Giants Quarter-Season Report: San Fran Has Issues but Is in Position to Repeat
If I told you that a quarter of the way into the 2011 season, the Giants were last in the National League in runs, second to last in on-base percentage, their best hitter was on the DL and Madison Bumgarner had the worst record in all of baseball, would you believe me if I said that they were still leading their division by a game-and-a-half?
Nearly everything that could have gone wrong for the Giants this season has. Buster Posey is in a major sophomore slump, Aubrey Huff is only batting .219 and the team has suffered multiple injuries, including a broken hand for Pablo Sandoval, who happened to be their best hitter until he went on the DL.
The pitching is solid, but as mentioned before, Bumgarner is off to a horrible start, and the bullpen has been a little bit shaky.
Yet San Francisco still sits on top of the NL West with a 22-17 record. The Giants face the second-place Colorado Rockies on Monday, a team that they are 5-1 against.
Here is a look at the primary areas where the Giants have done both well and not well this season.
The offense has been the biggest concern this season, as the Giants are still not able to consistently score enough runs to support their starters. For example, Tim Lincecum has a 2.11 ERA, but due to the lack of runs early in games, his record stands at 3-3.
Buster Posey has been batting cleanup this year but is still trying to find his swing. He hit the ball well during spring training, but only has a .256 batting average this season. Posey is also lacking in power numbers, driving in just 20 RBI this year.
Andres Torres came up big for the Giants as a leadoff hitter last year, and having him back in the lineup will certainly help get things going.
As a team, the Giants are only hitting .236 and have failed to cash in with runners in scoring position many times. If hitters like Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross can start swinging like they were last season, the Giants could become a lot more dangerous than they already are.
Another area holding San Francisco back is its defense. It is hard watching Miguel Tejada commit error after error at shortstop after seeing Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria play the position almost perfectly the past couple years.
In the outfield, however, the Giants are still very strong defensively now that Torres is back. His speed enables him to track down almost any fly ball hit to center field. While Nate Schierholtz is not an everyday starter, his arm is making more people take notice of him.
The Giants' fielding percentage is at a dismal .980, ranking them 25th in all of MLB. In comparison, they had a .989 fielding percentage last year. While oftentimes overlooked, fielding can be the difference between winning a playoff series or losing one. If you don't believe me, just ask the Braves' Brooks Conrad.
Heading into this season, we knew the Giants would have one of the strongest rotations in baseball, and for the most part they have not disappointed.
Tim Lincecum looks sharper than he did most of last year, as he has increased the speed of his fastball while continuing to make a mockery of some of the league's best hitters through his changeup and curve.
Matt Cain has been very reliable through his first eight starts, only giving up more than three runs once. Jonathan Sanchez, on the other hand, has been pretty inconsistent, throwing six walks in two of his last three starts, and has never made it past the seventh inning.
Bumgarner is 0-6 and looks nothing like the pitcher we saw in the playoffs last year. If he doesn't find his rhythm soon, there is a possibility of him being sent down to the minors, especially when Barry Zito gets back from the DL.
Meanwhile, 33-year-old Ryan Vogelsong has been the Giants' most pleasant surprise this year. He has a 3-0 record to go with a 2.36 ERA. His most recent win came on Saturday, when he pitched a six-inning, complete-game shutout. Not bad for a guy was playing in Japan just a few years ago.
The Giants bullpen is one of the less active bullpens in the league, but is still a valuable key to the team's success. It has been very solid this season, with there only being a few times where it blew the game open.
Sergio Romo has perhaps been the Giants' best reliever. In 15 appearances, he has given up only one run while recording seven holds.
One of the games when the bullpen ended up hurting the Giants was Friday against Chicago. Bumgarner left the game in the sixth inning, only giving up three runs. Jeremy Affeldt came in after him and gave up four. Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler then combined to allow four more.
Hopefully, this was just a one-time affair, but if this continues, the Giants may need to trade for other relievers in June or July. But with Santiago Casilla off the DL, San Francisco's bullpen should remain amongst the best in baseball.
I hope you didn't think the 2011 season would be torture-free because whenever Brian Wilson is on the mound, there is always the threat of added anxiety.
Wilson and his beard have been fairly calm this season, as there have only been a few occasions where he made fans sit on the edge of their seats. Sadly, he is tied for the team lead in wins, showing how much drama there has been in the late innings this season.
The Giants have won far more walk-off games than manager Bruce Bochy would have liked, but it's better to win those close games than lose them. Wilson's outings in the ninth inning and beyond are a big reason why the Giants are 11-3 in one-run games this season, and two of those losses came when Wilson was still on the DL.
San Francisco did not get off to the start it wanted this season and is still not nearly playing up to its full potential. Regardless, the Giants have one of the best records in the National League and are up a game and a half over the Rockies in their division.
If the Giants can start hitting the ball consistently and providing more support for the starting pitchers, they will go to another level.
Through one quarter of the season, San Francisco has played the style of baseball that won it the World Series last year, and there is no reason to believe that it can't repeat.
The starting pitching almost always puts the team in a position to win the game as long as it can score a few runs. While hitting has been a major concern this season, last season's offense was just as weak up until the final few months.
The Giants will undoubtedly do whatever it takes to create a lineup that can score runs, and by the time September rolls around, the batting order on May 16 might look nothing like what it is then.
Overall, San Francisco Giants fans should be pleased with the way the season has gone so far. Three weeks ago, I don't think I could have imagined the Giants would have a game-and-a-half lead in the NL West, but that is indeed the case. While that lead means little this early in the season, it's better to be atop the division standings than not to be.