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The 10 Biggest Questions Facing The Giants Heading Into Spring Training

As February dawns here in 2011, that can only mean one thing for baseball fans, here comes spring training. And with the breath of fresh air and the feeling that only a beginning can supply comes a time when all the questions are going to be tackled. For three months us Giants fans have been basking in the glow of a World Series victory, the first for the city. And now, the Giants must begin their first title defense in the history of San Francisco.

For a team that did relatively little in the offseason (besides locking players up), this spring training will still be phenomenally interesting, mostly due to the tumultuous nature of last season. Now, we know that spring training can be nothing more than a small exercise, and that none of our questions may be answered. Heck, just look at the lineup changes that went on during the season in 2010. However, it is still an incredibly important time of year, a time to review last year, but mostly preview the coming year and address the questions heading in.

In that case, let’s count down the 10 biggest questions facing the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants (feels good don’t it!) as the head into spring training.

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World Series 2010: Matt Cain and the Top 15 Pitching Runs in Playoff History

Over the years, October has been the time of the year for which baseball fans yearn. The drama and thrill of postseason baseball is among the greatest shows in American sports. Legacies are sculpted in October, players are immortalized and teams written in stone.

Great hitters such as Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson (and 25 other Yankees) have wowed with the wood, while others, such as Ozzie Smith, have put on sudden, clutch power displays.

Infamy has stalked many a postseason athlete, whether it be a blown save or a late-game error. Managers have been exulted or scorned for brilliant lineup and pitching decisions or boneheaded moves (ahem, Dusty Baker).

However, nothing quite garners respect like dominant postseason pitching. While hitters can be clutch, this is still a pitcher’s game, and dominant pitchers can literally define an entire postseason through their own efforts.

It is here that we will count down the top 15 single postseason performances by the great hurlers through the years, documenting their brilliance.

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San Francisco Giants Win World Series: Tale of the Game That Terminated Torture

It was 1954 when Willie Mays made “The Catch” and propelled the New York Giants to a four game sweep of the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. In 1962, it was a well played Bobby Richardson that broke hearts in San Francisco after he snagged a Willie McCovey liner in the first appearance of the San Francisco Giants in a World Series. It was the Loma Prieta earthquake that stole to show of a four game sweep by the Oakland A’s in the 1989 Battle of the Bay. And it was a game ball given to Russ Ortiz in the 2002 World Series that was the last good moment for San Francisco in a crushing defeat at the hands of the Angels.

But all is forgiven, at least for the next 4 months, because the Giants are sitting on top of the baseball world, propelled by one of the most dominant pitching staffs of all time and a three-run blast by the man with no left bicep, Edgar Renteria.

It was a dominant conclusion to a rather dominant series outing by the Giants as a team. And it was a thrilling conclusion to a thrilling postseason, one that I, nor most Giants’ fans, will ever forget.

Let us take a closer look at the game which lifted the 56 year drought off of a team, a city, and a fan base and which shocked the world.

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World Series Score: Why Offense Ruled and Pitching Drooled in Game 1

Game 1 of the World Series had all the feel and all the hype of NLCS Game 1, except now one of the greatest potential postseason pitchers (Roy Halladay) had been replaced by the third greatest postseason pitcher of all time in Cliff Lee, who had posted a 7-0 record with a 1.25 ERA, third to only Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson. 

Tim Lincecum had similarly shown that he was no postseason slouch, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.98 ERA. His opener was an electric 14 K complete game two-hit shutout.

Critics, pundits, fans and media everywhere were calling for a pitcher’s duel for the ages. As put slightly sarcastically by ESPN, it was going to be a 7-13 minute game, and they would flip a coin at the end of 48 innings.

If you gave everyone an over-under on three total runs scored, there would have been a fair amount of people calling for three, and everyone would have called the under on five.

However, there is not a person on the planet that called for a total of 18 runs, of which 11 would be given up by the starting pitching of Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum. Then the two most effective bullpens in the postseason went on to give up a total of seven runs in 6 2/3 innings.

So, WHAT HAPPENED? Let’s find out.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: Power Ranking the Top 25 Players Still Alive in ALCS

Well ladies and gentlemen, the 2010 Major League season has reached its very own Final Four in the form of the two League Championship Series.

