Trying to predict the San Francisco Giants lineup is easier said than done. Manager Bruce Bochy drew up 126 different lineups in 2010 and even more ugly ones in 2011. What’s the point? Bochy says he mixes and matches because he likes to play the “hot hand” but the reality is that most Giants position players aren’t very good. In fact, most aren’t anything better than replacement level if you look at their WARs (Wins Above Replacement). This inconvenient truth must be acknowledged. There’s a reason the Giants were trotting out scrubs like Miguel Tejada, Aaron Rowand & Orlando Cabrera: desperation.
But it’s a new year! And that means the Giants are going to win the World Series againimprove a lot. Last season the Giants offense was a punch-line around the league. Pairing the lowest on-base percentage in Major League Baseball with virtually no speed on the base paths equated to one ugly season for the Giants in 2011. The good news is that the Giants got faster with the outfield acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and reserve Gregor Blanco. There’s nowhere to go but up for the offense.
I believe that the following lineup not only maximizes run production but also gives the Giants the best chance to win from a defensive standpoint. Besides, isn’t that the name of the game? So without further ado, I give you my 2012 SF Giants Opening Day Lineup:
1. CF Angel Pagan (Age 30)
2. LF Melky Cabrera (Age 27)
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval (Age 25)
4. C Buster Posey (Age 25)
5. 1B Brandon Belt (Age 23)
6. RF Nate Schierholtz (Age 28)
7. 2B Emmanuel Burriss (Age 27)
8. SS Brandon Crawford (Age 25)
9. P Lincecum/Bumgarner/Cain/Vogelsong/Zito
At first glance you’ll notice a few things:
- Despite Pagan’s Spring Training struggles, he still inherits leadoff duties.
- Aubrey Huff and his Rally Thong are sitting comfortably on the bench.
- This has to be the youngest Opening Day Lineup for the Giants in eons.
- Freddy Sanchez is still rehabbing. Freddy Sanchez is still rehabbing. Freddy Sanchez is still rehabbing. Ugh.
This lineup doesn’t scare anyone, not even Jamie Moyer. Not even Jenny Finch. Whatever. The Giants have to make due with the cards they’ve been dealt so let’s dive right into this.
Leading off we have Andres Torres 2.0: Angel Pagan. And like his predecessor, Pagan had an excellent 2010 season batting .290 with a .340 on base percentage. The reason the Mets were so willing to part with the Crazy Horse is because he batted just .262 last season with a .322 on base percentage. If Pagan has a season somewhere in the middle, it’s already an upgrade from last year’s black-hole at the lead-off spot. We don’t need Pagan to be outstanding, we just need him to be an improvement from Torres and Rowand.
Fresh off a scorching hot Spring Training, The Melk Man will be holding down the #2 spot for the G-Men. Cabrera is also coming off a career year with the Yankee’s AAA affiliate, Kansas City Royals. Melky was one of only four players in Major League Baseball to eclipse 200 hits last season. But like Pagan, the jury is still out on the caliber of player he really is. 2012 being his walk year, this will be an important season for Melky as he is motivated to earn a new contract.
In the 3-hole, we’ve got the fan favorite, Kung Fu Panda. His discipline in the batter’s box has improved even more than his self-control in the buffet line. It’s easy to forget that Pablo missed more than a quarter of last season due to a wrist injury. Sandoval is finally healthy though. After a full off-season of resting his wrist and shoulder, Panda’s swing from the right-side is noticeably better. Also, Sandoval underwent LASIK surgery to help is vision at the plate. I’ll go as far to say that this is going to be Panda’s best season yet. If he can stay healthy and keep the weight off, we’re looking at a bonafide All-Star who might even improve on his 2009 season where he placed 7th in the NL MVP voting.
