With the San Francisco Giants’ season almost at its halfway point, much will need to change if the club hopes to make the playoffs and defend their championship crown.
While it’s true that injuries have played a big role in the team’s struggles, the return of Pablo Sandoval and the surprising performance of Gregor Blanco should—in theory—help the club stay afloat until some new talent is brought in at the trade deadline.
But the bullpen—staffed with mostly Triple-A arms—has quickly become a blowup waiting to happen. Unfortunately for the Giants, that blowup has happened more often than not.
So what needs to change for the Giants in they want to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons (both after a World Series victory, nonetheless)?
First, the bullpen needs to improve. Until general manager Brian Sabean can work his magic and acquire a relief arm or two, the current members of the staff will simply need to pitch better.
Second, the starting pitchers will need to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis.
Third, the offense will need to avoid going into major slumps for extended periods.
The formula is simple. But can the Giants put it all together and play good baseball in the second half?
Here’s a player-by-player prediction of what I think will happen.
* All statistics courtesy of MLB.com
Through sixteen games started, Cain’s numbers look nothing like those of a staff ace. He is 5-4 with a 4.54 ERA. Worse, he has given up 16 home runs—one per start.
But Cain has looked a lot better recently, going 1-1 with a 2.06 ERA in his last four starts. Even more impressive, the right-hander has struck out 25 batters while walking only five in that same span.
Prediction: Cain will continue to rebound and look more and more like the pitcher who went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 2012. He will finish the season with a 12-8 record and a 3.88 ERA.
After an outstanding April, Bumgarner hit a few bumps in the road in May and early June. But the big lefty seems to be back on track, as he has allowed only four earned runs over his past 21 innings. He has struck out 23 batters in that span. On the season, he is 7-5 with a 3.20 ERA, which is best among all Giants starters.
Prediction: Bumgarner—who is still just 23 years old—will continue to pitch well. He will have the occasional bad start, but he will finish 16-9 with a 3.15 ERA.
Like in 2012, the former ace has been an enigma thus far in 2013. You never know which Lincecum will show up on a given night—the one who held the mighty Toronto Blue Jays to one run on three hits over seven innings, or the one who allowed five earned runs, nine hits and three walks against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Overall, Lincecum’s numbers are better than they were in 2012, although that doesn’t mean they are pretty. Through 16 starts, the diminutive righty is 4-8 with a 4.64 ERA.
Prediction: Lincecum will continue to frustrate and be shopped at the trade deadline. Due to his large contract and lack of consistency, no team will be willing to take on the right-hander. If the Giants somehow make the playoffs, Linecum will find himself back in the bullpen. Final numbers: 8-13 with a 4.89 ERA.
Through 15 starts, Zito has been the same unpredictable pitcher that Giants fans have come to both love and hate over the past six-plus seasons. He is 4-5 with a very Zito-like 4.40 ERA. The scary part is that opposing hitters are batting .299 against the crafty lefty. Worse, he’s averaging less than six innings per start, which has surely been a factor in the bullpen’s over usage.
Prediction: Zito won’t find any magic trick that will help him revert back to his 2003 form. He will pitch well in stretches—especially at home—while being blasted every once in a while on the road. Final numbers: 8-11 with a 4.75 ERA.
After getting hit hard by the Oakland Athletics in his major league debut, the young lefty looked a lot more comfortable against the rival Dodgers on Tuesday night. Still, the results weren’t any better, as he allowed five runs and eight hits in just 5.1 innings.
While he looked more comfortable in his second go-around, he still couldn’t help himself from serving up batting practice fastballs to right-handed hitters. With a 10.57 ERA and a .343 batting average against, Kickham does not look like a long-term solution.
Prediction: Kickham will make a few more starts by seasons-end, but he won’t be successful enough to fend off fellow lefty Eric Surkamp from surpassing him on the team’s depth chart. Kickham will be a non-factor in the second half.
Gaudin was filling in rather nicely for the injured Ryan Vogelsong before taking a line drive off the pitching elbow that resulted in a trip to the disabled list. In four starts, the veteran righty is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA.
Assuming he is activated after the minimum fifteen days on the D.L., Gaudin will slide back into the rotation, sending Kickham back to the minors.
Prediction: Gaudin will continue to pitch well in the rotation, but he will tire and start to fade right before Vogelsong returns. When that happens, he will be put back in the bullpen where he is desperately needed. He will thrive in a long relief role.
Vogelsong has been out since May 20 with a broken pinkie finger. Before the injury occurred, the well-traveled righty struggled mightily, posting a 2-4 record with a 7.19 ERA. But he showed positive signs on the night of the fateful incident, tossing five shutout innings against the Washington Nationals.
