San Francisco Giants: 10 Biggest Storylines from the 1st Month of the Season

Kyle BrownCorrespondent IIIMay 1, 2012

San Francisco Giants: 10 Biggest Storylines from the 1st Month of the Season

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    A lot has happened in the first month of the season for the San Francisco Giants.

    And if you couldn't keep up to date with the Giants because you lost your computer and television privileges after being grounded for the month of April, this article will get you up to speed.

    The Giants own a record of 12-10 and currently sit in second place in the National League West behind the surging Los Angeles Dodgers.

    There have also been quite a few newsworthy stories from both on and off the field, and the Giants probably have more so than many other teams in Major League Baseball.

    Here's a list of the 10 biggest storylines from the first month of the season.

10. Giants Lock Up Madison Bumgarner

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    Those who think Madison Bumgarner has the potential to emerge as the staff's ace within the next couple of years rejoiced after they heard the Giants signed "MadBum" to a five-year extension that is worth up to roughly $35 million.

    That's quite a bargain considering what Bumgarner has already accomplished at the major league level despite only being 22 years old.

    And now Bumgarner must be pleased that he'll be wearing the Orange and Black for years to come, because the offense is finally scoring runs for him.

    He has a 6.47 run support average thus far in 2012, which is good enough to make him 4-1 on the season. Last year, in comparison, Bumgarner had a run support average of 5.32, which is the primary reason why he only won 13 games.

    If the offense keeps scoring runs for him this year and he keeps his ERA around where it currently sits (2.53), Bumgarner has an outside chance at becoming the third starter in the Giants rotation to win a Cy Young award.

9. Brandon Belt Can't Find a Way to Stick in Lineup

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    Apparently the first three games of the season were enough for Bruce Bochy to decide that Brandon Belt shouldn't be the full-time starter at first base this season.

    After starting the season 1-for-10 against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first series of the year, Belt has been shuffled in and out of the lineup.

    However, since the Arizona series, Belt has hit .360 and raised his overall average to a respectable .278. He also has a decent on-base percentage of .366, which accurately represents his above-average patience at the plate.

    Most recently, Belt had the clutch hit of the weekend when he smacked a 2-0 changeup to the left-center field gap against the San Diego Padres. No one on the Giants could get to Anthony Bass—the starting pitcher for the Padres—who was basically unhittable that night, except for Belt, who knocked in the only two runs of the game.

    Most importantly, those runs were enough to give Tim Lincecum the win, who was in desperate need of a pick-me-up.

    Yet, after all of this, Belt still finds himself out of the lineup on a regular basis. In fact, Belt wasn't even put in the starting lineup after his clutch hit against the Padres.

    Belt continues to be the most mishandled prospect in baseball this season, and it's no different at all from last year.

8. Aubrey Huff Vanishes, but for Good Reason

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    Aubrey Huff's struggles have been well documented since his disappointing season in 2011.

    After being the main run producer on the offense during the Giants' run to a World Series championship in 2010, Huff signed a two-year, $22 million contract to stay with the Giants.

    Since then, he has failed to be a presence in the lineup and on the field, literally.

    The game after Huff mysteriously failed to cover second base on a double-play ball that hit to the shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, Huff disappeared to his home in Tampa, Fla.

    Amid the speculation to why Huff abandoned his teammates in the middle of the season, Huff was placed on the 15-day DL with an anxiety disorder and is now seeking treatment.

    We are all human, after all, and it's easy to forget that professional baseball players are under an incredible amount of stress to preform every day.

    As the great Yogi Berra once said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical."

    On top of his struggles in baseball, Huff's wife filed for a divorce to end their six-year marriage. Huff's father was also murdered when he was six years old.

    There is a lot on Huff's plate right now and there has been for quite some time. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and let him sort through his personal issues before he returns to baseball.

    Finding happiness in life is much more important than baseball.

7. Offense Still Can't Hit with RISP

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    Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for the Giants with regards to their inability to hit with runners in scoring position last year, the recurring nightmare is resurfacing again in 2012.

    In 2011, the Giants hit .173 with two outs and runners in scoring position. It was the worst an offense had finished in decades since the stats were being recorded.

    This year, even though the Giants are 15th in the majors in scoring (90 runs), the team is still batting .173 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

    Torture, torture, torture!

    It has gotten to the point where the only logical explanation is that it has gotten to the players' heads.

    But that's what the Giants do, and fans and followers should be used to it by now. As long as the offense keeps scoring at least four runs per contest (the Giants average 4.1 runs per game as of April 30), then they should be fine, especially with that pitching staff.

6. Pablo Sandoval's 20-Game Hit Streak to Start the Season

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    After about 10 games into the season, fans could tune into Giants games with a few things to look forward to: rooting for the Giants to win; watching Lincecum, Bumgarner and Cain pitch; and hoping Pablo Sandoval could extend his hit streak, which reached 20 games before it ended against the San Diego Padres. 

