San Francisco Giants' 5 Biggest Surprises so Far This Season
The San Francisco Giants are off to a very solid 13-7 start. In these first 20 games, we have seen several noteworthy performances, some good and others lackluster.
2012 MVP Buster Posey hit his first home run of the season on Sunday against the Padres and has generally been struggling at the plate. Posey had two hits on Monday night, including a game-tying home run off David Hernandez.
Manager Bruce Bochy played him sparingly in spring training, which may have contributed to his sluggish start in April.
Posey has a track record of success and has been swinging the bat better of late, so expect him to come around very quickly. Although Posey's slow start has been a bit of a surprise, he should be just fine.
There are five other Giants whose first months are even more surprising, and we will see if the early trend is something that will continue or if it's an aberration. Let's take a closer look at these five players.
No. 5: Chad Gaudin
When the Giants signed Chad Gaudin to a minor league contract this winter, hardly anyone even noticed. With only one real bullpen job open and several other candidates, the odds were heavily stacked against Gaudin making the roster.
Gaudin threw the ball well in spring training but was hardly what you would call "lights out." He had 17.2 innings of work, allowing 20 hits and three walks to go along with 15 strikeouts. Gaudin compiled a spring ERA of 2.55 and 1.30 WHIP. Opposing batters hit .286 against him.
These numbers were decent but would not have merited a big league job had the other Giants relief options faltered.
Relievers Dan Runzler, Yusmeiro Petit, Jean Machi, Shane Loux, Steve Edlefsen, Heath Hembree, Dan Otero and Ramon Ramirez all ranked even or ahead of Gaudin when spring training began. However, none of these pitchers distinguished themselves, and the job fell to Gaudin.
Gaudin has been a positive revelation for the Giants in the regular season. He has appeared in six games and thrown 12.1 innings, allowing only five hits. Gaudin's ERA is a microscopic 0.73, with a WHIP of 0.486. Gaudin has shown outstanding control, walking only one batter while striking out 12.
The emergence of Gaudin as a reliable resource has softened the blow of Jeremy Affeldt's injury. Gaudin has been so effective that Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have confidence using him in any situation.
No. 4: Barry Zito
Barry Zito has been incredibly effective at home in spacious AT&T Park. He has started three games in San Francisco, throwing seven innings in each start.
Over Zito's 21 innings at home, he has yet to allow a run and has a record of 3-0. He has turned the jeers into cheers at AT&T Park.
In Zito's lone road game, he got cuffed around very hard in Milwaukee's bandbox of a stadium. The Brewers hammered Zito for eight hits and nine earned runs in only 2.2 innings of work. Zito had some tough luck in this game, as several hits just fell in or found openings.
The Giants and their fans will certainly take three out of four dominating performances. Now the Giants just need to find a way to incorporate all of Zito's starts at AT&T Park.
Interestingly, Zito's next start will be on the road in San Diego, so we will quickly see if there's anything to this home-road variance.
No. 3: Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt had a scorching-hot spring and was stinging the ball all over the field. Belt's spring numbers were astonishing. He hit .410, with eight home runs and 19 RBI. His OBP was .432 and OPS 1.265. Everyone was optimistic that Belt would have a big year.
However, once the regular season started, Belt lost his stroke and his confidence. He is hitting only .197, with no home runs and only six RBI. He has also struck out 16 times in only 61 at-bats, more than one in every four at-bats.
Giants' manager Bruce Bochy has spoken to Belt about trying too hard and getting down on himself. He is also giving Belt a couple of days off to clear his head, as utility infielder Joaquin Arias has been giving Belt some needed time off.
Belt will be given more chances, but if he cannot turn things around quickly with better plate appearances, Arias will continue to see playing time. This could easily develop into a platoon situation, with Arias playing against left-handed pitching.
Bochy has been working with Belt in batting practice, and the extra focus may be paying off. Belt got the game-winning hit in a pinch-hitting appearance, as the Giants won 5-4 against Arizona on Monday. The giants are hoping that this big hit gets Belt back on track. Time will tell.
No. 2: Matt Cain
Matt Cain has the nickname of "The Horse" because of his consistency, durability and reliability. It has been puzzling, therefore, why Cain has started off so poorly this year.
In four starts, Cain is 0-2, with an ERA of 7.15 and 1.324 WHIP. In 22.2 innings of work, Cain has allowed 25 hits, including five home runs.
Consistent location has always been one of Cain's biggest assets, and his command of the strike zone has been off this year. This is a prime reason for the large number of home runs allowed already this year.
Cain signed a large contract extension prior to the season and could also be trying too hard. This may even be a subconscious issue without him even focusing on it.
The bottom line is that Cain is a consummate professional and should get back on track very soon. Unless this ineffectiveness lingers over a few more starts, this is likely an aberration.
No. 1: Brandon Crawford
The most pleasant surprise for the Giants has to be the hitting of Brandon Crawford. He is currently batting .303, with three home runs and seven RBI.
Crawford has played in every game this season and looks to be settling in very nicely as the Giants' everyday shortstop. In 2012, Crawford hit only .248 with four home runs and 45 RBI. He is well on his way to eclipsing those numbers.
Crawford has also played stellar defense. He has a legitimate chance to win a Gold Glove, if not this year, then very soon.
The Giants Are the Team to Beat in the NL West
The good news for the San Francisco Giants is that even with a few players struggling early in the 2013 season, they are still 13-7.
When players like Cain, Posey, Belt, Scutaro and Vogelsong begin performing like they're capable, the Giants will be even better. They are the team to beat in the NL West.
Once the Giants get into the postseason, they have the pitching, experience and team chemistry to go all the way. They proved as much in 2010 and 2012 and are out to do it again this year.