The San Francisco Giants had no idea the Dog Days of August would make an ugly guest appearance in late April.
A promising 13-7 record kicked off the 2013 season but that delicious ice cream cake quickly melted into a sticky 13-12 mess, courtesy of the Giants' current 5 game losing streak. For diehard fans, stamp the word "Titanic" on the outside of AT&T Park, sprinkle some ice cubes on the ground and many would feel the disaster is complete.
First, San Francisco's celebrated starters seem to be giving up more runs than Caribbean cruise line passengers. And the offense has dipped to 4.28 runs per game. If that number doesn't change Giants' players will have to contact StubHub to attend October baseball.
Of course the local sport talk radio waves are awash with the kind of desperate, delusional rantings you'd normally expect to hear either from a locked psychiatric facility or Chicago Cub fans. "Trade Lincecum", "move Brandon Crawford to clean-up", "bring Brett Pill up from the Minors to play 1st base", "dump Scutaro".
Someone needs to tell Bruce Bochy to stop calling the talk shows.
But there's good news. Actually great news. Even a brief peek at the numbers beyond wins/losses and Matt Cain's 0-2 6.59 ERA start suggests the San Francisco Giants are having a temporary hic-cup and will shortly rearrange the deck chairs in the National League West.
San Francisco's pitchers have put up a 1.22 WHIP, third best among sixteen National League Clubs. Their strikeouts to walks ratio is 2.86, second only to the Reds (3.52). Which means they're pitching really well and an uptweak in run support will have a huge impact on their win-loss lines.
And the bullpen? Giants relievers are doing their usual outstanding work: 4th in WHIP (1.12) among 30 Major League teams and 4th in ERA (2.62) in the NL. Pittsburgh's bullpen leads the Majors with a 1.09 WHIP and the Atlanta bullpen leads the Majors with a 2.18 ERA.
Bottom line here: sure, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong may have a combined 1-4 record, but Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito are 6-1. When Cain and Vogelsong start to come around National League hitters will have to pad their stats somewhere other than AT&T Park the rest of the season.
April Run Scoring
In their first 25 games of the season the Giants have had 16 games decided by 2 runs or less, 10 games by 1 run. While San Francisco batters are 6th in the National League in runs scored with 107 (Colorado has 127), there are several offensive problems that need to be fixed sooner than later.
Since the 2010 Championship season, the Giants' offensive has been built around extra base hits. Just enough home runs, but a boatload of doubles and triples to drive the offensive engine. In 2010, the Giants were 7th in NL XBH with 475; in 2012 they came in at 9th with 447.
Currently San Francisco's offense ranks 27th among 30 MLB teams in extra base hits with 60. That projects out to 388 for the year and that would define an offensive collapse.
Marco Scutaro (.215/.260/.269) and Brandon Belt (.231/.287/.321) have had slow starts to the season with the predictable impact on run scoring. But time and ABs will eventually bring Scutaro and Belt back as productive hitters.
Meanwhile Angel Pagan (.280, 19 runs), Pablo Sandoval (.812 OPS, 19 RBI), Buster Posey (.877 OPS, 10 XBH), and Hunter Pence (13 RBI, 9 XBH) have been excellent in April, and Brandon Crawford has had a stunning start (.907 OPS, 14 RBI, 11 XBH).
So this is not a systemic line-up crisis.
The problem is left field, where the tandem of Gregor Blanco (.664 OPS, 6 RS) and Andres Torres (.587 OPS, .260 OBP) are just dragging the offense down.
Although part time players, Torres and Blanco have already grounded into 5 double plays this season (Michael Young of the Phillies leads the NL with 6 GDP).
Successful teams use left field as a high run-production position because you can put an average defensive player in left and not be hurt. For San Francisco, left field is the weakest link in their hitting attack and one they can't afford to sustain.
A large number of those extra base hits the Giants depend on getting each year should be coming from left field, and right now it's a black hole. That's something that Brian Sabean will have to address before the trading deadline, or sooner if an opportunity comes up.
Because this thing ain't getting any easier. The upcoming May schedule is going to be a tough test of this team's grit and talent-- they have 11 games against baseball's best teams: Atlanta (4), Oakland (4), the Nationals (3); and also the Dodgers (3).
So we will know a lot more about the 2013 San Francisco Giants on June 1st.