Regardless of whether the San Francisco Giants make the postseason, the 2010 campaign has already been a success.
The team is contending into September as it did in 2009, but the lads' chances look much better this time around the bend.
Even if they ultimately fall short of the second season, the squad will improve upon the '09 version's 88-74 record as long as they don't finish in a 10-12 skid.
Anything is possible, but such a thud down the stretch seems very unlikely from a San Francisco side that's played .557 baseball through 140 contests.
Especially because the Gents are giving the distinct impression of being on their collective way to a peak at just the right time.
At various times in '10, the Orange and Black pitchers have done the heavy lifting or the lumber has had to shoulder the disproportionate load. At no point have both sides of the baseball been clicking along in unison.
It hasn't quite happened yet, but the arms and bats are hinting at a nice rhythm.
Rotation Finding Its Spring Stride
Ace-in-hiding Tim Lincecum is looking like his old self again. Giant fans are beginning to feel cautiously comfortable with the September version after the diminutive fireballer tossed 14 spectacular innings before tiring in his last frame of work against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
So far in Autumn's first month, "The Freak" has twirled every bit like the pitcher who's won two consecutive National League Cy Young Awards—2-0, 14.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 20:1 K:BB, .195 BAA, .196 OBPA, and .364 SLGA.
With "The Franchise" in his rightful spot, leading the rotation's charge, a major concern would be eliminated not a moment too soon. It would also help set a dominant tone that's been missing from Los Gigantes' starters recently.
If the early returns are any indication, that's precisely what's happening after Lincecum took the pearl on Sept. 1. The staff as a whole had a 1.96 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 5.55 K:BB, and opponents' slash line of .179/.231/.282 in 55 IP entering play on Wednesday.
Of course, the Bay Area has seen a resplendent rotation getting the job done.
Lumber Continues to Bring the Wood
The new development is an offense that's keeping pace...well, almost.
While the Giants batting order will never remind anyone of "Murderer's Row," it's been doing its part with timely hitting and resiliency.
Although it's only scored 21 runs in seven September games, the club has managed to win five of the contests behind the aforementioned pitching and an offense that's saved its runs for when they're most needed.
In so doing, the sticks have seen contributions from a whole host of deckhands.
Second-half acquisition Mike Fontenot contributed a game-tying single to back Lincecum's first gem while Jose Guillen (himself a post-All-Star break pick-up) scored that run after breaking up Ubaldo Jimenez' no-hitter.
Darren Ford, a September call-up, crossed with the winning run after being inserted by manager Bruce Bochy as a pinch-runner.
Freddy Sanchez, a trade-deadline acquisition in 2009 by general manager Brian Sabean, sealed the victory with a sprawling catch (OK, that one wasn't offensive, but still...).
Three days later, the Gents used the long ball to come back against the hated Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium—three of the four big flies came from Pat Burrell (a first-half acquisition), Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe.
Uribe's two-run blast provided the game-winning margin off of closer Jonathan Broxton in the ninth.
The super utilityman, one of the keys to keeping an anemic first-half offense afloat, connected for another two-run dinger in support of a Jonathan Sanchez blinder the next day.
It was all the backing "Dirty Sanchez" needed as San Francisco took two of three from the Bums in their own house.
Next up in the game of musical chairs was Nate Schierholtz in the desert.
"Nate the Great" went from goat to hero against the Snakes on Monday when his extra-inning triple provided the winning separation in a game he entered as a pinch-runner, only to get picked off by the freakin' catcher.
But that's how it's gone for the Giants of late—a different day, a different darling.
Sabean and Bochy Have Earned Their Fair Shares of Credit
Perhaps lost in all the good news are two men who have taken more lashes than they've deserved while guiding the City's pride and joy.
Bruce Bochy, for all the criticism he's endured about sticking too long with veterans and constantly shuffling the lineup, must have been grinning as he watched bemoaned piece after bemoaned piece contribute to victories this past week.
There was Renteria, who the faithful wanted designated for assignment eons ago, getting a big home run to help the comeback against the Dodgers and hitting over .300 in September.
There were Schierholtz, Burrell, Guillen, Uribe, Freddy Sanchez, Fontenot, and others answering the bell without signs of rust or debilitating fatigue.
None of that happens without consistent playing time to keep the skills sharp offset by appropriate rest (or at least the percentages go WAY down) and the right balance ain't possible without an expert juggler.
Take a bow, Bruce...actually, let's wait a month or so.
Nevertheless, as nicely as Boch's season is rounding out, it can't hold a candle to Sabean's campaign.
Freddy Sanchez? Yep, he's been a huge asset both defensively and offensively as he's caught fire since August (though, technically not a move from '10).
Aubrey Huff? Quite possibly the team's MVP.
Burrell, Guillen, and Fontenot? Brought in to bolster a sagging offense, each has had his moments of contribution while "Pat the Bat" (14 HR and a slash line of .266/.370/.514 in 265 PA with SF) has arguably been the biggest midseason addition in Major League Baseball...non-Buster Posey Division.
And Sabes' biggest finds are perhaps the least discussed:
Javier Lopez—16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 5.50 K:BB, and an opponents' slash line of .130/.161/.148
Ramon Ramirez—17.1 IP, 1.04 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 0.90 K:BB, and an opponents' slash line of .172/.284/.234
Chris Ray—17 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 1.57 K:BB, and an opponents' slash line of .270/.343/.333 (these looked a lot better before Ray got Van Landingham'd for three hits, a walk, and three earnies without recording an out about three weeks ago)
Remember when Jeremy Affeldt and Dan Runzler—the resident southpaws in the 'pen—were out with injuries?
The firemen had been roughed up a bit, now they had no specialist to handle left-handed boppers, and yet no elite lefty had been acquired.
Panic gripped the City as talk radio and the blogosphere demanded to know how such stupidity could be tolerated from the franchise's brass.
The naysayers whined that the playoffs were going up in flames with the relievers' weak, wild junk.
However, as pretty as all that looks, the real coup here is that the Giants' general manager surrendered quite literally—in the baseball sense—nothing to grab these contributions.
The entire price tag amounts to some cash, a mentally/physically broken Bengie Molina, a badly fading blue-chip prospect (Tim Alderson in the '09 deal for Sanchez), and major-league flotsam.
All in all, not too shabby from a couple of scoundrels the masses wanted on the first cable car out of town a few short months (weeks) ago.
But Keep the Cork in the Champagne and the Bottles on Ice
Again, nothing has been won yet.
The playoffs are still 20 games away and that's a whole lotta baseball left to be played. The San Diego Padres have absolutely owned los Gigantes to date in '10, so their recent tumble has only opened the door to the NL West pennant; no tickets have been punched.
Additionally, the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies could be tough to catch for the NL Wild Card as they begin to sniff the NL East flag beyond the finish line. Oh yeah, let's continue to pretend the Colorado Rockies are of no concern while we still can.
Clearly, the San Francisco Giants still have an uphill climb if they want to reach the postseason.
But they have the personnel and a little momentum, which means they have a chance.
It also means Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are having the last laugh.
And it might be a long one.
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