Now that we've passed the All-Star break, and the trading deadline is in a couple days, I wanted to see what the biggest surprise of the season is for the San Francisco Giants.
The team has a lot to choose from: any of the 12 rookies that made their major-league debut this year, the decline of veterans, or even their surprising contention in the meager National League West.
It seems that the consensus among the roundtable is that converted outfielder John Bowker is one of the biggest surprises in the big leagues. Coming in as a fourth outfielder, no one really knew anything about Bowker before this year.
It looked like he wouldn't get much playing time because there was another converted outfielder in Dan Ortmeier, who was expected to play first.
When Ortmeier failed to deliver, Rich Aurilia was brought in at first, but Bowker was moved over during his first week in the majors. His first week was an explosion of offense, going seven for 13 with two home runs, a triple, and seven RBI in his first four games.
Now, in July, Bowker has the most starts at first base out of anyone on the team. He is tied for the team lead in home runs, though he is on a team that is lacking for power. He doesn't look like a player only a year removed from AA, and he has developed into a solid every-day player.
There have been other surprises for the Giants this year. The continuing decline of Barry Zito has been seen as a surprise for some. Omar Vizquel's lack of productivity has started to wear off, as he has been heating up lately.
The young bullpen, mainly Alex Hinshaw and Brian Wilson, has been pretty lights out, and Wilson has proved to be, if not an elite closer, well on the way.
I asked some of the top Giants writers to comment on the surprises of this year, and this is what they said.
Greg Caggiano: There have been many surprises this season for the Giants, most not so pleasant. But for this roundtable, I'm going to pick out the three most pleasant surprises this season: Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, and John Bowker.
First, we all knew Lincecum was going to be good, but we couldn't envision him being 11-3 at this point in the season and one of the probable candidates for the NL CY Young award.
Next comes Wilson, who's got his first crack at closing this season. He's 27-30 and leads the NL in saves. He's the best closer the franchise has had since Robb Nen.
Finally, the youthful slugger, John Bowker. On a team with not much power, Bowker is tied for the team lead in HRs with nine. He is currently the only Giant this season to reach the water in MCovey Cove.
There is one more pleasant surprise: With all the heartbreak this season, the Giants are only seven games out of first place.
Nathaniel Stoltz: I'd have to say that Bowker is the biggest surprise in the bigs. Sergio Romo has been great, too, which has probably been a surprise to most people, but I was always high on him (I thought, going into the year, he was the best relief-prospect in baseball).
In the minors, I've been very surprised by Madison Bumgarner's K/BB ratio, solid command, and improvement on his offspeed pitches. He looks like a future star. I also pegged Jesse English as the minor-league sleeper of the year prior to the season, and he's delivered on my expectations.
I've also been surprised by Zito's continued decline, and Vizquel's drop below the Mendoza Line, as far as bad surprises go. I also thought Carlos Sosa (a AA outfielder) would have a good year, but he's disappointed.
Daniel Penza: Despite what we already knew about him, did anybody expect Tim Lincecum to be this good? He obviously has all the tools to be a stud, but I didn't expect him to be a candidate for a Cy Young in his first full year in the bigs.
John Bowker has to also be up there on the biggest surprises of the year. He wasn't expected to do ANYTHING this year, and now he's getting the majority time at first.
Another has to be Omar Vizquel's offense. Obviously he didn't light things up last year with that bat or anything, but to see him slump for so long this season, and see his average go as low as it was a few weeks ago, was a huge surprise.