San Francisco Giants Roundtable: First Month Thoughts and Observations

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IMay 8, 2009

Twenty-seven games into the 2009 season and your San Francisco Giants are above the .500 mark. A 14-13 record heading into the second week of May is something that hasn’t been seen in two years.

Some good pitching and some not-so-good hitting have been on display at AT&T Park.

Now with Manny Ramirez banished for the next 50 games after whatever the hell it is he took, the Giants now have a glimmer of hope.

As Barry Zito said on his Twitter page, “it’s time for the Giants to capitalize.”

And what a perfect way to have the Dodgers start their Manny-less period than against the Gigantes?

The Giants Community Leader roundtable returns and with two of the three flooded in reading assignments and term papers, having the chance to discuss a little hardball was a pleasant break.

Evan Aczon

The pitching has come back around. My thoughts on that are: it’s about damn time. The Giants are a team that hinges on pitching, and I'll take four strong outings out of five any time through the rotation.

Lincecum's little adjustment has put him back in Cy Young form. Zito throwing to either Steve Holm or Pablo Sandoval seems to be working out. Randy Johnson is off-and-on but as the season wears on, it'll be more on than anything else.

Matt Cain is solid, as always, and this year he's getting run support, which could be scary. Jonathan Sanchez skipped a start but is back in the groove. I'm finally warming up to him, and he's got nasty stuff.

On the offensive side, there hasn't been anyone who's been extremely consistent. Bengie Molina is hitting over .300, but there's not much else going on.

Fred Lewis is heating back up after a very hot start followed by an equally cold spell. If he can stop striking out three times a game, he'll really start to contribute.

Sandoval is also showing more selectivity in his swings, and his offense is better for it. He's playing every day, and if the Giants can keep him healthy, he'll only get better.

Aaron Rowand has to produce. He did earlier, and he can do it again. His average isn't showing it, but he's driving the ball and using the whole field as of late.

In my opinion, Nate Schierholtz has to get more playing time, and he has been with the injury to Winn and should get more if Lewis doesn't produce.

Defensively, this team is doing great. That will keep Emmanuel Burriss on the field, and same with Ishikawa. They're two great defenders and aren't causing me any pain because of their plate performance.

Renteria is also solid up the middle, and has lost a step (see the Colorado game with three straight infield hits), but he's not making errors all over the place.

I'd like to see Rich Aurilia play more, and he's also playing his role very well, coming in against lefties and also getting the big hit that other young guys haven't been able to get all game. I also like Jesus Torres and hope he comes back soon. He hustles and knows what to do out there.

The same cannot be said for Eugenio Velez. I'm sorry, but I'm just not a fan. Yes, he's fast, but he doesn't know how to steal, doesn't get on base when he needs to, and is still a liability in the outfield.

Overall, the Giants are right where we thought they'd be: at .500. That's probably how its going to stay for a majority of the year, with some hot and cold spurts. I'm encouraged by Zito's strong April and by the fact that Cain's getting run support.

Wilson is locking down the back of the bullpen, and I think that, although Howry is getting knocked around a bit, he'll settle into a role. Bochy needs to use Merkin Valdez more in some of Howry's spots.

Good job, Giants, and keep up the pitching. The hits will fall, and the wins will come.

Andrew Nuschler

I'm gonna take a more specific approach on my take regarding the San Francisco Giants' 2009 progress.  And I'm doing it for a couple reasons.

First, I've already done a general state of the SF union and, since it was only about a week ago, not a ton has changed. 

The pitching has continued to be the strength and is getting stronger.  The offense has continued to struggled, but is also showing improvement.

Second, both Danny and Evan are well up to the task of updating the Gents last week or so.

Instead, I'm going to look closely at four guys I figured would—barring the really unforeseen—define the fortunes of the Orange and Black.  Those four would be Jonathan Sanchez, Randy Johnson, Pablo Sandoval, and Edgar Renteria.

Without further ado and in no particular order:

1.  Jonathan Sanchez—four starts, 21.1 IP, 1-2, 3.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 23 Ks, 18 walks, three home runs allowed, and .188 BAA

Clearly, the young lefty is off to a good start.  He's only taken the bump three times to open a game because a plethora of early off-days has allowed SF to skip his spot in the rotation and he's scheduled to throw today.

In those three games, Sanchez had exhibited several reasons to be seriously excited.

In his first start, he was bad.  He gave up both bombs, was wild, and didn't make it out of the fifth inning.  But that's actually good news because it shows he's already made a correction in-season and it only took him one start.

That's not something we've seen from Jonathan to date.

Another reason to smile is the changeup he added in the offseason is proving to be a dynamite pitch and considerable weapon.  Sanchez already seems comfortable and adept at using it to set up his strikeout pitch.  Sweet.

Lastly, and I'll have to cop to stealing this from Mike Krukow (who should and does know better than I), the southpaw is keeping his composure mid-inning.  He's rolling with bad breaks, missed calls, and blips in his mechanics—sometimes mid-at-bat.

And he dominated his personal bogeyman, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It all adds up to genuine indications of growth from a kid with a ton of talent.  That's great news for the Giants.

2. Randy Johnson—six starts, 31.2 IP, 2-3, 5.68 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 30 Ks, 16 walks, seven home runs allowed, .220 BAA

The 4-1-1 on the Big Unit isn't quite as dandy as that on Sanchez, but it's still pretty freakin' good.