Prediction: Vogelsong will return in late July and bolster the Giants starting rotation. When the Giants acquire another starter at the deadline, his effectiveness will cause the Giants to move Tim Lincecum to the bullpen for the playoff push. Final numbers: 5-7 with a 4.90 ERA.
The fiery closer has been one of the few constants in an otherwise shaky bullpen. In 33 appearances, Romo is 3-3 with a 2.40 ERA. He has 18 saves in 21 chances and has held opponents to a .217 batting average.
Prediction: Romo will continue to get the job done. He will blow a few saves here and there when his deadly slider isn’t working, but his second half will end up being even better than his first. Final numbers: 6-5, 38 saves, 2.25 ERA.
Like Romo, Lopez has been steady and effective thus far. Used strictly as a lefty specialist, the submariner boasts a 1.47 ERA and has struck out 22 batters in 18.1 innings.
Prediction: Lopez will keep on doing what he does best, which is getting left-handed batters out in key situations. He will finish with a 1.80 ERA and help the Giants win crucial ballgames come August and September.
Affeldt has been one of the most frustrating Giants so far this season. Either he has his great stuff and he’s untouchable, or he has no clue where the ball is going and he walks batters before serving up devastating late-inning long balls.
In 30 appearances, the big lefty is 1-3 with a 3.04 ERA. He’s struck out only 17 batters while walking 11 in 26.2 innings. Those numbers will have to improve if the Giants want to play baseball deep into September.
Prediction: Affeldt will find a groove and dominate in July and August. He will have the inevitable dud every once in a while, but will finish the season with a nice 2.80 ERA and strike out twice as many batters in the second half.
A member of the Triple-A corps, Rosario has been decent with the parent club. In 14 innings pitched, the righty has a 2.57 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a 2.35 batting average.
The numbers look good on the surface, but his 1.36 WHIP suggests that he is bound to regress as he pitches more.
Prediction: The league will figure out Rosario and he will become a mop-up man when Santiago Casilla returns. Final numbers: 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA.
After being overused by manager Bruce Bochy in April, Kontos has struggled to find consistency with his slider, which he far too often leaves up in the zone to be clobbered by opposing batters. In 31 innings pitched, the righty is 2-1 with an ugly 5.52 ERA and a horrifying 1.48 WHIP.
Yet Bochy continues to throw him into the fire, making a sudden turnaround seem rather unlikely.
Prediction: Kontos will take a few more trips to Fresno before the end of the season. Like Rosario, he will serve mostly as a mop-up man while getting the occasional seventh-inning appearance when Casilla needs a rest. Final numbers: 4-4 with a 4.75 ERA.
After a surprisingly good 2012 season, Mijares has been shaky this year. His peripherals look decent, as he is 0-1 with a 2.60 ERA. But don’t let those numbers fool you; the lefty has allowed opposing hitters a .293 batting average, and his 1.52 WHIP is highest among all Giants relievers.
His ERA is nice and tidy only because most of the runs he allows get charged to the ERA of the pitcher he is relieving.
Prediction: Mijares will be unreliable through the summer, causing the Giants to either trade or release him.
After releasing the ineffective Ramon Ramirez, the Giants called up Dunning out of pure desperation. In seven appearances, the lanky righty has been decent, posting a 2.70 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .175 batting average. Yet he’s only struck out three batters, showing a lack of the swing-through stuff that is so important as a reliever.
Prediction: Dunning will pitch well in spurts but will ultimately prove unreliable. He will battle with Kontos for a roster spot when Casilla returns. Final numbers: 2-3 with a 3.45 ERA.
Posey, the club’s best overall hitter, has picked up where he left in 2012. Through 264 at-bats, the reigning National League MVP is hitting .314 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI. As long as he continues to rake, the Giants’ playoff hopes will stay alive.
Prediction: Posey will spend enough time at first base in the second half to keep his legs fresh, and he will again be in MVP talks. While he won’t win the award again, he will end up with impressive overall numbers: .318 BA, 23 HR, 103 RBI.
The Giants recalled the switch hitter because of his offensive potential, although his defense lately has left much to be desired. In order to stay on the roster, he will have to prove his worth as a hitter. In 36 at-bats, however, Sanchez is hitting only .222 with zero home runs and three RBI.
That simply will not do.
Projection: Sanchez will not hit enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings, causing the Giants to ship the catcher back to Triple-A for some polish. He will be back with the club eventually, although his role will be minor. Final numbers: .260 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBI.
