How San Francisco Giants Offense Has Evolved into One of NL's Best
In fact, at 43-24, they're off to the best start in the San Francisco era—better than both 2010 and 2012. But unlike those charmed seasons, which resulted in orange confetti cascading down on Market Street, they're doing it with their bats as much as their arms.
Funny thing, though—San Francisco didn't undergo a major offseason overhaul. In fact, they brought back six of eight position-player starters from the 2013 team and didn't sign any top-tier free-agent hitters.
So how are they doing it? What's the formula that's transformed the formerly punchless Giants into something approaching an offensive juggernaut? Let's take a swing...
The Arrival of Michael Morse
When the Giants signed Michael Morse to a one-year, $6 million deal, they were rolling the dice, gambling that they'd get the guy who hit 31 home runs for the Nationals in 2011 and not the guy who hit .215 in 88 games in an injury-shortened 2013.
It was far from a sure bet—declining 32-year-olds recovering from offseason wrist surgery don't automatically bounce back.
Count Giants Manager Bruce Bochy among the early believers. In December, after the Morse signing, Bochy told the Associated Press:
"This is a guy I really wanted. I told [General Manager] Brian [Sabean] and [Assistant GM] Bobby [Evans] that, `Gosh, if we can get this guy, I know he's coming off some injuries, if he's healthy he's a presence in the lineup, power, which is what we need. A guy who's going to fit on this club very nicely.'"
So far, Morse has made Bochy look like a free-agent clairvoyant. Entering Friday the right-handed slugger had clubbed a team-leading 13 home runs, and he's filled in capably at first base since Brandon Belt went down with a fractured thumb in early May.
There's a lot of baseball left, but right now Morse ranks as perhaps the best bargain signing of the offseason—and a gamble that's paying serious dividends.
The Return of Angel Pagan
On May 25, 2013, Angel Pagan legged out a walk-off inside-the-park home run in a game against the Colorado Rockies. The win put the Giants five games over .500 and in first place in the National League West.
It felt like a momentum shifter. And it was—just not in the way the Giants imagined.
While streaking around the bases, Pagan strained his hamstring. The injury ultimately required surgery and wound up costing the speedy leadoff hitter three months.
During his absence, the Giants imploded. With Pagan last year they went 44-34. Without him they went 32-54.
The losing wasn't all due to a lack of Pagan; correlation doesn't equal causation, after all. Still, that's a pretty tough-to-ignore correlation.
So far this year Pagan has stayed mostly healthy and has hit .306. More than anything, he's provided energy and a consistent spark at the top of the lineup.
And the Giants, not coincidentally, are winning.
The Bye, Bye Baby Bonanza
"When the Giants come to town, it's bye-bye baby! Every time the chips are down, it's bye-bye baby..."
- Giants theme song circa 1960, inspired by the iconic call of radio announcer Russ Hodges
Since Barry Bonds last took aim at McCovey Cove in 2007, the Giants haven't been known as a home-run hitting club. In fact, quite the opposite.
Last season they hit a mere 107 four-baggers, second fewest in the NL. This season, though 67 games, they've already smacked 69, second only to the Rockies.
Morse has led the charge with 13, but the Giants are getting power from up and down the lineup: every position-player starter save Pagan has hit at least seven big flies.
And San Francisco has already hit 25 home runs at spacious AT&T Park, more than half their total from all of 2013.
Here's a simple way of demonstrating the power of the long ball: The Giants' current team batting average is about 10 points lower than at the end of last year, yet they're averaging nearly a half-run more per game.
Some of that is clutch hitting and situational execution; as beat writer John Shea notes the Giants' batting-average with runners in scoring position hovers above .280.
But home runs help—a lot.
Unexpected Contributions from Unsung Heroes
Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, the heart of the Giants order, have each endured prolonged slumps. Pence and particularly Sandoval started slow, though both have since gotten hot, and Posey has battled back issues that have hampered his production.
Yet the Giants keep hitting—and winning—thanks in part to a cast of unlikely contributors.
Brandon Hicks, a minor league free agent who made the team and cracked the starting lineup because of Marco Scutaro's lingering back injury, has added an infusion of power with eight home runs. (He's also hitting a pedestrian .183, fueling speculation that the Giants may trade for a second baseman before the deadline.)
Backup catcher Hector Sanchez has seen increased at-bats since Belt's injury, with Posey logging time at first, and has driven in 23 runs, including two in Thursday's sweep-avoiding win over Washington.
Speedy fourth outfielder Gregor Blanco, mostly known for his glove, has hit .390 since May 25 after a slow start.
And others who were barely on the radar at the start of spring training have chipped in, including left-fielder Tyler Colvin, who was called up when Belt went down and has posted a .782 OPS.
The fringe contributions could disappear overnight. Right now they're the equivalent of found money—and the Giants are enjoying an embarrassment of riches.