The baseball season is now at a third of its way through. The Giants sit comfortably (?) with a 39-33 record, six games above 500. The team is leading the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks by half a game in the NL West. By these statistics alone, the team should consider ourselves extremely lucky to be where they are.
Coming off an incredible world championship run last year, the start of this baseball season was very promising. Practically everybody that was on the championship winning team was back. The great pitching staff that posted historic numbers last September and October was still here. The clutch hitting band of misfits that made up the team last year was back. Rookie of Year winner Buster Posey was ready to stake his claim as the perennial NL all star catcher for the next decade. Miguel Tejada joined the team to rejuvenate himself by returning to the Bay Area. Super rookie first basemen Brandon Belt was ready to be the second coming of Will Clark. All the ingredients was there for a proper title defense.
Oh what a difference two and a half months make.
The magic is still definitely there with the team. The Giants leads the entire world of baseball with their record in one run games, come from behind wins, and walk-off wins. In fact it is rare to see the Giants win a game where they have led from the start. The constant formula is the team will get behind by a couple of runs, the starting pitcher then will hold it to only a couple of runs, then in the late innings the hitters will finally comeback to tie and take the lead, lastly the bullpen shuts down the opposing team. This has been the formula for the Giant’s success so far this season.
The pitching staff that looked absolutely rock solid last post season is still present. They are up top in all pitching categories such as ERA and opponent’s batting average. A huge amount of credit goes to the feel good story of the team, Ryan Vogelsong. Barry Zito (our 17 million dollar guy!) was pitching around ineffectively with his 83mph fastball. It was a blessing in disguise when Zito injured himself while fielding. Going to the DL allowed Vogelsong to take his spot and arguably (by stats) became the best pitcher on the team. Needless to say if it is not for the pitching staff, the current Giants team will be only as good as the Houston Astros (yes Houston, they got problem).
Because the position players that looked so good to augment the great pitching for another title run is now a shamble of what the team started with at the beginning of the season. The beloved Buster Posey (along with defense, handling of the pitching staff, and bat) is done for the season with an ankle blown to pieces at the hands of a dirty play by Marlin’s Scott Cousins. Call me a biased homer, but Cousin had a lane to the plate. He decided instead to just pile drive right into Posey. It was nothing but dirty. It is then only justice then that since that night back in late May, the Marlins have gone 3-22, manager resigned, and Cousins is on the DL with a bad back.
Another guy lost for the season (more likely than not, let’s be honest) was by far the second best hitter (and likely on his way to a gold glove) on the team in Freddy Sanchez. All due to a freak accident in which his hand slipped while diving for a ball, causing his entire weight to be put on his shoulder socket. What happened after that was not pretty, and all too painful.
The guy that was absolutely raking the ball, the 40 pounds lighter Pablo Sandoval, was lost due to a broken hamate bone (raise your hand if you knew what a hamate bone was before) for some 40 games. Only this past week has he come back to the join the team after surgery and rehab. It looks like it will take a bit for him to acclimate back to the big leagues and resume hitting like he was before he got injured.
Brandon Belt fizzled under pressure at the beginning of the season, and was sent down back to the minors when Cody Ross came back from his injury during spring training. As luck would have it, when Belt was ready again and called up to the team he got beaned by a pitch right on his wrist, causing a micro fracture. He promptly joins his fellow Giants on the disabled list. A list that also includes the clutch Mike Fontenot (pulled his groin.. TWICE) and speedy Darren Ford (pulled his ankle while scoring the game winning run against Oakland)
Being riddled with the injury bug is not an excuse (unless you are the Boston Red Soxs), because the rest of the guys needs to step up. Unfortunately by and large this has not happened. Miguel Tejada did not find his fountain of youth in his bat (take a pitch! try to walk! don’t be an automatic out!), though to give him credit his defense has been stellar at third. Aubrey Huff seems complacent this year after winning the world series, with numbers all around that were much lower than last year’s. Pat Burrell became the king of the useless homeruns (only hitting them during times when it did not matter). With Posey out for the season, the backup catcher Eli Whiteside not only cannot hit, but his fielding is below average.
With Tejada ineffective at short, the Giants fast tracked their promising short stop Brandon Crawford to fill in. While he had some early heroics and plays a terrific short stop, his bat has silenced these past weeks. Can’t really blame the guy as he essentially did not even play AAA ball. The platoon filling in for Freddy Sanchez in the form of Manny Burriss and Bill Hall has so far yield negligible results in the hitting department.
That being said, there are a couple of bright spots on the team with the hitting. Nate “The Great” Schierholtz seems to come through every time in the clutch, Cody Ross has so far been consistent every since he shaken off the cob webs after coming back form the DL, and Andres Torres is still getting on base and setting the table up for the guys behind him.
But let’s not kid our selves. The teams’ only weakness, and it is a massive one, is that it cannot hit (and score). The team has an absurd record in its favor when it scores four or more runs. Unfortunately that does not happen all too often. The team has lost plenty of games that was winnable if they could just eke out a few runs. You just cannot ask the pitching to pitch shutouts every time out, because the law of averages in baseball dictates that it is just impossible.
The current team cannot afford a pitching or defensive mistake, otherwise they have almost no chance of winning the game. Kudos to the pitching staff for not threatening mutiny against the hitters for the ineptitude.
So what happens going forward? First of all the team needs to be completely healthy. Posey and Sanchez is gone for the season, so forget about them (harsh). Fontenot, Belt, and Ford needs to recover and come back ready to contribute. Especially Belt, since he is the lone backup first baseman on the team, and can spell Huff when he is tired (which is often). Not to mention Belt can play solid defense.
After that, the team needs to start hitting and scoring with some regularity. The main reason the team had its run last year was because the hitting picked up. From June on last year the Giants were definitely not at the bottom of the barrel in terms of hitting (and we smacked quite a few homeruns as well). The team will need that kind of production increase again this year if we are to make the playoffs again. Do you know why the Padres faded last year and Giants took the division? They STOPPED hitting (and a 10 game losing streak in September did not hurt). Giants are in first place now, but if the hitting continues to be lethargic, Arizona will clip us.
Another thing is the Giants need to find another catcher. There is a reason Eli Whiteside was never a full time starter in ANY level of baseball. His hitting prowess is below the average of major league catchers. On top of that his defense is not all that great to compensate for a limp bat (think I have ran out of fingers to count how many passed balls he had these past weeks). The backup catcher Chris Stewart is not the option either. His defense is much more solid than Whiteside, but his hitting is worse (if that is even possible). There is a reason Stewart has been bounced around from team to team. The team just need a defensively sound catcher that can competitively handle the bat that is on par with the league average. In the NL with no DH, a team just can’t afford to give another automatic out.
Fans better thank the heavens that the pitching staff has been relatively untouched by the injury bug (discounting Zito). And they will have to remain rock solid not only in the health department but the pitching as well for the team to have any chance. Even if the offense improves, the team is still not going to blow out people on a every night basis.
And of course the magic. It may not be the way the team wants to win all the time, but the whole keep it close and we will come back late to win mentality can carry the team for the rest of the season. It has to give the team confidence (and scare the opposing team to death) knowing that they can comeback and win any game that is close because the pitching staff more often than not will keep it that way. Other than the pitching, it is the strongest notion the team can hang their hopes (and hats) on.
Here’s to a great remaining 2/3s of the season for the beloved Giants.