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2010 MLB Playoff Preview - San Francisco Giants
Dan Port | Wednesday October 6th, 2010
Pitching helped the Giants take the NL West. (AP)
Pitching helped the Giants take the NL West. (AP)
NL West Champs
Improvements helped the Giants take the NL West. (AP)
Just when it looked like the San Diego Padres were going to run away with the National League West title a few short months ago, the Giants began the climb back to the top.  How'd they do it?  Well, steady improvements to the offense certainly helped, including the promotion of their top hitting prospect, who also happens to play a position that is an offensive black hole for a lot of teams (catcher).  Their top pitching prospect made contributions at the back of the rotation as well, which was a godsend for a team that had a disastrous fifth starter situation at the start of the season.  Furthermore, a few key acquisitions improved the lineup of a largely mediocre hitting club, providing some run support for their stellar pitchers, sure, but also some veteran leadership for a club with some young and inexperienced members.  Overall, the team gradually built themselves into contenders and was able to shut the Padres out of the playoffs with a 3-0 shutout victory in game number 162.  Not too shabby for a club that hadn't finished higher than third place since 2004.

After each team clinches a Playoff Spot Baseball Press will break down their strengths and weaknesses as they head into the post season.

Like any playoff-bound team, the Giants had some surprising hitters step up and help the club this year, and leading the charge on that front was free agent acquisition Aubrey Huff.  Huff is capable of playing either corner outfield spot but mostly played first base down the stretch as rookie Buster Posey adjusted to working behind the plate every day.  A former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and Oriole, Huff has had big seasons in his career but hit just .241 with 15 home runs and 85 RBI between Baltimore and Detroit last season.  He bounced back in a big way in 2010, though, as he hit .290 with a .385 OBP, 100 runs scored, 26 home runs, and 86 RBI, leading the team in most offensive categories and becoming the keystone of the lineup.  Rookie Posey, who was recalled somewhat late into the year and played just 108 games for the team, emerged as a top Rookie of the Year Award candidate and hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI, needing very little time to adjust to big league pitching.  Surprising seasons came from other players as well, as 32 year-old journeyman outfielder Andres Torres thrived in a full-time role as the club's starting centerfielder, hitting .268 with 26 stolen bases, 16 home runs, 84 runs scored, and 63 RBI in 139 games.  Infielder Juan Uribe, who mostly plays as the team's starting shortstop, set career highs with 24 home runs and 85 RBI this year, though he hit just .248 in 148 games.  Left fielder Pat Burrell, released in May by the Rays, hit well in 96 games for Giants by batting .266 with a .364 OBP, 18 home runs, and 51 RBI in only 341 plate appearances.  Late-season acquisitions Jose Guillen and Cody Ross have already provided the team with some much-needed power hitting depth too.  This hodgepodge of hitters made up for a largely disappointing season by third baseman Pablo Sandoval , who hit just .268 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI this year, a big drop-off from his production in 2009.

By trading catcher Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers in early July, the Giants improved their defense by moving Posey behind the plate full-time and taking Huff out of the outfield and over to first base.  His skills are much better suited to that spot, and Posey has impressed with his catching skills and strong arm ever since.  The infield is otherwise quite reliable, as second baseman Freddy Sanchez is a solid veteran infielder and shortstop Uribe, though lacking some of the range he had in his younger years, can still dig balls out and use his strong arm at shortstop.  Sandoval's bat may have disappointed this year, but the Kung Fu Panda still makes plays at the hot corner, defying his rotund physique.  Overall it's a solid but unspectacular infield.  As for the outfield, Torres has used his speed very well in centerfield and can cover a lot of ground, which is a good thing because Burrell is not much of a fielder over in left and Guillen was primarily DHing in the American League, with good reason.  The Giants often dip into their bench for those corner spots, using Ross and Nate Schierholtz as defensive replacements whenever possible.

Acquisitions in the off-season and throughout the year have helped San Francisco shore up their bench and put them at the level of some of the other top major league clubs.  Edgar Renteria is still a solid shortstop and offensive contributor at the age of 34, and he hit .276 in 267 plate appearances for the club.  The aforementioned Ross provides a power bat that can play all three outfield spots.  Travis Ishikawa seems destined to be a part-time first baseman now that his prospect status has largely faded, but he provides a solid lefty bat off the bench and is a good defensive player at his position whenever Huff gets moved to the outfield.  Infielder Mike Fontenot, acquired late in the year from the Cubs, can play all over the infield and his a .280 type of hitter, certainly a valuable piece for any club.  Schierholtz and catcher Eli Whiteside are primarily defensive replacements, but have shown hitting ability in the past.

Starting Rotation
This is where San Francisco is really special.  Leading the rotation is the man who has won the last two Cy Young Awards, pint-sized hurler Tim Lincecum.  While a stretch of mediocrity during the season assures he won't take home the hardware this year, he's still capable of dominating an opposing club when he's on his game.  He finished the season with a 16-10 record, a 3.43 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 231 strikeouts in 212.1 innings of work.  His teammate and the Giants' number two starter Matt Cain shined this year as well, though he was once again the victim of weak run support at times and finished just 13-11.  He posted a 3.14 ERA, led the rotation with a 1.08 WHIP, and struck out 177 hitters in 223.1 innings.  The biggest surprise on the staff, though, was clearly lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who had a breakthrough year and led the team with a 3.07 ERA, adding a 1.23 WHIP and his first 200 strikeout season.  He whiffed 205 hitters in 193.1 innings and went 13-9 for the club, cementing himself as the team's number three starter and finally fulfilling his massive potential.  Rounding out the rotation is veteran Barry Zito, who got off to a red-hot start in 2010 but fizzled down the stretch.  He went on a significant losing streak late in the year, though lack of run support was party to blame, and ended up 9-14 with a 4.15 season ERA.  He may or may not be on the post-season roster.  The fifth rotation spot gave the club plenty of trouble early in the year, but the promotion of rookie Madison Bumgarner solved it in short order, as the 21 year old went 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts with the big club.  Overall, the starting pitching is what may give the Giants an edge in a long playoff series.

A few acquisitions during the season helped the Giants build a superior bullpen to back up their top-notch pitching rotation in 2010.  The bullpen star is certainly closer Brian Wilson, who has joined the league's elite end-game hurlers with his performance this year.  Wilson had his best year as a big leaguer by leading all of baseball with 48 saves but also notching a 1.81 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and striking out 93 hitters in 74.2 innings, a mark of 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.  Getting the game to him throughout the year was 27 year-old righthander Sergio Romo who, in his third major league season, appeared in a career-high 68 games and struck out 70 hitters in 62 innings, going 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA and stellar 0.97 WHIP in the process.  Veteran lefty Jeremy Affeldt, one of baseball's top setup men a year ago, had a so-so season by posting a 4.14 ERA and cringe-inducing 1.60 WHIP in 2010, but can still work the middle innings when called upon.  Santiago Casilla led the Giants bullpen with 7 wins (against just 2 losses) and turned in an excellent year with a 1.95 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, along with 56 strikeouts and just 40 hits allowed in 55.1 innings.  Rounding out the bullpen are a pair of acquisitions made at the July 31st deadline.  Ramon Ramirez was acquired from the Boston Red Sox and has thrived in 27 innings for his new club, allowing just 2 earned runs (good for a 0.67 ERA) and 13 hits.  Lefthander Javier Lopez , brought over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, has done good work for his new club as well by allowing just 3 runs and 11 hits in 19 innings, striking out 16 and posting a 1.42 ERA and 0.68 WHIP in mostly very short stints out of the bullpen.

Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.