San Francisco Giants: 2nd-Half Preview
After a first half that saw the Giants struggle terribly offensively, lose several key players to injury and somehow finish in first place in the NL West, the second half has many story lines that will make for an exciting stretch.
The defending world champions begin the remaining 10 weeks of the season at 52-40, three games ahead of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks. They are looking for their second consecutive postseason berth.
Let's take a look at what we can expect as the Giants make another playoff push.
The Giants return to Citizens Bank Park on July 26, their first appearance there since clinching the NL Pennant last October.
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If you told Giants manager Bruce Bochy in spring training that after the first half of the season his club would be 12 games over .500 and leading the division by three games, he'd not only take it, but he'd also probably be very pleased with that situation.
If you then told him that this would happen despite losing Buster Posey for the season and injuries to Pablo Sandoval, Barry Zito, Mark DeRosa and many others, he would probably be a little shocked.
But that's exactly where the Giants find themselves as they begin the second half. And looking at their schedule, they've got to like their chances for another postseason berth in 2011.
With most of the games remaining being against NL West opponents, the Giants will have a chance to distance themselves from the rest of the pack in their division, which is perhaps the weakest in baseball.
Possibly the most difficult stretch remaining will be an immediate test. The Giants go on the road beginning July 26 at Philadelphia, where they are sure to receive a "warm" reception from Phillies fans still smarting from San Francisco's six-game victory over Philadelphia to capture the NL pennant last October.
Fans aside, the Phillies have the best record in baseball and one of the best rotations to boot, with Roy Halladay anchoring a staff that includes fellow All-Stars Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, as well as Roy Oswalt.
San Francisco's test will continue after the three-game set at Citizens Bank Park. They then travel to Cincinnati to take on the Reds, another very talented club (especially offensively) that boasts the reigning NL MVP, Joey Votto, along with several other big hitters up and down the lineup.
When the Giants return home, it won't get much easier. San Francisco will then face the surprising second-place Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by the Phillies and the up-start Pittsburgh Pirates.
If the Giants can get through this 16-game stretch with their division lead in tact, they should be in good shape the rest of the way.
The Trade Deadline
Could Carlos Beltran become a Giant?
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The Giants and Mets have had a strange relationship in 2010, and much of it isn't even related to their interactions on the baseball field.
The trade buzz around the two teams has been extremely hot all season long.
First it was Jose Reyes, New York's star shortstop who is having a fantastic contract year, who was generating all of the trade talk around the Bay Area.
Now the focus has shifted to Reyes' teammate, Carlos Beltran, who is also in a contract year on a team with financial woes so terrible that a fire sale has almost become a foregone conclusion in Queens.
Will the 34-year-old Beltran, who is currently hitting .285 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI, become a Giant?
Only time will tell, but Giants general manager Brian Sabean's history suggests it won't happen. Although Sabean hasn't ruled out the possibility, his style probably would yield a solid, but not Blockbuster, deal.
Sabean is more likely to target a catcher that can contribute a little bit more on the offensive end than Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart have been able to in the wake of Buster Posey's season-ending injury.
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With the (so far) impressive return of Barry Zito to San Francisco's rotation and the placement of Jonathan Sanchez on the disabled list, it will be interesting to see what Bruce Bochy does once Sanchez returns from the sidelines.
Sanchez should be back within a couple of weeks, and it is very possible that Bochy will encourage a competition between his two starters to determine which of them stays in the starting rotation and which goes to the bullpen.
At this point, with Zito doing so well, it's very possible that Jonathan Sanchez will go into a relief role—unless he can improve his control and show consistent focus on the mound.
The Postseason Picture
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What will it look like, come October?
Well, if the season were to end today it would look very similar to last postseason, with the Giants winning the NL West, the Phillies winning the East and the Atlanta Braves claiming the wild-card spot.
The Braves are a club constructed very much like the Giants, with elite pitching but below-average offensive capabilities.
Believe it or not, Atlanta's team batting average is currently lower than San Francisco's, at .237.
The Phillies, of course, are the National League's powerhouse club entering the second half, with the best record in baseball. But as the Giants proved last year, the postseason is more about which club is playing better baseball at the moment.
For the Giants to be able to successfully defend their title, they will need to be playing well going into the playoffs (just as they did last season), coming off of an 18-8 September.
It'll Be Fun To Watch
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If there's anything we know about the Giants, it's that they're always fun to watch (you may insert the word "torturous" for "fun").
The second half promises to be another great stretch.