San Francisco Giants on a Hot Streak, and This Time It's Real
Things are going well for the Giants. They look as though they could win the National League West.
We've been here before, only to have things go terribly wrong. Right?
It's different this time. These Giants aren't winning by utilityman Juan Uribe being on a hot streak or because one of the half-dozen or so prospects-turned-suspects has shown a flash of big league talent. The Giants are winning because, well, they've somehow pieced together a team that does things that successful teams do.
The starting pitching is back in gear. Lincecum's arm isn't dead. Zito's coming off a brilliant outing against the New York Mets. Matt Cain reminded fans the other day that only people with no understanding of the game or the patience of a gnat would ever suggest trading him for the ever elusive "big bat" that the Giants always seem to need.
Heck, forget the top three guys in the rotation for a second. The Giants have guys in the fourth and fifth slots who would be in the top three rotation slots for many teams. Madison Bumgarner is flashing signs of being the once-a-generation young pitcher that most teams only dream about. (The fact that he's the third big-time pitching prospect the Giants have produced in this rotation alone is worth noting before the club loses and someone demands Brian Sabean's head on a platter.)
And, the pitcher folks feel would be so easily to replace if he was traded for that "bat" pitched well again, too. The idea of messing with this rotation and trading Jonathan Sanchez to get a hitter like Corey Hart is ludicrous. Fans and media types who insist that no team has a good fifth starter and that Sanchez is expendable are loopy. There is a precipitous drop-off from Sanchez or Bumgarner to Joe Martinez.
Man, how quickly people forget how dreadful things were when the Giants just had any old fifth starter and he was Todd Wellemeyer.
The bullpen's in chaos but the burning need to trade for a set-up man subsided a little on Monday when Jeremy Affeldt looked like he did in 2009. Everybody wants to trade for a vetean set-up man, while ignoring that the new guy would cost a prospect and would come with no more assurance of success than Affeldt does. Affeldt got an NL MVP vote last year. And, folks think just some guy on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster can come west and most assuredly be better than Affeldt could be when, as relievers so often do, he rights himself out of the blue?
Brian Wilson has become a lock-down closer. He's still not at the level of consistency that Robb Nen was in his prime, but not many closers were as good as Nen in his prime.
The Giants are winning because the pitching staff appears in good shape at the right time of the season.
The biggest reason that this Giants hot streak is the real thing centers around the middle of the batting order. There are three, big-time run producers in the lineup. And none of them cost the organization Sanchez or a package of prospects.
Aubrey Huff is having a big-time season with the bat and, frankly, playing defense and running the bases so well that teams who labeled him nothing more than a designated hitter seemed to have look right past the things he can do.
Buster Posey has become, well, Buster Posey. The phenom is hitting like a phenom. He's batting fourth and hitting the devil out of the ball—even with the power some insisted he would never have. He's handling the pitching staff, in spite of everyone saying he couldn't do such a thing. And is he making it tough on would-be base-stealers?
Where are the folks who suggested that Pablo Sandoval be sent to the minor leagues to rebuild his confidence or his swing or both? Patience, man, it's a beautiful thing. Sandoval couldn't have had the season he had in 2009 if he was really incapable of breaking the slump that haunted him through the first half of this season.
It was written here that Sandoval would supply the offense that others insisted could only come in trade. He has pounded the ball from both sides of the plate since the All-Star break and, don't mumble something about five games being a small sample size. Sandoval crushed the ball through the entire 2009 campaign and he's doing the same thing over the last five games. He showed what he can do last year. He's doing it again right now.
The Giants are for real because they have two home-grown run-producers in the middle of an order anchored by Huff. Again, those who will want Sabean fired again at some point need to realize that four of the five starting pitchers, the closer and two of the top three run-producers came out of the Giants farm system. There are lots of teams with general managers who'd like to be able to boast of that type of minor league production.
Bruce Bochy's going to get blamed for losing games. There's no getting around that. He's found a formula that works for this Giants team and is getting incredible output from first baseman Travis Ishikawa, center fielder Andres Torres and left fielder Pat Burrell. Ishikawa didn't suddenly wake up a .340 hitter. Bochy's used him against pitchers where matchups favor Ishikawa. The same has been true for Burrell. And, they've produced.
Oh, yeah, when fans are lining up to gripe that Bochy always sticks with veterans or high-paid players no matter what—remember that Aaron Rowand is a reserve outfielder and that Torres has won the center field job and has been a catalyst in the leadoff spot.
Bochy doesn't have patience? He wouldn't give John Bowker or Nate Schierholtz a chance? Not so fast. OK? Not so fast.
Torres won the job in center and got the leadoff spot—and kept it. When he slumped, Bochy stuck with him. If Bochy was pulling names out of a hat like his critics suggest, Torres would've been out of the lineup before the break.
Just because this Giants team is on a hot streak that makes them real postseason contenders does not mean that they'll win five of six, 10 of 12, 16 out of 18 and 25 out of 27. They'll be on a roller coaster, like most other teams in the National League. The bullpen will let some games get away and, eventually, Posey won't be hitting at a .500 clip. (Of course, by then, Freddy Sanchez could be hitting like the NL batting champion he once was.)
San Francisco beat the Dodgers on Monday because Schierholtz, the guy who many whine never gets a chance, hit a two-run home run. Add Ishikawa and Schierholtz to the list of home-grown Giants contributing on Monday.
Now, really, would it improve the Giants markedly if they could get Jose Guillen from the Kansas City Royals to play right field? Fans have called for Schierholtz to get a chance and Rowand has shown that he can help in spots coming off the bench. Guillen's a remarkable upgrade? For sure? Even if his arrival means Schierholtz becomes a full-time late-inning defensive replacement and Rowand bumps Torres out of the lineup more often?
Didn't think so.
Forget getting Hart from the Milwaukee Brewers. No baseball man on the planet would trade Bumgarner to get Hart. So, while they're at it, the Giants should dismiss out of hand the idea of creating a hole in the rotation and gutting the minor league system to get first baseman Prince Fielder. The San Diego Padres aren't running away from the pack and, really, isn't it more fun to be pulling for Giants we know as opposed to some highly-paid slugger who just happens to be wearing the black and orange uniform?
There might be a time, perhaps soon, when everyone groans, "They have to trade for a shortstop," or "(Pick a reliever) has blown his last game! He has to go!"
Remember, though, after the first game of the Dodgers series in Los Angeles in late July, the Giants had the pieces in place to be considered a real postseason contender. And the bulk of the talent making that so came out of the Giants farm system.
Eugenio Velez is on the big league roster so the potential exists for a disastrous mistake that costs the club a game, and brings Sabean's ability to fill the roster into question. Wilson will pitch—a lot—and the question will come up about how many times the closer can do the job without some help.
This isn't the first chapter of a fairytale that will certainly end with the Giants winning the World Series. Got it?
It's just written record that, really, the Giants have what it takes to win.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at: email@example.com
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