Juan Uribe Bringing Spark To A Surprising Giants Squad

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 16:  Juan Uribe #5 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the New York Mets at AT&T Park on May 16, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Giants have been quite the surprise this season as they are in the thick of things in the National League.

This comes much to the chagrin of baseball experts, who thought it would be another long campaign for the orange and black.

At 42-34 going into Wednesday's game against the Cardinals, the Giants are six games better than they were at this point a season ago. They lead the NL Wild Card race and have stayed within striking distance of a rival Dodgers team that got off to a white hot start in April and May.

Additionally, the Giants have gotten some unexpected performances from their players as well.

Matt Cain, forever plagued by the "no run support bug" for the first few years of his career, has suddenly become a burgeoning ace in the National League. At 9-2 with a 2.57 ERA going into Wednesday, Cain has been dominating on the mound, showing that the Giants aren't just a one-trick pony with Tim Lincecum.

"Kung Fu Panda" Pablo Sandoval has suddenly become a legitimate offensive threat for this Giants squad. Now developing more patience at the plate and starting to add more power to his already sweet stroke, Sandoval is showing that his late season tear a year ago was no fluke.

Sandoval's performance in this first half of the season not only merits an All-Star spot, but also puts him in the discussion of the best hitters in the National League.

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The Giants are on the cusp of something great with Sandoval, and it'll be interesting to see how his career progresses after this hot start.

Yet these are well-known stories. Everyone knows about Cain emergence as the Giants' deadly second option in the staff and Sandoval's eye-popping bat. Go to a Giants message board anywhere and try to find something on Cain or Sandoval. It is very simple.

But there is a guy who has also provided a spark to this great Giants start and hasn't got his due: Juan Uribe.

Uribe statistically won't impress you on paper. With a .290 batting average and only a .311 OBP, Uribe won't turn any heads like Sandoval or even Nate Schierholtz, who is on a tear of his own in the past couple of weeks.

However, Uribe is suddenly becoming an unsuspecting glue guy to this team. He is a player that can come in and accomplish whatever manager Bruce Bochy needs, be it in the field or at the plate.

A player that can play third base, shortstop and second base, Uribe has been a spark that the Giants didn't have off the bench last season when they were hovering under .500 all year long.

Last year, instead of Uribe, we had Jose Castillo. Not only did we waste at-bats and chances at getting wins with his putrid offensive skills (.244 batting average, .290 OBP), but he was also a liability defensively. Castillo committed 19 errors in a 112 games with the Giants, good for a .939 fielding percentage.

Uribe? He currently has a fielding percentage of .969. Not incredibly better, but Uribe looks better on the field and can turn double plays in ways Castillo couldn't even dream of.

And the most underrated aspect of Uribe's game? His intangibles.

Uribe is a player looking to prove himself after he lost favor with White Sox management during his last couple of seasons with Chicago. With Alexei Ramirez stepping up last season, adequately replacing him at second base, Uribe became an afterthought on a White Sox team that won the AL Central and made the playoffs.

And when free agency time came, not only did the White Sox not need him, but nobody else did either.

After all, who wants a guy with a career .255 batting average and .296 OBP? Certainly not Billy Beane's "Moneyball" Oakland A's, that's for sure.

But once the Giants scrapped him off the trash heap and signed him to a minor league deal in spring training, the team learned something.

When he plays, he brings an anticipated spark with him to the field and the plate. You never know what is going to happen with him. The guy can make a spectacular play with his glove or knock in a big hit with his massive swing.

In essence, Uribe is a wild card. Plain and simple. It is the reason why the White Sox stayed with him for so long.

How else can you describe a guy whose .OBP hovers around .300, but is averaging around 20 home runs and 70 RBIs for four straight seasons? How else can you describe a guy who hits .167 last year in the ALDS against Tampa Bay, but goes off in the 2005 World Series run where he had 12 hits and 6 RBI in the playoffs?

Uribe is almost an enigma, but in a good way. Sure, he can slump and fall back down to earth, but he can also be the catalyst for any winning streak or big series. The Giants really haven't had that kind of guy in the lineup at all the past couple of years. Now they have him off the bench.

Is Uribe the answer to the Giants' hole at second base? Probably not. He will come back to earth and the law of averages will eventually present itself sooner or later as we get ready to start the second half.

But for the time being, let's hope Bochy let's it ride with Uribe. What he brings to this team goes beyond stats, and you can see it with the way the Giants are playing.

And if anything, whether you believe he should be starting at second or not, Giants fans should be rooting for the guy.

This was a guy that was one of the key players on a White Sox team that brought a championship to a city that hadn't seen an MLB champion in 88 years.

Despite what he did for the team four years earlier, he was gones almost immediately after they lost Game 4 to Tampa.

This was a guy no team wanted because every organization thought his career was done.

And the Giants, desperate for anything offensively that came at bargain, were the only team willing to give him a shot.

Those kinds of stories usually produce good results, not just for the player, but for the team as well.

Corey Dillon did it for New England in helping them build an NFL dynasty despite everyone believing he was a cancer.

Orlando Cabrera did it for Boston as he helped them win their first championship in 86 years, even though people just thought he was an above-average player on a terrible team.

Heck, even John Travolta did it for Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. His performance as Vincent Vega helped Tarantino become a household name in the movie world, despite the fact that everyone thought Travolta had peaked as an actor after Saturday Night Fever.

I have a feeling Uribe is one of those stories of redemption. I have a feeling that this second chance the Giants are giving him is going to help them down the road, when the competition for the NL West and Wild Card becomes cutthroat.

Uribe is not just a spark, he's a spark that you can root for and hope for and feel good about.

Let's hope he makes more Giants fans feel the same.

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