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Giants' arms remain most dangerous

Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants takes batting practice
Lincecum and the Giants rotation are ready to take on National League again.
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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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The San Francisco Giants are armed for a repeat bid as World Series champions.

The odds, however, are against that happening.

A team hasn't won back-to-back world championships in the past decade.

STARTLING ROTATIONS

Fearsome pitchers leave opposing lineups trembling. Which teams boasted the best staffs ever?

While the Yankees did run off three world titles from 1998 to 2000, the only NL team to win back-to-back world championships since the 1921-22 New York Giants was Cincinnati in 1975-76.

The NL has become a bastion of parity. Ten of the 16 NL teams have advanced to the World Series in the past 14 years.

Since the advent of a third round of playoffs in 1995, there has been some question about the demands it puts on a pitching staff. A popular theory is that teams don’t repeat because the pitching staff is worn thin by the heavy-duty postseason demands, and the arms don’t rebound for an encore.

The Giants, however, aren’t concerned. They have every reason to feel their strong-armed rotation handled the 2010 demands without compromising their future.

What’s more, the concerns about the expanded playoffs taking a toll on pitchers in general do not compute.

Of the 20 teams to advance to the World Series in the first decade of this century, five had a lower ERA in the year after advancing to the World Series. The differential overall between the ERA of teams advancing to the World Series and the ERA compiled the following year is only 0.11 runs higher.

And it is not like the Giants abused their starting rotation last October.

Matt Cain, who turns 26 this season, worked 244-2/3 innings overall in 2010, which was only 27 innings more than his career high. Tim Lincecum, who will pitch at 27, finished at 248-1/3 innings, only 23 innings more than his previous career high. Jonathan Sanchez, who will pitch at 28, worked 213-1/3 innings, 20 innings over his previous best.

WITHIN REACH

Records are made to be broken. Which ones could fall in 2011?

The pitcher to watch will be Madison Bumgarner, who will open the season at 21. After working 141-2/3 innings and 131-1/3 innings in his first two pro seasons, Bumgarner wound up on the mound for 214-1/3 innings in 2010 — 82-2/3 at Triple-A Fresno, 111 regular-season innings for the Giants and 20-2/3 innings in the postseason.

Bumgarner certainly did not appear to be struggling at the end. He had a 1.53 ERA in his final six regular-season starts, and a 2.18 ERA in four postseason appearances — three starts and a relief appearance.

Left-hander Barry Zito will be the most intriguing member of the Giants rotation. Heading into the fifth year of his record-setting seven-year, $126 million contract, Zito wasn’t even included on the active roster in the postseason. Is there enough competitor remaining in Zito for that to provide a spark for him entering 2011?

While he has given the Giants plenty of innings, he has pitched more like a marginal fifth starter than a staff ace during the first four years of his contract. After seven consecutive winning seasons in Oakland — where he was 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA — Zito has compiled four consecutive losing seasons in San Francisco. He was 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA during last year’s championship drive, leaving him 40-57 with a 4.45 ERA as a member of the Giants.

Hall call

Some veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have spoken up about the challenge of filling out the Hall of Fame ballot because of the cloud of performance enhancing drugs. A few have even suggested the Hall of Fame needs to clarify its stance on the PED era.

BEST MEN

Imagine if you had all these guys on one team. These players are the best at their position.

Why? The Hall of Fame entrusts the BBWAA to handle the election process. The vote is a privilege that has been entrusted to the BBWAA, not a requirement for membership. If the writer doesn’t feel comfortable filling out the ballot, then the writer should decline to vote.

Did the same writers express anguish over deciding on whether to vote for players who took amphetamines or corked bats or doctored baseballs?

Pitching in

There are 12 players in the Hall of Fame who primarily played for the Pittsburgh Pirates during their careers. None of the 12 was a pitcher. The Pirates, an original National League team, rank seventh among the 30 current franchises in all-time earned-run average at 3.72 and seventh in batting average at .265. And despite currently being saddled with a professional sports record of 18 consecutive losing seasons, they have an all-time winning record (9,810-9,684, .503).

Young things

While Texas’ front office continues to check the trade market for Michael Young, the Rangers back out every time it appears a deal could be close.

They went so far in talks with Colorado that Rockies prospect Eric Young actually underwent a physical and then the Rangers brought up a stress fracture in his right tibia suffered last May and was well-documented, and ended the trade talks.

Maybe there is a disconnect in the Rangers upper management over whether to keep Michael Young, who manager Ron Washington said is the team catalyst and who president Nolan Ryan said provides the Rangers with the type of versatility that other teams would love to have from a projected DH, a role that Young has said he will accept if it means staying in Texas.

Tagged: Rangers, Giants, Rockies, Barry Zito, Michael Young, Tim Lincecum, Eric Young, Madison Bumgarner

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