Could Pablo Sandoval Emulate Buster Posey's 2012 2nd-Half Breakout?

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIAugust 7, 2014

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 06:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates in the dugout after reaching on a single off the bat of Michael Morse in the top of the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 06, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Don't look now, but Pablo Sandoval has driven in 10 runs over his last four games, three of which the San Francisco Giants have won.

The hot streak is a welcome addition to a San Francisco lineup that has been starved for offense at times this season, including when it scored six total runs during a recent six-game losing streak in late July.

Sandoval's recent success at the plate puts his prolonged cold streak at the beginning of the season to shame. The Giants third baseman drove in five runs with a .526 OPS in his first 37 games, at which point his demands for a nine-figure contract, as reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, looked rather silly.

But the rest of the Giants lineup was firing on all cylinders while Sandoval slumped, and now the offense has fallen flat over the past couple of months. Sandoval has emerged as a spark since the break, hitting .338 with 15 RBI in 77 at-bats, and it might be starting to rub off on the rest of the team. (The Giants have scored 23 runs in their last four games.)

But it's not just Sandoval's hitting. His defense is finally getting some recognition as well, and that only adds to his value.

Sandoval has always been a good fielder. He actually posted a 13.2 UZR (meaning he saved just over 13 runs with his defense) in 904.2 innings in 2011, according to FanGraphs, nearly double the 7.7 total he's posted this season through a comparable amount of playing time: 910.2 innings.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 23: Third baseman Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants makes a diving stop but was unable to throw out center fielder Ben Revere #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the bottom of the first inning on July 23, 2014 at Citize
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

But luckily for Sandoval, that publicity is coming just as he gears up to enter free agency, and the lack of available talent at third base—or at any offensive position, for that matter—is sure to fetch the Giants third baseman an even more lucrative deal.

For now, though, the Giants will need their cleanup hitter to keep doing what he's doing if they're to have any shot of catching the Dodgers in the NL West, perhaps echoing shades of Buster Posey's 2012 MVP campaign.

That year, Posey hit .385/.456/.646 after the All-Star break, propelling the Giants to a 48-28 second-half run that pushed them past the Dodgers and into the playoffs and, ultimately, sent them to the World Series.

Of course, Posey's second-half explosion spanned 257 at-bats, while Sandoval has a ways to go himself. But the Giants third baseman might not have to even approach an MVP-type performance for the team to return to offensive respectability.

For one, Posey might be on to something as well; he's hitting .344 with a .987 OPS since the break. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik, a model of inconsistency since his call-up in June, has eight hits in his last three games and is hitting .324 since the break. Plus, leadoff hitter Angel Pagan returns on Thursday and should give the Giants the usual one-two-three punch they've been lacking.

Still, it all comes back to Sandoval. Pagan, Hunter Pence and Posey are a nice trio to start off the lineup, but it's up to Sandoval to drive them in. And with teams often pitching around Posey, as was the case when he walked four times against the Mets on Monday, Sandoval becomes especially key.

"Pablo really picked us up," manager Bruce Bochy told the San Jose Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic on Monday after Sandoval's big performance helped the Giants beat the Mets. "You're hoping the guy behind (Posey) can pick it up, and Pablo did. He had a terrific game."

That continued protection will be key, and it could just be enough to help the Giants return to the success they found in May and early June. Of course, Sandoval won't be able to do it alone, and the pitching rotation will have to overcome some uncertainty—namely, Matt Cain's season-ending right-elbow injury and Tim Lincecum's poor recent form. But a healthy and red-hot Sandoval is a step in the right direction.