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Buster Posey

First-Half Review: San Francisco Giants are MLB’s Best

Jun 24, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) singles on a line drive to Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera (not pictured) in the seventh inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) singles on a line drive to Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera (not pictured) in the seventh inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
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With the MLB All-Star Break here, it’s time to take a look at how the San Francisco Giants fared in the first half of the season. From a quick look at the standings, it appears they are the best team in baseball.

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Of course, this comes as no surprise to anyone who’ve watched the Giants cruise to their 57-33 record. They feature the best duo of starting pitchers in the league. Despite not having a Triple Crown threat on the order of Miguel Cabrera or Bryce Harper, their lineup doesn’t have any glaring holes—there could be, considering the litany of injuries to key players, but the Giants have managed to fill those voids with capable contributors. Those contributions are likely augmented by the brilliant deployment of Bruce Bochy, the league’s best manager.

The Giants came into the season intent of competing for another championship. Adding to their rock-solid core of World Series veterans, they made a free-agent splash in the offseason to bolster their starting rotation, signing Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, and they brought in Denard Span to handle center field and leadoff duties.

Through these first three months of the 2016 season, Cueto has been the Majors’ best free-agent addition. Samardzija started off hot but has struggled lately, while Span is far from the .300-average, 30-steal pace desired of him. But there is still a half-season to go, so Span and Samardzija have plenty of time to make their full contributions for the season.

What’s scary about the Giants is that, in addition to Span and Samardzija, several other key players have not been making their typical contributions. If they all got on track in the second half, they could be as unstoppable as the Chicago Cubs were through the first two months of the season.

Hunter Pence is due back in a couple weeks from his hamstring tear. Joe Panik should also be back later this month, from his concussion, and Matt Cain is in the midst of a minor league rehab assignment, meaning he should be back shortly after the all-star break. Matt Duffy’s return form injury appears to be not as imminent.

Despite these injuries, the Giants have found ways to avoid potential fallouts from them. Angel Pagan has played at a high level, while rookies Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker have added some punch to the lineup in Pence’s absence. Conor Gillaspie is playing as well or even better than Duffy at third base, while Ramiro Pena and Grant Green have handled second base in Panik’s place.

Manager Bruce Bochy doesn't have to be too careful when handling his Paul Bunyan-esque ace,
Manager Bruce Bochy doesn't have to be too careful when handling his Paul Bunyan-esque ace,

All-World catcher Buster Posey only recently started heating up at the plate, so more production from him could be coming in the second half.

Though Posey and a healthy Pence are the Giants’ best two hitters, the stars of the offense this season have arguably been a couple longtime defensive wizards who’ve continued to progress at the plate since both were rookies in 2011: Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.

One of the greatest all-star snubs—in fact, it’s a double snub, because it’s hardly being talked about—is the exclusion of Crawford from the Midsummer Classic. Cubs shortstop Addison Russell isn’t deserving of his spot on the all-star roster or in the starting lineup. The Dodgers’ Corey Seager is probably most deserving of starting the game, but Crawford, who has an .800 OPS and leads all MLB shortstops with 61 RBI, should be there.

The offense has been humming lately, but it lagged through much of May and early June. Despite that team-wide slump, the Giants continued to win games behind the stellar starting pitching, allowing it to keep pace with the Cubs until the bats came alive.

Madison Bumgarner and Cueto were responsible for much of that, but revivals by Cain and Jake Peavy—after horrific starts to the season—helped, did the emergence of Albert Suarez, a relative no-name who is doing a great impression of former Giants swingman Yusmeiro Petit.

The bullpen has been the Giants’ weakest link this season, though closer Santiago Casilla is not as bad as his (seemingly many) detractors think. His four blown saves aren’t great, but he has converted his last nine save opportunities, with only one blown save in the past two months. He carries a respectable 2.86 ERA and a dominant 11.4 K/9 rate into the break.

Next: Brandon Belt is an All-Star

Besides getting some of their starters back from injury, the Giants have other ways they can improve heading into the second half of the season—such as bolstering the bullpen. But we’ll discuss that after Tuesday’s All-Star Game. In the meantime, enjoy these first-place Giants and their representatives in the All-Star Game.

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