By Jacob Sprecher
If you were trying to sum up with one word the first half of the season the 2012 San Francisco Giants, well, I’m not so sure you could. As I write this column, the Giants have just been swept by the Washington Nationals, and are losers of five out of the last seven games. But just the week before, these same Giants threw four consecutive shutouts, a franchise first in 128 years of baseball, and overtook the Dodgers for the lead in the NL West.
So, if I’m looking for one word? How ‘bout “bizarre”?
Who in their right mind would have guessed that Tim Lincecum would be the heel of the Giants pitching staff after 82 games? No one. Who would have guessed that the Giants would lead all of baseball in errors? No one. And who would have guessed that all their offseason trades and signings would look nothing short of brilliant at mid-summer? Honestly, Melky Cabrera leading baseball in hits? Gregor Blanco nailing down the leadoff spot? Angel Pagan playing like he wants a contract? Furthermore we all secretly sort of suspected Buster Posey to come back strong, but did you really believe he’d be the legitimate starting catcher for the all-star game?
It’s all so strange, really. Despite the above successes, there’s also been streaks of absolute futility reminiscent of 2011. This team, though hitting in the top 10 across baseball in team batting average, is also one of the absolute worst with runners in scoring position. They had 15 hits tonight in D.C. and only scored five runs. How? Because they went 3-15 with RISP.
And what about the bullpen? They’re absolutely untouchable half the time. And then other nights they look utterly lost. Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla were awful this evening, and it’s starting to look like a trend. Casilla, who stepped in as the Giants’ closer when Brian Wilson went down with season-ending Tommy John surgery, pitched like an all-star the first 65 games of the season. But the last two weeks he’s been a complete disaster. He looks like the Casilla with a 5.00 ERA that played under a false identity in Oakland a few years back. Javier Lopez does not look good. Mota got a drilled with a 100-game suspension for juicing. But Sergio Romo continues to be unhitable. George Kontos has emerged as a promising young arm. Brad Penny appears to have gas left in the tank.
And then what of the starting staff? Matt Cain—and this is no surprise—is finally recognized as a premiere arm throughout baseball. He’s been flat-out special and even perfect (quite literally). Madison Bumgarner has nine wins. Ryan Vogelsong has given at least six innings in every single start this season (he should be an all-star)! And Zito…I don’t know how, but he’s actually been effective, and thank god for that. With Lincecum weighing down the staff as baseball’s worst starting pitcher (statistically true), the Giants would be in a world of hurt without Zito’s above average first half. But who’s gonna be surprised when he caves?
They’re a polarizing team. One day they look like 95-game winners, the next game you wonder how the hell they’re above .500. I’m not sure what this team looks like come September. They could very well win this division. They have the all the tools and lots of team chemistry. But here’s a couple things that will have to happen in order to out last both L.A. and Arizona (who’s quietly sneaking up in the standings). First off: Lincecum has to get on track. If the Giants go 4-13 in his next 17 outings, like they’ve done at this juncture, the Giants will not win the West. Second: The 3-4-5 spots in the lineup must continue to produce. With Blanco slumping and Pagan not far behind, you really have to wonder what the true offensive face of this team looks like. What I do know is that Brandon Crawford is not very good. And Juaquin Arias, defensive prowess aside, can’t hit a lick. Cabrera, Posey and Sandoval have to keep hitting. And it wouldn’t hurt if the real Brandon Belt continued to stand up.
So what’s my prediction for the second half? There isn’t one worth making. This team is pure helter-skelter, and anyone that tells you otherwise doesn’t follow the game.