If there isn't an old saying about looking good in spring training and having a terrible regular season, there should be.
After an abysmal 2008 season, the Giants had a mildly surprising spring session. The long ball carried, and double digit run totals were piled on. This was a nice change after watching the Giants offensive struggles last season.
But hey, we saw that coming right? The Giants organization made it clear at the onset of the 2008 season that it was time to see what they had in their young players. Most of us—especially the once esteemed season ticket holders—were not thrilled about that. But we eventually conceded that it was time see what the crops would yield from down on the farm.
By the end of the season, it seemed apparent where the holes were. The lack of run production pointed to a huge need for a big bat or two and an inconsistent bullpen reared its ugly head more often than not.
The offseason moves by the Giants showed that, while they addressed the bullpen, they had no interest in spending the money to bring in a slugger. One by one free agents with a worthy bat were signed away by other teams.
Even when Scott Boras dangled Manny Ramirez like a carrot in front of a mule, is didn't spur the Giants into signing a big-name player to fill an obvious need. Instead, the Giants followed an old script, signing "seasoned" (more like stewed) veterans in Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria.
And yet when the Cactus League sprang into spring action, the G's seemed to shake off their offensive impudence. Pablo Sandoval consistently drove the ball and became an obvious bright spot, and hope for the future.
Travis Ishikawa even had a multi-HR game despite being regarded only for his defense. A blistering competition between Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss at second base gave fans an inkling of hope that perhaps this San Francisco offense will not be as bad as the rest of the league predicts it to be.
Pitching and defense wins championships. This is a philosophy that you absolutely must emulate if your lineup looks like a minor league all-star team. Coming out of spring training, the 2009 Giants promised to boast a solid rotation.
With a rotation of 3 Cy Young winners, a country hard-baller like Matt Cain and the up-and-coming Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants hoped to stifle opposing hitters at a good rate.
Defense is another story entirely. With the departure of perennial gold glover Omar Vizquel, San Francisco signed Renteria and Travis Ishikawa is often described as a good defensive first baseman. Maybe the best the G's have seen since J.T. Snow.
The real problem, though, may come from the converted players. Sandoval has the frame and disposition of a catcher, but with Molina filling that role, it was necessary to fit Sandoval into the everyday lineup somehow. Penciling in an unproven third baseman at the hot corner can be like rolling the dice. Burriss is another conversion project. He had a decidedly impressive spring at the plate, but looked less than sure at the bag.
"New Roller to the line, place your bets now..."
Enter Lincecum. Cue the fanfare of opening day. God Bless America and baseball. Get in the Chevys and drive to the levees. The Apple pie is cooling on the window sill.
Now even though that was the mood in this writer's mind, the game played out in a much stranger, yet equally satisfying, way. San Francisco's heralded ace was wildly inconsistent, but the bats were in fact giant. After three homers and a double digit opening day win even I, the jaded writer, started to believe in the Cactus League whispers...The Giants can win the pennant!! Ok maybe not so much.
Exit stage left, and onto the road trip. Ouch.
Presently, we are nine games into the young 2009 season and the Giants are an unimpressive, last place mongering 2-7. San Francisco has already managed a six game losing streak on the road—having not won a game in the grey road uni's. The bats have come back down to earth, maybe even lower than that in most cases.
The whispers were wrong and the league is looking to be right yet again about the line up Sabean and company have rolled out there.
What is more surprising than some of us duping ourselves into believing Spring Training would carry over is the fact that our pitching has barely been a notch above rotten. What was considered possibly one of the best five-man rotations in the majors is putting up an ERA of 6.21.
Lincecum has yet to pitch anything like his unbelievably wicked self as of yet. The Big Unit is throwing way too many pitches, many of them not so good. And our beloved $126 million dollar man is Twittering about dream states and dead seahorses.
The defense does not have much to write home to Mom about yet either. The middle infield miscues are tallying up between an often forgetful Renteria, and an unsteady Burriss. Sandoval is playing like the converted catcher he is. He's having trouble fielding cleanly on the move, especially with the whole glove, ball, hand transition thingy.
So here we all are muttering expletives like Yosemite Sam on cable TV. The bats are what were predicted, and we see now that the things we saw in the spring were just a mirage. The defense is looking tired, a little like a squad in September.
Even worse, the dominant pitching we so desperately need and rely on is caving daily. Just say it ain't so. Without a fearsome—or even repectable—offense, you absolutely have to be firing on the other two cylinders to compete in the majors.
Ladies and Gentleman, the apple pie is not tasting so good right now and I, for one, can't wait to get the heck out of April.