The 2012 All-Star Game turned into a showcase for the San Francisco Giants when its passionate fanbase stuffed ballot boxes to get Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera into the starting lineup. Tony La Russa then chose Matt Cain to start over R.A. Dickey, another slight to the New York Mets, who also saw Sandoval start over the more deserving David Wright.
On Tuesday night, it was a San Francisco Giants world, and the rest of us were just living in it.
Melky Cabrera hit a soaring two-run homer on his way to winning the MVP award, Pablo Sandoval hit the first three-run triple in the history of the game, Buster Posey walked, scored and caught five scoreless innings, and Matt Cain pumped a 95-MPH heater by Jose Bautista on his way to being the winning pitcher with two shutout innings.
Giants fans took to Twitter and Facebook to stick it to the rest of the baseball world and the national media, who constantly bemoaned the selection of Sandoval over Wright, Cain over Dickey and to a lesser extent, Posey over Carlos Ruiz.
However, the last time the Giants stars played games that counted against the first-place Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates, they got exposed. During their last six-game road trip, the Giants won just once, and were outscored by a combined total of 45-21. On the season, the Giants are just 20-24 away from AT&T Park.
They also have a negative run differential now, having been outscored by their opponents by eight runs, 346-338.
While the pitching staff is a solid seventh in baseball with a 3.63 ERA, there are cracks in the foundation. Tim Lincecum is dead last in baseball among starting pitchers with a 6.42 ERA. Barry Zito had a solid first half, but he did the same thing in 2010, and then was so bad in the second half that he was left off the postseason roster. The loss of closer Brian Wilson finally became noticeable at the end of the second half when Santiago Casilla blew three of his final four save chances.
Offensively, the Giants remain impotent, as they have been every season since 2004. They are tied for last place in baseball with just 51 home runs, while being 24th in runs, 25th in slugging percentage, 23rd in OPS and 24th in walks.
Last season, the high-water mark for the Giants came on July 28th in Philadelphia. Earlier that day, Giants general manager Brian Sabean acquired Carlos Beltran from the Mets. The Giants beat the Phillies 4-1 behind a stellar performance by Lincecum to improve to 61-44 in a very weak-looking division.
It was a forgone conclusion that the Giants would repeat as division champions at that point—the only question was if they would also repeat as World Series Champions.
The jubilation of the All-Star Game reminded me of the excitement of acquiring Beltran last season. Certainly, if the Giants were already better than Arizona without Beltran, they would be leaps and bounds ahead with him. And last night, with Cain, Cabrera, Sandoval and Posey on display, it seemed certain in my mind for a moment that the Giants would use the momentum from the All-Star Game to carry them into the postseason.
Alas, the All-Star Game could be as good as it gets for the Giants in 2012. The first-place Dodgers are flush with cash, and they will get Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier back from the disabled list soon. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a disappointing first half, but they are more talented than their record indicates, as they outscored their opponents by 10 runs during the first half.
The division is wide open, and the Giants have as good of a chance as any team in the west to make the playoffs. However, when looking back on the first half, don't let the All-Star Game fool you into thinking the Giants are a lock to win the west. Instead, remember how they got exposed on the final road trip, and know that there is a lot of work to be done.
Even if Sabean makes another big splash at the deadline, it won't guarantee success in the second half. If the Giants are going to get back into the dance, they'll need the guys already in the locker room to play much better than they did down the stretch last season, and better than they played in what was ultimately a mediocre first half, the All-Star Game notwithstanding.