With a third of the season in the rear view mirror, the 2012 season for the Giants has gone anything but expected. A team that continues to be plagued with injuries to their key players, the Giants keep rolling along, finding ways to win ball games.
Sitting eight games above .500 and four games back of the first place Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants have done enough to stay in contention for the NL West title, but they’ve also showed glaring weaknesses that could diminish their chances down the road.
As the Giants enter the middle portion of the season, we review what has gone right for the orange and black, what needs to be fixed and what remains to be seen.
Starting Rotation: As expected, the Giants starting pitching has been phenomenal. The Giants rotation is the only staff in the National League that is in the top three in wins, ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched. A key factor for the staff has been the reemergence of Barry Zito (5-2), who so far this season has found his control, the break on his curveball and the ability to pitch out of trouble.
Closing the Ballgame: With Brian Wilson on the DL for almost the entire season, Bruce Bochy has had to piece together the ninth inning. Santiago Casilla (1-2) was the odds on favorite and he has taken the bull by the horns, so far recording 15 saves in 16 opportunities with a 1.46 ERA. Sergio Romo (2-0) has also recorded three saves in three opportunities with a 0.54 ERA in 21 total appearances.
The “Melk” Man: While excellent pitching is somewhat expected in San Francisco nowadays, a hitter who consistently rakes day after day has been missing for some time. In an offseason trade that sent Jonathan Sanchez and minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo to the Royals for Melky Cabrera, Brian Sabean struck gold as Cabrera leads the National League in hits and average. He's also second in runs scored.
Cabrera is one part of a three-headed outfield that Sabean put together, and they're all playing at a high level, which has ignited the Giants offense.
Injuries: While the Giants aren’t the only team dealing with injuries to key players, they have had to deal with more than their fair share over the past two seasons. Similarly to 2011, it catches up with you at some point.
The Giants have lost Brian Wilson to Tommy John surgery. Pablo Sandoval has been gone for over a month, Jeremy Affeldt has been on the DL, and now Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla are battling nagging injuries that are limiting their time.
Stretching the bullpen even thinner, Guillermo Mota was suspended for 100 games after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Additionally, the Giants continue to hold out hope that Freddy Sanchez will be able to return, but his rehab schedule has been plagued with multiple setbacks.
The Giants are due to get Sandoval back next Tuesday, and Clay Hensley has filled in nicely for Romo while he’s been used sparingly. But it’s unlikely the Giants could withstand another injury to one of their main guys.
A Lack of Home Runs: Even if you add the three home runs the Giants hit on Thursday afternoon in San Diego, only the Padres, the team they were playing, have hit a fewer amount in the entire major leagues. At 35 homeruns, the Giants are not only way below the league average, but six teams have over twice as many as their current total.
Brandon Belt and Brett Pill have not added the offensive pop the Giants had hoped for out of first base. Sandoval’s injury has also hurt as they were only able to muster 11 home runs in the month of May. That was not only the lowest total in the majors, but 15 teams hit over 30 homeruns, and the top four hit 40 or more.
Getting Sandoval’s pop back in the lineup will definitely help, but the Giants need better long ball production from other players, namely their first basemen. Playing in AT&T Park, the Giants don’t intend to lead the league in round trippers or even place in the top 10, but they need more pop than they are currently getting.
There has been some talk about Hector Sanchez receiving more playing time behind the plate or possibly at first base, but Sabean will likely look for a viable solution before the trading deadline.
Errors: Nobody has kicked the ball around more this year than San Francisco. With 55 errors through 58 games, the Giants are on pace for 154 errors this season. Even worse, the errors seem to come in bunches, as they’ve had multiple games with two or more errors, and in the case of Thursday’s game in San Diego, four errors.
While some of the errors can be attributed to guys playing out of position due to injuries or a lack of hitting, many errors have come on mental lapses or pure nerves.
Brandon Crawford, the Giants young shortstop, is in his first full season at the big league level, and while he shows moments of brilliance, he has also struggled at times to make the routine play.
The past two weeks have seen the Giants defense settle in and play more cohesively, but yesterday was a clear reminder that this team is not of the defensive brilliance the World Series Champion 2010 Giants displayed. That team only made 73 errors during the entire regular season.
Tim Lincecum: It’s amazing how quickly it’s gotten ugly for Timmy. Even though there have been warning signs over the past two years, including an 0-5 record in August of 2010 where Lincecum struggled with command and the ability to hit 90 mph, he always recovered, regained his confidence and his “Ace” status.
Last year also displayed stretches where he lost command and zip on his fastball, but he always recovered and often looked unhittable. Registering his first losing season at the big league level (13-14), 2011 was somewhat deceiving as Lincecum often received very little run support. He finished the season with a 2.74 ERA, which was top five among NL starters.
So far this year, the wheels have pretty much come off. Beginning in Spring Training, Lincecum has not been able to find his release point, while his control and his velocity have suffered. Even more devastating is that his confidence seems to be at an all-time low.
Lincecum is currently 2-6 with a 5.83 ERA, and the Giants are 2-10 in his 12 starts. Even more telling, opponents are hitting .257 against him, the highest in his career. Lincecum has lost command of his curveball and changeup, and he has stopped throwing his slider with any regularity due to discomfort in his arm. Meanwhile, his fastball doesn’t have the velocity to blow guys away.
Lincecum still has the ability to get guys out, and has an incredible will to compete, but he needs to work through his mechanical issues and reinvent himself as a control pitcher who changes speeds, keeps guys off balance and pitches for contact.
The Prognosis: Behind the Dodgers, the Giants have the second highest win total in the National League, and the third highest winning percentage. Through the injuries and errors, Bochy has mixed and matched, found some consistency and kept the team in contention.
If the Giants can clean up some of the mistakes on the field, get a healthy Sandoval back in the lineup and figure out a solution for Lincecum, they could find themselves at the top of the division, and potentially the National League, by the end of July—just in time for the stretch run to the playoffs.