Tim Lincecum is on his way to leading the San Francisco Giants to their first playoff appearance since 2003. But unlike those Giant teams from the earlier part of the decade, this team is built on youth and pitching.
The 2002 team lost the World Series in seven games to the Angles. That team was led by slugger Barry Bonds and a cast of strong veterans including JT Snow, Kenny Lofton, Jeff Kent, and David Bell. It was not led by pitching, as evidenced with Livan Hernandez getting the start in game seven.
The Giants made the playoffs the next two seasons on power hitting and veteran plug ins at many positions. The team aged quickly and San Francisco was set to go into full fledged rebuilding mode. Only this team the club would be built on pitching and youth.
Enter Tim Lincecum who came out of nowhere to capture the 2008 National League Cy Young award. Nicknamed the freak because of his quirky deliver and unbelievable stuff, he has been just as good in ’09.
He anchors the Giants starting rotation along with Matt Cain. The two are second and third in all of baseball in ERA, with Tim sporting a 2.27 ERA and Matt close behind with a 2.38 ERA.
The pair are also tied for second in wins in the National League, as both sit at 10-2. Lincecum finds himself first in Major League Baseball in strikeouts with 159 and second in the NL in with a 1.4 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).
But it’s not just Lincecum and Cain holding together the Giants pitching staff. San Francisco has the best team ERA in the majors at 3.51 and the starters alone hold at 3.62 ERA, also best in baseball.
The Giants have the most shutouts in MLB with 13, are tied for the league lead with Kansas City in complete games at 8, and have the most strikeouts in baseball with 696.
It keeps going: the Giants have the third best team WHIP in the National League, second best batting average against at .239 just behind division leader Los Angeles, and the third fewest home runs allowed with just 72.
Those outstanding team stats can be linked to a solid rotation including 300 game winner Randy Johnson, who sits at 8-6 on the year and has the 39th best ERA in the National League (not bad for your third starter) and Barry Zito, who hasn’t been horrible this season, with a 5-9 record and 5.01 ERA. The veterans mix in well with young aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
The bullpen is solid with a delightful blend of youth and veterans. The veterans include lefty Jeremy Affeldt who has 19 holds on the season and sports a tiny 1.27 ERA and Bob Howry with a solid 3.38 ERA.
The youngsters in the pen are righties Sergio Romo (2.63 ERA) and Brandon Medders (2.65 ERA). The closer is fourth year pro Brian Wilson who is tied for first in the NL with 23 saves and has 45 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings.
The combination of young and old continues on offense as the Giants sport the fifth best batting average in the National League at .262.
The Giants are led by third basemen Pablo Sandoval who leads the team in batting average (.333), home runs (15), RBIs (55), and doubles (24). Sandoval is in just his second full year and has quickly become the leader on offense.
The veterans have stepped up at the plate as well. Juan Uribe is hitting .301 with 16 doubles, Randy Winn is hitting .275 with 35 RBIs, 23 doubles, and 4 triples, and Aaron Rowand’s average sits at .288 with 40 RBIs and 23 doubles.
Even long time Giant Bengie Molina has been solid with 11 home runs, 50 RBIs, 17 doubles, and a .264 batting average.
As of July 18, the Giants sit at 49-40, 6 ½ games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and first in the wild card standings. Catching LA will be tough, so San Fran will have to hold off the Rockies and probably whoever loses out in the NL central race to secure the wild card spot.
The Giants remaining schedule shakes out like this: 13 games with the Colorado Rockies, six at home and seven on the road. These will be crucial contests in deciding the wild card race. The Giants have just nine games left with the NL leading Dodgers, including six at home.
They face off with the bottom half of the division 15 times—nine against lowly Arizona with six coming at home, and six against San Diego late in the season. This is where the Giants must gain victories as they close out the season with a three game home series vs. Arizona and three games at Petco Park in San Diego.
The Giants will spend a lot of time against the NL Central. They have 21 games remaining against the division, including two more in Pittsburgh Saturday and Sunday.
San Francisco will have just 15 games against the East, but they are all toughies—four against the Mets, four against the Braves, and a four game series plus a three game series against the defending World Champion Phillies.
If the Giants can get through all that and find themselves in the playoffs, they have a great chance to win the NL. Come October, pitching wins series and the Giants have the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
They can throw out Lincecum and Cain in the first two games and have a guy with a lot of playoff experience in Randy Johnson for game three. The mix of youth and experience in the bullpen and on offense, including proven playoff performer Edgar Renteria, will be a big time asset.
There are two things that will be key to the Giants’ pennant race. San Francisco should be looking to make a move at the trading deadline. They will be eyeing another lefty reliever and a bat with some power. The Giants are 28th in home runs and 24th in runs scored.
If they can land those two parts, look out. San Fran will not only be a wild card lock but could catch the Dodgers.
The other key is improving their performance on the road. The Giants are 31-15 at home, best in baseball. But their road record is just 18-25. With San Francisco likely being the wild card, they will not have home field in any playoff series. This is an area the Giants must improve on in the second half.
However, being the wild card will prevent the Giants from facing the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs. In a seven game series, San Francisco can throw Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain a possible four times.
That advantage, combined with a perfect blend of experience and youthful talent makes the Giants very dangerous in October. Pitching wins championships, and with the San Francisco Giants holding the best pitching staff in Major League Baseball, don't be surprised to see these young guns in this year's fall classic.