Like Grant Brisbee so eloquently put, “hearing Posey’s name announced over the radio, seeing a picture of him on the field, listening to a play-by-play account of his return…this whole injury thing is something Giants fans will never explain properly to non-Giants fans.” Words cannot begin to describe the sheer magnitude and romanticism of having our Golden Boy back. Imagine the heel of Trojan Achilles had actually healed after Paris’ fatal arrow; it’s that big of a deal. Buster is our Abraham Lincoln and our John F. Kennedy: the promising face of all that is worthy and youthful. I don’t need to get into statistics because he effects the game in a way no number can measure. This young stud changes the outcome of the game just by how he handles the pitching staff. Elated would be an understatement to describe my excitement of seeing Gerald Dempsey Posey III take the field. Alright, rant over.
Behind Buster we’ve got the Baby Giraffe: Brandon Belt. To put it lightly, Belt has been jerked around by SF Giants’ management ever since he famously made the Opening Day roster on HBO’s “The Franchise” last year. The “#FreeBelt” Twitter hash-tag has also been trending for good reason. All Brandon Belt needs is a healthy dose of AB’s while playing first base. Last year he was the future, but this year he’s the now. Play the kid, he’s only going to get better. Hitting the inside pitch seemed to be Belt’s only glaring deficiency but after putting a lot of time into the batting cage he has made great strides in fixing that hole in his swing. It boils down to this, Belt is the only real homerun threat outside of Buster & Panda. That alone should find him in the starting lineup.
That takes us to Nate Schierholtz. Let me say that, on the field, I straight up love this guy. Known more for taking the back-up Chinese catcher in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for a ride on the Pain Train, Nate has a plus arm in right field too. More importantly, he is also a flat-out Dodger killer. It’s always nice to have those.
In last year’s Spring Training, Schierholtz was beat out by Sacramento’s finest John Bowker. But as the season wore on, it became clear that through Nate’s top-notch defense and timely hitting, he was the best option in right field. The Danville Flash isn’t going to “wow” you or put up gaudy numbers, but he won’t lose you any games or hinder you offensively.
This is the part of the lineup where all thump is lost. Second baseman Emmanuel Burriss is filling in for the injured Freddy Sanchez, who looks to be on the shelf indefinitely. His best tool is his ability to switch hit (when that is the listed atop the scouting report you know we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel for compliments). The fact of the matter is that Manny Burriss is not a major league hitter let alone an everyday player. Don’t let his career Spring Training statistics fool you either; sooner or later he is going to be exposed. And after bidding farewell to Lord Fontenot, the Giants are going to have to hide Burriss at second for as long as they can.
The same goes for Uncle Jesse look-alike, shortstop Brandon Crawford. He was simply outmatched at the plate in 2011. Just like Burriss, he too had a great Spring Training. If Crawford can hit .250 this year, consider that a momentous success for the Giants. Any improvements he can make offensively would be huge considering the only reason he is in the show is because of his gold glove caliber defense. Crawford is the truth on the field, but inside the batter’s box is another story. He’s still only 25 so I hope he proves me wrong.
There is a lot of unknown with this 2012 Giants squad. Will newcomers Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera be boons or busts? Is Brandon Belt going to receive his due with playing time? Can Buster and Panda carry the Giants offensively? When will Freddy Sanchez be back? Can Brandon Crawford and Emmanuel Burriss hang at the big league level? Is Ryan Vogelsong healthy? Is Barry Zito still a headcase? Time will tell.
One thing I do know is that I’m not about to watch my Giants lose to Magic Johnson and Mickey Mouse. It’s time to take off the sling and hobble off the crutches. Walk it off and rub some dirt on it. The World Series hangover is gone and it’s time to reclaim the champion swag. The Giants went 55-9 last year when scoring 4 or more runs. 55-9! Moral of the story: RELEASE THE HOUNDS! Let’s score some bleeping runs. The average age for the Giants projected Opening Day lineup is 4 years younger than last season’s (26 compared to 30). If we’re going to sink or swim, I’d rather do so with the kids.
Finally, the Giants won 86 games last year. They did this by scoring the fewest runs of any defending World Series Champ in the history of the National League (570). We’re talking dead-ball era incompetent. Don’t worry though: the offense is better, the team is healthier and the hunger to win is stronger than ever. Are you telling me that this team can’t raise the bar from last year’s 86 wins? That’s what I thought.