Look What’s Happened
The San Francisco Giants have won five of their first six series to start the 2012 season, culminating in physically muscling 3 out of 4 games against the New York Mets in delightful Citi Field this past weekend.
Three developments early on in the current campaign bode extremely well for San Francisco, and not so good for the rest of the National League.
1. This team has consistently hit and scored runs from jump. The Giants even scored 14 runs in their three straight losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the start of the 2012 season. It was clear even in the middle of that mess that something was different this year.
They are plating an average of 4.44 runs per game and are currently 15th of 30 MLB team in run scoring with 71. The uptick in runs scored has already provided huge support to the starting pitchers, who were quietly grinding their teeth the past three years while going through endless 1-0, 3-2, and 4-3 losses.
2. After a shaky start the starting pitching has gotten its act together.
The opening series with Arizona was a bizarro world nightmare in which Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner lost the first two games against the Snakes, and Matt Cain gave up 5 earned runs in 6 innings, allowing Arizona to complete the sweep. Plus, fourth starter Ryan Vogelsong was still rehabbing and not yet in the rotation.
Now all that seems like it happened two years ago.
Barry Zito followed the grateful getaway from Arizona with a stunning complete game shutout of the Colorado Rockies in Denver. Since Zito’s masterpiece the Giants have gone 9-4. And after two starts, Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.38 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. The ship is righted and steaming forward at high speed.
3. The defense has settled down.
Through the first two series with Arizona and Colorado, the Giants made 9 errors-- 8 of those in the infield. Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey, who were expected to bring defensive excellence, led the anti-webgem parade.
The Giants are still tied with Baltimore and San Diego the most MLB errors (19), but the defense is getting its footing back.
Nothing brought this home better than the double play pulled off by second baseman Emmanuel Burriss and shortstop Brandon Crawford against the Mets in the 5th inning of Tim Lincecum’s first win of 2012.
With the bases loaded and one out, the Mets’ Ike Davis hit a streaking ground ball up the middle that Burriss somehow got to and backhanded as he lunged for the ball. He flipped the ball up with his glove to Brandon Crawford, who picked it out of the air with his bare hand on the bag at second, then fired to first base to complete the double play.
The real amazing part of that play for me was that Burriss' throw was a little high, and when Crawford reached up to catch it the ball actually hit his wrist. In a heartbeat, Crawford calmly let the ball slide up to his hand and into throwing position. An incredible no way double play.
I have long been a strong advocate of Nate Schierholtz, and I have to take credit for discovering him several years ago. [Just kidding, of course.]
I have actually been critical of the Giants for sticking with Schierholtz if that in any way keeps Brandon Belt from playing. The so-called Aubrey Huff-Belt controversy is a mcguffin—the Giants planned to stick with Huff for a while because of his $11.5m contract. Which means either Belt or Schierholtz plays.
I continue to believe the Giants are tip-toeing around Belt’s development too carefully—Belt needs at-bats and the Giants need him to get at-bat experience.
Having said that, Nate Schierholtz has caught fire in a way he has never done in his career. Schierholtz had a nice two week period last season, but this is something different.
So far in 2012, Schierholtz has a .372 AVG, a .404 OBP and a 1.148 OPS. He has 7 extra base hits (XBH), including 3 triples, and 9 RBI. Stunning.
I bow to the god that is Nate Schierholtz and present a burnt offering of rare John Bowker baseball cards.
This has all the appearances of the season Pablo Sandoval breaks out into the offensive upper stratosphere.
To watch his at-bats is the definition of excitement. The approach at the plate, the powerful swing, the ability to excel with two strikes, and the ability to create runs is breathtaking this season.
Some numbers: .545 SLG, .333 AVG, 13 RBI, tied for 9th in MLB with 22 hits. Sandoval is hitting .421 when he’s ahead in the count, .286 when he’s behind in the count. And has a .398 RISP.
In the 1st inning of the second game with the Mets yesterday, Sandoval hit an upper deck two run home run. His swing was powerful and majestic, arms extended, hips and legs turned, a moment of pure baseball joy.