Apr 13, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson (17) prepares to deliver a pitch against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Bleacher Chinwagging On San Francisco Giants: Appraising April

Having completed the first month of the season, it makes sense that an appraisal of the San Francisco Giants is in order.  I have seven areas of interest to which I will be attaching grades, for the first sixth of the season.  These include the offense, rotation, defense, bench, bullpen, leadership, and the intangibles (clutch hitting, goals/objectives, chemistry).  I want to determine if the Giants’ position at the top of the standings is deserved, or just a fluke

San Francisco goes into May with a win-loss record of 17-11, which gives them a one and-a-half game lead over both the Dodgers (15-12) and the Rockies (16-13).  Right now it is good enough; will that remain the case?  With Clayton Kershaw pitching off the mound, the Dodgers will only get better, and soon.  Will the Giants?  For the sake of this discussion, the season opener on March 31st will be included in April’s stats, so here we go.

The offense has made the biggest splash, pun intended; home runs have a way of doing that.  The Giants are second only to the Rockies in the National League, and with the emergence of Brandon Hicks (5 HR), have legitimate home run threats at every position.  As soon as you tell me Brandon Crawford doesn’t hit homers, I will remind you of a certain splash hit that won a game for us.  Aside from Crawford, who chooses his moments, all Giants’ starters carry clout.  Michael Morse leads the team in RBI’s with 20 and Angel Pagan’s torrid start was the catalyst for their early season surge.

 

Brandon Hicks and Michael Morse of the San Francisco Giants

Apr 13, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants infielder Brandon Hicks (14) is congratulated by outfielder Michael Morse (38) after both Hicks and Morse scored a run against the Colorado Rockies in the fifth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The glaring issue with the offense is its occasional-unfathomable-wilting.  The Giants cannot have a repeat performance of that stretch when the bats may as well have been noodles, and Madison Bumgarner  pitched a complete-game loss.  Do something!  “Accidentally” get hit by a pitch; be patient and take the walk; drag a bunt down; do it again; advance the runner(s); make contact; do whatever it takes to not get into those ruts that appear when the home runs falter.  I am not going to delve statistically into every area for this analysis.  At times the Giants were red-hot with two-strike and two-out hits; at others, they were stone-cold.  They’re not as good as their home runs might indicate, but they’re not as bad as that putrid stretch that produced some wasted pitching efforts, either.  Again, there must be more consistency.  For the erratic track they are on, I give the offense a 75% grade overall, which is a C.

 

The starting rotation has the same quandary as the offense.  With the notable exception of Tim Hudson (4-1, 2.17, 2 BB), who has been everything Brian Sabean envisioned, the rest of the rotation has fluctuated from brilliant to pathetic.  Madison Bumgarner (2-3, 3.74, 13 BB) has struggled to put his pitches where Buster Posey directs, and this has resulted in runs being scored.  One thing to consider is that MadBum, as the ace, is facing every other staff ace, and this must create pressure.  Is he trying to do too much?

 

Matt Cain  (0-3, 4.35, 10 BB) is still looking for his first victory.  He gave up the long ball early (with 5) but settled in to pitch back-to-back solid starts, resulting in 1-0 and 2-1 Giants’ losses.  Tim Lincecum (1-1, 5.96, 6 BB) has had solid starts, but has been prone to the long ball (6 so far) and Ryan Vogelsong (0-1, 5.40, 10 BB) has been on a roller-coaster ride, the good thing being that his most recent start was superb.  It seems as though there was an adjustment made and all of the sudden he was good to go and proved it against the Cleveland Indians.  The rotation has been very stingy when it comes to walking opponents, so that has helped, but the fact that Hudson has more than half of the staff’s victories, with four, hollers out that more consistency is necessary.  So the starters have been excellent at times, and terrible at times, or about the same as the offense,  for 75%, a C.

 

Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey.  Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, San Francisco has a .984 overall fielding percentage, good enough for eighth out of fifteen NL teams, or exactly in the middle.  One pleasant surprise is that Michael Morse, considered a defensive liability, has not committed an error, whereas Pablo Sandoval, generally a better-than-average and sometimes flashy defender, has four.  Brandon Crawford has one and Brandons, Belt and Hicks, have three each.  Statistically, the Giants are in good shape.   Morse seems to be improving, particularly when it comes to taking chances, and Hicks is following the same course.  I think both benefit from their success at the plate, in that they seem to be carrying that confidence onto the field now, more frequently than at the beginning of the season.  Morse made a fine running, back-handed snag on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres, while during the same game, a fully prone Hicks began a double play, by flipping the ball to Crawford at second, after spearing a hot grounder and ending up on the turf.  All said, the defense is performing at a good level, which equates to an 85%, a B.

