After missing three games with a bad foot, Panda Sandoval returned to the Giants lineup Tuesday. He's batting .283 with eight homers and 37 RBI thru June 6 and according to the Sporting News, is leading NL third basemen in All-Star votes.
In the smoldering wake of the San Francisco Giants' disastrous two-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays May 14-15, I tried to remain optimistic, placing the blame for the Giants' follies catching and throwing the baseball to playing on turf for the first time since June 2010. (They are slated to do so again August 2-4 in Tampa Bay...shudder.)
They may not be a threat to rewrite the record books, but the '13 Giants are thankfully not the defensive butchers that we saw up north.
Though San Francisco's fielding has tightened up since then, concerns remain. Pablo Sandoval made errant throws in both games against the Jays this week. One was stabbed by a diving Marco Scutaro for a spectacular, if possibly erroneously ruled, 5-4 double play—perhaps Alfonso Marquez attempting to atone for his ghastly May 25 performance— and the other pulled first baseman Brandon Belt off the bag (he recovered in time for the putout).
The Panda can pick it at the hot corner, but he has yet to earn my confidence firing across the diamond.
Aside from timidness calling off infielders on pop-flies, the outfield is solid: Gregor Blanco made two sensational diving catches this week; Andres Torres has done well manning left field and Hunter Pence remains unafraid to challenge any wall.
Offensively, Pence seems to have reined himself back in. For a while in late May, Pence didn't see a single fastball too high. Letters? SWING. Shoulders? Have at it! (He actually tagged one such toss for a foul home run to right field at AT&T Park May 21—a real rarity.)
But the free-agent-to-be is a warrior. He's started every game, hustles every time (see below) and while the average player gifts spectators with measly foul balls, twice a month Pence inadvertently helicopters a bat into the seats! Start the "Cents For Pence" petition now.
Back to the defense...
Besides Sandoval's arm at third, the other weak link is Scutaro at second base, as covered in my June 3 S.O.T.G. It's not just the errors—he's had rotten luck when diving/sliding to his left and deflecting balls into extra bases (although the double play he started against Oakland's Tom Milone May 29 was nothing short of spectacular).
With the exception of Lincecum, the Giants' starters generally are in position to field after completing their motions, with Madison Bumgarner the prime embodiment. Lincecum, however, is the most acrobatic starter; he's made several impressive plays leaving his feet over the years and takes charge on pop-ups near the mound, although he's as erratic throwing to first as he is to the plate.
San Francisco played errorless, and at times spectacular, defense in the June 4-5 series against the Jays. It was actually the Toronto defense that contributed directly to a Giants win. (Worth noting: As with the short series in Canada, this two-gamer represented a "homestand"; mercifully, only the Braves, Angels, Twins and Cubs faced similar scheduling cruelty this year, per baseballreference.com)
In the second inning of Tuesday's game, Pence reached base when third sacker (and Jeff Leonard wannabe) Edwin Encarnacion's throw pulled first baseman Adam Lind off the bag. If Pence isn't running out his routine grounder at full speed, the mistake is rendered moot.
ALWAYS HUSTLE, KIDS—it can win you a game as it did here.
Next, Belt grounded into what should have been a 4-6-3 double play, but second baseman Emilio Bonafacio—who in his career has started extensively at five different positions, never calling one his own—fumbled it. He still retired Belt, but Pence remained on second base and scored when Andres Torres obliterated a Josh Johnson fastball over the center field fence. It put San Fran up 2-1, and it made it stand.
Even though R.A. Dickey handled the Giants the next night with help from the defense, eye, baserunning and hitting of ancient Henry Blanco (whom Toronto rewarded by designating him for assignment the very next day), I predict a good stretch of ball ahead for the Orange and Black—a 5-4 road trip at worst. As always, thanks for reading and Let's Go, Giants!