The American League will pit the defending champion New York Yankees against the first-time winners Texas Rangers, while the National League will feature the back-to-back National League champion Philadelphia Phillies against the upstart San Francisco Giants.

While the ALCS promises to display power with the slugging offenses of the Rangers and the start studded Yankees, the NLCS plans on displaying the so called “arms race,” featuring the top two starting rotations that baseball has to offer.

While arguments are made between the better coaching staffs, the GMs, and the chemistry of the team factoring into the success of a ballclub, ultimately it boils down to the strength of the players on each team.

From the highly paid studs such as Alex Rodriguez to the rookie sensation Buster Posey, each team will have to properly showcase their power players in order to have a chance at the World Series.

With that said, let’s take a look at the top 25 players that will grace the American and National League Championship Series.

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NLDS Game 4 Report Card: San Francisco Giants Clinch in Another Torturous Outing

It’s been too long, but the Giants have won their first NLDS since 2002, when they beat these very same Braves in five. The series was tight, emotional, ugly and brutal. Of course, the fourth and final game was a great reflection of the series in an almost poetic fashion.

All of the games were decided by one run, three of the four games were won in a comeback fashion. All of the games featured superb pitching, maybe with the exception of Sergio Romo. And all of the games featured questionable defense and officiating.

With three lead changes, a 3-2 ending and a crucial call made at second base, this game lived up to all the hype, and set an unofficial record for grey hairs induced. With all that, lets take a look at each component of this game.

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MLB Playoff Predictions: Roy Halladay and the 20 Best Pitchers of October

As so dubbed by fans and critics across the country, the 2010 Major League Baseball season has been the Year of the Pitcher. This title is well deserved, as perfect games were thrown by Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay and no-hitters were twirled by Ubaldo Jimenez, Edwin Jackson, and Matt Garza. And no one will forget the rather infamous 28-out perfect game that Armando Galaraga gave us.

With all the masterful performances given to us by the mound masters throughout the season, it is safe to assume that one of the most important components of this October will be the pitching, and so far, it has been. Therefore, a list ranking the top 20 pitchers of this postseason would be an valuable tool. Oh look, I happen to have a list of the top 20 right here!

Granted, due to the fact that there have been games played, this list has changed from its preliminary form. No pitcher has gained or lost more than three spots, but there has been several minor shakeups. So, enough talk, lets take a look at the list.

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5 Assertions The Giants Must Make To Dominate The Braves

After 6 long years, the Giants have finally made the playoffs. However, it took 162 games, 5 new starting position players, 3 new bullpen pitchers, a new starting pitcher, an appendectomy, several manly beards, and a lot of torture. Everyone should now take a moment to take a deep breath. Breath in ———- and exhale. Feel better? Good, we have work to do.

It would be a pity for the Giants and the fans alike to put in that much effort to just sit back and rest on our laurels. The journey is not over, that’s the best part of the postseason. Lined up for the Giants in the NLDS are the Atlanta Braves, similarly winning their last game to sneak into the playoffs.

Giants fans and players alike haven’t waited this long to simply fold in the NLDS. In order to make sure the Giants will play for a pennant, they will have the make sure that these 5 different assertions are made to achieve victory.

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Jonathan Sanchez: Why This Lefty Is Truly the Key to Giant Success

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the magic number is one, and the Padres are coming to town. With the postseason scent filling out nostrils, it is time to take inventory, which provides good information and fun speculation. First, it is necessary to recall what we know as facts, as much as there can be in sports.

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are studs, ’nuff said. The offense isn’t great, but we are truly operating under the “New Hero Everyday” system and the long ball, and it’s just barely working. Heck, Nate Schierholtz drove in the winning run Tuesday night and Pablo went yard for the first time all month, the 16th the Giants have hit in their last seven games. Ah, and the bullpen is as lights-out as the Padres were earlier in the season.

When combined, it is safe to assume that in a potential postseason series, the Giants could beat any team in the first two games. However, what allows for success in the postseason is the legitimate chance to compete with a third starter. Looking at potential third starters in the National League, we have Cole Hamels for the Phillies, Tommy Hanson for the Braves, Johnny Cueto for the Reds, and Jonathan Sanchez for our Giants.

With the exception of Cueto, we are looking at three pitchers with potential and numbers that would warrant a spot at the top of the rotation for many a club.

