The San Francisco Giants are the defending world champions. They are in first place in the National League West, 11 games over the .500 mark. They have four All-Star selections that will represent them at the 77th Midsummer Classic next week in Phoenix.
Just about where we thought this club would be come the All-Star break?
Perhaps. But when you throw in the adversity this club has had to contend with, including an unbelievable number of key injuries like that which ended Buster Posey's season in May, it's pretty remarkable the Giants are in the position they're in at the moment.
One of the most frustrating problems this team has had throughout the first half of 2011 is its poor performance offensively.
San Francisco has also scored just 323 runs, 27th in baseball.
But there's reason for optimism as the first half fades into memory, and the second half, sure to be exciting as the Giants gear up for the stretch run towards the postseason, becomes a reality.
The Panda is hungry
When Pablo Sandoval got off to a very slow start following his return from a two-month absence after suffering a broken hamate bone in the right hand, there was legitimate concern the hand would bother him to the point he wouldn't be able to put up good numbers offensively for the rest of 2011.
Those fears have been allayed.
Sandoval is sizzling at the plate and is now hitting .302 with 8 home runs and 27 RBI. In the month of July so far, the Panda is hitting .357 with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBI in six games. He's slugging .750 and is currently enjoying a 18-game hitting streak.
This is the Pablo Sandoval of 2009 (when he hit .330 with 25 HR and 90 RBI), but better.
There's no reason to think Sandoval will slow down. He was on fire to open the season in April, before he broke his hand late in that month. And after a brief period of readjustment after missing two months, Sandoval is on fire again.
His offensive fireworks have proven steady despite the interruption in his season due to injury, and we may be in for a second half to remember while watching Sandoval at the plate for the stretch run.
Brandon Belt looks ready to contribute
Brandon Belt has had a frustrating season of his own. He made the big league club out of spring training but hit just .211 before being demoted to Triple-A. He then suffered a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch in his first game back with the Giants following his recall from the minors.
Now in the midst of his second stint in Fresno this year, Belt is belting (I know, how many times is that one going to be used throughout this kid's career) baseballs all over Chukchansi Park.
Belt is currently hitting .322 with five home runs and 22 RBI in 115 at-bats for the Grizzlies. What would that look like in a full 600-at-bat season? Try .322, 26 HR and 115 RBI.
Belt looks ready to rejoin the Giants, and when he gets back to San Francisco, look for him to contribute the way we all hoped he would when the season began.
Nate will continue being great
Nate Schierholtz continues to prove his value as an everyday player for the Giants. Not only does he play right field at AT&T Park better than anyone, he's been adding offensive production to his already stellar defensive game.
Schierholtz has come through in the clutch more times this season than you can count on your hands, his most recent heroics coming on Wednesday night against the Padres, going 3-for-6 with two home runs and 6 RBI, including a walk-off blast in the 14th inning.
If Schierholtz had enough at-bats this season (he currently has 212), he'd be leading the club in batting average (.278), third in home runs (6), tied for second in RBI (27) and third in runs scored (28).
Based on these numbers, if Schierholtz had a full season of 600 at-bats, he'd finish with some pretty decent offensive stats: .278 BA, 17 HR, 76 RBI.
Look for Nate the Great to continue to be a fixture in the Giants' lineup and to continue producing offensively for the defending champs down the stretch.
As bad as it's been, it should get better
San Francisco's offense has been terrible. Everyone knows that. But there's definitely reason to believe that it's going to improve in the second half.
Even without a trade to bolster the offense (and there still might be a trade to do just that), the key aforementioned personnel should help ensure the Giants get the offensive push they need the rest of the way.
Combine improved offensive output with the lights-out pitching staff this club trots out to the hill day-in and day-out and you've got yourself a postseason contender.
The defense of the world championship continues and the Giants are primed to be in the hunt once again come October.
Fear not, Giants faithful. Don't look for blowout victories every night, as the Giants will certainly continue to torture you by walking the tightrope the rest of the season, but overall the offense should improve and the Giants should again be the team nobody wants to see in the playoffs.