Jun 16, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA;San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) hits a single during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Sound the trumpets, stop the presses, and shout it from the rooftops—the return of Nori Aoki is coming!
The San Francisco Giants getting their leadoff man back is a big deal. When the speedy Aoki hit the DL due to a right fibula fracture, San Francisco was half a game behind the Dodgers (38-32) and the Wild Card leader in the National League. Fast forward to July 21 and the Giants, without Nori, have gone 11-10, are 3.5 games out in the NL West standings, and a game out of the Wild Card race.
The collapse wasn’t the undoing of losing one player, with both Hunter Pence and key cogs in the Giants rotation out of action, but the lineup without Nori has been less than stellar. Without a true leadoff man, the lineup (until recently) has really struggled to put runs on the board.
It took a six-game win streak to get back within striking distance of the rival Dodgers, but the return of Aoki should close the gap further. There are conflicting reports as to when he will return, with local media (which I tend to favor) saying Aoki could be back as soon as Friday. According to Andrew Baggarly, a CT scan has revealed that the bone in his leg is 80 percent healed, and Bruce Bochy has been on the record saying that he may forgo rehab games in Sacramento after Pence showed that he could jump right back into the lineup.
ESPN, however, reports that he will miss (up to) another two weeks. I hope ESPN is wrong, but what they did get right was the impact he makes on this Giants squad:
"Aoki has enjoyed a solid first season with the Giants, hitting .317 with 33 runs scored and 19 RBIs as their leadoff hitter.The 33-year-old left fielder strikes out less often than any player in MLB this season (5.8 percent of at-bats). He’s also 11th in batting average and 12th in on-base percentage, with 12 stolen bases. No one else on the Giants has more than five steals."
As I explained back in May, with Nori setting the table, the Giants offense takes on a completely different form. His ability to reach base is irreplaceable, and he has been nothing short of spectacular on the road. As a visitor, he hits an astounding .395 with a .468 OBP—both of which lead the Majors.
Like Pence, Aoki’s attitude is contagious on the field and breathes life into the dugout. He has undoubtedly been my favorite Giant to watch this season. So, by all means, come back when you’re ready, Nori…but please come back soon!