The San Francisco Giants have had an impressive first half of baseball. They have enjoyed successes, while improving on their shortcomings.
The Giants youth movement has begun to reap rewards. Players like Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz, and Matt Cain are developing into big league gamers right before our eyes.
For the first time in recent years, the Giants have a shot at the playoffs.
With an ever tightening wildcard race, and the Los Angeles Dodgers leading their division—the San Francisco Giants must continue to improve in the second half of the season.
Here are a few signs that the Giants are on the road to the postseason.
Although Randy Johnson is not San Francisco's most dominant pitcher, his presence in the starting rotation is invaluable.
Starting Pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecumboth have 10 wins apiece. The All Star Tandem will turn in plenty more wins for the club.
Johnson as the No. 2 starter in the rotation has an 8-6 record coming into the break. Just before the break, Johnson suffered a late shoulder strain and has been placed on the DL throughout the break.
The Big Unit is not the same threat he once was, even still, the crafty veteran continues to show us he can still win games.
If Johnson can return to the starting rotation and manage to stay there, his experience will do the rest.
Provided the Giants do not make a trade before the deadline, Travis Ishikawa will likely be the team's starting first baseman throughout the rest of the season.
Ishikawa had a rough, early slump offensively. In late April and early May, his average dipped as low as .161 with zero homers.
On the verge of being sent down to the minors, Ishikawa began to show marked improvement at the plate.
His eventual, if often streaky overall improvement in the batter's box has been a giant help to the team of late.
Since June 17th, Ishikawa has belted in six home runs while raising his average to a decent .269.
If Travis Ishikawa can continue to contribute at the plate, the Giants may just score enough runs on the road to the 2009 Playoffs.
The Giants have done better than expected through the first part of the 2009 season. Their success is due largely in part to their pitching.
Aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have done their share. Randy Johnson has filled in nicely. Barry Zito, well...Zito is still a shell of his former self and continues to struggle more often than not.
It is amazing the Giants have been so dominant with only three starters performing well. For continued success, the Giants must figure out who will they count on in the fifth spot of the starting rotation.
Jonathan Sanchez began the season with the job. He has had moments of brilliance but has been shadowed by shaky performances.
In late June he lost his starting job and was moved to the bullpen. With a 5.54 ERA and only two wins, it was doubtful that Sanchez would ever regain his job as a starter.
The unlikely and unheard of Ryan Sadowski was called up from San Jose. The 26 year old right hander from Miami shone in his first two Major League starts.
Sadowski shut out the potent Brewers in their house, then went on to blank the Astro's in San Francisco. Sandowski eventually lost, in his third outing. He allowed two earned runs as Florida narrowly avoided a sweep just before the break.
Here is where the picture gets a little fuzzy. Randy Johnson goes down with a left shoulder strain. Sanchez gets the nod. History will long remember...
In an almost inexplicable turn of events, Jonathan Sanchez pitches a no-hitter against the Padres on July 10th.
This really increases his value, as there has not been a no-hitter bearing a Giants uniform since 1976.
Ryan Sadowski has been keeping busy in San Jose, hoping to return to the Giants when the season resumes.
Whoever the Giants opt for in the fifth spot, will need to work hard to retain the job. San Francisco absolutely must have a positive win loss ratio at this position to better their chances at a playoff spot.
Pablo Sandoval is the stand out, fun loving hitter in the Giants lineup. Hands down.
But it takes nine to tango.
The Giants have again thrown their youth into the fire to find more pop for their already hurting line up.
With Sandoval at third base, and Edgar Renteria at shortstop, the Giants have been plugging in different names at second base.
Kevin Frandsen, Emmanuelle Burriss, and Matt Downs have all been battle tested at this point in the season. Tested and failed.
Juan Uribe stands out from his rookie counterparts. A shortstop by trade, Uribe has been getting time at third and second base.
Juan Uribe is the nephew of the late and former Giant great Jose Uribe. These are big shoes to fill, and the San Francisco fans were well aware of that.
When Uribe came to the plate in a few key moments during home games, a very tentative chant was barely becoming audible—"Ooh-ribe! Ooh-ribe!"
And more often than not he delivered. Even now, with Uribe batting .301 with an OPS of .793 the chant is still very hesitant.
Uribe will need to keep improving, both at the plate and in the field for the Giants to stay in the race for October.
If Uribe and Giants both appear in the 2009 playoffs, I am quite sure the "Ooh-ribe" chant will be a full on battle cry when he is batting.
