Giants' season promises bright future

Giants' season promises bright future

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' 72-90 record in 2008 represented a one-game improvement over '07. Yet, they can be excused for feeling that they surged, not inched, forward.

Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson were named National League All-Stars in their first full Major League seasons. Lincecum proceeded to win the NL Cy Young Award, becoming only the second Giants pitcher to secure that prestigious honor. Left fielder Fred Lewis established himself as a capable everyday performer, switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval created a sensation by hitting .345 in 41 late-season games and Bengie Molina and Randy Winn remained consistently productive.

Unlike '08, which saw the Giants' faint hopes of contending fade immediately, San Francisco can enter the new year expecting to be more competitive.

Center fielder Aaron Rowand, the team's biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason, visited AT&T Park for a series of media interviews and displayed his combination of charm and confidence.

"This team is going to be very competitive this year. I guarantee it," Rowand said. "Who knows? If guys have some good years, this team can win the division."

An ominous sign materialized early in Spring Training when 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel injured his left knee and needed arthroscopic surgery. Vizquel would proceed to break Luis Aparicio's all-time record for most games played by a shortstop, but Vizquel would play in only 92 games and bat .222.

The season began in lackluster fashion on March 31 in Los Angeles. Barry Zito surrendered four runs in five innings, including a three-run first, and San Francisco mustered five hits in a 5-0 loss to the rival Dodgers.

After losing six of their first seven games, the Giants righted themselves by going 12-10 the rest of the month. Molina's game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Padres was among the feats that fueled the Giants' confidence.

San Francisco staggered through a 10-17 month, enduring losing streaks of five and six games. The Giants looked particularly dreadful as the White Sox swept them in a three-game Interleague series, but San Francisco's worst moment occurred on May 15, when it blew a 7-3 lead by yielding five runs in the final two innings and lost to Houston, 8-7.

Jonathan Sanchez harnessed his considerable talent by posting a 5-1 June record with a 3.10 ERA. The left-hander shared the Major League lead for most wins in the month, finishing with a pair of starts in which he allowed two runs and nine hits in 14 2/3 innings.

Another awful month for the Giants resulted in an 8-16 record. They were actually only four games out of first place after beating the Dodgers on July 5. But nine losses in the next 10 games ended San Francisco's delusions of grandeur.

The Giants recorded their only winning month of the year (15-14), coinciding with the arrival of catcher/corner infielder Pablo Sandoval, who was one of 24 rookies to play for the Giants during the season. The switch-hitter batted .393 in his first 15 games.

Bolstering his Cy Young candidacy, Lincecum finished strong by pitching his first two complete games, including a shutout at San Diego. He also ended the season with a flourish by striking out 13 in a 3-1 triumph over the Dodgers.

Bill Neukom, the club's new managing general partner, called for a "Giants Way" to be promoted as the philosophy that will carry the franchise into the future. It'll encompass more thorough and precise execution of on-field fundamentals, as well as broader themes regarding player development and scouting.

Lincecum's Cy Young Award victory was no contest. He captured 23 of 30 first-place votes. The Giants also began rounding up relief support for Lincecum and his fellow starters by signing the first free agent of the offseason, left-hander Jeremy Affeldt.

The Giants continued their free-agent haul by signing right-hander Bob Howry and shortstop Edgar Renteria. Howry is a leading option to perform setup relief, while Renteria ideally will anchor the No. 2 spot in the batting order and provide solid defense.

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