What a difference the leadoff hitter makes. Last year's Giants were historically bad at the plate. Their leadoff hitters posted an abysmal .297 OBP. Here is the production out of the Giants' leadoff spot over the four seasons under Bruce Bochy previous to that:
These numbers were put up by replacement-level players like Randy Winn, Dave Roberts and Aaron Rowand: free-swinging, moderately fast on the base paths and allergic to taking a strike.
It only seems natural that when journeyman Gregor Blanco and his career .358 OBP became available, it was a no-brainer for the Giants to pick him up.
Gregor Blanco, a no-brainer? Yes, that was the situation we were dealing with.
Nevertheless, Blanco has been a revelation at the top of the lineup, setting the table for Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey and Co. Through Wednesday, his OBP stood at .391, good for 11th in the Major Leagues. Where was Billy Beane on this guy?
During the Giants' first 30 games, they drew only 69 walks, or less than two per game. Since Blanco was inserted into the everyday lineup on May 9, the Giants have drawn 81 walks in just 20 games, more than doubling their rate.
Where does this leave the other guys fighting for time in right field on Opening Day? Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt, both first basemen by trade, are hitting a combined .210. Huff is a non-factor at this point and Belt seems to be stuck in neutral, showing no power and unable to make the necessary adjustments.
Nate Schierholtz, who has been the Giants' fourth outfielder for seemingly two decades now, is a known quantity at this point. While he is able to provide some pop at the bottom of the order and is prone to a hot streak or two every season, Schierholtz is not an everyday player for a playoff team.
Blanco's emergence has also energized former leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. After a lackluster April in which Pagan failed to kick-start the offense, manager Bruce Bochy dropped Pagan into the five-hole, where he is hitting a smoking .446 in 17 games. Add in Melky Cabrera's 51 hits in May and the Giants' outfield has been one of baseball's best over the last month.
Led by the surprising Blanco and reaping the benefits of two offseason trade steals, the Giants somewhat resemble an average Major League offense for the first time in 18 months. The insertion of a healthy Pablo Sandoval and perhaps a midseason trade to stabilize the infield should keep the Giants in the race throughout the summer.