The term "bullpen" has in the last few years become a word of utter disappointment around San Francisco.
In 2007 and 2008 Giants starters held their breath leaving the game with lead, waiting to exhale.
And most often in those days—it didn't bode well.
In the offseason, the Giants made some moves to shore the sinking bullpen. One of those moves has paid off. Extremely well.
Jeremy Affeldt has been nothing short of nasty as a middle reliever/set-up man. So far, San Francisco and Affeldt have gone together like peas and carrots.
The seven year veteran pitchher has seen action in Kansas City, Colorado, and briefly Cincinnati before finding his best season in San Francisco with the Giants.
Affeldt is now the go-to-guy in the bullpen. The 30 year old lefty has not allowed an earned run since May 7th. His 1.32 ERA speaks for itself, and his game face speaks for every Giants reliever.
Bob Howry was another offseason addition to the bullpen. Howry has had good outings, but overall he has not been "the guy" for the Giants.
Sergio Romo, a product of the Giants farm system, has been very solid in relief for the Giants. Romo, a California native saw his first Major League action in brief stints in 2008.
Romo started the season on the disabled list with a elbow sprain. Since his return in June, the young righty has filled a nice role in keeping games close for the Giants.
Closer Brian Wilson has been a scary yet very affective pitcher in the ninth. The tattooed, mohawk sporting fireballer is tied for the NL lead in saves (23) and has a fastball upwards of 98 mph.
Wilson hasn't exactly been lights out in the ninth inning in 2009. His habit of walking baserunners or allowing hits has kept us all biting our nails. Bottom line—he still gets it done better than most of the league.
San Francisco's relief squad must find a way to improve on their good half in they want to stay ahead of the wildcard pack.
Earlier this season I wrote a piece describing the 10 keys to success for the Giants in NL West.
In that piece, and at that point in the season, the one position in the outfield that did not belong to Aaron Rowand or Randy Winn belonged to Fred Lewis.
Fred Lewis has probably had his worst year in the Majors thus far. His streaky, almost non-existent plate presence smacked of lost confidence. His miscues in the outfield were costly, and frankly embarrassing.
After Lewis ran his strikeout totals through the roof of the dug-out, the Giants called up Nate Schierholtz to see if he could improve on the situation.
Improve he did. The Danville/San Ramon product had an immediate impact, both offensively and defensively.
Schierholtz displayed a cannon of an arm in right field. And on a Sunday in June, he showed off his wheels with an inside-the-park home run against the Oakland A's.
Schierholtz has been doing well since his return to the Giants. For a few hot weeks here and there he posted an average above .300 and came through for the Giants at the plate again and again.
Schierholtz's average has fallen a little to .288. Is this a sign that the League has caught up with him some?
For the Giants to sneak into the playoffs they will need Nate Schierholtz to stay ahead of opposing pitchers and return his average to above .300.
The San Francisco Giants may have caught most of the National League by surprise in the first half of the 2009 season.
Now that the secret is out, don't imagine for a second that NL teams are taking the Giants for granted any longer.
Probably the biggest cause for the Giants' success thus far, is the hard work of Manager Bruce Bochy.
He was handed a line up that looked like a bad joke from the Brass.
He was given a few solid pieces of a potentially dangerous rotation.
He was also bombarded with untested talent and countless new faces.
The media and fans alike were quietly calling for his job. The 2008 season did not do much for the resumes of both Bochy and GM Brian Sabean. It is quite possible that the two were at the end of their rope coming into the 2009 season.
Sometimes magic just happens. And maybe it's too early to say the Giants are having a magical season—but the cauldron is brewing. The guy stirring it—Bruce Bochy.
Bochy has turned a team of undervalued talent, and created a bond within them all. He has obviously shown these young men how to play ball, and win. The Giants are sitting (more like running) at 49-39, good enough for second place in the NL West.
Good enough for the lead in the NL wildcard.
The San Francisco Giants now have a big fat target on their back. A lot of really good teams are hunting them, foremost in the mix are the Colorado Rockies.
Manager Bruce Bochy really has work cut out for him. Somehow he must improve the team, while maintaining the integrity of the team's blossoming chemistry.
All of the milestones set forth in this piece, all trace back to Bochy. And then some.
Should the Giants make a postseason appearance, look for Bruce Bochy's name at the top of the list for NL Manager of the Year.