San Francisco Giants: Top 10 Who Will Make or Break 2nd Half
Although it seems tough to match the excitement and intrigue of the first half, the Giants are looking to continue their already extremely memorable season in grand form. With October ambitions firmly established, the Giants are counting on big second halves from many of their players.
Still that's not what this is about as the Giants will need nearly the entire team to be performing to the best of their abilities. This is about those fringe players who have the ability to make the season one for the ages and the instability to make it 2011 all over again.
So without further ado, let's look at the 10 Giants whose performance will make the biggest impact on the remaining half.
10. Ryan Theriot
Ryan Theriot is not good. I'm sorry, but it's true. You know it, I know it, the Cardinals know it, and whether they'll admit it or not Sabean and Bochy know it. That being said, he isn't Manny Burriss. He isn't Miguel Tejada or Orlando Cabrera or any of the other zombie infielders who beckoned when Sabean rings his veteran bell.
Wait he's exactly that, but for the time being he's playing somewhat competently which makes him awesome. Remember someone needs to start at second every game and for every at-bat that Theriot doesn't soak up, Burriss or at best Arias get to step up to the plate and most likely ground out.
For as long as Theriot can keep his head above water and stay at least a little productive, the Giants have one more bat besides the pitcher. I know that sounds pretty depressing, but with Crawford already dangerously close to batting ninth behind Cain, the Giants need every decent at-bat they can get.
Theriot has never been terribly good and the expectations are far from high, but if he can continue to play well enough to justifiably stay in the two-hole, then the Giants could very well continue to boast a decent offense, which should never, ever be taken for granted.
9. Barry Zito
Like Ryan Theriot, Barry Zito is not very good. But also like Theriot, Zito has actually managed to keep his head above water and somehow do his job during the first half. Unlike Theriot, however, Giants fans are well aware of Zito's incompetence and the thin layer of ice that separates his acceptable starts from his...well, you know.
Still as long as that contract-that-shall-not-be-named hangs over our heads, Zito will start every five days, same as Cain. That means we depend on him as much as any one of our beloved starters, for better or for worse.
It's not we're asking for shutouts or the kind of starts we'd expect from the other four, all we're asking for is a chance. For every outing that Zito can go out there and not implode is pure profit. For every time Zito can go out there and get through six innings without the roof falling in, the Giants can prevent one more auto-loss from the fifth spot.
8. George Kontos
How exciting is George Kontos? Chris Stewart.
Yup, Kontos is a middle reliever, the heir to the Edlefsen/Loux/Ramirez throne of honor. Seriously though, you probably noticed a big difference in those names and that's because Ramirez was actually good in his role and not coincidentally the bullpen was rock solid.
Since then, the bullpen has been somewhat of a mess as the back spots originally occupied by Guillermo Mota and Ramon Ramirez have seen a revolving door of incompetent minor league arms.
While Kontos might be the latest to take the post, he has certainly already distinguished himself as well better than the Loux/Edlefsen/Blackley blob we were used to seeing. Despite the small sample size, his numbers are already quite impressive posting a 10.29 K/9, 1.29 BB/9, 2.57 ERA, 2.14 FIP, and a 2.35 xFIP. If he can keep up the good work, the Giants might just have another late-inning reliever to depend on when the going gets rough.
7. Gregor Blanco/Nate Schierholtz/Justin Christian
Basically what this means is the third outfield spot as I don't really know who it will be who steps up to claim it. I'd put my money on Blanco and if not him than good ol' Nate, but beggars can't be choosers and I won't complain as long as there's production coming from somewhere.
In the first month, it was Nate the Great getting it done with home runs and triples galore as it looked like the progress he made in 2011 was actually real. Then he started slumping hard, really hard, hitting for a pitiful .182/.263/.182 line in May.
Fortunately Giants fans didn't even notice as Gregor Blanco seized the opportunity to pull an Andres Torres and ride the minor league signing to a starting gig, hitting a ridiculous .315/.427/.457 in May. Since about mid-June, however, Blanco has started to slump just as badly as Schierholtz.
Whoever it is, someone needs to take over and provide production from right field. Will it be season favorite Blanco, who has the speed and defense to turn any offense into a valuable commodity? Or fan favorite Schierholtz who just needs to connect with ball in order for his exceptional defense to stay in the lineup? Or even newcomer 32-year-old, Justin Christian, who's currently hitting .313/.389/.375 in only 18 plate appearances?
Honestly who cares? As long as it gets done.
6. Brian Sabean
Although not a player, Sabean might just be the most important Giant there is. As General Manager, he's responsible for deciding which players stay, which players go, and which players arrive. Although that's a gross simplification, Brian Sabean is the head hancho of that branch of management that decides who's actually on the team which is about as big of a role as a single man can have on a team.
Giants fans who are familiar with the work of Sabes know how big of an impact the man can have on the team as he's definitely one of the biggest hit or miss GM's in the sport. For every trash-to-treasure dumpster dive that ends with a surprise hit there's a hair-pulling multi-million dollar mistake.
For every Blanco signing there's a Fontenot release (currently hitting .325 for the Phils), for every original Aubrey Huff signing there's a second Aubrey Huff signing, and for every Pat Burrell and Cody Ross there's a Orlando Cabrera and Jeff Keppinger.
Which side of Sabean shows up could very well determine where the Giants spend their October as the team will be looking him to provide bullpen help, middle infield depth, and a power-hitting right-handed bench player.
5. Brandon Crawford
Ahhhh Giants shortstops. On no other competitive team could an everyday player hit .240/.287/.335 and be considered a success. Apparently on the Giants you can do that and be slightly more than 300,000 votes away from starting in the All-Star game. Fun fact: Crawford had almost 900,000 more votes than the third most voted NL shortstop, Tulowitzki.
