It took the Giants front office two months before they finally brought catcher/first baseman Buster Posey up from Triple A Fresno to the big club. When Posey didn’t make the big league team after a blow-out Spring Training, a number of radio and TV commentators, sports writers, bloggers, and fans were stunned . (At times like that, I turn resignedly to my Giants buddy and say, "this is the life we have chosen".)
Before that moment, throughout April and May, the team was already slip-sliding back to its tired 2007-2009 profile of having great pitching and not scoring, and soon enough the Padres and the Dodgers pushed San Francisco aside as they took over the NL West lead.
During that depressing time, Manager Bruce Bochy’s everyday batting line-ups were a model of giving old school veterans and high contract underachievers as many at bats as they wanted. The slumping, out of shape Bengie Molina batted clean-up as recently as June 5th; and Molina’s total of 83 at bats in the 4th and 5th spots in the 2010 Giants line-up have produced a grand total of 4 RBIs.
Now, in just three weeks, everything has changed. The team is winning, the hitters are hitting, and runs are being scored. As Giants TV broadcaster Duane Kuiper pointed out, five of the starters in the Giants’ Opening Day line-up against the Houston Astros are no longer in the starting line-up. That’s a huge turnabout, and speaks louder than any series of statistics just how desperate the Giants are to score more runs.
But in the wise words of Mr. Wolf from the film “Pulp Fiction”, “Let’s not start sucking each other's d---ks quite yet”. The front office didn’t suddenly get brilliant, innovative and daring; it was a series of significant events that put the Giants just a half game out of first place in the NL West with a 14-6 record since May 25th, and pushed the creation of a batting line-up capable of producing runs and wins.
What started it all? An injury to Edgar Renteria induced the front office to grudgingly bring Buster Posey up from Triple A; now Posey is playing every game, hitting .391 and producing runs. The Giants are very conservative when it comes to bringing up starting position players, so Posey's promotion was a hugely symbolic event.
Meanwhile, a series of other events were happening at about the same time…
A catastrophic series sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s in late May finally convinced Bochy to move Aaron Rowand out of the lead-off spot. In his last game batting leadoff, on May 22nd, Rowand was hitting .248 with a .287 OBP. Andres Torres essentially replaced Rowand and has been spark plugging the offense for the past three weeks at lead-off and making stunning plays in centerfield.
A critical addition to the line-up occurred when the injured Freddie Sanchez finally played his first 2010 game on May 19th, and he has absolutely energized the offense and defense. Aubrey Huff has always been an extra base hitter who drives in runs, and now he’s doing that for the Giants and leads the team in total bases with 112.
But the crunching offensive catalyst this year has been Juan Uribe. Re-signed in the off-season to be a quality back-up infielder, Uribe now has 211 at bats (third highest on the squad), 10 home runs (tied with Huff), and leads the Giants with 41 RBIs. Bochy has leaned heavily on the 31 year old Uribe who has responded and so far shows no signs of tiring.
Here is the mark of where this team is at: premier hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s early season slump and Tim Lincecum’s semi-serious pitching issues have not stopped this team’s momentum. A year ago, these same issues would have turned the Giants into instant Pittsburgh Pirate pudding, and they would have completely sunk in the West. But this year, with so many contributions from so many players, Sandoval can work quietly on his hitting and Lincecum is still surrounded by three quality starters and an effective bullpen.
San Francisco Giants pitching is still among the best in the game. Overall team pitching ranks third in the Major Leagues with a 3.30 ERA, and their opponents' .229 BA is the lowest in baseball. Giant starters rank third in Major League quality starts with 41 (behind Tampa Bay’s 42, and St. Louis with 44).
This is a good time, and this team could be at the start of a resurgence that will take them into the 2010 playoffs. But I warn all of you: listen to me and please remain alert and aware… Bruce Bochy has stated several times he is “excited” at the prospect of getting Edgar Renteria back on the team. What? So who sits down? Juan Uribe? Buster Posey? Freddie Sanchez? Pablo Sandoval? Just to get a shortstop with no range back on the field as soon as possible? Yikes.
Bochy is also publicly adamant that Buster Posey will not catch regularly; Bengie Molina is going to earn his one year $4.5 million salary no matter what. And Aaron Rowand’s $12 million salary (with another $12 million coming in 2011, and yet another $12 million in 2012!) will make it very difficult for the Giants not to play him. And who sits when Rowand plays? Aubrey Huff? Andres Torres? Add to the mix former Tampa Bay DH Pat Burrell, whose fine start with the team makes him the left fielder until further notice, and you have all the ingrediants of a steaming cluster stew.
So this story isn’t over by a long shot, and there is extreme drama, excitement, and (yes) torture dead ahead. But, right now, the lights are green and it’s all orange and black baby…