Baseball is a fickle game. I can find no better example of this than the 2014 San Francisco Giants. This is a team that got off to a scorching 42-21 start, only to set a major league record of being the fastest team to blow a 9.5 game division lead. Then came a period of prolonged mediocrity and an unwillingness to win at home. At the conclusion of play on July 29th, the Giants were a hapless 28-30 at home. Many national pundits were writing this team off and even the most ardent fans’ faith began to waver.
However, here we are now, with 16 games to go and the Giants sporting a 81-65 record, 2 games back in the division, with a 4 game lead for the top wild card spot. The Giants have now won 9 straight home games, and overall are 11-1 in their last 12 games at AT&T park. They now possess a more than respectable 41-33 home record. After a 2 month stint of futility at home, I find this astounding. So what has sparked this turn around for the Giants, not only at home but for the season you may ask? It essentially comes down to a few significant changes.
September 9, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Yusmeiro Petit (52) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Yusmeiro Petit’s insertion into the rotation in place of Tim Lincecum was a bold, but ultimately correct move. Petit’s sharp command and reluctance to issue free passes was exactly what the Giants needed. In fact in Petit’s last start, he only needed 84 pitches for a complete game, and only threw 18 balls in the entire outing.
Jake Peavy is looking like the pitcher he was from a decade ago and has rediscovered his Cy Young form: 2.36 ERA/1.09 WHIP in his 8 starts with the Giants. Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson have been steady all year. Come October you know what you will get from these two. However, the back end of the playoff rotation could be a pleasant surprise. Currently, the rotation is collectively pitching deep into games and finally is pitching confidently since the offense is supporting them with runs.
2) Presence of Top of the Order Catalysts
The return of Angel Pagan (.307 AVG/.347 OBP) and the emergence of Joe Panik (.316 AVG/ .363 OBP), has revolutionized the lineup. These two have formed a palpable top of the order tandem and are getting hits in bunches. In fact on Tuesday night, they were a combined 9 of 10 at the plate!
Moreover, with the rate these 1-2 hitters are getting on base, the middle of the order has been licking their chops for RBI chances and have been satiated. Buster Posey‘s stealth run at the NL MVP would not have materialized without the thunder at the top of the lineup. Also, Hunter Pence is now able to bat later in the lineup, which suits him better since he is a power threat and his propensity for driving in runs.
3) Bench Player Contributions
The loss of Michael Morse (oblique injury) and Brandon Belt (concussion) has been tempered with Gregor Blanco‘s sudden hot bat (.387 AVG in September) and the emergence of Andrew Susac‘s power (3 HR and 4 doubles in only 59 at bats). Travis Ishikawa has also been a decent stop-gap at first base.
Even Joaquin Arias‘ latest plate appearances have been more aesthetically pleasing. Matt Duffy for good nature added a pinch hit RBI double in last night’s game. The bottom line is that multiple players have been stepping up for the stretch run. The Giants are obviously eager to welcome back Michael Morse and Brandon Belt, but until then the bench is holding its own.
The upcoming Dodgers series will be a litmus test to see where the Giants stand. They have played equally well as of late against both very poor teams (Diamondbacks, Rockies) as well as more respectable competition (Detroit, Milwaukee). While the outcome of the Dodgers series looms huge for divisional stakes, it will be equally interesting to see how the Giants perform and which players come through. Could this be a potential playoff preview? Only in baseball could something so tantalizing come to fruition.