Perhaps that's not the greatest barometer for success, but it still gives a good idea towards the expectations of Giants fans regarding their shortstops. Remember Orlando Tejada? Well here's this guy Crawford and he's not THAT bad. Seriously.
Crawford can field pretty well. Not counting the learning curve errors, he's actually really good at fielding. Good enough that we can watch that .240/.287/.335 line come up to bat three or four times a game and not really complain, knowing that it comes with the benefits of the best glove at short from a Giant since Omar Vizquel.
That being said, he has the talent to hit a little bit as evident by his 23.0 percent line-drive rate, which ranks fourth highest on the Giants. Look for some of those liners to start falling for hits and for Crawford to turn his consistent playing time into consistently okay at-bats from the eighth spot. When the lineup rolls over, the difference between a runner on second (or third as Crawford actually hits a ton of doubles) with one out and nobody on with two outs is absolutely huge. And who knows, maybe Belt might even get enough protection to actually start seeing some good pitches.
4. Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong might seem like the odd man out on this list because unlike all the other Giants here, Vogelsong has actually been amazingly consistent in the first half of 2012. Going into the season, even the most generous of projection systems and analysts had Vogelsong pegged for heavy regression, and that was fine. Vogelsong was the forth starter and all the team wanted was a guy to go out every five days and throw six or so innings with an ERA under four.
Instead Vogelsong has gone out and thrown at least seven innings nearly every start with an ERA under 2.5. We don't know how he does it, but Vogey gets it done. Somehow Vogelsong gets it done.
Still we can't take a pitcher with a long history of failure without a grain of salt and in this case the grain manifests itself into concerns raised from the ever increasing gap between Vogelsong's ERA and his peripherals. Even in 2011, Vogelsong kept his ERA nearly an entire run below his FIP (.96), so when that expected regression just turned into an even bigger gap (1.36), Lord knows questions were gonna be raised.
Now the only thing left to see is how much of the gap is a repeatable skill and how much is just waiting to regress once those grounders start finding holes and the plethora of fly balls hit start to go for extra bases. If Vogelsong can somehow continue to hold down the ridiculous ERA while routinely going deep into ballgames, the Giants have yet another ace who can give the team a great chance to win every five days.
3. Santiago Casilla
For a while there, things actually looked pretty good come the ninth inning. Brian Wilson was already out for the season, but Casilla was hanging in there and getting it done and Giants fans didn't ask questions besides whether he might be an All-Star or not.
And then the home runs started coming. And when it rains it pours. And when it pours in the ninth inning, heads are gonna roll. That's the way it goes in the ninth inning; closers might be some of the least valuable players on the team, but they make up playing time with intensity as every minor mistake is the difference between a win and a loss.
For Casilla, this is clearly the case as his mistakes usually end ball games pretty freakin' fast. For a closer this is unacceptable as the threat of a home run cannot be looming so aggressively every time a save situation comes along. How can we have a closer to count on in one run, two run games if there's a good chance that any one of his pitches could end in a run?
Casilla needs to learn to keep the ball down and better control his pitches if he wants to be an effective closer, which the Giants desperately need. For a low-scoring, pitching-dominated team, the Giants depend on a reliable closer as much as any team and for this season that reliable closer has got to be Casilla, whether we like it or not. For as long as there are no better options (*coughs out a lung saying Romo*), whether those low-scoring pit fights end in a celebration or tantrum for Giants fans is up to one man: Santiago Casilla.
2. Brandon Belt
It almost seems as if Belt should share this slide with Bruce Bochy as much of Belt's production doesn't depend on Belt at all, just whether or not he's actually playing. For as long as Belt has been playing at the big league level, manager Bruce Bochy has been there to make sure he doesn't get too comfortable.
From getting benched after the first three days of the season, to platooning with minor leaguer Brett Pill, to changing his stance, to getting benched for Hector Sanchez, Bochy has done everything in his power to make sure Belt doesn't get a chance to shine.
Of course Belt's performance has been about as consistent as his playing time. Still through all the slumps, Belt has managed to stay valuable through consistently great plate discipline leading to many appreciated walks.
He currently boasts the fourth highest wRC+ on the club at 113 and with his talent it should only go up. Belt is still expected to join teammates Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey as the offensive foundations of this franchise. With his discerning eye, and power and contact potential, Belt has all the talent to be the best bat on the team as we saw with his monster June when he was actually given consistent playing time.
If Belt can get back to starting every game at the expense of the silly personal catcher, perhaps he can get back to driving the ball in addition to watching it pass for balls. If Belt can seize the opportunity and finally unleash all of his potential with a starting gig, the Giants could see the rise of their third homegrown hero on offense and quite possibly the best first basemen we've seen since Will Clark.
1. Tim Lincecum
Just like every baseball list beginning with the word "Best" and ending with the word "Ever" inevitably ends with Babe Ruth, this list only had one destination it was headed for from the very start: Tim Lincecum.
This is a list of players who have the biggest range of success to expect, therefore the difference between their successes and failures marks the biggest difference between the teams success and failures. For example, the difference between Madison Bumgarner on a good day and a bad day is maybe an inning and a run or two. For Timmy, it's the clear cut difference between a win and a loss.
Whether Timmy gets it together or not is far and away the biggest question mark facing the Giants season. If the Timmy we all know and love finds his way back, than the Giants easily have the best rotation in the game and one of the best teams in the NL. If not, then the Giants will be lucky to be in the race come September.