So, let’s compare some numbers. For our purposes, I will present W-L, ERA, WHIP, AVG against, IP, and Ks.

Hamels will walk in with 12-11, 3.09, 1.19, .239, 206.2, 209, posting a 1.93 ERA in September.

Hanson presents with 10-11, 3.41, 1.16, .238, 197.2, 167, posting a 2.04 ERA in September.

Sanchez owns 12-9, 3.15, 1.22, .205, 188.1, 200, posting an unreal 1.17 ERA in September.

Remember everyone, these are guys projected to be starting THIRD this postseason.

This will be the deepest class of starters the National League has seen in years, possibly decades. And if you were to ask each team who they want, each would stick with their man. A postseason MVP, a Rookie of the Year candidate, and a pitcher who has thrown a no-hitter. So, can we just find out why Sanchez is the key already? Well, fine, just ask nicely.

Well, if you aren’t already seeing what I am getting at, I need to work on my delivery. With the likes of Lincecum, Cain, Halladay, Oswalt, Hudson, Lowe, and even Bronson Arroyo in the mix, the first games are gonna be a pitching bloodbath—if there is such a thing. It will come down to the third pitcher, especially since the Phillies picked the eight-day schedule.

If one team can establish dominance on the third day, it could mean the difference between a 3-0 stranglehold and a one-game lead (down 2-1 to up 2-1).

The most electric of these options—the man with the most upside—is Jonathan Sanchez. Heck, he threw a no-hitter on a day he wasn’t even supposed to pitch. Ever since the change-up became a reliable pitch, he has earned the name “Dirty Sanchez.”

The sign that Jonathan Sanchez has turned a corner is that he can show up without a live fastball and questionable command and still turn in a win. He walked four of the first eight batters he faced and still only gave up two runs in six innings and earned a win last time out. And just look at that September ERA…unreal.

He is leading a staff that has posted a sub-two ERA for the month. And the Major Leagues are only hitting .147 against him this month.

Simply put, if Jonathan Sanchez can maintain the dominance he has held this month, he will not be beat. The knock on Sanchez his whole career has been the consistency, but he has finally proven he can string together dominant starts. If Dirty Sanchez shows up, postseason foes could be looking at a really, really, ridiculously tough series.

Should we be worried about H20? Or even H2L? No, they should be worried about a Freak, a Shotgun, and a Dirty, Dirty Sanchez.

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What Constant Shifting of the Lineup Is Doing To the San Francisco Giants

If you are a Giants fan, or are even slightly aware of the situation out in the NL West, you are quite conscience of the downward spiral the Giants are currently in.

Once only a half game out of the number one spot at the start of the Toronto series, they have found themselves 4.5 games back and sitting in fourth place. So the question arises, whats changed?

Well, the answer to that question is everything, and its in a constant state of change. With the return of Edgar Renteria, the addition of Pat Burrell, and the rise of Buster Posey, the Giants have found themselves with  a lot of quality players, a problem most teams would love to have.

However, this problem is coming back to haunt the Giants as of late, due to the perplexing managing decisions of Bruce Bochy who is receiving all sorts of complaints from Giants fans, and rightly so.

As it lines up right now, the Giants have the potential to put out a starting lineup that can and has included the following players (last names only): Molina, Whiteside, Posey, Sandoval, Uribe, Renteria, Sanchez, Huff, Rowand, Torres, Burrell, Schierholtz. Not only does this list include twelve names for 8 positions, but also Posey, Huff, Uribe and Sandoval can all occupy a different position depending on the set up.

This disarray causes for big time repercussions in the overall performance of the team. To further enunciate on these drawbacks, I have listed the three which I have felt been more crucial during this team slump.

1. Hitting

Imagine yourself standing in the batters box about to hit. The pitch that you are about to see can range from 75-98 MPH, can move in about four general ways, and can be thrown from three generalized arm angles.

Now imagine yourself taking batting practice. The pitch that you are about to see will be about 75 MPH, will have no spin or movement, and will be put in a location of your desire. Definitely, not the same thing.

In order to be best prepared for the in game situations, it is best for the professional hitter to see those pitches everyday and not get lulled into the batting practice thinking too much. Therefore, if the hitter is not seeing the quality of pitches as will be seen in games every day, he will suffer for it.

