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Next week key for Giants playoff hopes

The Giants 2009 season is far from over. While they failed to capitalize on a three-game series at home versus San Diego losing two of three, they are only four games back with a pretty easy schedule down the stretch. In the next nine games, they will take on the Dodgers and Rockies for six games at home, with the final three coming on the road in Los Angeles. If the Dodgers can come out of that stretch with a winning record, they close out the season with six games against the Diamondbacks, four against the Cubs at home, and three against the Padres. In no way are they out of contention.

The Giants have the worst on-base percentage in all of baseball. They are 27th in the lead in runs scored. Without a doubt pitching has carried them for much of the season. The Giants are second in ERA (3.47) and first in strikeouts. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have combined to go 26-9 this season with ERA's well under three. Barry Zito has certainly stepped after an atrocious 2008 and first half of 2009, putting up 4 wins with a 2.34 ERA. In ten starts since the All-Star break, Jonathan Sanchez has done his part, posting a 3.10 ERA and striking out 75. With the addition of Brad Penny, who is 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA since joining the Giants, the Giants have the pitching to go the distance in October.

Giants GM Brian Sabean addressed an offensive issue by adding Freddy Sanchez at the trade deadline. The Giants enjoyed their best month of hitting after the acquisition, putting up season highs in OBP, home runs, hits, and runs. While the Giants were 7-6 when Sanchez played, the former NL hitting champ presence in the lineup boosted the performance of hitters around him. Pablo Sandoval, hitting behind Sanchez, hit .355 in August with five home runs while leadoff hitter Eugenio Velez is hitting .299 since the All-Star break. With an 8 million dollar club option for the 2010 season, you can expect to see Freddy Sanchez in a Giants uniform in 2010.

This may not be the year for the Giants, but they certainly have the pieces in place for a run in the near future.

The Giants have some money coming off the books, but some of those impending free agents will likely be back next season. The Giants have yet to give Buster Posey an at-bat, so you can expect to see him start at Triple-A next season. That means that Bengie Molina will likely return for his fourth season with the Giants. Despite average hitting numbers, Molina has done wonders with the pitching staff, and that may be more valuable than what he does at the plate.

Depending on whether or not they make the playoffs, the Giants could discuss a long-term deal with Tim Lincecum before the offseason really gets underway.

Scratch that -- should discuss a long-term deal with Lincecum.

The Giants will likely use the Cole Hamels contract as a starting point, but Lincecum's numbers look a lot better than Hamels' do through their first three seasons. From 2006-2008, Hamels pitched in 84 games, going 38-26 with a 3.52 ERA. Hamels was magnificent in 2008 postseason, going 4-0 in five starts with a 1.80 ERA. He was well deserving of the three year, 20.5 million dollar deal he received prior to this season.

Through Lincecum's first three seasons (including 2009), he has pitched in 86 games (28 in 2009), and is on pace for 33 this season. Over that span, he has gone 38-15 with a 2.87 ERA. He won the Cy Young award last season, and if it was up to MLBDD, will win it in as many years. He is a two-time All-Star and led the league in strikeouts in 2008, and is on pace to do the same in 2009. The 25-year old certainly has a bright future ahead of him.

So what do the Giants offer? He is under team control through the 2013 season and will be entering his first year of arbitration this offseason. Lincecum is open to discussing a contract, but at the same time is content with going year-to-year. If the Giants were to cover his three arbitration years, an annual salary worth 8-10 million seems reasonable.

In terms of offense, the Giants could use a corner outfielder who can hit for both power and average. Marlon Byrd of the Rangers is having another good year, but his poor plate discipline might turn some teams off. Chone Figgins is another option, but his price could rise north of 8 million dollars.

If they wanted to go the trade route, they could turn to guys like Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, or Josh Willingham. All three players can be had at a reasonable price.

If they were looking to make a splash on the trade market, Hunter Pence of the Astros would be an option. However, the Astros are unlikely to deal the Texas-native who has rebounded after a disappointing 2008 season.

The Giants do not need to have a huge makeover for the 2010 season. There pitching is arguably the best in the National League, and do not have any major holes in the field worth addressing.

Playoffs or no playoffs, the Giants are in good shape for the future.