Giants gear up hoping to make another playoff run

Aubrey Huff walked away from AT&T Park after a thrilling

victory parade last fall on a championship high. He was a World

Series winner in his first postseason after an 11-year wait to

finally get there.

The first baseman made it clear entering the winter that he

wanted to come back to the Giants – and his wish was for the San

Francisco brass to bring back as many of his teammates as possible

for the chance at another playoff run in 2011.

A self-described bunch of castoffs and misfits somehow pulled

off the improbable and won a long-awaited title for the Giants, the

franchise’s first since moving West in 1958 and first overall since

the New York Giants won in ’54.

Now, just as Huff had hoped, this club looks nearly identical to

how it ended that remarkable run in five games over the AL champion

Texas Rangers. The main new addition: durable shortstop Miguel

Tejada replacing World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. Utility infielder

Juan Uribe departed to the rival Dodgers.

”I was hoping in the offseason they’d bring as many people back

as they could,” Huff said. ”For me, you win it all, let’s try to

defend it. Why go out there and change a whole lot? I can

understand making a couple moves maybe. Let’s keep it intact and

see what happens.”

Repeating is far from easy.

The Giants captured their first NL West crown since 2003 on the

season’s final day after missing chances to clinch in the two

previous games against the San Diego Padres.

Then, they not only eliminated the Atlanta Braves and retiring

manager Bobby Cox but stunned the favored Philadelphia Phillies in

six games to reach the organization’s first World Series since

2002.

This group was able to do something the other great Giants teams

hadn’t in the Bay Area – not Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie

McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda, or home run king Barry

Bonds.

”It’s awesome. I’m thrilled almost everyone came back,” right

fielder Cody Ross said. ”Why not (do it again)?”

The Giants had the pitching with ace Tim Lincecum leading the

way after his career-worst, five-start skid in August, and enough

timely hitting and defense to get by a rotation as dominant as

Philadelphia’s featuring Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole

Hamels.

”We know what’s at stake. We did put a stake in the ground here

and we want to defend this championship. To say last year was a

fluke, that’s the last thing these players want,” manager Bruce

Bochy said. ”They’re a very talented ballclub. We need to improve

in some areas on the field. …

”We probably do have a target on our back but that’s a good

thing,” he added. ”Let’s go out and defend this

championship.”

The Giants are counting on a comeback season from slimmed-down

slugger Pablo Sandoval, who is determined to rebound from a tough

year. After the season, Bochy and GM Brian Sabean made it clear the

Kung Fu Panda would have to shape up to keep his job at third base.

He did just that.

Several key contributors Sabean acquired along the way last

season will be around for the entire year this time, not to mention

that the Giants get a full season from reigning Rookie of the Year

catcher Buster Posey after he was called up in late May and went on

to hit 18 home runs.

Pat Burrell joined San Francisco in early June after signing a

minor league deal following his release by Tampa Bay. He re-signed

this year for a bargain $1 million to get another chance in this

close-knit clubhouse.

Then, there’s Ross, the unlikely postseason hero claimed off

waivers from Florida on Aug. 22.

”It’s going to be nice to have them all for a full year,”

Bochy said.

Ross is back on a $6.3 million, one-year contract ready to

resume where he left off as NL championship series MVP. He drove in

10 runs during the playoffs, two in the World Series.

Relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez also came aboard

midseason.

”Obviously we’re not going to be as much underdogs as we were

last year. Going into the last series I think people thought San

Diego still might be able to pull it out,” Ross said. ”Obviously

in the division series the Braves were favored and then the

Phillies, then the Rangers. We were the underdog pretty much the

whole time. I doubt if that’s going to be the case this year but we

can still have that chip on our shoulder that people are trying to

take a run at us and we have to defend. We’re all on board with

that.”

Sandoval and pitcher Barry Zito probably have the most to

prove.

Sandoval showed up at spring training down about 30 pounds to a

fit 240 after a rigorous offseason workout regimen. The

free-swinging slugger batted .268 with just 13 home runs and 63

RBIs in his second full season in the big leagues only a year after

he was among the last players left off the All-Star team.

Sandoval committed 13 errors and grounded into an NL-high 26

double plays. He played in only six of the Giants’ postseason

games, including one appearance in the five-game World Series win

over Texas.

Zito didn’t play at all. The left-hander was left off the roster

for all three postseason rounds, and now the 2002 AL Cy Young Award

winner is eager for a fresh start in year 5 of his $126 million,

seven-year deal.

Zito finished 9-14 and failed to reach 10 wins for the first

time since his rookie season in 2000. His 4.15 ERA was the

fourth-highest of his career. He went 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA over his

last 11 outings and 10 starts and only had one victory in his last

15 appearances. The stretch included a career-worst nine-game

losing streak from July 21 to Sept. 14.

The way No. 3 starter Matt Cain sees it, last season is now

history – the ups and the downs. This one will be scrutinized: A

camera crew will be following the club closely for a television

series about the reigning champs.

”I think we’ve got to in a way carry some of the stuff we did

last year with us but I think we’ve also got to wipe the slate

clean,” Cain said. ”A lot of teams are different and we’ll

definitely be a different team this year with a lot of the same

guys and we’ll have to start over as well.”

Even Huff has a fresh approach after receiving a new $22

million, two-year contract this winter. He announced early in

spring training he was retiring the red rally thong that he

believes helped him in 2010. He hit .290 with a team-leading 26

home runs and 86 RBIs while playing in 157 games, then batted .268

with one homer and eight RBIs in the postseason.

”Just play baseball this year and try to keep the antics at

home,” Huff said, noting the notorious undergarment is back at his

house in Florida.

Bochy, for one, will appreciate that focus while also

acknowledging it’s the variety of personalities on his club that

makes things click so well.

”I think when you get a taste of it the way they did you’re

going to have it even more,” Bochy said. ”You realize how much

fun it was and how much the fans appreciated what happened. That

makes you even want to do it again more.”