    Sandoval had at least one hit in the first 20 games of the season, which was good enough to give him the all-time record in Giants history—in both New York and San Francisco.

    Over that span, Sandoval was hitting .314 with four home runs and 13 RBI. He was far and away the hottest hitter in the Giants lineup and probably the most feared by opposing pitchers because when Fu Panda is hot, he can hit any pitch, regardless of its location.

    One thing that the stats won't indicate is that Sandoval hit the ball hard practically every at-bat. His average very well could've stayed around .330 if some of his hits weren't right at the defenders.

    But at the end of the day, I'm sure Sandoval will be pleased with a .311 batting average at the end of April.

5. Barry Zito Shocks the World

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    Surprise, surprise.

    Barry Zito has been the best pitcher in the Giants rotation through the first month of the season, and it isn't really up for discussion.

    Zito's dominance commenced after the first start of the year when he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Colorado Rockies... at Coors Field!

    Since then, Zito has accumulated no wins despite his 1.67 ERA, which is the 11th best in the majors.

    Whether or not this trend of dominance will continue for the rest of the year remains to be seen. Despite being a huge disappointment considering his outrageous contract, Zito has had stretches of pitching well during his tenure with the Giants.

    I just wouldn't hold my breath.

4. Matt Cain Signs Extension

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    Giants fans took a huge sigh of relief when they heard that Matt Cain agreed to a six-year extension with the club that is worth around $127 million.

    And after becoming the richest right-handed pitcher in baseball history, Cain went out and pitched like it.

    In his second start of the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cain pitched a one-hit shutout in impressive fashion.

    He then backed that performance with a two-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies and only needed to throw 91 pitches to do so.

    I'd say Cain was well worth the investment.

3. Tim Lincecum's Early Struggles

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    If you happened to look at Tim Lincecum's ERA after his second start of the season and saw 12.91, you might not have believed your eyes.

    You might have thought that ESPN misplaced the decimal point and that his ERA was really 1.29. That would've sounded more like the Lincecum we are accustomed to.

    However, that was not the case.

    Lincecum struggled mightily out of the gates this season after starting 0-2 with a 10.54 ERA. He was continually missing up in the zone with his fastball, which Lincecum can't afford to do with his fastball velocity constantly topping out at 90-92 MPH.

    However, he has started to turn things around lately. He labored through five stressful innings against the New York Mets on April 23, but only allowed one earned one and struck out eight in his first win of the season.

    He then dazzled in his next start against the San Diego Padres after pitching scoreless innings (one unearned run) for his second win on the season.

    If Lincecum has finally returned to his 2011 form, the Giants are primed to make a run and overtake the division in May.

2. Brian Wilson out for Season

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    As soon as Brian Wilson's name was linked to Dr. James Andrews, Giants fans knew that they were in for some bad news regarding their favorite beard in baseball.

    It was announced on April 18 that Wilson would have season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow. His fastball velocity had dropped down all the way to 89 mph at the start of the season, so it was no secret that something was bothering Wilson.

    And while his career and future with the Giants organization is up in the air, I'd put my money on Wilson being able to overcome his second Tommy John surgery and pitch in the majors again.

    "It's the mental part that can be overbearing," said Wilson. "But you know what? I've done it once; do it again. That's the case."

    That's exactly the kind of attitude he needs to come back from a career-threatening surgery like Tommy John's. He might never be the same closer again, but Wilson has not thrown his last pitch in the Orange and Black.

1. Buster Posey Picking Up Where He Left off

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    What Buster Posey has been able to accomplish this year has been nothing short of miraculous.

    After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2010, we should expect Posey to put up the type of numbers he is now, but not after what happened last year.

    Not only did Posey have to physically rehab his way back to the field after tearing three ligaments in his left ankle and breaking a bone in his lower left leg, but he had to overcome the mental aspect of enduring a potential career-ending injury.

    But Posey, at least through the first month of the season, has overcome his injury and is in the midst of tearing the cover off of the ball at the plate. He has missed only three games thus far, and is currently batting .353/.409/.603 with four home runs and nine RBI.

    The question wasn't if Posey would be able to return to form at some point in the season; it was a question of when. And coming back this strong so early in the season must've not been easy after teams made it obvious that they had no problem testing how healed his leg and ankle really are.

    Baseball isn't necessarily known for being a "gentleman's game" anymore. Even though the majority of the baseball community feared for Posey's well-being in the grand scheme of things, everything changes when in the heat of battle.

    Players have been sliding into Posey's legs at the plate.

    Pitchers have been aiming at his left leg when trying to bean him purposefully.

    What Posey endured last year was no secret to the rest of baseball, and they're trying to exploit it if it means winning a baseball game or sending a message. But for Posey to put that incident in the back of his mind this early in the season is truly remarkable and it deserves more recognition.