Similarly, the place in the lineup determines how the at bat will go. It determines how many men are on base, the attention you will draw from the pitcher, whether you are trying to hit for power or average, and even how selective you can be at the plate.

To illustrate my point, the 3-5 hitters will see better quality pitches, will have men on base and the pitcher in the stretch, and will be hitting for more power, whereas the 7-8 hitters will be trying to extend the inning, will not get the attention as much from the pitcher, will be trying to get on base instead of drive men in, and will be pitched to differently with the pitcher waiting in the 9th spot.

Very different, yes? The problem here is that here is a list of those who have hit in both the 3-4-5 and the 7-8 holes: Molina, Renteria, Rowand, Posey, Sandoval, and Schierholtz.

And what are the reprocussion of all this hitting confusion?

Since the beginning of the Toronto series, here are before and afters on player averages. Sandoval .279-.274 Uribe .285-.270 Posey .310-.297 Sanchez .340-.299 Huff .309-.293 Schierholz .275-.269 Torres .292-.272 Renteria .326-.331 Rowand .220-.229 Molina .254-.257.

Take what you wish from these statitics, but there seems to be a downwards trend in the heart of the Giants order.

2. Fielding

When the lineup is a incoherent and day to day as it is now comes the inconsistency of the defense put out behind the unlucky pitcher. With the influx of players and the randomization of Bruce Bochy, the Giant’s defense is left with 4 players that play a position consistently, which remains Molina, Whiteside, Renteria, and Sanchez.

However, on a given day, the defensive setup can be and has been completely different the day before. The extent of the mixing and matching has Huff playing both corner outfield positions and first, Uribe playing all infield positions minus first, Posey playing first and catcher, Sandoval playing first and third, and Torres playing whatever outfield position suits Bochy’s fancy on that given day.

The result of this commotion is six errors in the last 11 game, which was previously an excellent mark of 24 errors in 65 games. However, it goes beyond simply statistical errors, and translates into less exact matters. Huff, while a solid fist baseman, does not have the arm to play corner outfield positions. Sandoval, while a similarly solid third baseman, does not have the height or the digging ability to play a great first, and both his arm and Posey’s arm are wasted at first.

Renteria, while a competent fielder, does not have 50% the arm that Uribe possesses, which is wasted at second. Similarly, Uribe does not have the reactive skills to play the third that Sandoval does, as he is much more inclined to charge the ball, a habit he got into playing short.

The constant shifting of the defense at any one time makes the team vulnerable in one aspect, weakening it from its maximum potential, which we know is quite good.

3. Lack of Midseason Form

You might now be wondering why this third and final category isn’t something concrete, say baserunning or pitching. Well, the short answer is that although baserunning has been abysmal (Pabloooooooo!) and pitching has been maybe a tiny but shaky, neither of those can be blamed on the shifting of the lineup.

However, what all this change means ultimately for the Giants and where is ultimately hurts is no one on that bench, save maybe Whiteside and Ishikawa has reached midseason form.

When an athlete tries to describe how they are feeling physically by saying either offseason form, midseason form, or post/presseason form. Offseason meaning maybe they put on a few pounds, pre/post season meaning they are a bit tired and/or beaten up, and midseason form meaning they are in a zone.

Let me try and explain it this way to help you get a better understanding of what I am getting at. When the average baseball player shows up to the park, they know pretty much whats going on. They know what time the game is, what team they are facing, and what pitcher they have throwing along with the pitcher they will be facing.

However, the most important constant most baseball players know as they step into the locker room is what position they will be playing and where they will be hitting in the lineup. This adds a sense of security, calm, and focus to the athlete, allowing them to get into a mindset that will best allow them to approach the game ahead.

However, right now the average Giant player shows up to the park not knowing what position they are playing or where they are hitting, and heck, they might not even know if they are playing at all! Without this consistency, this flow, the ballplayer cannot lock down that mindset that allows them to reach a physical level of ability which they best describe as “midseason form”.

Losing 7 out of 11 games from rather mediocre teams on the road and at home usually signals that something isn’t right. At that point the managers job is to fix it or instill positive change. Here the situation is exactly the opposite. In order to turn this ballclub around, Bruce Bochy needs to install positive consistency , which in this case is its own weird form of positive change.

Let the players find their midseason form, and this club has lots of potential, you just wait and see.

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