MLB Handicapping: Giants and Royals Two Teams on the Rise
by Trevor Whenham - 03/06/2009
Last year's Tampa Bay Rays, and teams like the Marlins, the Rockies, and the Twins before them, have made it very attractive for baseball fans to try to figure out which team will be the next to rise from the depths of the league to the top in just one year. It's obviously an imprecise science, but that doesn't stop people from wanting to try. It seems that two teams have emerged above the others as candidates to go worst from first in the minds of the public and media pundits - the Royals and the Giants. It would take a return to form that has been missing since Barry Bonds was in his drug-fueled prime for San Francisco to pull it off, and a step back to a much more distant time for Kansas City. It seems quite unlikely on both fronts, but could it happen? Here's a look:
Kansas City Royals (100-1 to win the World Series at Bodog) - A successful team is built around a solid starting rotation. On that front the Royals are risky, but full of potential. Zack Grienke has worked his way into the ace position. He's a very talented pitcher who has been steadily improving since he got his head back in order during the 2006 season. He got better as the season went along, and there is no reason to believe that he won't again this year. Behind him is Gil Meche. Meche is a competent pitcher that will be well served by not being weighed down with the responsibility of holding the No. 1 spot in the rotation. Kyle Davies is still young, and he's finally showing signs of progress. That's a decent top three. Behind them there is less certainty, but lots of potential. Brian Bannister is coming off a rough year, but he had a good first half that shows there is something to work from. Luke Hochevar is a former college stud that has been a disappointment so far, but he has the talent to rise up. Horacio Ramirez has been stuck in the bullpen in recent years, but he was a useful starter early in his career.
I'm reasonably optimistic about the rotation, but the bullpen is another story Joakim Soria is a top-rate closer, but the trick is getting it to him. Kyle Farnsworth is the best of the rest, but that's scary proposition. Farnsworth can be brilliant, but he can also be terrifying. He's surrounded by other guys just as worrisome. It would be nice to see the Royals add some bullpen help before the season gets rolling, because at this point the late innings could be the downfall.
The Royals are going to be able to hit. The addition of Mike Jacobs goes a long way towards ensuring that. Even without the help there was talent here, though. Alex Gordon is still young, but this could be the year that he makes his first of many All-Star Games. Mark Teahen dropped off last year, but he's only 27 and should be able to rebound. Billy Butler and Jose Guillen have attitudes that make them hard to trust, but they certainly have potential. Kansas City needs to be a whole lot better than they were last year, but there is reason to believe they will be.
The biggest thing the team has going for them is their division. There isn't a clear winner in the AL Central. In fact, you can make a case that pretty much any team in the group could win if things went their way. If the Royals were in any other division then I would bet against them for sure. I probably still would here, but it is definitely possible. They just have to forget that they are the Royals.
San Francisco Giants (35-1 to win the World Series at Bodog) - The Giants are alluring for one big reason - their rotation has a chance to be among the best in the league. Tim Lincecum is coming off a Cy Young year, and he has given us no reason to believe that it was a fluke. Randy Johnson is getting old, but he still has game. He's healthier now than he has been in a while, and he has looked excellent in early spring action. He has 300 wins to chase, and he'll be a useful influence on the team as he chases them. Barry Zito has been a major bust in San Francisco, but he showed real progress in the second half of last year, and has every chance of turning into a reliable starter again. Matt Cain is the same age as Lincecum, but he hasn't found the same game yet. He walks too many batters, but if he can get that in line then he could easily win 15 or more games. His biggest attribute is his consistency. Now he just has to work on being consistently better. There are a few good options for the fifth starter, and a solid bullpen as well. The Giants were in the Top 10 last year in batting average against and runs allowed, and they are improved this year, so teams aren't going to be able to score a ton of runs.
The problem they may have is scoring enough runs themselves. There is a mix of veteran talent like Bengie Molina, Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria and Randy Winn to guide the team, but none of those guys are known for their explosive power. They will have to guide the development of less experienced prospects like Pablo Sandoval, Fred Lewis, Kevin Frandsen, Travis Ishikawa and perhaps draft pick Buster Posey if he develops quickly. There are a lot of capable bats in that group, but no stars. True success for this team would require them all to have good years at the same time. That's possible, but risky - especially since so many of the penciled-in starters are short on meaningful pro experience.
The Giants have a harder road ahead with their division than the Royals. The Rockies and the Padres are sure to be lousy, but the Dodgers are clearly better than the Giants, and the Diamondbacks could be as well. It's certainly possible that the Giants could sneak through the middle, but there is very little room to falter. I don't see it as particularly likely, but the chance to watch two pitchers like Lincecum and Johnson - true pros who are equally ruthless but couldn't possibly look any different - makes this a team I will be cheering for. Not with my bankroll, though.