Daniel Leroux. 16th July, 2012 - 3:50 pm
It is hard to write about the first half of the season without first going through the expectations and surprises for the Giants. Before this all started, I thought the Giants would finish the season second in the NL West behind the Diamondbacks and right in the thick of it for one of the two (gulp) Wild Card spots.
At the All-Star break, they stood firmly in that spot albeit with a very different team ahead of them in the division. The surprisingly bad performance of Arizona changed the tenor of the feeling somewhat since many including myself would have expected the Giants to take firm control over the other two squads In the West, especially since Matt Kemp missed a large swath of time during the first half.
The other surprise centered on the full team has been that the team remains in contention despite giving up more runs than the team has scored this year. The scoring production from last year would lead many to believe that the offense drove this surprising stat for an over-.500 squad. In fact, the team was seventh from the bottom of the majors in runs scored and tied for seventh-best in runs allowed, actually closer to "normal" than expected.
In fact, I would argue that the story of the first half has been how vital the modest improvement to the sputtering offense has been to their success this season. Interestingly, San Francisco continues to be underwhelming in measures like OPS (on-base plus slugging) though they are not as putrid as last season. The big difference in 2012 has been batting average- as of now, the team is shockingly tied for ninth place in the entire league. The natural question that follows (If the team improved in terms of batting average, why is their OPS still so low?) can be answered by looking at the other two major components of OPS. The most common way teams get on base without getting a hit is by the walk and the Giants continue to wallow in the filth here standing seventh from the bottom in walks. On the slugging side of the equation, San Francisco is worst in the league with a whopping 57.7 at bats per home run (the league average is 35.3 and the Yankees are at 21.4) and eighth from worst in total bases despite their strong batting average.
Despite all these seemingly frustrating stats, this production marks a meaningful improvement over the last few years and shows that the Giants have a chance of replicating the 2010 season where they generated just enough hitting to win all the games they needed to win.
In terms of pitching, the team has done well despite some trouble areas. The Giants are holding opponents to the fifth-worst batting average in the league while being sixth-best in runs allowed. While most writers and pundits are focusing on the shocking first half of Tim Lincecum, I choose to look more at how Ryan Vogelsong has been absolutely fantastic thus far. In fact, the production from Vogelsong (along with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner) has allowed Lincecum to have his struggles without sinking the playoff chances of the organization. If the other three can continue their excellent play, the Giants can be more judicious or aggressive with Lincecum since he can effectively be the No. 4 starter and still survive.
Rather than fretting about Lincecum, I have spent more time concerned about the bullpen. Carrying a middle of the road bullpen ERA provides more problems for a Giants team that has so much trouble scoring runs, as detailed above. With the margins being so tight in order for this team to win games, they need quality in each inning on the mount. The Brian Wilson injury and recent horrors from Santiago Casilla in the closer role have been two stories that help explain some of this, yet I cannot shake the feeling that the problems of Guillermo Mota and Javier Lopez falling back towards earth have been just as large in the scope of things. Fortunately, San Francisco has the talent (and the park) to turn the tide in the pen.
What do I expect moving forward? More of the same from the starting pitching on the aggregate, slightly improved bullpen play, and enough production from the hitters and defense to put the Giants in the playoffs likely with the worst record of the three division champions. From there? Everyone who has followed this team for at least a few seasons knows that anything can happen in October, so we will have to see.
Player of the Week: Buster Posey. After an underappreciated performance in the All-Star Game, Buster managed to be a meaningful contributor in each of the three games against the Astros. Bruce Bochy was complimentary of Posey after the game on Sunday, saying he helped supply most of the offense today after his three-hit performance. In fact, each of the position All-Stars had nice weeks after coming back from Kansas City.
What to expect in the week to come: Two road series against teams that should be amped up to face the Giants. Facing Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Cole Hamels in the same week can bring some challenges in a week where Barry Zito is scheduled to pitch in each series. Time to hang on for six games to keep momentum going for the ten-game homestand that ends the month of July.