San Francisco Giants: 5 Major Surprises in 2011
Following the euphoria of the San Francisco Giants' first World Series title in 56 years, there have been several surprises to this season already. Everything came together like magic in 2010 and the Giants won their first championship in their history in San Francisco.
The one constant and consistent part of the Giants has been their stellar pitching staff, led by starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The bullpen has also been a strength, with Brian Wilson anchoring the closer role.
The Giants' pitching has been very good; however, there have been several other surprises in 2011.
Let's take a look.
5. Pablo Sandoval Loses 45 Pounds
Pablo Sandoval joined the Giants and quickly became a fan favorite. Nicknamed the Kung Fu Panda, the effervescent, happy-go-lucky third baseman had an excellent first two years for the Giants.
In 2008, the Panda hit .345 in 145 at-bats, then followed it up in 2009 by hitting .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI. Fans in San Francisco, young and old alike, wore panda hats throughout the stadium. Sandoval was the jolly, rotund star that the fans adored.
Then, it all changed in 2010.
Sandoval's weight ballooned up and easily surpassed his batting average. He hit only .268 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI. What made matters worse is he was terrible in the field, as he was just too fat. As he lost confidence at the plate and in the field, things just got worse.
Sandoval was benched late in the season during the stretch run. He also played only sporadically in the postseason. Giants GM Brian Sabean warned that unless Sandoval lost weight and came into camp in shape, he would not make the 2011 roster.
The Panda took the warning to heart and went on a rigorous nutrition and exercise program in the offseason. He lost 45 pounds and reported to camp in the best shape of his career. The almost svelte-looking Panda regained the bat speed he lost the previous year and was also much better defensively.
Sandoval got off to a very good start in 2011 and was hitting .313 with five home runs and 14 RBI, prior to breaking his hand. He is due back in a week or two, and the Giants will need him to come back strong, especially since Buster Posey is lost for the season.
4. Aubrey Huff Is Off to a Horrible Start
Aubrey Huff was one of the pleasant surprises for the Giants in 2010. He was a team leader on and off the field and had a great year.
In 2010, Huff hit .290 with 26 home runs, 86 RBI and an OBP of .385. Huff was the offensive leader for the Giants in many categories.
Huff also captured the hearts and imagination of the Giants players and fans with his gritty attitude and media-friendly approach. It was Huff who wore the infamous red thong that became a rallying point for the team.
But 2011 has not been nearly as much fun for Huff. He signed a two-year, $22 million deal this past offseason but has struggled at the plate. He is currently batting only .219 and his OBP of .278 is over 100 points below last year.
Huff's struggles have been a big surprise for the Giants, and they desperately need him to heat up and bolster their sagging offense.
3. Ryan Vogelsong Has Emerged as a Reliable Starter
Ryan Vogelsong is a journeyman pitcher in the true sense of the word. At age 33, Vogelsong broke in with the Giants back in 2000. He was traded to the Pirates in 2001 in the deal that brought the Giants Jason Schmidt.
In 2002, Vogelsong was in the minors, and he split time between the minors and Pittsburgh in 2003. He stayed with the Pirates for the following two seasons. Then in 2006, Vogelsong was on the bus back and forth between Pittsburgh and their Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.
Vogelsong then departed the United States and played in Japan from 2007-2009. He returned to play in the U.S. again in 2010, but at the minor league level.
It appeared as though Vogelsong's career was nearing an end when he came to the Giants minor league camp earlier this year. He pitched quite well and almost made the roster but was sent to Triple-A Fresno to start the year.
When Barry Zito went down with an injury, Vogelsong got his chance in San Francisco. When he beat his old team, the Pirates, earlier in 2011, it was Vogelsong's first win in the major leagues since 2005.
Vogelsong has pitched very well for the Giants. He is 3-1 with an ERA of 1.77 and WHIP of 1.06. He has been the biggest positive surprise for the Giants thus far in 2011.
2. Too Many Injuries
The San Francisco Giants stayed relatively healthy in 2010, which was a huge factor in their run to the playoffs and World Series victory. One might have expected the same this year, being that the team is still fairly young and most players did not have a history of injury.
However, the team has been snake-bit with the injuries thus far in 2011. Nine players have missed significant time already this year after only two months.
The most serious injury has been to Buster Posey, who just had surgery on his ankle and will be lost for the season. Pablo Sandoval's broken hand also cost him several weeks and has hindered the Giants offense.
Other players to miss significant time are Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Mike Fontenot, Darren Ford, Brian Wilson, Barry Zito and Santiago Casilla. The amazing thing is that the Giants are still four games over .500.
If the Giants continue to have health problems, they will struggle to make the playoffs this year. With Buster Posey gone, the Giants will need contributions from their entire roster in order to make a run in 2011.
1. Miguel Tejada's Untimely Demise
I must admit that when Juan Uribe signed with the Dodgers and the Giants moved quickly to sign Miguel Tejada, I figured that would be a good one-year move. He played well last year, splitting time between Baltimore and San Diego.
In 2010, Tejada hit .269 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI. He played 156 games and looked like he could adequately replace Uribe and Edgar Renteria.
Unfortunately, Tejada has been a big disappointment.
Tejada is 37 years old and looking every bit of his age. If it were not for the injuries to Sandoval and Fontenot, Tejada would be spending a lot more time on the bench.
Tejada is hitting only .217 and has an OBP of just .241. He has only one home run and 16 RBI. His slugging percentage of .277 is the lowest on the team.
These are just terrible numbers.
To make matters worse, Tejada has struggled defensively. His seven errors lead the team and there have been several plays that he has not made where he was not charged with an error. Tejada has lost his range at shortstop and is a defensive liability wherever he plays.
Due to the number of injuries the Giants have sustained, Tejada has gotten a lot more chances than he has earned. When Fontenot and Sandoval return from their DL stints, it will be interesting to see if Tejada keeps his spot on the team.
It's a Long Season, There's Still Plenty of Baseball to Be Played
After two months of the season, the Giants are 29-25, second place in the NL West. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and with four months left in the season, the Giants have plenty of time to gel.
I fully expect some roster moves prior to the trade deadline, and that could bolster the Giants' chances. In 2010, GM Brian Sabean made several moves to strengthen the team. One can only hope he will be able to do the same in 2011.
The Giants will play 16 of their next 24 games at home, so they will have a good chance to get back on track. The Giants will need to avoid injuries over the next four months, and if the pitchers perform as they're capable, they will be in the hunt in September.
It's not going to be easy for the Giants to make another postseason run, but it is definitely possible.