It’s a given that the Giants will have strong pitching again, but hopes that their offense will be much improved are largely based on problematical players.
There’s only one certainty: A healthy Buster Posey will give a big middle-of-the-lineup boost to the offense. Posey is the team’s best hitter, one who knows how to go to the opposite field with an outside pitch or pull an inside pitch for extra bases, even a home run. He gives the Giants an extra boost because he plays a position where offense is often sacrificed for good defense.
But otherwise? Well, look at the players the Giants are counting on:
-- Melky Cabrera. Like Pablo Sandoval, Cabrera lost weight before last season and had his best season, hitting .305 with 18 homers and 87 RBIs. But it was with Kansas City, which is a perennial also-ran. I’m always suspicious of hitters who have big seasons with bad teams because there’s no pressure on them to win. Cabrera is a hacker, just 35 walks in 702 plate appearances last year, so he’ll fit right in with Giants hitters.
Cabrera is basically replacing Cody Ross. And even though Ross did not have a good season last year, he’s probably a slightly better player.
-- Angel Pagan. Defensively average, Pagan’s chief value is his ability to steal bases at a slightly better than 80 percent success rate, 32 last year, while being caught seven times, 37-9 the year before. That will probably make him the leadoff hitter, but he hit only .262 last year and the Mets were eager to get rid of him. He’ll be 31 during the season, so his best years are probably behind him.
Giants fans should hope that Gary Brown, a first-round draft selection in 2010, will show enough at Triple-A Fresno to merit a midseason promotion.
-- Freddy Sanchez. A top-flight defensive second baseman and a good hitter, the 34-year-old Sanchez can’t keep healthy. Since the Giants acquired him in midseason 2009, he’s played only 196 games total. Jeff Keppinger was so-so as a replacement for the injured Sanchez last year, but he’s gone.
Sanchez’s all-out style in the field almost guarantees he’ll be injured for much of the upcoming season and the Giants’ backups are, well, backups, a considerable dropoff.
-- Aubrey Huff. This is the biggest gamble of all, and the one that could be most ruinous to the Giants if manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean don’t get realistic early in the season.
Now 35, Huff was a big factor in the Giants’ championship season in 2010, but had a big falloff last year, which he blamed on his poor conditioning. First time I ever heard that poor conditioning changed a swing.
More likely, National League pitchers figured him out; 2010 had been his first season outside the American League. His downward slide is likely to continue this year, and Bochy needs to realize that and go early to younger choices, Brandon Belt or Brett Pill.
The Giants can still make the postseason, but it will be because of their pitching. Except for Posey, the improvement in their offense is illusory. Wishing doesn’t make it so.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.