Under the radar, Giants ready to defend title

Under the radar, Giants ready to defend title

Under the radar, Giants ready to defend title
SAN FRANCISCO -- If it's easy to forget that the Giants are defending World Series champions, that's fine with them.

This perceived disregard forces them to prove themselves all over again, which should stimulate them throughout the season.

All spring, pundits trying to identify baseball's next big winner touted the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or Rockies. Any team but the Giants. Other experts, thinking progressively, cited clubs with skilled pitching and burgeoning offensive talent -- such as the A's, Marlins or Twins -- as being "this year's Giants."

As if this year's actual Giants were automatically deemed incapable of success.

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"I don't think anybody thinks of us as the defending champion," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said, without a trace of bitterness in his voice. "I don't think we've got enough in our resume to be considered the favorite to go back to the World Series or the favorite to win the World Series. And I think that's a good thing. That'll fuel this group even further."

Coming off the first Series title of their 53-season existence in San Francisco, the Giants believe that a simple philosophy -- More of the Same -- will sustain them.

They'll have catcher Buster Posey, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year who rose to the Majors late last May, for an entire season. Same with right fielder Cody Ross, the Most Valuable Player of the NL Championship Series who didn't join the team until August, once he recovers from a calf injury. Left fielder Pat Burrell could exceed his 96-game total of a year ago, when the Giants signed him in late May to provide power. Mark DeRosa, who missed virtually the entire 2010 season with an ailing left wrist, conceivably can fill in at every position but pitcher and catcher.

Trade Deadline acquisitions Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez will be around all year to bolster the bullpen. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, limited to 111 games last season by injuries, ideally will play more often. Left-hander Madison Bumgarner, an extremely valuable midsummer addition to the starting rotation, is poised for his first full Major League season.

Bumgarner's the No. 5 starter on what might be the Majors' most formidable staff. The Giants are counting on Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Barry Zito to repeat the form that helped the club lead the NL with a 3.36 ERA. "They're the real faces of our franchise," said first baseman-outfielder Aubrey Huff, who led San Francisco in most major offensive categories last year.

The Giants even have a Posey 2.0 in their midst. First baseman Brandon Belt, their top prospect, almost surely will be summoned from Triple-A Fresno if or when San Francisco needs an offensive stimulus, which Posey generated last year.

For third baseman Pablo Sandoval, less very well could be more. Nicknamed "Kung Fu Panda," Sandoval slumped badly last season when he hit .268 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs, down from .330, 25 and 90 the year before. Now weighing around 240 after shedding 40 pounds in the offseason, Sandoval seemed ready to approach his 2009 levels. He also looked spry defensively.

"I don't care how the offense is going," Sandoval said, discussing his offseason and Spring Training focus. "The important thing for me was the defense."

San Francisco Giants
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Andres Torres
2 2B Freddy Sanchez
3 RF Aubrey Huff
4 C Buster Posey
5 LF Pat Burrell
6 3B Pablo Sandoval
7 SS Miguel Tejada
8 1B Brandon Belt
9 P Tim Lincecum
Projected rotation
1 RHP Tim Lincecum
2 LHP Jonathan Sanchez
3 RHP Matt Cain
4 LHP Barry Zito
5 LHP Madison Bumgarner
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Santiago Casilla &
SU RHP Sergio Romo
SU LHP Jeremy Affeldt
MI LHP Javier Lopez
MI RHP Ramon Ramirez
MI RHP Guillermo Mota
MI LHP Dan Runzler
& -- Replacement at closer for Brian Wilson (strained oblique)
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

Almost anything the Giants get from shortstop Miguel Tejada, their top newcomer, will be a bonus. Tejada, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract, is a .287 lifetime hitter but turns 37 on May 25. In a best-case scenario, Tejada will remain proficient enough to cushion San Francisco against the departures of two key performers from last year: infielders Juan Uribe, an excellent clutch hitter, and Edgar Renteria, hero of the Series-clinching Game 5 triumph.

"We'll definitely miss Edgar -- what an inspiration he was last year -- and we'll definitely miss Juan's big hits," Huff said. "But Miggy brings that veteran leadership that we lose from those two guys."

Overlooked as the Giants often might seem, they've also received treatment commensurate with their status as champions. Lincecum has appeared on more magazine covers than a supermodel. Brian Wilson, last year's Major League leader with 48 saves, became a minor celebrity with his entertaining offseason talk-show appearances and his beard, not necessarily in that order. Center fielder Andres Torres, who rose from modest beginnings in Puerto Rico and overcame the effects of ADHD, is the subject of a documentary film that's scheduled to be released during the summer. And the Showtime network is collaborating with Major League Baseball Productions on a series that will give viewers an inside look at the Giants.

"We've gotten a lot of attention, and the players have earned that," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But I like the way they've handled it and kept their focus in getting ready for the season."

Said Wilson, who could be slowed at the start of the season by a strained oblique muscle in his left side, "Everybody picked up where they left off. It's a dominant ballclub. We know we're capable of playing great baseball. It's just a matter of being consistent."

No club has repeated as World Series victors since the 1998-2000 Yankees; no NL team has achieved that feat since the 1975-76 Reds. But the Giants aren't getting ahead of themselves, particularly since they inhabit the traditionally competitive NL West.

"We have to win the division. That's what we're trying to defend first," Sabean said.

Echoed Huff, "I think the ultimate goal is to get to the postseason."

Reaching that objective will require the Giants to meet an early challenge. They're scheduled to play 22 of their first 31 games on the road. That stretch includes visits to each NL West city, where they're sure to encounter highly motivated rivals. But if that sort of thing bothered the Giants, they wouldn't have accomplished what they did last season.

"That's what I think is what's going to make this year so exciting -- to see how it all starts," Burrell said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.