The San Francisco Giants have two hitters on pace to hit over 20 home runs, one hitter with an .OPS over .900, and not a single batter who strikes fear in an opponent’s pitchers. Yet, after a 20 – 23 record to start the season, the Giants find themselves in sole possession of the National League Wild Card.
How did they did they rise up from the cellar? They did it the NL way: knee-buckling pitching, smooth fielding, and enough offense to snatch up wins.
The Giants haven’t had a winning season since 2004. Not to mention, they squabbled through Barry Bonds home run record setting season and countless steroids allegations. But their young talent and some scrappy veterans are changing the dynamics of the suddenly competitive NL West (one team has the best record in MLB and two others are first and second in the NL Wild Card race).
Two starters who want to reenact the Arizona Diamondbacks 2001 season
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are a lot less accomplished than Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were when they single handedly guided the Diamondbacks to a World Series title. But I don’t think that has crossed their young minds. Right now, they are concentrated on leading the Giants into the playoffs.
Combined, they are 18 – 2, and the Giants are 22 – 11 when they pitch. That’s a total of half of the Giants 44 wins. Both pitchers have the talent to keep this going throughout the year and into the postseason. Lincecum is the reigning Cy Young winner, and Cain has a career ERA of 3.50. They rank third and fourth in ERA in MLB. And they know how to finish hitters – and games – as they have six complete games between each other.
But, unlike the 2001 Diamondbacks, they don’t have to win it by themselves (even though they could). They pitch with two former Cy Young pitchers (Johnson and Barry Zito). Johnson has dropped his ERA more than two runs (to 4.71) since mid-May, and Zito is 3 – 2 since the beginning of June. And now that the Giants have replaced struggling starter Jonathan Sanchez with 26-year-old rookie Ryan Sadowski, the Giants have five starters who have the potential to win every time they start. Sadowski, a ground ball pitcher, has allowed no runs in each of his first two career starts.
The dominance of the Giants starters has kept the bullpen more rested than Manny Ramirez after his PEDs suspension. Only one relief pitcher is projected to pitch more than 70 innings and that’s closer Brian Wilson. The rest has apparently helped the relatively no name bullpen. Not a single regular reliever has an ERA over four. After Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt and Justin Miller anchor the pen. Both relievers are former failed starters and cast offs from other teams. They have found a comfy home, like almost all their teammate pitchers, in San Francisco this year.
Gritty veterans and potential-filled players leading the offense
There is no question that the Giants are a defensive team. Their fielding is in the top third of MLB, and their pitching staff has allowed the least runs and recorded the most shutouts (11).
Even though their offense has scored the fifth least runs in all of baseball, it has improved each month. In April, it scored the very least in the league. In May, it moved up to fourth worst. And in June, the Giants found themselves right in the middle – tied for 14th for most runs scored.
With the Giants pitching staff, the offense doesn’t have to do too much. And boy it hasn’t. The Giants best hitter is 22-year-old, third baseman Pablo Sandoval. He leads the team with a meager 12 home runs, and he finds himself in the top three for all major hitting statistics on the Giants. His .OPS is a good .945.
Sandoval receives his help for an eclectic group of hitters. He has his fellow young and rising stars: outfielder Nate Schierholtz and first baseman Travis Ishikawa. And then there are the grizzly veterans: outfielders Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand, catcher Bengie Molina, and shortstop Edgar Renteria. The mix of young and old hitters has suited the often-powerless Giants this year.
What they lack in offense, they make up for in defense. Rowand, Molina, and Renteria all are former gold glove winners. And while the Giants may make a move to get another power hitter or two in their lineup, they would be wise to not give up too much talent or their golden fielders. The last thing the Giants want to do is lose the confidence of their pitching staff. Without them they will be more lost than Chuck Knoblauch throwing from second to first (here’s another article on Knoblauch’s woes).
The old and confused has been pushed into the past
A few years ago the Giants were old and always hurt. They didn’t know what to do with Bonds. They had nobody without him. Since 2006, the Giants have purged their older players and replaced them with rising superstars and a few hard-nosed veterans, who guide the younger players. And their rebuilding is finally paying off.
The Giants still have to find a way to win on the road. They are 18-24, but they have won 11 of their last 20 road games. And their hitting has to maintain its success. If the offense can keep providing their star pitchers with just enough run support, the Giants have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Once they make it to the postseason, anything can happen (especially with two power pitchers who can eat up innings and an accomplished closer). Just talk to the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. They won 83 games in the regular season, but still won the World Series. Or better yet, talk to the last team to win a World Series with two dominant pitchers: the Arizona Diamondbacks.