Besides hitting a dramatic walk-off home run against the rival Dodgers, Quiroz has been mostly an afterthought this season. In 36 at-bats, the journeyman is hitting only .167 with a .239 on-base percentage.
Prediction: The Giants will find a better backup catcher and designate Quiroz for assignment. He will pass through waivers, return to Fresno and rejoin the big league club in September.
Belt is one of the most frustrating Giants hitters in recent history. Some days he flashes the massive potential that caused many to believe that the big lefty would eventually be a star in the league. Other times he looks completely lost at the plate, causing one to wonder if he will go on to become just another bust. In 243 at-bats this season, Belt is hitting .263 with eight home runs and 34 RBI.
Prediction: Belt will find his stroke in the second half and go on an extended hot streak. He will continue to strike out and look overmatched at times, but he will have nice overall statistics by the end of the season. Final numbers: .278 BA, 17 HR, 77 RBI.
Mallet finger and all, Scutaro has been all that the Giants could have hoped for when they re-signed him to a three-year deal before the start of the season. Through 67 games, the righty is hitting a lofty .323 while posting an equally impressive .378 OBP.
Prediction: Scutaro will keep on hitting while setting the table for the meat of the order. He will require a day off here and there during the dog days of summer, but will once again prove to be a valuable piece of the Giants’ playoff push. Final numbers: .319 BA, 4 HR, 42 RBI, .367 OBP.
After a torrid April that saw the slick-fielding lefty launch five home runs, Crawford has slowed down a bit at the plate while playing his usual stellar defense. In 261 at-bats, he is hitting .280 with five home runs and 28 RBI.
Prediction: After making an All-Star appearance, Crawford will rise to the challenge and continue to hit in the second half. He will rediscover his power and finish with 10 home runs and 66 RBI while batting .275. He will also win the Gold Glove.
Like in 2012, Sandoval has tantalized fans with his offensive talent while battling both injuries and his weight. When healthy, Sandoval has been good. In 237 at-bats, the Panda is hitting .283 with eight home runs and 37 RBI.
Prediction: Sandoval will spend more time on the D.L. in the second half. His name will float around in trade rumors, but the Giants will ultimately hold on to the fan favorite. Final numbers: .294 BA, 18 HR, 81 RBI.
Joaquin Arias, Tony Abreu
With Sandoval, Scutaro and Crawford all missing time due to injury, the Giants have relied heavily on their utility infielders. While Arias offers the most overall from a production standpoint (.276 BA, 10 RBI in 105 at-bats), Abreu has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .294 in 34 at-bats.
Prediction: When Sandoval returns to the D.L., Arias will do an admirable job filling in at third base. In the meantime, Abreu will continue to hit at a decent clip while filling the utility role.
Pence is making a case for a big contract extension, although the Giants haven’t broached the topic yet—at least not publicly. In 309 at-bats (most on the club), the right fielder is batting .288 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI.
Prediction: Pence’s average will fall due to a couple major slumps, but he will carry the Giants to a playoff berth with a scorching September. Out of deep gratitude, the club will re-sign him to a five-year, $70 million contract (much like they did for another former Phillie). Final numbers: .275 BA, 28 HR, 93 RBI.
Filling in for the injured Angel Pagan, Blanco has done a more-than-adequate job as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter. In 264 at-bats, the speedster is hitting .296 with a .351 OBP. As an added bonus, he’s knocked in 26 runs and leads the club in triples (four).
Prediction: Blanco will be hot more often than cold in the second half and make Pagan almost an afterthought. He will play Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, although he won’t win the award. Final numbers: .283 BA, 4 HR, 50 RBI, .348 OBP.
Despite looking shaky in left field a few times this season, Torres has been a productive player for the Giants. Considering he was signed to be a platoon player, his overall numbers are pretty decent. In 179 at-bats, the switch hitter is .263 with two home runs and 18 RBI. He’s also fought off whatever defensive demons were haunting him.
Prediction: The Giants will acquire an outfielder at the trade deadline, allowing Torres to slide back into the fourth-outfielder role. Final numbers: .272 BA, 5 HR, 38 RBI.
As amazing as Perez has been in center field, he hasn’t shown enough with the bat to suggest that he could ever be more than a fourth outfielder. Through 34 at-bats, the righty is hitting .265 with a weak .278 OBP. He’s only walked once while striking out five times.
Prediction: Because of his defensive ability and speed on the basepaths, Perez will stick around with the club for most of the second half. When the Giants bring in a new outfielder at the deadline, they will ship him to Triple-A and recall him in September, when he will serve as a fifth outfielder and pinch runner off the bench. Final numbers: .255 BA, 2 HR, 13 RBI.