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What a difference four games makes.
Last season, the Giants won only four games more than they had the year before, but their 92 wins were enough to secure the National League West title and give them the opportunity to win their first World Series championship in 56 years. As in 2009, the Giants were dependent on one the majors' toughest pitching staffs, headed by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. However, the offense pulled a little more weight this time, benefiting from strong years by veteran Aubrey Huff, rookie Buster Posey and journeyman Andres Torres.
Heading into 2011, the Giants will defend their title with the same formula, as Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito return to the rotation for another year. They will also get a full season from last year's rookie sensation, lefty Madison Bumgarner. For the fourth straight year, Brian Wilson -- arguably the best closer in baseball -- will handle the ninth-inning duties.
The starting lineup is virtually unchanged, with veteran free agent infielder Miguel Tejada filling the hole left by departed veteran free agent infielders Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria. The patchwork outfield of Torres, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross should get the bulk of the starts, though Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz are still around to fill in should one or more of the trio falter.
Torres, Burrell and Ross won't be the only Giants on short leashes this spring, as third baseman Pablo Sandoval will have to show that he can bounce back from 2010's dismal performance in which he batted .268 and hit into a league-worst 26 double plays. It's only a matter of time before prospect Brandon Belt forces his way onto the major league roster, moving Huff to the outfield, and possibly shifting DeRosa to third base.
Lincecum, Cain and Wilson have been top-flight Fantasy options for a few years now, but the new reality is that the Giants boast some potent bats as well. Instantly, Posey became an elite-level catcher last year and Huff showed that he still has the ability to carry a lineup, whether in Fantasy or in the real world. Sandoval and Belt have some upside as potentially productive Fantasy options, and both can probably be acquired on the cheap, at least for this year.
Sleeper ... Miguel Tejada, SS
Many owners will likely dismiss Tejeda as an aging player in decline. After all, he turns 37 this year, his batting average dropped from .313 to .269 last year, and his doubles total sank from 46 to 26. While it's unrealistic to expect Tejeda to bat .300 with 40-plus doubles, a miniscule .096 batting average on flyballs in play last season robbed him of what could have been several long doubles. Tejada's home run and contact rates held up last year, so there's reason to think that we will see fewer flyouts and more hits from him in 2011. He is still very much a reliable option in mixed leagues, especially at the thin position of shortstop.
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Bust ... Jonathan Sanchez, SP
Sanchez has made steady and significant improvements in his ERA and WHIP over the last three seasons and is clearly getting better and better as a pitcher. So where's the problem then? Sanchez has increased his effectiveness by inducing more pop-ups and stranding more baserunners, and by last season, he was among the major league leaders in both categories. His improved numbers in these measures have been dramatic, and while the consistency of improvement suggests that skill has played a role, the magnitude of the improvement suggests that luck has played a role, too, especially since these are stats that tend to vary a lot from year to year for most pitchers. At best, Sanchez's progress will hit a wall, and even more likely, his numbers will move in the wrong direction. Particularly in Rotisserie, instead of being the No. 2 starting pitcher option that he was last year, it is safer to draft him as a No. 3 or No. 4.
Can't miss prospect ... Brandon Belt, 1B
The appropriately-named Belt clobbered 24 homers, 15 triples and 51 doubles across four levels in his first minor league season last year. The 22-year-old has also shown himself to be an exceptionally patient hitter and has some stolen base potential as well. The question is when, and not if, he will be promoted to the majors this season. While Belt doesn't have a full-time big league job right now, he will almost certainly have one soon this season, and you will be glad to have him rostered in all formats when he does get the call.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Andres Torres||CF||1||Tim Lincecum||RH|
|2||Freddy Sanchez||2B||2||Matt Cain||RH|
|3||Aubrey Huff||1B||3||Jonathan Sanchez||LH|
|4||Buster Posey||C||4||Madison Bumgarner||LH|
|5||Miguel Tejada||SS||5||Barry Zito||LH|
|6||Pat Burrell||LF||Alt||Henry Sosa||RH|
|7||Pablo Sandoval||3B|| |
|8||Cody Ross||RF||CL||Brian Wilson||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Jeremy Affeldt||LH|
|R||Mark DeRosa||OF||RP||Sergio Romo||RH|
|R||Aaron Rowand||OF||RP||Santiago Casilla||RH|
|R||Mike Fontenot||2B||RP||Javier Lopez||LH|
|Mashed his way from Rookie League to Triple-A in his first pro season. Very soon, he'll be in the Giants' lineup.|
|Gap hitter could get a look sometime this season, but he may not deliver power, at least not right away.|
|3||Zack Wheeler||20||SP||Class A||Class A|
|Giants' top pitching prospect did well in the Sally League, but he may take his time getting to the majors.|
|4||Gary Brown||22||OF||Class A||Class A|
|Defensive standout is about to embark on his first full year in the minors. Could arrive in the bigs by 2013.|
|5||Francisco Peguero||22||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|Has hit for average and shown stolen base potential, but rarely walks. Need to see if power translates to Double-A.|
|Best of the rest: Ehire Adrianza, SS; Brandon Crawford, SS; Charlie Culberson, 2B; Eric Surkamp, SP; Tommy Joseph, C; Jose Casilla, RP; Henry Sosa, SP; Jarrett Parker, OF; Jorge Bucardo, SP; Kendry Flores, SP; Michael Main, SP; Mike Kickham, RP; Heath Hembree, RP; Chris Dominguez, 3B; Roger Kieschnick, OF; Steve Edlefsen, RP; Conor Gillaspie, 3B; Jason Stoffel, RP; Clayton Tanner, SP; and Ryan Verdugo, RP.|
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