Posey, Burrell, Torres Lead San Francisco Giants in Wild Card Chase
Major League Baseball wasn't necessarily meant to be enjoyed with one finger extended in an attempt to find a target for today's round of criticism.
Oh, the 2010 San Francisco Giants have made it easy for fans who want to affix blame, find solutions to every potential problem, and moan about what will go wrong next from Opening Day through the dog days of summer.
The Giants' talented staff of starting pitchers has hit the skids. Pablo Sandoval, until very recently, lost his stroke after a brilliant 2009 campaign. The big hitter fans wanted never arrived. The bullpen has struggled. The club has yet to clinch first place in the NL West or the wild-card race, so those who find joy in finding misery can always finger general manager Brian Sabean or field manager Bruce Bochy to blame for something.
Not today. Not here. Not with the Giants in the thick of the NL wild-card race and within striking distance of the mercurial NL West leading San Diego Padres (it's beginning to look like maybe the Padres aren't going to fold, huh?).
This is a day for the top 10 feel-good stories of the Giants 2010 season:
10. The Giants built an offense on the cheap
No Adam Dunn, but the Giants have big league hitters at virtually every position these days. Jose Guillen can't run well, but he can hit better than any right fielder the Giants have had in awhile. Pat Burrell (more on him higher up the list) is, to the uninformed fan, swings it like the Giants must have built the batting order around him. Now, they've added outfielder Cody Ross from the Marlins (fans will love the guy, honest).
Then, figure that they threw Buster Posey in as the big bat in the overhaul—by recalling him from the minors. A team can't add that much punch for that minimal financial outlay very often.
9. Pablo Sandoval is finding his mojo
He won't replicate his 2009 offensive production. Even if he does, fans and the media are ripping his defensive skills (did they actually think he was a good third baseman at some point?). Still, Sandoval's worked hard and persevered and is swinging the bat well after fans and even some media "insiders" though he should be sent to the minor leagues.
8. Travis Ishikawa has a big league job
He's a late-inning defensive replacement. The guy proved he can play first base everyday in a pinch and produce (he's also shown he's not an everyday big leaguer...his value diminishes the more he plays). Fans love the guy. Well, people who value patience and hard work love the guy. Finally, Ishikawa has established himself as a fine pinch-hitter.
Long after fans forget John Bowker, Fred Lewis, and all those guys who were supposed to help save the offense, they'll be talking about Ishikawa becoming a serviceable big leaguer.
7. Aubrey Huff can play defense
How all those American League teams that employed Huff refused to let this guy play defense is an absolute mystery. His offensive output makes him a guy who will get NL MVP votes, but the great story has been his play on defense.
In spring training, it appeared he'd struggle at first base. Huff was fine, good even. When Buster Posey was recalled to play first base, Huff moved to the outfield. And...he's a serviceable outfielder with an adequate arm.
Best of all, he's joyfully accepted the chance to prove he's a big league defender.
How often do professional athletes happily accept, even joke about, having their role changed three times in less than one season?
Huff's a guy to keep around awhile.
6. Madison Bumgarner is a big league pitcher
He's only 21 years old, but...didn't media types and lots of fans think that his abysmal spring training effort showed that the left-hander was overrated and, worse, a potential bust? His numbers are special because he's only 21 and because he knows folks were counting him out. It takes stones for a kid to do what he did after losing a starting spot in spring training. He came back and, now, is pitching as well as anyone in the rotation.
5. Aaron Rowand is taking his diminished role like a pro
It might not mean much to fans, but bet that the Giants front office is overjoyed that Rowand is quietly accepting his ever-diminishing role in the lineup. The guy signed a multi-million-dollar free-agent deal and went bust in San Francisco. He lost his starting job to a career minor leaguer after an extended period when making contact with any pitch was a challenge. Now, he's behind former Florida Marlins star Cody Ross, too.
