The San Francisco Giants keep on ticking. They don’t shovel out money like their NL West rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Giants have had some problems to overcome in the early going. But as we hit mid-May, it’s San Francisco who’s atop the division, their 23-16 record narrowly leading Arizona and Colorado. Today we’ll take a closer look at how the champs have started the year and what needs to change for the better if a third World Series title in four years is going to be viable.
In a nutshell, this is the 2013 Giants…
- *It’s the offense that’s again playing an understated role in the winning
- *The deep bullpen is again outstanding, making it imperative for opponents to be ahead by the sixth inning
- *So far the starting pitching is letting them down, with a mixed prognosis the rest of the way
San Francisco’s run-scoring capability doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but it was a key factor in keeping them in the race much of last year until they finally shook the Dodgers in September. This year’s Giants are tied for third in the National League in runs scored—tied with no less than St. Louis, whose offensive prowess has never been doubted.
Just like last year, Buster Posey is putting up the numbers and with a stat line of .388 on-base percentage/.504 slugging, the catcher is positioning himself for a run at a second straight MVP award. Pablo Sandoval is at .358/.493, and Hunter Pence is slugging .500 with seven home runs, showing he’s gone past just making motivational speeches and into producing at the plate.
The Giants are also getting solid work from postseason hero Marco Scutaro. I was a little concerned that Scutaro might be one of these players who gets overhyped after a big playoff showing—he was NLCS MVP and turned it into a nice new contract—but Scutaro has a .357 OBP and continues to get the job done defensively at second base. Gregor Blanco is similarly productive at getting on base, and a big surprise has been the bat of shortstop Brandon Crawford. Mostly in the lineup for his glove, Crawford is slugging .474.
When San Francisco gets leads, they turn it over to a bullpen whose 2.72 ERA is tops in the National League. Manager Bruce Bochy rolls out anyone from Jose Mirajes to Chad Gaudin to Santiago Casilla to Javier Lopez, all of whom have ERAs ranging from 1.27 to 2.89. Then throw in Jeremy Affeldt at a solid 3.24, and seal the deal with Sergio Romo, who’s closed 12 of 14 save opportunities. The Giants’ pen overall has nailed down 76% of its save chances, better than the league average of 67%. The only downside is that Casilla is dealing with a cyst on his knee and is out for the time being, but it shouldn’t be a long-term situation.
It’s the starting pitching that’s the concern right now. While Madison Bumgarner has been Cy Young-worthy, with a 2.18 ERA in eight starts, there’s no consistency behind him. Matt Cain got off to a rocky start, Ryan Vogelsong has been awful and Tim Lincecum has been up-and-down.
We can start with the good news—Cain is clearly turned back around. His ERA hit a peak of 7.15 in mid-April and has come down each of his last four starts, the most recent two being brilliant shut-down efforts against Atlanta and Los Angeles. But there’s no sign of recovery for Vogelsong, even though we can safely allow that his 7.78 ERA will come down. And I think you have to be concerned about Lincecum. While he’s back to showing he can be a stable part of a big-league rotation—something he clearly was not for most of 2012—he’s not anywhere close to being the Cy Young-caliber starter of his heyday. In eight starts, Lincecum has a 4.07 ERA and has been a yo-yo throughout. What’s concerning is there’s nothing to suggest that will change, and if Vogelsong has finally hit the end of the line the Giants’ rotation will be short of depth.
San Francisco can keep in the race and even win the NL West if the offense keeps producing, the bullpen keeps locking down and Bumgarner and Cain roll on as an elite 1-2 punch in the rotation. But if it stops there, they would be vulnerable to Arizona, whose lurking and maybe even the Dodgers if they get healthy and cohesive. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Bochy has always gotten the most out of his roster, so any team that pushes past Frisco is going to earn it.
AROUND THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
It’s not surprising, but the New York Mets have started to drift off the pace in the NL East after hanging a close fourth in the early going. The Mets are now 14-22 and their team ERA is the worst in the National League. Question—how bad do your 2 thru 5 starters have to be for your ERA to be this bad when Matt Harvey is unhittable and you work in a pitchers’ park? Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee and Shaun Marcum have been atrocious.
We covered Milwaukee in last week’s MLB coverage, part of a three-team look at those chasing St. Louis in the NL Central. For now, cross the Brewers off the list. They’re taking it on the chin from the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates because this is another team whose pitching is awful. When previously reliable eighth-inning man Tom Gorzelanny went on the disabled list it got worse.