2012 SF Giants: Destined for the Playoffs

This particular Giants team is one of my favorites in Giants history. It’s not simply because of the stellar pitching or because of Melky Cabrera or Buster Posey’s play, but the personality and character of this team is remarkable. This is a team full of fighters, believers, and hard workers. This is a team that the average sport’s fan would want to watch and would want to root for. I would enjoy more than anything for this Giants team to win the NL West (by edging out the Dodgers for the title) and making another World Series run. With the trade deadline approaching, do the Giants have enough though to make another World Series run? It’s not clear at this point. Let’s examine the Giants’ season so far.

Let’s first discuss the pitching. Everyone and their mother knows how fantastic the Giants’ starting rotation has been this year (with the exception of Tim Lincecum). The fact that three of the five starting pitchers for the Giants could have easily made the All-Star Game is impressive in itself. So far this season, Madison Bumgarner has a 3.10 ERA, Matt Cain has a 2.74 ERA, and Ryan Vogelsong has a 2.26 ERA. In 2011, Barry Zito had a 5.87 ERA, and this season, he has improved his ERA to 3.75. Who would’ve thought that Tim Lincecum would’ve been the odd man out with a 5.88 ERA this season? Lincecum is battling a severe mental struggle right now as he tries to get out of his pitching funk. Lincecum has not been able to put together three quality starts in a row at any point this season, and that is for sure concerning. The Giants are 6-15 in Lincecum’s starts this year, and that is one of the most important statistics involving Lincecum right now. The Giants bullpen has been stellar as usual, but they have had their ups and downs. The true star in the Giants bullpen has been Sergio Romo. Romo has been the most consistent pitcher for the Giants this whole season with a 0.60 ERA, 35 strikeouts, 8 walks, and 14 hits allowed in 30 innings. Romo should’ve been an All-Star and probably should be named the Giants closer for the rest of the season, because of Casilla’s inconsistency. Giants’ GM, Brian Sabean, will try to acquire another pitcher for the bullpen before the trade deadline, but the pitching staff is already solid.

Giants fans received a lot of criticism (especially from Mets fans and management) about “stacking the vote” for starters for the NL All-Star team. I can understand that Pablo Sandoval didn’t exactly have All-Star numbers coming into the All-Star game, but Cabrera, Posey, and Cain all deserved to start at their respective positions, no doubt. There was no “stacking” for those particular players, because they are simply just the best at their positions, like it or not. The Giants players accounted for 5 of the 8 RBI’s in the All-Star Game, and, in addition, Matt Cain threw two scoreless innings to start off the game. Sandoval hit his first triple of the year and batted in three runs for the NL. Did he not deserve to start the All Star Game? Maybe, but he came through for his team and is a huge reason why the NL has home-field advantage now in the World Series. Cabrera, Posey, and Sandoval are the core of this offense, and Matt Cain is the ace of this pitching staff. To see these four players represent the Giants was quite incredible as a fan.

One of the main questions for this Giants team is what the everyday lineup will be for the rest of the season. One of the common lineups (spots 1-8) that has been used so far has been:

1. Blanco CF
2. Theriot 2B
3. Cabrera LF
4. Posey C
5. Sandoval 3B
6. Pagan CF
7. Belt 1B
8. Crawford SS

Bochy has tweaked the lineup a little recently, inserting Nate Schierholtz into the leadoff position and playing Sandoval at 1B and Arias at 3B. Regardless, the Giants have struggled all season with finding a consistent player for first base. Aubrey Huff is injured and wasn’t starting even when he was healthy, Brett Pill was sent back to the minors, and Brandon Belt has shown flashes of brilliance but, generally, has shown inconsistency as well. The front office wanted to send the message at the very beginning of the season that they wanted to have more youth on the team and that they would stick with their young players, even while knowing that they are prone to offensive struggles during the course of a season. It seems as though Sabean and Bochy should stick with their plan and, therefore, stick with Belt at first base. Unless they are willing to play Sandoval at first base and find a replacement at third base via trade, Belt is the best option. Belt cleared up to the media and the fans in a recent blog post that he still remains confident and that he believes in Bochy’s coaching strategies. Sabean and Bochy need to decide if they want to play Posey at first base more and start Hector Sanchez more at catcher, start Sandoval more at first base, or stick with Belt at first base, because Belt going to the minors is not and should not be an option. This potential move would negate everything that Giants management has said since the beginning of the season.

So who should the Giants target in free agency? Sabean has made it pretty clear that they will not be going after any big-name players, because they don’t have the financial resources to do so. However, Sabean will most likely go about this free agency period like he did during the 2010 season. He will target some pitchers for the bullpen and one or two bench players who will add more depth and versatility to the team. With these possible additions, it seems as if the Giants will be able to make it into the playoffs (through winning the NL West title or one of the two possible Wild Card spots). The Giants will need to improve their overall batting average with runners in scoring position and they will need to address Lincecum’s problems at some point, whether they like it or not. They need to be practical about his current mental approach to games and how inconsistent he can be not just game-to-game but inning-to-inning. If Bochy started Brad Penny one game and skipped one of Lincecum’s starts, that would send a clear message to Lincecum that this issue is on him. He needs to figure it out himself, because at this point in the season, it’s purely mental. If Lincecum can maintain a 4.00 ERA or lower throughout the rest of the season and if the Giants improve their clutch hitting with runners in scoring position, they have an excellent chance of being successful in the playoffs.

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