Authored by Jason Follain - 12th June, 2011 - 6:09 am
Despite being the defending World Series champions, currently sitting atop the standings in the National League West and once again displaying one of the elite pitching staffs in either league, the San Francisco Giants must feel cursed in a way. It was no secret that the defending champs would once again have trouble scoring runs in 2011, but that was before the Giants lost arguably their three best hitters to injury.
With Pablo Sandoval due back this week after missing past six weeks to a hand injury, the Giants will get a much-needed shot in the arm to a team that has been forced to win more than their fair share of games by scores of 2-1 and 3-2. After Sandoval’s injury came the cavernous void in the lineup that was left after Buster Posey fell victim to a vicious collision at home plate with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins. With Aubrey Huff experiencing a massive drop-off following his wildly successful 2010 campaign, the power in the Giants starting lineup has all but vanished.
What’s that, you say? Pat Burrell should be able to provide some added pop to their offense? Try again. After Burrell’s homecoming honeymoon in 2010, this season has seen him flail away to the tune of a .372 slugging percentage. He has now been relegated to late inning pinch-hitting duty.
Due to the injuries and ineffectiveness outlined above, Freddy Sanchez, a prototypical two hole hitter, had been moved into the third spot in the order. Sanchez responded, having been a steady presence until yet another unfortunate injury sent him to the disabled list with a dislocated shoulder. The injury was sustained as Sanchez dove up the middle for another of his defensive gems that had become quite a regular occurrence.
These are just a few of the significant injuries sustained by the Giants’ regulars this season, as they have also lost promising rookie Brandon Belt, utility men Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot, as well as speedster Darren Ford to the injury bug along the way. If there was one positive to come out of all the injuries sustained by San Francisco this season, it has been the emergence of starter Ryan Vogelsong after he stepped into the rotation for injured starter Barry Zito. Vogelsong has dazzled opposing hitters with his four pitch repertoire, having compiled a 1.81 ERA, good for second best among NL starters with at least 50 innings pitched.
Pitching isn’t the issue in San Francisco, however, as the Giants will be left searching high and low for any offense they can muster. So much so, that, following the injury to Sanchez, San Francisco signed the recently released infielder Bill Hall to fill in as needed. For now, though, they will need to rely on the likes of Manny Burriss, Brandon Crawford, Nate Schierholtz and Cody Ross to step their offensive game up. All of these players have been productive in spurts for the club, but Giants fans are hoping for more of a sustained effort.
Just to get an idea of how the lineup, pre-Sandoval coming back, will fair, I plugged in the likely starters to the baseballmusings.com lineup analysis tool. What came back was a ghastly sight. Given their 2011 statistics to date, the Giants can expect to score 2.99 runs per game. Keep in mind that the worst offense in baseball, belonging to the San Diego Padres, has averaged 3.43 runs per game. That is damn near a half of a run per game worse than any major league lineup is currently producing. More than ever, Giants pitching will need to continue to hurl gem after gem if they have any interest in remaining at the top of the NL West standings.
The lineup analysis exercise was one of projection and only in theory, but the actual results of late have not been much better. Since the Posey injury, San Francisco has averaged 3.38 runs per game. However, if you remove their 12 run outburst against the Cardinals on June 2, from the equation, they have compiled a paltry 2.8 runs per game. This really is uncharted territory, as there hasn’t been a team in either league since 1972 that has averaged less than three runs per game for a full season. Unless there are some surprising outbursts, the Giants are looking down the barrel of a historically bad offense.
However, that is exactly what pundits suggested would happen in 2010 and look how that turned out. Yes, there were unexpected seasons by Huff, Andres Torres, Pat Burrell and others that pushed the Giants offense from “horrible” to “mediocre.” But with their pitching, San Francisco doesn’t need a dynamic, high-powered offense, but they do need something. As it is currently constructed, this team will need to post a team ERA under 3.00 just to keep their heads above water.
For the Giants to provide the fans in the city by the bay an encore to their 2010 performance, they will undoubtedly need at least a couple of offensive eruptions from sources otherwise not expected to do so. For now, fans will have to be satisfied with what has seemingly been a different hero every day capping off one of their league-leading nine walk-off wins.
However, the Giants have been incredibly lucky to have the level of success they have had thus far in 2011. The most rudimentary method of confirming this theory is by using run differential, which combines all of the runs scored and runs allowed. In total, the Giants have given up five more runs than they have scored, which is what you would expect from a team with a .500 record. San Francisco is currently seven games over .500, having shown the ability to win an inordinate number of close games as well as come from behind late in contests.
Sandoval was crushing the ball when he went on the disabled list and if the Giants are to have any chance of staying atop the division, they will need him to pick up right where he left off. Whether it is that, a trade or some other form of offensive boost, San Francisco can’t keep relying on the pixie dust that has carried them to success up to this point in the season. Fans have come to expect greatness from the pitching staff, but it is the Giants’ bats that will need to replicate some semblance of a major league offense if there will be any hope for a repeat of last October’s magic.