Johnson's struggled with consistency, mixing two superb turns with three pretty atrocious ones.  But (A) San Francisco and its fans had to expect a 45-year-old pitcher to be up-and-down considering the arduous physical toll of Major League Baseball; and (B) there were extenuating circumstances that may or may not explain the bad outings.

One was his season and SF debut at home and another was his first start wearing the opposition's uniform in Arizona since he won a World Series there.  Both make for abnormal pre-game conditions and, although a vet like the Unit could be expected to pull through, things don't always work that way.

His numbers say he's still got plus-stuff and don't worry about the tater total—like many power pitchers, Johnson's always given up his share of dongs.

The final verdict on Randy is so far, so good.

3. Edgar Renteria—91 at-bats, .253 average, .327 OBP, .700 OPS, 16 runs, five doubles, two homers, 11 RBI

Those numbers actually don't look so bad, but the really good news is they understate his 2009 campaign thus far.

Although Edgar will never be an offense savior and wasn't signed as such, his bat has actually been a pleasant surprise thus far.  After a brutal stretch right out of the gates, the new shortstop is coming off a hot streak that saw over 100 points added to his average.

Even better, the streak coincided with an opposite-field/inside-out approach that apparently marked Renteria's more productive days of yore.  If he can keep that stroke going for most of the remaining 140 games, those promises of a closer approximation to the old Edgar Renteria may very well become realities.

And, while his defense has clearly lost a step, he's made some nice plays and hasn't been a horrible eyesore.

I think I'd still rather have Orlando Hudson, but I'm pretty happy with Edgar thus far.

4. Pablo Sandoval—100 at-bats, .300 average, .340 OBP, .810 OPS, nine runs, seven doubles, two triples, two home runs, nine RBI, two stolen bases

Little Money had me a little concerned.

I'm on record as saying, in the spring, I was concerned the pressure of expectation might be too heavy a weight on the Giants' third baseman.  After all, this is his first full year in the Show and he's learning a new position.

Not just any position either—he's throwing down on the hot corner.  That's no easy task for seasoned vets so it stood to reason the burden might contribute to an overwhelming set of circumstances for Pablo.

Well, 11 games in and after an 0-for-4 dropped his batting average below .200, alarm bells were ringing in my head and both hands were reaching for the big red panic button.

This guy is the linchpin of the offense—without him, it's just the same old vanilla group of splinters that floundered around the depths of baseball last year.  With him performing to (perhaps unreasonable) expectations, SF would have a legitimate shot at cobbling together enough runs to win behind its dominating pitching staff.

And, not only was his average garbage, he had no big flies, only one run batted in, and was whiffing at an obscene rate.

Obviously, in the 15 games since that collar dropped him below the Mendoza line, Sandoval has quieted the sirens and staid my hands.

Not only has he jumped his average up over .300, he's launched two long balls, chipped in the duo of three-baggers as well, and has struck out five times (compared to 10 in those 11 games).

Like I said, the expectations were probably a bit too starry-eyed.  And Little Money still might reach them.

Danny Penza

To steal a line from former Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green, “They are who we thought they were.”

However, the Giants haven’t been left off the hook just yet, even though watching the offense is like watching a hairy Italian male wax his legs at times.

Maybe not that bad, but they’re the worst in the majors and are the only team still waiting to crack 100 runs on the year.

The pitching, except for a few blowouts here and there, has been outstanding. Tim Lincecum is again being Tim Lincecum, which is no shock, but the performances of Barry Zito and Matt Cain is why this team is where it is.

This team was built on pitching and defense and that hasn’t been proven wrong just yet. The fourth-best fielding percentage and the second-fewest errors committed in the National League is nothing to hang your head at all, and consider that is with a left side of the infield that had a lot of questions.

Zito may not have a win to show for his fantastic start, but his ERA is under four for the first time in over a year and it seems as though, as I said in the spring, he’s settling into the fourth spot in the rotation and just throwing the ball.

Considering Jonathan Sanchez hasn't let me down in my thoughts about him being a guy who flat out deals or is out by the fourth, the pitching staff gets an A.

As Nusch pointed out above, Pablo Sandoval has been one on a complete roll the last two weeks. The most impressive thing is that it’s not just with the bat.

His work with the glove has gone from average at best to basically becoming an Oreck vacuum at the hot corner. He’ll make his errors because he’s certainly not Brooks Robinson, but he’s made significant improvement in the first month.

If Fred Lewis can win some of the lengthy battles he has in the leadoff spot, then Sandoval’s RBI count will go higher and with Benny Mo absolutely crushing the ball right now, the offense will be able to do enough to keep things close.

With all the good vibes that has come with the resurgence of Sandoval and Emmanuel Burriss safely above the Mendoza line, the other young Giants infielder, first baseman Travis Ishikawa, is doing nothing at the plate to change my opinion of the one I had about him coming into the year.

He’s right at .200, and all that positive energy that he seemed to have coming out of Spring Training seems to have been left in Scottsdale.

He may be able to pick it at first, but if he keeps hovering in the low .200s, then all those people who thought he would be the next Will Clark will be looking for a place to hide.

But with that being said, with the offense on-and-off as the days go by, the pitching will still be there. And as we know, good pitching beats good hitting.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the quality of pitching we’ve seen so far will last for 135 more games? We’ll see.


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