, Sanchez was 8-5 with a 3.97 era and 115 k's in 111 innings. His emergence made the loss of Noah Lowry a little less painful.

In the Bullpen, Brian Wilson, Alex Hinshaw, Sergio Romo and (if he can get healthy) Merkin Valdez all emerged as guys to build around. The Giants look to have finally solved their closer fiasco with Brian Wilson. Not that Wilson had the best year, his 4.62 era and 1.44 whip need to come down next year, but his 41 saves and ability to overpower batters gave Giants' fans glimpses of a young Robb Nen and earned himself a spot on the NL All-Star team. Valdez showed he has closer stuff as well, but only got to throw 16 innings before hurting his elbow and ending his season. Take one bad game in Coors Field away from Romo and his era is in the low 1's; that's how well he threw in his 31 innings. Put that strong era along with 33 strikeouts and only 8 walks and he looks like a strong right handed set-up candidate heading into next year. Hinshaw took over as the Giants primary late inning lefty and he thrived in that role. The pen will need a little bit of work over the winter, but overall, the future there is looking good.

As far as positional players go, it was all about the youngsters. Especially Pablo Sandoval and Fred Lewis. Sandoval dominated the minor leagues for 4 months, then came up and did the same in the bigs. The 22 year-old ended the year at .345 with 3 home runs and 24 RBI in just 141 at-bats. With Bengie Molina under contract for another year, Brian Sabean has stated the plan at this point is to have Sandoval penciled in as the everyday 1st basemen heading into 2009. He also showed the ability to play third base decently as well, so don't be surprised to see him get some time there if other options become available at first. Jon Bowker (.255 10 hr, 45 RBI, 326 ab's) could be in the mix at first if he can improve his plate discipline a bit. Travis Ishikawa should also be on the the 25-man roster and played well in September. Another infielder, Emmanuel Burris, became the Giants everyday shortstop in August and established himself very well both offensively (.283, 37 runs, 13 steals in 240 at-bats) and defensively. Not bad for a 23 year-old shortstop who hadn't even played above double-A before this season. Fred Lewis made an otherwise boring outfield relatively fun to watch. His numbers (.282, 9 hr's, 91 runs, 21 steals in 468 ab's) don't stick out at you big time, but if you watched this team throughout the season you know how consistent he played and how much he improved this year from last. As far as the veterans go, Bengie Molina was rock solid once again behind the plate (.292, 16, 95) and Randy Winn started playing better towards the end of the year, although Nate Schierholtz has clearly become a better option in right field heading into next season (at least vs. righties).
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