San Francisco Giants 2012: 9 Positive Takeaways from Giants' 1st Month
The San Francisco Giants wrapped up April on a hot note, winning three of four to finish up at 12-10, good for second place in the National League West. With a little less than 15 percent of the season in the books, let's take a look at what went right for the Giants during the first month of the season.
No. 1: Buster Posey
The Giants' best player returned from a catastrophic, season-ending ankle injury last year to post big numbers in his first month back. The 25-year old catcher hit .353/.413/.603 with four homers in 75 April plate appearances, leading the team in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Posey gives them a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat while playing a premium defensive position at the base of the diamond.
No. 2: Pablo Sandoval
The Kung-Fu Panda had a solid April, hitting .311/.361/.500 with four homers after signing a three-year contract extension in the off-season. The Giants' third baseman and No. 3 hitter has reestablished himself as one of the team's best hitters after his horrific 2010 season. If Sandoval and Posey can stay healthy, the Giants will have a legitimate 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup for years to come.
No. 3: Matt Cain
Cain emerged as the new staff ace in April after signing a five-year contract extension during spring training. The 27-year-old righty posted a 2.37 ERA with a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings of work. He came within a James McDonald single of throwing a perfect game against the Pirates, then he matched Cliff Lee pitch-for-pitch in a pitching duel for the ages as the Giants beat the Phillies 1-0 on April 18th.
No. 4: Madison Bumgarner
It was a big April for Madison Bumgarner, who signed a five-year contract extension with team options that could keep him in San Francisco through 2019. The 22-year-old lefty went 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA during April while increasing his ground-ball rate by nearly 10 percent from last year.
If Bumgarner maintains his current propensity for worm-killers, he can pitch even deeper into games by getting quicker outs. His miniscule 2.25 walks allowed per nine innings demonstrates his elite control. Bumgarner has the potential to join Cain at the top of the rotation for years to come in San Francisco.
No. 5: Santiago Casilla
When Brian Wilson went down with a season-ending elbow injury, Bruce Bochy turned to Santiago Casilla as the Giants closer. Casilla has delivered by going for 4-for-4 in save opportunities en route to a 1.04 ERA.
In three seasons with the Giants since he was let go by the cross-bay rival Oakland A's, Casilla has posted a 1.79 ERA while striking out nearly a batter per inning with his wicked mid-90's fastball, power curve and slider combination. Casilla is another feather in the cap for GM Brian Sabean and his front office staff who have demonstrated a continuous ability to build elite pitching staffs.
No. 6: Melky Cabrera
The Melk Man delivered in April, hitting .300 while improving his walk rate to nearly 10 percent. Brian Sabean appears to have committed highway robbery by dumping the erratic Jonathan Sanchez on the Royals for Cabrera.
The 27-year-old left-fielder looks like he should be playing running back for the 49ers with his athletic, 6'0" 200-pound frame. If Cabrera keeps hitting for average and getting on base in front of Sandoval and Posey, the Giants offense will be much improved from last season. If Cabrera starts hitting fewer ground balls and more line drives like he did last season, the Giants 2-3-4 hitters will match up with any in the game.
No. 7 Ryan Vogelsong
Vogelsong came off the disabled list in April and pitched well, showing that perhaps 2011 was not a fluke. The biggest positive sign for Vogelsong is that he struck out over a batter per inning in his first three starts. On the negative side, his average fastball velocity is 88.7 MPH, down from 91.4 MPH last season. Hopefully his fastball velocity will tick up as the season goes along.
No. 8: Barry Zito
After a horrific spring training in which his new mechanics didn't work, Zito worked with pitching coach Dave Righetti to get himself on track before the season started. Righetti's work paid huge dividends in April as Zito threw a complete game shutout against the Rockies at Coors Field to give the Giants their first win, then threw the ball very well in his next three starts to finish the month with a 1.67 ERA.
Zito isn't going to keep pitching like this, not with a fastball that averages less than 84 MPH, but he might settle in as a serviceable fifth starter, which is a small miracle given how bad he looked one month ago.
No. 9: Clay Hensley
In Clay Hensley's first 6.1 innings pitched, the Giants replacement for Ramon Ramirez has yet to allow a run while striking out eight of the 29 batters he has faced. Hensley, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo, the three guys that Bochy primarily uses in the seventh and eighth innings, all throw fastballs that never come close to reaching 90 MPH.
However, in the case of Hensley, his fastball has so much tailing action that it almost looks like a screwball, allowing him to miss bats in the late innings despite his lack of velocity. The Giants' eighth-round pick of the 2002 draft has come full circle in his professional career, settling in as a reliever on the team that originally drafted him out of college.
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