The San Francisco Giants 5-1 start to the 2014 season had fans delirious and Bay Area sports writers cautiously optimistic. Local sportstalk radio, where those shunned by society always have a voice, bubbled over with reckless enthusiasm and bold predictions about playing baseball in October.
What I found encouraging was that so many sportstalk radio listeners were able to recognize the current calendar year and at the same time articulate abstract concepts like “even” and “odd”.
The Giants put a halt to those giddy days of last week with a 1-3 record over the last four games, to stand at 6-4 over the first ten games.
The issues I have repeatedly (some say too repeatedly) put on the table about the San Francisco Giants since the end the 2013 season are starting to bloom like the weeds in the team’s new vegetable garden behind the center field fence.
First the good news. For the first time in many even and odd years, San Francisco has a respectable offense. After ten games, they are third in the Majors in runs scored with 55 (the Rockies have 60 RS, and the White Sox have 61 RS). That’s an average 5.5 runs per game– which will come down, but it’s still nice to see.
That’s breaking news for a team that historically only budgets maybe two or three legitimate run producers in any given season. The 2014 Giants now have six players in the everyday line-up who can actually contribute to the offense — Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Michael Morse.
No doubt one or two of the above hitters will have an off year, and one or two will have an exceptional year. But if the rest of the San Francisco offense could simply produce at a League-average level, runs will be scored.
The problem remains that front office still just can’t bring itself to, a) pony up a budget to have eight run producers in the everyday batting order; and, b) change their definition of what a bench should be.
For the Giants front office, a “bench” consists of players who will play decent defensive ball in the outfield and infield. And maybe hit a little.
Winning teams use bench players as an active part of their offensive attack– not merely as substitutes who won’t look too bad if they have to play. Look at the Arizona D’Backs bench: Cliff Pennington, Eric Chavez, Cody Ross (currently DLed), and Tony Campana. All quality hitters.
So here is what will develop over the next two months: watching a flawed team losing ground, stumbling through a nasty transitional period. From having pitching dominance to having virtually no pitching. From having poor offenses to having a respectively productive offense. But still slipping behind the best teams in the National League.
The team’s general plan is that sometime in mid-2015 or 2016, a crop of promising minor league pitchers will be ready for the big leagues and then everything will be OK again. Until then, keep coming to the games and be sure to order those $12 10-ounce cups of imported beer with your garlic fries and dog.
As it stands right now, of San Francisco’s five starting pitchers only Madison Bumgarner is a quality starter.
Matt Cain has to find a way to limit the long ball to regain his “quality starter” status. Tim Hudson is pitching really well but his age and previous injury history will likely limit his starts. The $40 million San Francisco spent on Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong to make the fans happy is smelling worse with every start.
The numbers are numbing: Lincecum and Vogelsong have had a total of four starts, with 19 innings pitched (an average of 4.75 IP per start), 29 hits, 19 runs scored, and 6 home runs. For Ryan Vogelsong his regular season performance has deteriorated since August of 2012; Tim Lincecum has not had a winning season since 2010.
The team defense looks unimproved from their disastrous 2013 season when they coughed up 107 errors, 24th worst of 30 MLB teams. In the first ten games San Francisco has committed 8 errors and several plays that were errors were generously called hits. Turning the double play continues to be a big challenge for Giant infielders.
Brandon Hicks is a 29 year old lifetime minor league player who came to Spring Training with a career .493 OPS. His 5 for 15 start is very nice, but it won’t last. In the meantime his glove is killing the team at second base.
It doesn’t feel like it right now, but this season is going to be a very bumpy ride for the Giants and their fans. Oddly enough, I do think this is an interesting team to watch and there is legitimate star power on display– from Buster Posey and Brandon Belt to Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval.
I only have one question: when do those 2016 calendars go on sale?