The only thing surprising to me about the 2008 San Francisco Giants is that they are eight games under .500. Prior to the start of the season, I wrote that the Giants would be a pretty good club. In fact, I think they're only going to get better, and they should finish the season with more wins than losses.
Every great baseball team must be strong up the middle. So, let me explain why I think the Giants are so competitive this year, and why they are going to get a lot better as the season progresses.
Bengie Molina is having a breakout season, his first as the team's fourth hitter. His career average is .278, but he has never hit fourth before. He's seeing a lot of good pitches and he's responding.
Through the first two months of the season, Molina's hitting a blistering .324. His hits aren't cheap either. The ball jumps off his bat, and it looks like he's getting more and more comfortable as the cleanup man. He is more than adequate defensively, and calls a very good game behind the plate. I can't think of a better overall catcher that I would want behind the plate.
On the bases, it is another story. My 77-year-old mother-in-law is faster from home to first than Bengie, but who cares? His lack of speed is not hurting the Giants.
Pitching remains somewhat of a mixed bag for the Giants. If you exclude Barry Zito and Pat Misch, the starting pitching is solid. Middle relief is horrific. There is no set-up man (though several are trying out for the role), and Brian Wilson has stepped up with 16 saves as the best closer since Robb Nen.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez are providing the team with quality starts every time they go out to the mound. Lincecum is fulfilling my expectations. He's got wicked stuff, improves each start, and I expect him to be an All Star this season.
Cain continues to have a lack of run support behind him. His ERA is up a little bit this year, but that's only due to a couple of bad outings. Instead of 2-3, he could easily be 5-2.
Sanchez continues to rack up the strikeouts, and has the second-most wins on the ballclub (four) behind only Lincecum. Expect more quality starts from these three.
I'm not a big fan of Tyler Walker. He can be lights out some nights, while others he's the human rally cap.
There have been flashes of brilliance from Yabu, Chulk, Taschner, and Hinshaw. However, this group needs to be more consistent, and Bochy needs to have a strong late-inning group that he can rely on to throw strikes, kill rallies, and get outs. This remains the weakest part of the team, and it must improve if the Giants are going to win more games.
Brian Wilson, with his badass tattoos and 95 MPH fastball, has quietly established himself as THE closer. He's tied for third in the league with 16 saves, and despite a high ERA of 4.44, he is doing a fine job. He's on pace for 48 saves this season. Not too bad considering the Giants' sorry state since Nen's retirement.
With Omar Vizquel back from the disabled list and Ray Durham swinging a hot bat, the Giants have as good a double-play combination as any in the National League. Vizquel is a likely Hall of Famer, having played more games at shortstop than anyone else in history, but he's more than that. He's a leader on the field, and makes the routine play every time and the spectacular play almost every time.
I've always liked Ray Durham's steady play at second base, but more importantly, i've always liked his potent bat. He started slowly this season as the Giants gave Eugenio Velez a shot at winning the job. Durham never complained, stayed patient, worked on his game, and Velez is now playing in the Pacific Coast League.
Ray is now hitting .290, which is where Velez needs to be if he's going to be playing at this level. Durham and Vizquel make turning the double play into an art. It's all in the eye of the beholder—a thing of beauty for the Giants and hideous for the other team.
Aaron Rowand is having another remarkable season. He's leading the Giants in average (.342), home runs (eight) and RBI (35). Plus, I love his swagger on the field, and the way he leads the outfield. This is a team guy who cares only about winning and not about his stats.
It's also known as a winning attitude, something the Giants haven't really had the last couple of years. He also happens to play Gold-Glove quality defense in center field.
Winning is contagious, and if the Giants can continue to build off this solid core up the middle, improve their middle and late-inning relief, they'll finish the season above .500, and in the NL West, who knows, even contend.