Midseason Progress Report: San Francisco Giants Exceeding Expectations

Eric JolivetteContributor IJune 30, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 07:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season on April 7, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

As we near the mid-point of the 2009 season, Giants fans should be on cloud nine.  After a lengthy hibernation in the cave of mediocrity, these bears are awake -- and they’re starting to look like contenders. 

Whether or not Giants fans are excited, Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean surely are.  San Francisco’s manager and GM both began the season on seats that were hotter than a car stereo at a swap meet. 

It was easy to see from the beginning that pitching would be the Giants’ strength this season.  Tim Lincecum and company have definitely not disappointed. 

After turning in a Cy Young-winning performance in 2008, “The Freak” is at it again in ’09 -- only this year, he’s got an accomplice.  Matt Cain has been equally impressive, establishing himself as one of the NL’s best with a record of 9-2 and a 2.57 ERA. 

The Giants pitching staff boasts a 3.61 ERA -- that’s the best mark in the Bigs, folks. The bullpen has been rock solid.  Minus a few hiccups from the closer, Brian Wilson has been effective.  He ranks second in the NL with 20 saves.

San Francisco’s hurlers rank best in all of baseball in both runs allowed and strikeouts.  Perhaps the only cause for concern has been their tendency to issue free passes.  The staff ranks 20th in the Big Leagues and ninth in the NL in walks allowed.

Pitching coach Dave Righetti couldn’t ask for more from his overachieving staff.  If everyone can stay healthy, Giants pitchers should do far more than their share in helping this team reach the postseason.

Defensively, the Giants have been good, but not great.  The team has notched a .986 fielding percentage, good for a ranking of tenth in MLB, and sixth in the Senior Circuit.

By limiting defensive mistakes in the field, the Giants have maximized the few precious runs they’ve managed to score this season.

And when I say “few”, I do mean few.  Following a 10-run outburst against St. Louis on Monday night, the Giants offense catapulted themselves to 27th in runs scored for the season. 

That’s not very good.

To call the Giants a “light-hitting” team would be an understatement -- their 51 home runs rank third worst in baseball.  At .261, the team’s batting average is middle-of-the-road.

Although the team’s offensive output has improved in recent weeks, the Giants’ batting order hardly strikes fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. 

By far the most dangerous bat belongs to Pablo Sandoval.  Lately, the “Kung-Fu Panda” has managed to avoid swinging at everything but the kitchen sink, subsequently raising his batting average to .336.  He’s quickly gaining respect as one of the best young hitters in the game.

But...Pablo needs help.  In order to fortify their position atop the NL Wild Card standings, the Giants must add offensive firepower. 

The recent offensive surge by Nate Schierholtz may provide some long-awaited continuity in the Giants’ outfield.  However, if the team were able to acquire a premier power-hitter, Schierholtz has proved to be an excellent commodity off the bench.

Despite solid defensive play, first and second base have been glaring weak spots for the Giants offensively.  Giants’ first basemen Travis Ishikawa and Rich Aurelia have combined to hit a grand total of six home runs this season.  They’ve managed just 37 RBI between them. 

Corner infielders typically provide substantial muscle to big-league batting orders.  And when you consider that first base is the least demanding defensive position on the field, that player must provide big-time offense for his team.

Second base has been even worse -- Burriss, Frandsen, Downs, and now Uribe, have amassed three home runs and 30 RBI.  Collectively. 

The Giants have managed to win games despite such an underwhelming offensive attack.  But it would be a mistake to expect this trend to continue over the course of an entire season.

San Francisco needs to acquire both a bona-fide lead-off hitter and a middle-of the-order power-hitter.  These players could come in the form of either a first, second, or third baseman, or a corner outfielder. 

If the Giants stand pat, they’re likely to provide fans with some exciting baseball in the second half of the season.  It’s conceivable that the team could enjoy 20-win seasons from both Lincecum and Cain, and Sandoval is sure to continue providing some offensive thrills.

However, if Sabean can swing some deals to legitimize the Giants’ batting order, San Francisco will be primed to make a playoff run in October. 

Oh, and he might just save his job, too.