With 14 games remaining for the San Francisco Giants before the All-Star break, they are in position to be the biggest surprise of 2009.
Before the season began, it would have been essentially impossible to find an analyst, expert, or common baseball fan who would predict the Giants would be a .500 team. Conversations of a playoff berth were nonexistent.
All of that has changed.
San Francisco has a record of 40 wins to 34 losses. They are in second place in the National League West and trail the Los Angeles Dodgers by seven games.
What are the keys to San Francisco's success?
Who's hot and who's not on the club?
What adjustments must be made for the Giants to win the division?
These are the questions that will be answered as we take a look at the 2009 San Francisco Giants, thus far.
The success of the Giants can be attributed to strong pitching coupled with timely, though not abundant, run scoring. Their pitching staff entered the day with the third-best ERA in baseball. San Francisco is in the middle of the pack with the 16th-best batting average in the league, but they are a more respectable 11th-best with runners in scoring position and two outs.
The Giants exhibited the talent of this year's club during interleague play. They have gone 9-6 against American League teams, including sweeps of the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers. During the 15 games San Francisco's talented arms were on display, as the pitching staff posted a team ERA of 3.02.
Make no mistake, all has not been rosy for the G-men. There have been some players who have underachieved during the first 74 games of the season.
For starters, while the pitching staff has been the highlight of the organization, the No. 5 starting spot has not been a bright one. Jonathan Sanchez went 2-8 with a 5.45 ERA as the fifth starter in the Giant's rotation.
Today, for the first time this season, someone other than Sanchez took the mound as the fifth starter. His replacement, Ryan Sadowski, pitched six shutout innings as the Giants went on to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-0.
Giants fans had high hopes for what they would see from outfielder Fred Lewis this year. They have been disappointed. His batting average is lower than it has been in any of his four years in the big leagues. Lewis is batting .253 with only 11 RBI and four home runs. His defense has been less than stellar as well.
All things considered, there has been more to cheer about than jeer about in the City by the Bay.
Something that may be surprising to those who don't follow the Giants closely is that the pitcher having the most success in San Francisco this year is not the Cy Young winner from a season ago. Tim Lincecum is doing well with seven wins. The hottest pitcher on the club, though, is Matt Cain. He has a 9-2 record and the exact same ERA as Lincecum—2.57.
The bullpen for the Giants, for the most part, has held up its end of the bargain. The closer, Brian Wilson, has been consistent and has the second most saves in the National League.
While batting is not the team's strong point thus far, there are some guys swinging hot bats. Nate Schierholtz has finally started getting some regular playing time, and he has repaid manager Bruce Bochy by hitting the ball hard and often. In just 114 at-bats, he is hitting .316 with 11 extra-base hits and 12 RBI.
The hottest and hands-down most exciting player for San Francisco is Pablo Sandoval, affectionately known as Kung Fu Panda by the Giants faithful. Amongst players in the National League with over 150 at-bats, his .340 batting average is third best. He has 38 RBI and has shown off his pop with 11 home runs. He can hit any pitch in or near the zone and has added some much-needed charisma to the team.
Overall, team fielding has not been bad for the Giants. They rank 10th in fielding percentage and have some Gold Glovers playing most every day in Bengie Molina, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria. There have been some issues in the infield—most notably, Sandoval has had a fair share of miscues when playing first base—and Fred Lewis has not been stellar in the outfield. These are things to watch as the season progresses.
It is generally agreed that for the Giants to make a strong run, the organization must add a legitimate cleanup hitter. The Los Angeles Dodgers have played extremely well, the absence of Manny Ramirez notwithstanding, and the Colorado Rockies are the hottest team in baseball. The Giants can't sit on their hands and expect to have a chance in the National League West. Management must address this need.
If the power bat is added to the lineup, it is reasonable to predict the Giants will be in the hunt for a division title come October.
Regardless of what happens from this day forward, the Giants have given their fanbase hope when the season started with little. Even with mediocre batting, they have been an exciting club, and there is the feeling before every first pitch they have a very good chance of winning. That is about all any fan can ask for.
The San Francisco Giants have been a surprising success, thus far.