San Francisco Giants' 2009 Season Taking Shape with a Few Surprises

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IApril 24, 2009

Now seems as good a time as any to step back from the San Francisco Giants' season and take a look at how things are shaping up thus far.

The boys are coming off a two-game "sweep" of the San Diego Padres—a small measure of retribution for the three-game variety the Fathers put on SF when our guys visited Petco about 10 days ago.

But, in this writer's opinion, two games a series do not make so there's no need for a specific recap dedicated to the duet.

Instead, the Gents have 14 games in the books, and that's a good enough sample to start sizing up strengths and weaknesses going forward.  Nothing's conclusive at this early juncture, but most starters in Major League Baseball have made three starts and the regulars should have around 50 at-bats—those are both large enough sets if a player is extreme to one end or the other of the performance spectrum.

If you've been brutal for a trio of trips to the bump, it's probably time to squeeze in some extra work.  Ditto if you're swinging a frostbitten bat.

On the other hand, Zack Greinke and his 0.00 earned run average after 20 innings are likely in for a dandy season.

Same goes for guys like Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and Evan Longoria—each has five big flies and a batting average above .400 (or .394 in Victor's case and his .453 on-base percentage is five points higher than Longo's).

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Obviously, Greinke will surrender an earnie and none of those triplets is a good bet to replace Ted Williams, but I expect all to finish with a full season's worth of fantastic production.

The same goes for those ballplayers leading our home nine.  And the Giants who've stumbled badly out of the gate.

On offense, there haven't been too many surprises and that's not a good thing since expectations were, ahem, mild.

The club ranks dead freakin' last (as in 30th of the 30 MLB franchises) in runs scored, runs batted in, and hits.  San Francisco manages to climb one run up the ladder if you sort by OBP, slugging percentage, home runs, or walks.

That's bad.  That's really bad.

The silver lining to the anemic cloud has been Fred Lewis.

In fact, Fab Five Freddie has been much more—with a little help from Bengie Molina, Freddie has almost managed to shine through.  He's raking to the tune of .356 with an OBP of .491, which is utterly astounding when you consider he's leading the team with 16 strikeouts (in 45 ABs, ouch).

Of course, the 10 free passes he's drawn have helped.

Although Lewis has yet to register his first longball of 2009, he's tallied three doubles and a triple so the power potential is there.  He's not gonna bomb away 30 times a year, but 20 should be within his range and he'll start to deliver as the weather turns warmer for good.

The other bright spot is Big Money.

His start has been almost as surprising as the growth Freddie's shown because even most of us die-hards figured Molina wouldn't be able to duplicate his heroic 2008 campaign.  It just wasn't fair to expect him to lead the offense, come up with countless clutch hits, and perform so far above his head AGAIN.

Well...so far, Bengie's making us look foolishly faithless.

The Giant backstop, not known for a quick first step on the diamond (or any thereafter), has gotten off to a fast start in the stat columns with a .308 average.  In one of the more incredible testaments to free-swinging I've ever seen, Molina's OBP is actually lower.

Since Molina has zero walks and a pair of sacrifice flies, his OBP is 12 points lower at .296.  Weird.

Along with Aaron Rowand, Bengie shares the team-lead with two homers and stands alone atop the Giants' leader board with 10 RBI.  Most importantly, his walk-off double against the Pads in extra frames on Wednesday stands as the latest example of Molina's persisting flair for the dramatic in '09.

Alas, here stops the good news on offense.  The rest of the twists have been of the wrong vintage.

Randy Winn scorched through the first five games, peaking with a 3-for-4 performance against SD that pushed his average to .458.  Subsequently, Winn's gone 3-for-34 and seen his average plummet perilously and uncharacteristically close to the Mendoza line.

Pablo Sandoval's lack of plate discipline may prove to be a bigger problem than originally thought.  Little Money is only hitting at a .245 clip, has yet to go yard, has fanned 12 times, and can't compensate for those whiffs with walks like Fast Freddie can.  Pablo's only forced one walk, so his OBP is a putrid .286.

