The addition of Carlos Beltran was the key component in upgrading the Giants offense.
Forget the fact that the Giants are currently riding a four game losing streak. Forget that they have only managed to score seven runs during that time frame. Forget that the Giants still rank 15th in the National League in total runs scored.
Instead, focus on how the Giants lineup now resembles that of a respectable playoff-caliber team. For the first time since the May 25th injury to Giants star catcher Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants can claim that they finally have an offense that can garner some respect.
Coming in to the 2011 season, the Giants were expected to be relatively weak offensively. Compared to some of the heavier hitting teams around the league such as the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco knew they would not be able to match up in run scoring capability. Instead, they planned to use the same formula that won them the 2010 World Series: stellar starting pitching combined with good defense, a solid bullpen and timely hitting.
Following key injuries to players like Posey, Freddy Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants offense declined. Furthermore, players like Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Cody Ross have failed to reach the level of production they enjoyed during last year's stretch run that propelled them to their first championship since 1954.
Recognizing that the Giants have a tremendous window of opportunity to become a perennial playoff favorite over the next few years, General Manager Brian Sabean knew that bolstering the offense with key trades before the trading deadline would be the only plausible solution to guarantee San Francisco's continued postseason success. With the current core of Giants starters along with a reputable bullpen, leaving the meager offense as it was would have been considered a giant letdown coming off the memories of a World Series win.
The hole left by Freddy Sanchez at second base, and in the number two slot of the batting order, forced Sabean's hand. The Giants experimented with journeyman Bill Hall and the fading prospect Emmanuel Burriss with limited success. Hall hit only .158 in 16 games for the Giants while Burriss fared little better at .217 in 48 games.
Sabean felt the need to execute the trade that sent minor league pitchers Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel to the Houston Astros for second baseman Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger fits the role expected of a number two hitter, boasting a season on-base percentage of .314 which should help set the table in front of the Giants' middle of the order batters.
The Giants' major acquisition was, of course, Carlos Beltran. He immediately became the team leader in home runs and runs batted in once he was traded by the New York Mets to San Francisco. The Giants were forced to send former first round draft pick Zack Wheeler in the exchange, but the move makes sense, given the Giants current pitching rotation is only under control for the next few years.
Lastly, Sabean upgraded the shortstop position by acquiring utility infielder Orlando Cabrera in exchange for minor league outfielder Thomas Neal. Before the move, Giants shortstops were batting a mere .208. The former Gold Glove Award winner Cabrera had been hitting .247 with the Cleveland Indians before the trade and even though those numbers do not inspire offensive greatness, it was a clear upgrade over the pre-existing options of Miguel Tejada, Mike Fontenot and Brandon Crawford.
As a result of the trades, the Giants were forced to part with only one major prospect in Wheeler. Time shall tell how Wheeler develops, but in the meantime, the Giants offense suddenly looks much more legitimate.
From top to bottom, the Giants can now rely less on their role players and more on their consistent bats. Keppinger should help the Giants at the top of the order by getting on base. Beltran and Pablo Sandoval now can provide significant run producing ability in the middle of the lineup. Huff, despite his 2011 struggles, can have some of the pressure taken off him as he shall see more time in the five slot. Nate Schierholtz, who is having the best season of his career thus far, should enjoy less pressure lower in the lineup. In addition, Ross may also benefit from a reduced role and lower lineup positioning.
For the first time since May, the Giants lineup looks legitimate. It may not be stellar or intimidating, but opposing pitchers will have to be much more careful how they pitch to the San Francisco bats. There is a significantly upgraded top half of the batting order, subsequently resulting in a much better offense.
The Giants may continue to struggle to score runs, but hopefully they will now be able to put up enough offense, combined with stellar pitching, in order to ensure a return to the postseason and another shot at World Series glory.