The ceremonial first half of the San Francisco Giants baseball season is over now that the All Star Break has come and gone. Of course, it’s not the literal half-way point, as that happened in June, but it’s the point where teams and fans look back what happened in the first three months of baseball, and ahead at what’s to come in the next two and a half months.
As it stands right now, the Giants sit in 2nd place in the NL West, just one game back from the Los Angeles Dodgers and 11 games ahead of the 3rd place San Diego Padres. Unless something drastic changes, the NL West will be a two team race the to the finish line.
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But what has brought the Giants this far and kept them in the race, despite an atrocious month of June and early July? Strong hitting early on, and solid pitching from the bottom of the rotation through the offensive struggles.
At one point in the first month or so of baseball the Giants were leading MLB in home runs. That’s unbelievable considering two things. 1) In recent years, the Giants haven’t been known to win with the long ball. That’s not what notched them two World Series Championships. 2) They play in one of the most pitcher friendly parks in the league, AT&T Park. There is a reason why we say batters (even our own) got “AT&T’d” when they hit a ball anywhere near triples alley in right center field.
With the hitting, it’s really been the tale of two teams. The Giants has 32 home runs in the month of April. In June, they hit just 14.
Michael Morse has hit his way into the hearts of Giants fans with his power. Brandon Belt was off to his best season yet before his thumb injury. Brandon Hicks was still on the team. Pablo Sandoval was missing the first part of the season, and Buster Posey and Hunter Pence weren’t far behind him, but as the rest of the team has struggled, they’ve begun to pick up the pace. Angel Pagan simply needs to be in the lineup, and Brandon Crawford was consistently inconsistent.
Highlight: Madison Bumgarner and Posey grand slams on the same day. If anything is going to energize this team heading into the All Star Break, that should do it. Never mind that it was Bumgarner’s second grand slam of the year.
Overall, looking back at the first half, I am encouraged. We’ve seen what this team can do with the bat. They are downright dangerous and took all of MLB by surprise. But they’ve shown that they can’t always keep it up. They’re streaky. When they’re hot, they are hot. When they’re cold, they could give Princess Elsa from Frozen a run for her money.
But they’re sitting on 52 wins in the first half. That more wins than they had at the break in either World Series Championship year. They’ve played good ball so far this year, and if they work on more consistency in the 2nd half, they should be playoff bound.
Jun 25, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (right) celebrates with catcher Hector Sanchez (29) after throwing a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
As a team, the Giants have a 3.40 ERA. That ranks as #7 in MLB and only three teams have allowed fewer home runs (71) – Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals. They’ve also walked batters only 236 times, which is better than 27 of 30 teams. They have the 3rd best WHIP behind the Mariners and Athletics.
But alas, in June, when the Giants offense was at this worst, the team posted a 4.30 ERA, far off from the 2.91 ERA posted in a May. What a difference a month makes.
There have been some obvious pitching struggles though. Matt Cain just hasn’t been Matt Cain. He’s had two stints on the disabled list, and still hasn’t seemed to find his groove. He has just two wins all season long. Things are looking so bad for Cain that when the Giants resume play again today, Cain will be in the #5 spot in the rotation.
But Bochy says it has less to do with how Cain has pitched, and more of how Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong have pitched. Lincecum pitched his second no-hitter of his career this season, once again against the Padres. He also made it look a whole lot easier this time. Lincecum started the season off struggling, and he’s had ups and downs, but he’s becoming a better pitcher. You can just see it in the way hit pitches through things. He’s getting his confidence back, even with a poor pitching performance in June. In the first two weeks of July, his record is 3-0 with a 0.42 ERA.
Ryan Vogelsong hasn’t been lights out, but he’s shown his grit to fight through things more this season. He’s always had grit, but he’s making that grit do something for him this season. In June when he pitched a 5.08 ERA, he still managed to go 2-2. He’s seemingly getting out of jams more than last season, and really has filled the role of a #5 starter pretty well.
Bumgarner and Tim Hudson have been the most consistent so far. They do their thing every time out there. It doesn’t always go their way, but any team in the league would be lucky to have those guys pitching the way they have been this season. If they keep it up, and Hudson stays healthy (let’s face it, he’s old), then at the top of the order, they should give the Giants a chance to win every time they are on the mound.
In the bullpen, there has been a shake up with Sergio Romo being replaced as the closer by Santiago Casilla. Since the change, Romo is pitching better, letting fewer pitches hang, and is starting to get confidence back. Casilla as closer is fine by me. He’s a good pitcher, and while I expect Romo to take his role back, I’m good with Casilla in there for now.
Jean Machi is just awesome. Yes, he’s struggled at the same as everyone else, but as far as relievers go, he’s one of the best out there right now.
Highlight: Lincecum’s 2nd no-hitter. It was beautiful and wonderful and I love what we’re seeing from Timmy right now.
The Giants have flourished and they have floundered. They’re a good team, that has shown they have strong hitting, strong starting pitching, and a strong bullpen. They can work themselves through a jam and persevere. The question for the 2nd half will be which team shows up for the playoff push? The Bambinos or Princess Elsa?