When I first began to construct my S.O.T.G. series over a week ago, one major factor I planned to credit for the Giants' solid (if unspectacular) start was consistency in the lineup. Of the 48 lineup cards that Bruce Bochy for games against other NL teams prior to May 26, the majority read:
Angel Pagan, CF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Panda Sandoval, 3B
Buster Posey, C
Hunter Pence, RF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Gregor Blanco (vs. RHP)/Andres Torres (vs. LHP), LF
Brandon Crawford, SS
Bochy didn't deviate from this lineup often, although Belt was briefly dropped to eighth while he worked through a slump. When Posey earned a rest, everyone from fifth down moved up a spot. The regulars rarely took days off. There was next-to-no experimenting or juggling. The results spoke for themselves.
Since that first S.O.T.G. publication, however, the injury bug has crept up and bitten the Giants—not enough to require an E.R. trip, but enough to certainly sting.
First, starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong had his hand smashed by an errant pitch. Next, Santiago Casilla's knee needed surgery. Then Pagan's hammy began acting up. Most recently, Sandoval has been battling a foot strain. All Giants fans held their collective breath when Sergio Romo hit the deck during the final out of the Cardinals' series finale—after all, both Jon Sanchez and Barry Zito suffered injuries fielding their positions in recent years.
Granted, none of these men is done for the season—we're not talking 2011 here, fortunately. But this recent inflation of banged-up Giants should serve as a reminder of just how much luck and good fortune have shined upon San Francisco. It's no coincidence that in their title years of 2010 and 2012, the G-Men endured next-to-no serious injuries, while the 2011 squad fell far short.
Think about how stricken their crossbay rival Athletics have been in recent years (even last year, when it won the AL West, Oakland lost Yoenis Cespedes for a month, didn't have Brett Anderson until the season's tail end and had to push to the playoffs without Dallas Braden, Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Sizemore).
At this point I'd like to continue a brief analysis of the 2013 team started last week:
Torres' re-acquisition didn't turn many heads in the sports community—as electric as the journeyman outfielder had been during San Francisco's 2010 title run, he'd been equally frigid for much of 2011 and was totally at the mercy of a right-hander's "back foot" slider. He then struggled mightily as a Met in 2012. Torres' stock had fallen far.
Still, the Giants brought Torres back, this time as a platoon left fielder rather than the everyday center fielder (though he's been thrust into the latter role due to injury.) Recently he's been among the few hot Giants, with 15 hits in his past 40 at-bats (including a 10-for-18 stretch.)
The closer has seen action in only 26 of 57 games this year, which on one hand is a good thing. But only toeing the rubber twice in a week cost Romo command of his trademark slider yesterday against St. Louis.
His eighth-inning K of Tony Cruz on June 2 is arguably the biggest out he's gotten all season, and while it didn't carry the palpable tension of his showdown with Jay Bruce during the 2012 NLDS that almost landed me in the ICU, it may have saved the Giants from a crushing sweep at the Cardinals' hands—plus six losses in seven games.
Romo got Cruz and three additional outs without knowing where his usually reliable signature pitch was headed; I can't recall the last time I saw him come at right-handed batters with so many fastballs.
The Starting Staff
It was supposed to be the team's strength, but currently it's a mess. I haven't officially researched, but the G-Men have to lead the league in starts of six-plus innings and five-plus earned runs allowed. In Saturday's day game, Matt Cain coughed up nine runs in the third inning—and was perfect in innings 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. In the midst of his worst season to date, Cain and the coaching staff are examining the possibility he's tipping his pitches; results to come.
Tim Lincecum has never had great command, and as identified on the May 29 CSN Bay Area telecast, his average fastball velocity has dipped by almost five M.P.H. from his Cy Young years. What we're seeing is a pitcher who can no longer blow hitters away or (intentionally and consistently) slice-and-dice them up Vogelsong-style.
"The Freak" has but three quality starts in 11 tries, his WHIP is nearing 1.5 and while two years ago he seemed destined on a path to the Hall of Fame, now there are whispers he may be best suited for the bullpen. Lincecum still has a devastating fastball/changeup combo, but until he learns to command his 90 MPH heater—missing in the strike zone is a luxury he no longer has—his starts will begin losing streaks rather than halt them.
Thank you for reading, and go Giants!