 

The bench has mixed reviews, because it’s hard to figure out where Brandon Hicks belongs.  If he is considered a bench player helping out, then the bench gets higher marks.  Either way, at AT&T Park, the bench is about defense and not offense.  Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez, when he’s not in Fresno, are superior defensive replacements, as is Joaquin Arias in the infield.  Ehire Adrianza, despite an error, is also a part of the bench for his glove.   That being said, though their offense is weak and that’s to be expected, the key quality that these guys have to be able to supply, is the ability to preserve a lead in the late innings with their gloves, and that they can do.  Perez also brings arguably the best Giants’ arm to the game.  They’re not spectacular, but they are very good.  I rate the bench at 85% or a B.

 

The bullpen is the cog in the machine that is performing head and shoulders above the crowd, thus accounting for much of the team’s early success.  The team’s ERA has been first or second for much of recent weeks.  Every one of these players is carrying more than his weight, and it adds up to the best in the game.  What impresses me is how many have closed during their careers for varying lengths of time: Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Juan Gutierrez.  That is one of those intangibles that enhance a staff’s success: If you can handle the pressure of pitching the bottom of the ninth, then you are more than qualified to handle any earlier inning, and it shows.   Because the starting rotation has sputtered at times, the bullpen has had to pick up the slack, which means doing more than just the basics.  Whether it’s coming in with the bases loaded and getting the last out of the inning, as Juan Gutierrez did on Monday against the Padres, to bail Bumgarner out, or filling in for Matt Cain so capably, as Yusmeiro Petit did on Tuesday, the bullpen is coming through.  Without question, this group is unsurpassed, or 100%, an A.

 

Coming through in the clutch fits under the category of intangibles, and has contributed to some electrifying finishes, including walk-off homers so far by Brandons, Crawford and Hicks, and by Hector Sanchez.  There has also been some last-inning thunder that required the bottom half of the inning to be played to settle the matter, that has made it clear that the Giants don’t stop swinging until the defense leaves the field.  Posey did it in the top of the ninth in the Opener in Arizona, while Pagan did it in the finale of that same series, by homering in the eighth, to break the tie.  Hector Sanchez tied one game against the Rockies with an eighth-inning homer and then, in the same game, put the Giants ahead by four in the eleventh with a grand slam.   Additionally, the Giants have met two specific goals, by taking four games of the six played with the Dodgers, and having played at a 14-11 clip overall against the NL West.  They have not panicked when the bats got cold nor when the pitching has faltered; instead their chemistry kicked in, allowing them to regroup and end up with the division lead at the start of May.  I rate the intangibles as 95%, or an A.

 

Brian Sabean of the San Francisco Giants

May 26, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean before a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Appropriate credit for being in first place must be included in the assessment of leadership.  I will spotlight Sabean’s key acquisitions of Hudson and Morse, and Bochy’s careful maneuvering of the club around that offensive funk that took place, mixed in with sporadic pitching.  No one keeps a club more even-keeled than Bruce Bochy and it is reflected in the club’s unwillingness to give up.  I credit this to good piloting and give leadership an A.

 

So the final report card shows two C’s, in offense and starting rotation; two B’s in the bench and the defense; and three A’s, in the bullpen, the intangibles and the leadership.  It adds up to a solid B for the team, which is surprising considering the Giants are in first place.  But the Dodgers will improve when Kershaw rejoins them and the Giants must do likewise.  The offense must iron out its inconsistency and the rotation must take a greater share of the burden from the bullpen, so that there is no wear-down.

 

Otherwise, first place is first place and I’ll take it.  The rhythm of the Giants is clearly established, and as they get the final kinks worked out (Pablo, are you listening?), they will continue to contend for first place.  Meanwhile, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and LA beckon, and San Francisco better beckon back with their bats, or watch the action from the rear.   Let May stand for Mayhem and let the carnage begin by silencing the robotic Tomahawk Chop in Atlanta.  After all, it’s for a good cause.

Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giantds

Jul 23, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (right) disputes a call by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi (10) during the fifth inning in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds at AT

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