A team stacked with unparalleled pitching had some rocky moments in the season’s first 22 games; meanwhile, the worst offense in 2011 got off to a relatively hot start in 2012, finishing April ranked seventh in the National League in average runs scored per game.
There were several important storylines for the Giants in April. Some were unfortunate: they lost their closer, Brian Wilson, for the season; their veteran first baseman went on the disabled list with a bout of anxiety; Tim Lincecum’s 5.74 ERA. Some storylines were good: the return of Buster Posey; the reemergence of lefty Madison Bumgarner; Barry Zito’s absolutely shocking 1.67 ERA.
But that’s all behind them. Now, we look ahead at May and some interesting plots for the upcoming month.
Here are seven things that Giants (and baseball) fans should watch for.
To say that Tim Lincecum had a rough April would be an understatement. He had a terrible month, a performance that would garner Least Valuable Player honors for sure.
Good thing that award doesn’t officially exist.
The problem is that fans are used to such consistently dominant performances out of the two-time Cy Young Award winner. Anything less than pitching a quality start every five days would be utter disappointment.
But Lincecum in human, and humans make mistakes. What separates the legendary players from the regular human players is their ability to atone for their regressive performances; they prove that those moments were mere aberrations.
Lincecum will have to show that April was indeed that—a blip on the radar.
But can he?
Can he rebound in the month of May and for the remainder of the season? Or is April’s performance (2-2 record, 5.74 ERA, 1.58 WHIP in five starts) a sign of worse things to come for San Francisco?
Doubtful. Don’t bet against Lincecum.
His last outing in April was a step in the right direction as Lincecum dominated the San Diego Padres the way he always has done throughout his career. Thus, if career trends are the standard, then Lincecum has to right the ship by season’s end and finish with respectable numbers (i.e., ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, etc.).
Fortunately, despite his putrid April showing, Lincecum still managed to win a couple of starts, a testament to the improvement of the Giants offense. Certainly, Lincecum doesn’t have to pitch shutouts every time, the way he had to to make up for San Francisco’s anemic hitting throughout 2011.
He is slated to face some formidable opponents in May, including the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend, followed by a road game at the Los Angeles Dodgers. He should dominate both the Colorado Rockies and Oakland Athletics at home, but he finishes with starts versus the rebuilt Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Fans hope Lincecum will be back to Cy Young form by month’s end.
Who is this guy? Seriously. Who is this guy, wearing number 75 for the Giants?
Barry Zito in 2012 is pitching a lot like the Barry Zito from 10 years ago, when he earned himself an American League Cy Young Award with the cross-bay Oakland Athletics.
But Zito of 2002 has not made very many public showings in the decade since then—certainly not for extended lengths of time. He typically will make a one-game appearance or so and then fade back to his usual form: a 4.54 ERA in his five previous seasons in San Francisco.
But this guy—this Barry Zito—is seemingly a whole different pitcher. At least, different from his normal performances as a Giant.
In four April starts, Zito has a slender 1.67 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 27 innings, which includes a four-hit shutout of the Colorado Rockies—his first shutout since 2005—for his lone victory this season. Though he doesn’t have wins to match his performance, the team is 3-1 in games he’s started—which Giants fans will take, no doubt.
It was an odd month for San Francisco, as the team’s starting rotation has been flipped upside down. The fifth starter, Zito, is dominating the league, while ace Tim Lincecum is stinking it up, putting up Zito-esque numbers.
The reverse questions regarding Lincecum apply to Zito: Can Zito keep it up his success? How long will it last? Is this all a fluke?
We’ll certainly find out soon enough. Giants fans almost don’t want April to end, but hopefully, Zito can carry his magic into May.
Without a doubt, the most obvious reason for the increase in San Francisco’s run production is the return of a healthy Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.
The twosome missed a combined 162 games in 2011—so basically, the Giants were playing without one of them for a full season. Now, however, both players are back to 100 percent—and both are performing as if they are at 100 percent.
After suffering a devastating and famous injury last season, there was a question about how quickly Posey would regain his form—both at the plate and in the field.
Well, there’s no wonder now, as the third-year catcher has knocked out a .333 batting average, with four home runs, nine runs batted in and 11 runs scored in 20 games played.
Truly awesome. On his way to a Comeback Player of the Year nomination, for sure.
Meanwhile, Sandoval is free and clear of his ailments from last season too. The Kung Fu Panda is back at full strength, sporting a .323 batting average, with five home runs, 15 RBI, and 16 runs scored. Clearly, he is kicking some tail at the plate.
The success of Posey and Sandoval, solidified again in the heart of the Giants’ lineup, has made the team a more formidable force offensively. San Francisco ranks sixth in the league in team batting average and fourth in slugging percentage. There are fewer 1-0 losses for the team and more 5-4 victories.
