San Francisco Giants: Why They're Slumping And Why They'll Be Fine
They're hitting .240 as a team, placing them 27th out of the 30 MLB clubs. They've been shutout twice in the last five games, by the likes of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. Their leading hitter just broke his hand. Their closer's ERA is 6.97. As a team, they've already committed 19 errors in 27 games.
With a start like this, the defending world-champion San Francisco Giants surely find themselves in a terrible hole in the N.L. West as they begin the second month of the season.
Wait a minute.
With the way this club has been playing, that seems like a miracle. Yet it is where the Giants find themselves, still very much alive and well in their quest to repeat as world champions.
Why are they slumping? There are several reasons. Will they be alright? Absolutely...
Why They're Slumping: Injuries
When news broke that Pablo Sandoval had broken a bone in his hand and would be sidelined for at least a month, the prospects of a turnaround for a badly-slumping Giants offense looked to be dashed.
Sandoval's is just the most recent in a long string of injuries that have hampered the Giants in the first month of the 2011 season.
Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Barry Zito and Mark DeRosa preceded Sandoval on the disabled list. The early loss of Ross, the NLCS MVP, and Torres, the Giants leadoff hitter and spark plug from 2010, decimated the lineup from the outset.
When a team's offensive hero from the 2010 postseason (Ross) and their leadoff hitter who sets the tone for the offense (Torres) are out of the lineup, the other hitters up and down the order lose rhythm and balance that serves to throw the whole operation off.
And it shows. The Giants can't buy a hit with runners in scoring position, and they are averaging just 3.7 runs/game so far.
Why They're Slumping: They've Been on the Road for 16 of Their First 27 Games
Any team that has to start the season by playing 16 of their first 27 games on the road is facing a real challenge. Especially when that team is the defending world champion and has to play two teams that are having their own home openers.
To complicate matters, the Giants are currently in the middle of a 10-game road trip, the longest trip away from AT&T Park they will face all season.
The Giants have not had much time with their fans in the familiar atmosphere of AT&T Park, the electricity of which played a huge role in their success in 2010.
Why They're Slumping: Being Defending Champs Has Its Distractions
It's not easy being defending world champions. While that's no excuse for losing, the Giants are in a position they've never been in before.
Most of the Giants have never won a World Series before, and taking the field the next season is a foreign feeling.
Along with the pressures of having a target on their backs as defending champs, and all of the attention that garners, distractions have abounded for this club in the first month of the season following their World Series victory last fall.
With the raising of the championship banner at AT&T Park, as well as the much-anticipated ring ceremony, the Giants have been dwelling in a state of ecstasy over what they accomplished last season, as they should be.
But there comes a time when last season must be put in the history books, and the business of the new season should be attended to. With April behind them, the Giants will start to finally immerse themselves in 2011, having put 2010 and all of its glory in the rear view mirror.
With the distractions aside, we should see a much improved and more focused club going forward.
Why They'll Be Fine: Pitching, Pitching, And...Oh Yeah, Pitching
One reason the Giants have been able to stay around the .500 mark while hitting so poorly thus far is that their pitching staff remains extremely effective.
San Francisco's pitching staff leads the majors with 227 strikeouts and it is second in opponents' batting average at .224. The staff's ERA is a respectable 3.60.
These numbers would be fantastic for any major-league staff, but if you asked Tim Lincecum and company about their performance so far they'd probably tell you they could do better. And that's the main reason why the Giants will be in the playoffs this year: They can flat out pitch.
In the 2010 postseason, the Giants proved the old adage that good pitching always beats good hitting. Despite being considered underdogs to the Phillies and the Rangers, the Giants prevailed by putting up historic pitching stats.
Look for more of the same from the 2011 edition of the Giants as the season progresses.
Why They'll Be Fine: The Giants Know How To Hit
Andres Torres: .268, 16 HR, 63 RBI (43 doubles, 8 triples, 26 stolen bases)
Freddy Sanchez: .292, 7 HR, 47 RBI
Aubrey Huff: .290, 26 HR, 86 RBI
Buster Posey: .305, 18 HR, 67 RBI (N.L. Rookie of the Year)
Pat Burrell: .252, 20 HR, 64 RBI
Cody Ross: .269, 14 HR, 65 RBI (NLCS Most Valuable Player)
Just a little reminder of what some of the returning Giants did offensively in 2010. This list doesn't even include the resurgent Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting .313 with five home runs and 14 RBI already this season, or Brandon Belt, who is hitting .429 in Fresno and will likely be back with the club very soon.
The bottom line is the Giants know how to hit. Are they slumping terribly right now? You bet. But do baseball players fall into slumps periodically over a 162-game season? Something would be wrong if they didn't.
San Francisco's bats will come out of this coma. That's because there are too many proven offensive threats on this team, including Buster Posey, who has yet to put in a full season at the plate. There is no reason not to expect about 25 homers and 100-plus RBI from Buster this season. And when the Panda returns, who knows what kind of monster numbers he'll put up.
One month into the season is no time to panic over a sluggish offense, especially when many key components that make this machine work have been missing due to injury.
Should Brian Sabean Trade For A Big Bat? Not At The Expense Of Pitching
To Giants fans who are panicking over the offensive power outage, please don't forget what brought home the title.
The Giants are a team that is built around pitching. Pitching and timely hitting is what brought the Giants a world championship in 2010, and they cannot lose that identify in 2011 because the bats have gone cold over the last two weeks.
Many have suggested the Giants should trade Matt Cain or another key piece of their dominant pitching staff in order to convince a team to let go of one of their big bats. That would be a huge mistake.
The Giants have only had one offensive downgrade from 2010 to 2011—Juan Uribe left and Miguel Tejada replaced him. Tejada will not hit for as much power as Uribe did, and so far he has not shown he can perform in the clutch the way Uribe did last season.
But other than the Uribe-Tejada situation, the Giants have virtually the same offense as they did last year, with reinforcement in the form of Brandon Belt surely on the way soon.
Trading pitching for hitting would be rash and would be disastrous for the Giants.
Why They'll Be Fine: They're Still A Band of Misfits
The Giants have character. And they have a lot of it.
This team genuinely enjoys playing baseball with one another, and they're all about just that: a team.
There are no selfish players in this clubhouse, and everyone's in it to win it.
They want to repeat as world champions more than anyone, and their hunger combined with their chemistry will take them far in 2011.