Spring Has Sprung: San Francisco Giants Jump Out of The Gate
The time has come. Spring is over. Dust off your scorebooks. It's time for baseball.
And a week into the season, the Giants are looking very, very strong.
The starting pitching, which we all know was a strength coming into the year, has been as good as advertised.
And surprisingly, the offense stayed hot, carrying over from Spring Training and showing the league so far that the best Cactus League record in years wasn't exactly a fluke.
The strong start is far from being indicative of the entire season, but let's recap the five biggest things that we've learned over these first seven games.
(Photos courtesy of ESPN.COM)
Tim Lincecum Still Cy Young Worthy
Obviously it is still ridiculously early to look at postseason awards, but if we want to play the ESPN game and project stats over the whole season, Tim Lincecum will end 2010 with a record of 54-0 and 459 strikeouts. A little ridiculous.
The Freak was dealing again yesterday, waiting through a four-hour rain delay and shrugging off an early home run from Brian McCann to end up dominating the Braves lineup, striking out 10 in seven strong innings.
His slow spring was a little off-putting, but Lincecum's two starts this season have quelled any thoughts of a slumping pitcher. He's at the point in his young career that he has the luxury of trying new pitching strategies IN GAME.
After his most recent start against the Braves, he remarked that he was working with catcher Bengie Molina on integrating his curveball more, and staying away from his vicious changeup.
When this strategy backfired and McCann hit his home run, Lincecum went back to business as usual and ended up with the line that he did and a win for the day.
Edgar Renteria's Elbow Is Feeling Better
Edgar Renteria had the worst season of his career last year. His return to the National League was supposed to have a great effect on his career, and he had almost zero production for the Giants in 2009.
It turned out late in the year that Renteria had been playing with a few bone chips floating around in his elbow the whole season, which had to have an effect on his game. After surgery, he started rehab and reported that he felt like a new player.
This spring he didn't exactly blow anyone away, with a .262 average, but he came out smoking in Houston, scalding the ball and going 11-16 (.688).
He's slowed down a little bit, and after an 0-4 last night his average has "dropped" to .440.
His defense is better, his throws are stronger, and he's definitely just looking a lot more comfortable in the field and at the plate here in 2010.
Pablo Sandoval Is Shaking His Slow Spring
The Panda has come out of hibernation. (Aside: Do pandas hibernate?)
Pablo Sandoval had a slow spring, and with all of the talk of his vision (requiring contacts) and his patience (regarding new hitting coach Bam-Bam Meulens), he had a lot of pressure to produce at the level he did last year.
Sandoval, like Renteria, had a subpar spring, but has since awoken from his slumber.
After a huge day Sunday, where he scored three runs and had three hits, he followed it up with another big game Monday, going 3-4 with another two runs scored, raising his average to .414, and continuing his season-starting seven-game hitting streak.
Most impressively, he's looking a lot more selective at the plate while still maintaining his swing-at-everything approach.
The Panda is looking as nimble as ever, tripling to Death Valley on Sunday, scoring on a wild pitch on Monday, and having a couple athletic slides at home.
The Bullpen Is Going To Be Good
In the first seven games, the bullpen has performed outstandingly.
Setup man Jeremy Affeldt is tied (with Lincecum and Zito) for the most wins in the majors right now. He has a strikeout in every appearance and has only allowed one run in 4.1 innings.
Sergio Romo has been straight-out dirty, with his slider and his tailing fastball working both sides of the plate. He has yet to give up a run and has allowed only two baserunners in four innings of work.
Dan Runzler shook off some Opening Day jitters to deal some filth today. Brian Wilson already has two saves on the young season. Guillermo Mota has been good, and Brandon Medders and Waldis Joaquin should be able to work out the kinks.
The main thing is that, as Kruk and Kuip have said, there is no one pitcher in the bullpen designated for mop up duty.
Wilson is the obvious closer, but Runzler and Romo have closer stuff. Joaquin is a flamethrower, and Affeldt already has a save as well. Medders and Mota have experience in late innings.
This bodes well for the Giants, and if anything were to happen, there's a bevy of talent waiting in the minors, including Henry Sosa and Alex Hinshaw, who both had very impressive Springs.
The New Guys Know What To Do
The Giants were supposed to get younger in 2010.
And Brian Sabean and Bill Nuekom supported this move, stating that some veteran bats would help the team out. So far, they've been right.
Aubrey Huff is only hitting .280, but he's got an outstanding .419 OBP, mostly because of his four walks and two HBP.
He also legged out a triple last night, and scored three runs. And his supposedly suspect defense hasn't reared its ugly head yet. In fact, Huff has been playing some real solid first base.
Mark DeRosa has also showed off why the Giants signed him. Again, he's only batting .217, but his OBP is .357 and he's leading the team with five walks in seven games without really giving up anything in left field.
Bengie Molina showed last night what he can do with the stick, and why the Giants felt that keeping Buster Posey in the minors wouldn't hurt their team. He's currently leading the team in RBI and is right behind Renteria, batting .421, including a four-hit night on Monday.
The Giants have already shown a couple things that they didn't have last year. While you might say that they opened the year facing the Astros and the PIrates, they sandwiched those around a pretty entertaining series with the Braves.
First of all, they showed some fight. Last year they only had ONE game where they came back in the ninth inning and won. They've already matched that this year. They also clawed their way back to give Lincecum the win on Sunday after that pesky delay.
Secondly, this team is learning how to be patient. After seeing the least number of pitches in the league last year, they've already walked 27 times in seven games this year, which is a vast improvement.
They also have the second highest OBP in the National League, and the second most hits.
Lastly, with the exception of Todd Wellemeyer, every starter has looked pretty sharp.
Lincecum is leading the league in wins and strikeouts.
Zito has looked very good so far, especially given that he's usually a slow starter.
Cain looked like he labored through his last start, but still is growing as a pitcher. Jonathan Sanchez also had a rough start, but he struck out Jason Heyward three times.
If the rotation holds up like this all year, and the Giants can put up some runs like they have been doing, this team will have more games like the one above. The difference from last year is that it won't be a surprise when they're in the playoff race come September.
But we've got a long way to go until then.