NL Report: San Francisco Giants Get Unexpected Offense

The San Francisco Giants have won each series they’ve played since the All-Star break and as they begin a key three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight, the Giants have moved out to a three-game lead in the National League West. TheSportsNotebook takes a look at Frisco, how they’re winning right now and how the road ahead shapes up…

While pitching is the San Francisco calling card, the team’s play in July has been marked by the bats. A ninth-place ranking in the NL for runs scored this month might not seem impressive, but it’s a step up from the season-long #11 spot they hold and the team ERA, normally fourth in the league has dropped to ninth. It’s more impressive still that San Fran is winning games while being slightly below average in both runs scored and ERA in July, but that’s another question entirely.

Ryan Theriot is the biggest difference in the offense right now. The team’s usual power trio of Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval has certainly swung the bats well this month, but second baseman Theriot, with an on-base percentage over .400 and slugging percentage over .600 in July, has been what’s unique to this current hot streak.

The pitching has been a different story. After a couple strong starts it looked like Tim Lincecum might be back on track, but the anemic San Diego offense knocked him around on Wednesday and even looking at the limited body of work of his last five starts, his ERA is still 6.84. I stand firm in the belief that great players need to be given a full season to allow their past talent to come out before we assume the worst will continue, but Lincecum is running out of time.

San Francisco might win the NL West with Lincecum struggling, but they won’t make it through the National League playoffs without great pitching. Theriot’s hot streak is nice, but the problems with the offense aren’t going to be solved by relying on the random streaks of otherwise mediocre players. The Giants need to hope the issues Sandoval is having with his hamstring don’t require a trip to the disabled list, and if it does, that it doesn’t hurt his power upon return. Brandon Belt needs to start hitting. The young first baseman does a great job with his plate discipline, with an on-base percentage 110 points over his batting average, but when the latter is only .230 without power then it needs to change.

With the Dodgers having upgraded their offense by adding Hanley Ramirez this week, it remains to be seen what San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean will do. But Sabean has a track record of making moves, so the next five days are going to be very interesting. He’s got the farm system to offer prospects and he may also target the bullpen. San Fran’s relief corps has survived the loss of Brian Wilson by promoting Santiago Casilla to closer and relying on their exceptional depth. But the team would be better if the lefthanded Casilla could be in a setup role and perhaps shift someone like Cleveland’s Chris Perez into the ninth inning. The rumors of a possible Giants-Indians deal have been floated, and while this should be secondary to the upgrading the offense, the importance of the closer is magnified as we get later into the season.

After this home series with Los Angeles, the Giants have four more at home with the New York Mets, and then six of the next nine games are against lowly Colorado. The return trip to Los Angeles comes in the second half of August. By then, San Francisco will probably have a new toy for the offense. But the flip side is this—it was after acquiring Carlos Beltran at last year’s trade deadline that San Francisco inexplicably collapsed and let Arizona run away with the division. From Lincecum, to the team as a whole, they have a chance at redeeming themselves in the final two months of 2012.

Around the rest of the National League…

Washington continues to play well, holding a five-game lead over Atlanta, but the best baseball is being played in the NL Central. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh & St. Louis are all on a roll, with the Reds holding a two-game lead over the Pirates and the latter moving into the top wild-card slot. St. Louis has moved to within a game and a half of the Braves, who would be wild-card #2 if the season ended today. The rest of the NL East has fallen out of the wild-card push, with the Dodgers right in the mix and Arizona lurking on the outside and a soft schedule ahead.