In the first three series' of the 2009 season, the San Francisco Giants looked supremely overmatched. Their vaunted pitching staff was struggling, the new additions to the offense weren’t clicking, and nothing was going according to the most optimistic of plans.
In the opening sets against the Brewers and Dodgers, the three Cy Young winners on the staff, Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, and Barry Zito, combined for a grand total of 26 innings and a whopping 9.69 ERA.
Enter the Arizona Diamondbacks, and lefty Jonathan Sanchez. Before this series, the microscope was definitely on the pitching staff to see if they could measure up to their preseason expectations.
Sanchez opened the series with a very strong outing of 6.2 shutout innings, with four strikeouts. He only allowed two hits and was efficient with his pitches, using timely hitting from Bengie Molina to pick up his first win of the season.
Lincecum came out the next day and dispelled any doubt in last year’s award-winning campaign, throwing eight innings of his own of shutout ball and tying his career high with 13 strikeouts. More importantly, after walking six in his first two outings, Timmy issued zero free passes. The Giants lost the Saturday game, but fans breathed a collective sigh of relief to see "The Freak" back to his old freaky self.
Five-time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson took the hill on Sunday, the first start of his career against his former team, and flat-out dominated. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and his seven innings of scoreless pitching ran the Giants starters’ streak to 21.2.
Johnson struck out seven on his way to win No. 296, his fastball and slider were back in top form, and some clutch RBI by Travis Ishikawa and Rich Aurilia gave San Francisco the 2-0 victory.
Matt Cain turned in his third straight quality start against the Padres on Tuesday, giving up only two runs in seven innings. After scoring four runs in three games against Arizona, the Giants rode a five-RBI night by Edgar Renteria, punctuated by a grand slam, to an 8-3 win.
The last pitcher that anyone expected to do well, Barry Zito, turned in one of his best outings as a Giant today, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out five. Zito lowered his ERA from 10.00 at the beginning of the day, to 5.63 by the end of his outing.
Today’s game stayed scoreless until the bottom of the 10th, when Bengie Molina came up off the bench and hit a ground-rule double, knocking in Andres Torres for the walk-off win.
Zito was 0-8 in April the past two years, but today’s outing looked more like his strong second-half form. With Pablo Sandoval behind the plate, Barry has had some of the best starts of his Giants career. Last year, over four starts paired with Sandoval, Zito went 4-0, pitching eight innings twice, striking out 23, and only allowing seven runs.
The one start with Molina during that stretch, he only lasted 3.1 innings and gave up seven earned runs. The promotion of Steve Holm will limit Sandoval’s time at catcher, but the Giants should think about giving "Little Money" Zito exclusivity. No offense intended to Bengie Molina, but the numbers don’t lie.
The Giants will send Lincecum out to the hill again on Friday. If this past week has been any indicator, the San Francisco staff is very much back on track. And if the rotation is in the zone, then this team will succeed.
During the past five game homestand, the Giants scored a total of 13 runs, eight coming in Tuesday’s game. But, with a pitching staff that combined to give up only five runs and pitch three shutouts, San Francisco went 4-1.
If the Giants can score three runs a game, and their pitching holds up as it has been, this team will win a lot more games than people think. Don’t expect a season of shutouts, but the rotation is falling into a rhythm. That’s when this team could be dangerous.
In a side note, Andres Torres is a gamer. He's not playing much, but he lays it all on the line when he gets the chance. His diving catch in center and his cagey baserunning were both clutch.
I also like how Jeremy Affeldt gets pumped. The Giants have had their share of animated relievers. Jack Taschner, Scott Eyre, and Robb Nen come to mind. It helps make middle relief a lot more interesting.