Will the dynamic duo be able to keep it up throughout the entire season? Right now, the pair are on a sizzling pace, but who knows how long they can stay hot?
As it stands, Posey is still being looked after closely. He won’t be overworked by the team, and more shifts at first base will keep his bat in the lineup and his legs stretched out. Look for him to continue to dominate as he makes a case for an All-Star bid at catcher.
Sandoval, too, can earn an All-Star nod if he repeats his April performance in May. The switch-hitting third baseman is dominating opposing pitchers, which the Giants very much need from their cleanup hitter.
The month of April was a difficult one for veteran first baseman/outfielder Aubrey Huff. He struggled mightily out of the gate, stumbling to a .182 batting average with a .300 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage.
Unfortunately, due to the surplus of candidates to play the first-base position, Huff’s future with the ball club could be up for heated debate.
Brandon Belt and Brett Pill were included on the opening day roster because of the quality of their hitting as future first-base prospects.
And with Buster Posey expected to see some time at first to rest his legs from the squat, Huff’s everyday appearances in the lineup were predicated on him wielding a relatively hot bat.
Regardless, the pressures of keeping your job as an everyday player—as a 35-year-old veteran—are high. And Huff apparently could not handle that onus.
On April 25th, San Francisco placed Huff on the disabled list with a bout of anxiety, which he was being treated for. The team has expressed their support of Huff’s recovery, and he is expected to rejoin the roster when he is deemed ready.
However, it can’t be ignored that Huff’s role on the team will clearly change next month, whenever he does return. Manager Bruce Bochy has stated he will platoon Huff at first base and give him occasional starts in right field. But if Huff’s numbers don’t move upward with much conviction—given that Belt and Pill are on awaiting their time—Huff could find a permanent spot on the bench.
One thing that was missing for the entire month of April was the Giants’ starting second baseman, Freddy Sanchez. The 34-year-old veteran began the season on the disabled list, still recovering from shoulder surgery from last season.
This is nothing new, however, as Sanchez has missed countless games throughout his stint in San Francisco. But this absence has to be the most frustrating—both for Sanchez and the organization.
There are days when the timetable seems favorable, followed by setbacks from experiencing pain in his throwing motion. What was hoped to be a brief visit to the disabled list has kept Sanchez in rehab for over five weeks.
And there’s no clear end in sight.
The Giants aren’t exactly missing him, per se: He’s missed so much in the past three seasons that the team is more used to playing without him than with him. In Sanchez’s stead, the Giants have split time between veteran Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss. The two of them have combined to hit .253 with one extra-base hit and five RBI.
In that regard, San Francisco could use Sanchez’s bat in the lineup.
But until he can throw without pain, he and the team will have to wait. The team was hoping he’d return by May 11th, but that appears to not be doable, says RotoWorld.com. Hopefully, sometime this month, Sanchez will be able to make his season debut.
San Francisco finished April with a winning record (12-11), but May will be quite a test for the up-and-down squad, as the Giants will face many formidable opponents.
The Giants square off against three teams that made the National League playoffs last season: the Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers (for two separate series), the NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks (two series) and the World Series winners, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sprinkle in a series against the arch-rival—and current NL West-leading—Los Angeles Dodgers, two series against the revamped Miami Marlins and an interleague set in the Battle of the Bay against the Oakland Athletics, and the Giants have a pretty competitive slate for the month.
Not to say that this schedule will make or break the team, but it will be a very important test in San Francisco’s quest to return to the postseason.
Will San Francisco be able to make a move up the standings? As of May 2nd, the team sits in third place in the division, behind the Dodgers and D-backs—two teams who the Giants will be facing in May. If the Giants are able to win each of those series, it will do a lot toward climbing into first place.
If, however, they don’t, it could be a devastating month. Right now, they are hovering above .500, but in order to make a strong push, the Giants will need to string together a decent winning streak.
Can they do it in May against playoff-caliber teams?
One last thing to look forward to this month is the return of the Battle of the Bay as the Giants host the Oakland Athletics for a three-game set, May 18-20. The interleague rivalry has been, and is always, a great turnout for Bay Area fans, so expect some energy and liveliness during that mid-month weekend series.
The A’s are a terrible team but somehow have managed to stay afloat, relatively speaking. Will the Giants be able to take advantage of Oakland’s atrocious offense and sweep the series? Should they do so, it would go a long way toward nudging San Francisco up the standings.
The Giants need to pick on the weaker teams and put them in their place.
But the Athletics always seem to be ready for the Giants, and this rivalry can certainly get the juices flowing for both teams.
Whatever happens, it will be a good time out.
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