Since the San Francisco Giants have been gracious enough to invite me to a media event they’re throwing on Friday (2/4) at AT&T Park (details to come, once I find out exactly what’s going on), there’s no better time than now to preview what the Giants will be up against in 2011.
The Giants would not have won the World Series without the first team we’re previewing, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants went 13-5 against the D-Backs in 2010, including a 3-game sweep in San Francisco in the second-to-last series of the season that allowed the Giants to win the division against San Diego — even after in the first two games of the Giants/Padres series, Matt Cain pitched his second-worst game of the season and Barry Zito pitched what many thought had to be his last game in a Giants uniform (until everyone put their World Series goggles on … ah yes, now Zito gives the Giants 190 innings so we’ll keep him).
The D-Backs, perhaps more than any other team in the division, are made up of prominent people from the division’s other teams. Along with stealing away Matt Williams and a host of other Giants from my childhood and signing Melvin Mora (who came to the Diamondbacks this off-season from Colorado), the D-Backs hired the man who hit the Dodgers’ biggest home run since the team moved to Los Angeles, Kirk Gibson, as their manager. The guy who Bruce Bochy probably can’t help himself from comparing Brian Sabean to on a daily basis, Kevin Towers, is the new GM. So you knew the D-Backs were going to look different, and with Towers around you could be pretty certain that Arizona’s position players would get older, and their bullpen would get better.
Scott Allen (traded)
Kris Benson (retired)
Mark Reynolds (traded)
Cody Ransom (!)
The bullpen is much better, and not just because Putz is closing instead of Juan Gutierrez (who’s better suited for the setup role at this point), Aaron Heilman (who signed a Minor League deal) or Chad Qualls (who has a pretty cool pitcher’s name but bombed with the D-Backs before getting traded to Tampa Bay last season). Strikeout machine Reynolds was traded for two promising young relievers (Hernandez and Mickolio), and while Mora probably can’t be counted on to play every day, at least he won’t have to be benched late in the year to avoid another K record.
Their infielders can hit, and Chris Young proved that while he probably will never be an MVP candidate, he’s a solid ML outfielder who can threaten 30/30. Justin Upton might be in the same boat, although the talent’s certainly there for a breakout season. Their middle infield offense makes the Giants insanely jealous, and after signing Blanco they’re pretty deep at catcher. Kirk Gibson seemed to have this team playing a lot harder in August and September than they were in April and May, for whatever that’s worth.
While the rotation is young and arguably deeper than last year (especially after trading for Armando Galarraga), Joe Saunders isn’t exactly an ace compared to what the rest of the division has in the No. 1 starter role, and Daniel Hudson, while pretty dominant after the White Sox traded him for Edwin Jackson (nice move, Kenny Williams), is a bit young to count on to start 35 games as your No. 2. Against the ridiculously strong starting staffs in the division, the D-Backs are probably going to face a lot of early deficits, rendering their improved bullpen useless on many nights.
Towers made Sabean proud by increasing the average age of the bench by quite a bit in a few month’s time, adding Ransom (35 in a couple weeks), Blum (38 in a couple months) and Nady (32). And while neither guy got on base all that often, losing LaRoche and Reynolds means the D-Backs have lost a lot of power (57 HR in 2010).
Towers successfully turned the D-Backs into the Padres in a very short time.
Predicted record: 76-86 (4th in NL West)