Panda Power: How Pablo Sandoval's Hot Streak Is Turning Him into an All-Star

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IJune 28, 2009

PHOENIX - JUNE 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants at bat during the major league baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 11, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In his postgame notes entry on his blog after Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, San Jose Mercury News Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly said Pablo Sandoval “is really turning a corner to Awesomeville.”

If you read any of Baggs’ fantastic work, you will understand why we love him, but you will also know that he’s right on the money with his assessment of the Giants third baseman.

The current 19-game tear that brought along that kind of enthusiasm from Baggarly is putting the Kung Fu Panda in contention for a spot on the National League All-Star team. Neither the fans nor the players will vote him in, but he’s forcing NL manager Charlie Manuel to pick him anyway.

His numbers over that stretch are as follows: .443 average, .513 on-base, seven doubles, seven homers, 14 RBI, and one huge impact on an up-and-down lineup that struggles to produce runs.

Those are numbers you usually only see on your PlayStation.

Catching absolute fire this month has seen Sandoval fly up the league’s batting leader list, where he now is behind only David Wright for the top spot. His power numbers on the season aren’t completely mind-boggling (11 HR, 39 RBI), but you can’t ignore that the runs he has produced have basically come in two month’s time.

In April, Sandoval had only one big fly and drove in six. He hit .307, but when you’re expected to be a major run producer, those kind of numbers aren’t what you call getting it done.

Now, in June, he’s just gotten on a streak few Giants hitters have been on in recent years. He has hit eight of his 11 home runs and produced almost half of his RBI count (18) in just 24 games.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, Sandoval has taken the Giants offense on his back and is involved in the majority of the runs they score in one way or another.

Sandoval is still swinging at pitches that few others would (see his single in the ninth inning against Trevor Hoffman as Exhibit A) but as the season has gone on, he has also developed somewhat of a good eye.

During the same 19-game streak that has seen him hit seemingly anything in sight, he has walked 10 times and only struck out in 12 at-bats.

The Sandovalian approach to hitting will always be there, but as the season goes on, it’s becoming a more refined one. He will still swing at the pitches from his laces to brow, but just not as often.

To steal another line from Baggarly, “What other All-Star can cover a zone the size of the St. Louis Arch?”

Then consider what kind of park he plays in. AT&T is known as one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the big leagues, and that is no secret. The right-center alley is where fly balls go to die, and it’s a park that has historically produced few home runs for those not associated with BALCO.

Try telling that to the Panda.

Sandoval is hitting .392 at home. You read that correctly.

He isn’t playing at Coors or in Philly. He’s hitting 100 points higher playing half his games at home than he is on the road.

But as we’ve come to know, the Panda is no one-trick pony.

Despite his 245-pound frame, he is one hell of a defender. Yeah, he will make his mistakes, but they are usually the result of inexperience at third or first base than actual physical blunders.

Say the game goes into late or extra innings when basically everybody has been used on the bench, Manuel can move Sandoval around on the diamond, put him on either corner spot or maybe even behind the plate if need be to allow somebody else to get in.

Remember...this game counts, thanks to Good Ole Bud.

The biggest thing that should make Sandoval, like every other position player, a member of the NL squad is his bat. That is why he’s getting so much attention in recent weeks and why the Giants are actually contending for a playoff spot.

We knew he could hit for average—his stats a year ago made it pretty clear he was a pure, albeit unconventional, hitter—but now in June we’re starting to see the power stroke come about. His towering home runs are helping the Giants win games and putting him on the map as one of baseball’s best young hitters.

The Ku Fu Panda is adding a little punch to his repertoire.

ESPN may get his name wrong in its power rankings, but, trust me, the rest of the league is starting to know who the Kung Fu Panda is.

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