MLB Preview 2010: Giants and Athletics

San Francisco Giants

After a strong 2009 season in which the San Francisco Giants finished 88-74, the team will look to make a playoff push this year.

Fueled by one of the best rotations in baseball, the Giants’ pitching staff is headlined by two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum and All-Star Matt Cain, who are both 25 years old. The team’s number three starter, former Cy Young winner Barry Zito, enjoyed a great second half last year, but still has not proven worthy of his $126 million contract.

Number four starter Jonathan Sanchez may be the one who decides the Giants’ fate this year. Sanchez has electric stuff, and proved it by throwing a no-hitter last year, but he has been very inconsistent throughout his career. Rounding out the rotation is Todd Wellemeyer, who was a 13 game winner two years ago and will look to regain his form this season.

The biggest question mark for the Giants is whether or not they will score enough runs to win games. Last year the team ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category, and only two people, Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval, managed to hit 20 or more home runs. However, they did add first baseman Aubrey Huff and utility man Mark DeRosa during the offseason. Huff is only one year removed from a 32 home run season, and DeRosa hit 23 home runs last year with the Indians and Cardinals.

The offense will likely revolve around Sandoval, who hit .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI’s last season. The charismatic third baseman, known by Giants fans as “The Kung Fu Panda,” accomplished all of these feats while playing out of position (his natural position is catcher). The biggest question surrounding Sandoval is his weight, but some players around the league, like Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, disagree.

“Man, there are a lot of guys who played this game who were big. Mo Vaughn was one of these guys. [Andres] Galarraga used to be big, no? Cecil Fielder, you know? Prince Fielder. [Sandoval] can hit,” said Zambrano in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Giants are also blessed with one of the best prospects in baseball, catcher Buster Posey. However, Giants fans may have to wait a while to see him extensively, as the team resigned Molina, who hit a very pedestrian .265 last year and is known for being the slowest player in baseball. If Posey continues to hit like he did last year in the minors, the Giants will have a tough time justifying keeping him in Fresno.

The Giants have enough pitching to advance deep into the playoffs, but the question is, do they have the power to get them there?

Starting Lineup:

CF Aaron Rowand
SS Edgar Renteria
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Aubrey Huff
LF Mark Derosa
C   Bengie Molina
2B Juan Uribe
RF John Bowker
P (Pitcher)

Starting Rotation:

Tim Lincecum (RHP)
Barry Zito (LHP)
Matt Cain (RHP)
Jonathan Sanchez (LHP)
Tod Wellemeyer (RHP)

Oakland Athletics

Coming off a 75-87 record and another disappointing season, the Oakland Athletics are poised to not only improve, but to reach the postseason. Oakland will rely on pitching, speed, and defense, and the young pitchers need to be effective in order for the A’s to have success this season. Thus far, the A’s have been successful, posting a record of 9-5 and leading the AL West division.

Photo: Nader Khouri/Contra Costa Times/MCT The A’s expect a lot of production from Kurt Suzuki in the middle of the order this season.

Ben Sheets was an important offseason move and could prove to be very beneficial for the young pitching staff. After missing the entire ‘09 season, Sheets returns this year determined to return to his old form.

If all-stars Sheets and Justin Duchscherer remain healthy and pitch well, it will take a lot of pressure off the young pitchers and give the A’s a huge advantage on the mound. Dallas Braden has proven he can pitch in the bigs, while Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez have loads of potential and great stuff. It’s evident that the A’s have a deep rotation when the four and five starting pitchers Anderson and Gonzalez can both throw fastballs in the mid 90’s
The A’s biggest strength this season is the bullpen, which returns set-up men Joey Devine and Michael Wuertz, as well as Rookie-of-the-Year closer Andrew Bailey. Another asset to the bullpen is rookie Tyson Ross, who was not expected to make the roster, but has pitched very well this season.

After trading for Kevin Kouzmanoff and signing Coco Crisp, the A’s made it clear that they are emphasizing speed and defense to support the talented young pitching staff. Crisp is a proven base-stealer and covers a lot of range in the outfield. Unfortunately, he injured his finger in the preseason and has been unable to contribute to the A’s yet. Kouzmanoff, who was brought in mainly for his bat, also set the National League record for third basemen with a .990 fielding percentage last season. He committed only three errors in 309 total chances.

For a team that truly lacks power, It will be the responsibility of Kurt Suzuki, Kouzmanoff, and Eric Chavez to hit the homeruns and drive in runs for the A’s. If these guys fail to collectively produce, then the A’s season could be a cycle of losing low-scoring games in which the starting pitchers aren’t getting enough run support.

The A’s are emphasizing manufacturing runs this season via stolen bases and situational hitting. Ricky Henderson, MLB’s stolen-base champion, worked with the A’s this offseason on stealing bases. Davis, Crisp, Suzuki, and Pennington are all capable of stealing at least 20 bases, which would be advantageous for the offense because it wouldn’t require extra-base hits to drive them in. Davis leads the majors with seven stolen bases this season.

If they live up to their potential, the A’s could be a surprise team this year and have a shot at taking the AL West. They have a good enough pitching rotation to keep every game close, while the offense is a huge question mark. If things don’t go as planned, expect Sheets to be traded at the all-star break and for Oakland to endure its fourth straight sub-par season.

Starting Lineup:

CF Rajai Davis
1B Daric Barton
RF Ryan Sweeney
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
C   Kurt Suzuki
DH Eric Chavez
2B Mark Ellis
RF Travis Buck
SS Cliff Pennington

Starting Rotation:

Ben Sheets (RHP)
Dallas Braden (LHP)
Justin Duchscherer (RHP)
Brett Anderson (LHP)
Gio Gonzalez (LHP)