Rowand hasn't been heard to utter a single complaint. Fans can boo him and shout about his .230'ish batting average. He gives the appearance he'll respond like a pro and do whatever he can, in the few times he's called upon, to help the club. And Rowand is a key clubhouse presence—a veteran leader—so if he wanted to try to completely unhinge the chemistry with media tirades, he surely could.
4. Barry Zito bounced back
He's struggling right now, but Zito has returned to be an effective big league starting pitcher in 2010. He'll never truly earn the salary the Giants are paying him—unless he solves the crisis in the Middle East, cures the common cold and wins 20 games.
Everybody seemed so certain that the butt of every Giants' fans cruelest joke was finished...done. Many roared that Zito was stealing money and that he should simply retire early in 2009.
When you hear a naysayer spouting off about something that, "can't possibly happen" or about a player who "is absolutely finished," remind him of the story of Zito in 2010.
3. Pat Burrell salvaged his career to key the bat attack.
It's impossible to feel sorry for a millionaire, especially one who was getting paid millions to do nothing. Burrell flopped so miserably with the Tampa Bay Rays that they released the veteran outfielder and said, "Here's your millions of dollars, just leave and give us an empty roster spot." Burrell's great seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies were forgotten. He was considered finished at 33 years of age.
The Giants were so desperate for home run power that they gave Burrell a minor league contract and two weeks to prove he could regain the form he showed in Philly. Burrell did the job in Fresno, got a call to San Francisco and ...
His story has evolved as the type story that should give fans and general managers hope, regardless of their team's plight. Paying him virtually nothing, the Giants are being led by the Bay Area native who joins Aubrey Huff to sandwich Buster Posey in the middle of the order.
Burrell brought the Giants the longball power, sure. He's got 12 homers—two fewer than he had in about 200 games for Tampa Bay. Better, Burrell knows the strike zone and is the patient, veteran hitter that the Giants have lacked for years. Go ahead, gripe that he can't run and that he isn't a good defensive left fielder. Just acknowledge his .884 on-base percentage and his 41 walks.
A power hitter...who will take a walk...in the middle of the Giants order. And, another team is paying his salary?
2. Buster Posey arrived in the big leagues as advertised
The young catcher arrived in San Francisco exactly as advertised. Well, he arrived as a first baseman for a team that couldn't hit a lick, but eventually earned the everyday catcher's job and became the player a franchise can plan to build around for a decade—or more.
The numbers don't sufficiently explain why Posey has been such a wonderful story for the Giants. He is not only a Rookie of the Year candidate. The kid is clearly a calming presence, mature beyond his years. Since his arrival in May, there hasn't been a player on the roster who hasn't briefly appeared to have forgotten how to play the game.
When Posey doesn't get the job done, it's because the opposition just outplayed him. He knows, and fans believe, it won't happen very often.
Who among Giants fans didn't have some fear that Posey might be a .280 hitter, drive in 75 runs and hit 12 homers? Oh, and, remember all the skeptics who didn't think he could handle big league pitching?
The story ends with Giants fans breathing a sigh of relief and planning on Posey becoming a Bonds-like franchise cornerstone—a big-time hitter around whom the Giants can build for years to come.
1. Andres Torres emerged as an everyday center fielder
If you like underdogs, you love Andres Torres.
The Giants grabbed Torres from the scrap heap entering spring training 2009. The chances that a 31-year-old outfielder could end 12 years in the minor leagues by becoming a big league team's starting centerfielder and lead-off hitter are virtually nil. Torres is the Giants centerfielder, lead-off hitter, and arguably their heart and soul at the age of 32.
Never saw that coming, did you?
Torres has provided the Giants with a base-stealing threat with 23 thefts in 116 games. The switch-hitter has 13 home runs and ranks among NL leaders with 41 doubles and 5 triples. Playing alongside outfielders who don't have much range, Torres has anchored the outer defense. For those who can't forget the negative—Aaron Rowand is on the bench because Torres has become a big league contributor.
Posey's going to be a star for years to come. Torres might be having the year of his life, so his is the Giants' top story in 2010.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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