But all is not gloom and doom for Sandoval.

He's (allegedly) shown the ability to adapt at the plate as he progressed through the lower levels so a little patience is in order.  Furthermore, he's been a revelation at third base with the glove.

The hot corner was a major source of concern heading into 2009 because Sandoval had little experience at one of the more difficult positions in baseball.  In truth, he was shoe-horned into the spot because of his bat and the dearth of viable alternatives.

His leather was almost a total mystery other than his obvious raw talent.  Again, nothing's conclusive, but—to date—Pablo has been incredible.  Incredible.

Not only is he yet to make an error in over 30 chances (an inevitability), Sandoval has made outrageously difficult plays look easy—like they were made by a slick picker who'd played his entire career at third.

And this is a converted catcher.

I'm guessing his bat comes around as Sandoval realizes he can relax into his new defensive surroundings.

As for the rest of this motley bunch—nobody expected great seasons from Rowand, Travis Ishikawa, Emanuel Burris, or Edgar Renteria.  And none is disappointing, although Edgar's grand slam off Jake Peavy may be a legit ray of hope.

I don't think his rediscovered swing heralds quite the good times Kruk and Kuip seem to be anticipating, but I do think he could be a nice little story of redemption if Renteria can keep that stroke locked in.

All of that is secondary, though.  The 2009 San Francisco Giants will rise and fall with the fortunes of their pitching staff.  Had I written this a week ago, the hurlers would've been the No. 1 stunner on this squad.

Happily for San Francisco fans, the ship has been righted in the meantime.

The real Tim Lincecum finally debuted as he tossed eight scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks his last time out.  And his performance followed a similarly dominating shutout performance from Jonathan Sanchez.

The two combined to launch the starters on a string of superb outings that has yet to stop.

Randy Johnson followed the Freak by flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning and leaving without surrendering a run while beating those same Snakes.  Then it was Matt Cain's turn to outpitch Peavy and beat San Diego despite being touched for two earned runs.  Finally, Barry Zito joined the party by throwing seven scoreless frames of his own as the Giants again beat SD.

Out in the bullpen, the story is much of the same.

Although there have been some bumps in the road for all of the key arms, Jeremy Affeldt, Bobby Howry, and Brian Wilson have all been much more good than bad.

Wilson is two-for-two in save opportunities, Howry is perfect except for one ineffective appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Affeldt has seen his number called most frequently in the most precarious moments to stellar results.

Like the others, Jeremy hasn't been perfect.  But the three outs he got as the Padres were threatening late Wednesday exemplify his value to San Francisco.  Those were huge outs that directly resulted in a big win for the team—the Orange and Black had to have them, Affeldt got the call, and he delivered against the best hitters the Fathers could offer.

The Giants have even gotten great contribution from Brandon Medders, who's worked his way into the thick of 'pen activity.

When you put the whole picture together after 14 games, the final product is pretty much what most Giants fans were expecting—the offense has shown some flashes of competency while spending most of its time mired in futility.

And the pitching's starting to become the stingy array we were promised after its sluggish start.

The hitting is what it is—there's probably not going to be a whole lot of stripe-changing this late in the game.  Renteria needs to continue on his current upward trend, Rowand needs to crank it up a bit, and Winn needs to rediscover his opening stroke.  But even if all that happens, this offense is not going to be winning games.

That will be the pitching's job—keep 'em off the board so the offense can scratch together enough contact to produce a run or two.

That means the starters need to keep twirling like they've been twirling.  And the 'pen needs to follow suit.

So it's on Lincecum, Johnson, and Cain.

Those three have to set the tone because pitching is nothing if not streaky—a couple good starts can set the rest of the rotation off running, but a couple bad ones can do just the same in the opposite direction.

If the triumvirate can set a dominant and winning tone (and take it on the road), then Sanchez, Zito, and the rest of the fellas might just follow them into contention in the National League West.

Maybe even beyond...