The San Francisco Giants have a 16-12 record and are one game back in the West.
So far, the San Francisco Giants’ 2013 season has been a story of surprises.
The rotation—assumed to be the Giants' biggest strength—has underperformed. Four of five starters have been rocked for big innings, including ace Matt Cain.
MVP and all-star Buster Posey has yet to find his stroke, hitting .267 with only three home runs after finishing 2012 with a .336 batting average. After tearing it up in spring training, Brandon Belt has also struggled to come up with big hits, though he has continued to improve since the beginning of the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all has been shortstop Brandon Crawford, who hit over .300 for a majority of the season and leads the Giants with five home runs and two triples.
The ups and downs that have been the hallmark of the 2013 season will only continue in May as the Giants pursue the red-hot Rockies in the West.
Here are 10 bold predictions for how the race will unfold.
Catcher Buster Posey is hitting .351 at AT&T park.
It’s been a slow start for the catcher coming off his MVP season in 2012. Through 27 games he has hit .267/.369/.465 with only three home runs.
Even more troubling is that Posey—known for his good at-bats and patience at the plate—has struck out 14 times and walked only 13.
However, despite his stats, Posey has improved all season. Since finishing the first two series with a batting average that hovered around .200, the catcher has made adjustments in the month of April and hit over .280 for four games at the end of the month.
Encouragingly, Posey hits .351 with two of his home runs at AT&T, which is traditionally a difficult park for hitters. The Giants are playing more than two-thirds of their games at home this month, which is a promising sign for Posey’s average.
Brandon Belt is looking to find consistency at the plate.
In the last few weeks, Brandon Belt has emerged as the Giants’ most clutch performer. With walk-off singles and go-ahead home runs, the first baseman’s performance almost makes up for his abysmal start.
The Giants have long been waiting for Belt to find his power. As a rookie, he showed promise with nine home runs in 187 at-bats, but he only hit seven in 2012 despite twice as much playing time.
This season, Belt already has three, all of which have come in the last eight games. Of course, Belt cannot keep up this pace, but his renewed confidence at the plate should be enough to double his total from April.
Jean Machi went three scoreless innings against the Padres in April.
The right-hander joined the Giants from Triple-A Fresno when Jeremy Affeldt went on the disabled list with a strained oblique in mid-April. Many assumed that Jean Machi would be sent back down to make room for Affeldt, but the pitcher has made quite a case to keep his spot.
Machi boasts a 1-0 record with no earned runs in eight innings pitched. So far he has made his biggest impression against San Diego on April 27. The Giants lost in 12 innings, but Machi carried the bullpen with three scoreless innings before Sergio Romo blew the save.
Manager Bruce Bochy has been vocal about his appreciation for Machi’s work, stating that Machi has shown that he can pitch at the major league level after 13 seasons in the minors.
With Affeldt’s return, it is more likely that Bochy will choose to demote back-up catcher Hector Sanchez to make room for both relievers on the 25-man roster.
Brandon Crawford has three errors in the 2013 season.
Though the shortstop already has three errors this season, it's worth noting that Crawford's range allows him to attempt plays on balls other shortstops wouldn't even get to.
Crawford finished 2012 with 18 errors, but his season total was not indicative of his overall performance. Ten of his errors came before the end of May, and his performance drastically improved with the addition of veteran second baseman Marco Scutaro.
With Scutaro bringing stability to the middle infield, Crawford’s record so far is uncharacteristic. Look for him to display his defensive prowess with a perfect month of May.
Andres Torres has failed to bring a spark to the bottom of the lineup.
Since acquiring Andres Torres from the Mets, the Giants have looked to platoon him with Gregor Blanco in left field.
However, Torres has failed to impress in the bottom of the lineup. The left fielder is hitting .235/.250/.314 and is hitless in his last five games. With Pagan excelling in the leadoff spot, the Giants need Torres to provide a spark lower in the order, but he has yet to do so.
Blanco is hitting .282 and sports an on-base percentage more than 100 points higher than Torres’. If these trends continue, Blanco will become the regular left-fielder, while Torres will be relegated to the bench.
Nick Noonan's numbers will not hold up with a larger sample size.
Nick Noonan is the Giants’ second hottest hitter—behind Pablo Sandoval—with a .310 average for the season. However, with only 29 at-bats under hits belt, the rookie second baseman is a prime candidate to regress to the mean.
Noonan started the season hot, hitting above .500 in mid-April and excelling as a pinch hitter. Although he has shown himself to be a talented hitter, Noonan will not be able to keep up his numbers as the season wears on.
Look for opposing pitchers to make adjustments that the rookie will be unable to keep up with.
Tim Lincecum has been rocked for big innings, but his control has been improving.
Despite three performances in which he gave up four earned runs or more, the two-time Cy Young award winner is poised to break out.
Although he is giving up untimely hits, his control is still there. A major concern with Lincecum in 2012 was his propensity to give up walks. This season, he has given up more than four walks only once. In a telling performance, Lincecum pitched 6.2 shutout innings against the Padres and gave up only two walks with eight strikeouts.
Lincecum may not be able to power past opposing players as he used to so expect his strikeout totals to remain lower than in the past. But he still has the ability to control his stuff, and he is on the brink of returning to form.
Hunter Pence has yet to replicate his Philadelphia home run performance in San Francisco.
In 2012, Pence was unable to hit for power with the Giants in the way that he had done for the Phillies.
Pence had 17 home runs in 101 games in Philadelphia but hit only seven in 59 games with the Giants. Nevertheless he remained in the lineup through the playoffs as a consistent asset at the plate and in right field.
So far this season, it looks as though Pence is ready to return to form and have a 25-plus home run season for the Giants. So far, the right fielder has gone yard five times—sharing the team’s highest total with Crawford—and has knocked in 15.
It certainly seems that Pence has gotten used to hitting in San Francisco and is hitting .268/.308/.464 in the five hole.
Matt Cain's 6.49 ERA is the worst of the Giants' rotation.
Matt Cain’s performance has been the Giants’ worst surprise this season, and it’s time for him to make an adjustment.
The right-hander’s 6.49 ERA is the worst of the starting rotation, and Cain has given up an uncharacteristic number of extra base hits. Cain’s WHIP remains at a surprisingly low 1.30, better than every starter except Madison Bumgarner.
Opposing hitters have been able to get around on Cain’s fastball in a way that he isn’t used to. They are slugging. 528 against it versus .429 last season. With his inflated ERA and 0-2 record, Cain will increasingly rely on his off-speed pitches until he gets it under control.
The Giants trail the Rockies by one game.
The Giants are only one game behind the first-place Rockies in the West and so far have been carried almost exclusively on their offense.
For a team that gave its starters limited run support in 2012, the Giants have come out strong in the early season. The team boasts a collective .264 batting average and is consistently scoring more than four runs per game.
As the starting pitching settles down, and the Giants continue to hit, they will pull ahead of the Rockies and take the lead in the West.