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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Giants' mid-season report card

As a team limping into it, the all-star break couldn't have come quick enough for the Giants after their downward spiral that started in early June.

Over the last several weeks, they've demoted their closer, lost their leadoff hitting center fielder and have gotten next to nothing offensively from the second base, shortstop, center field and left field positions over the last 4-6 weeks. That's 1/2 your lineup vastly underachieving so it's easy to see where the chunk of the Giants' downfall blame should lay. Hunter Pence has been about as steady as they come after a quiet week or two to start the year, and he earned himself a trip to Minnesota because of it. I'd say, that despite his major slump and lack of production since the team started losing, Michael Morse has been a plus. His surge early in the year helped the Giants build that record and lead in the NL West, so I'd say when all things are considered, you have to  be happy with what you got from Morse (overall) in the first half. Posey has been decent but far from the superstar he can be. Pablo Sandoval had a tale of two quarters, as he was downright dreadful the first 1/4 of the year, but bounced out of his funk in a big way in May and has gotten his numbers to a respectable spot. Other than that though, there hasn't been much to hang your hat on for the Giants offense. Pagan has been great when out there, but has only played 63 games. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt have each had some hot spots, but neither of their numbers impress you too much at the break. Now if Belt stayed healthy and didn't hit the DL for 6 weeks, he very well could have been a representative in Monday's Home Run Derby, but unfortunately it wasn't the case.

As for the pitching, the rotation had it's bumps early and some along the way, but they've really been about as good, if not better than expected. Madison Bumgarner had an all-star half with 10 wins, a 3.47 ERA and 127 K's. Giants newcomer Tim Hudson also made the team as a replacement with his 2.87 ERA and 7 wins over 119 innings. I think the real surprise though, even more than Huddy, has been the recent re-emergence of Tim Lincecum. Even before his no-hitter, Lincecum was making waves towards consistency, and it's like that second no-no snapped him back into his groove for good. Over the last 30 days, he's gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 25 K's over 36.1 innings of work. Although his K's are down slightly, his WHIP and ERA are lower than they've been since '11, so he'll gladly take it. At 9-5 with a 3.66 ERA, he's more than capable of reaching 16-17 wins with a sub-4 ERA and 175 K's if he keeps up his new found consistency. Another Giants' starter who's got their swagger back this year is Ryan Vogelsong. Although his first half ended in 4 straight loses where the Giants scored a total of ONE run for the man (posted a 3.27 ERA in that span), he's been giving the Giants solid outings and their certainly their money's worth. Despite the frustrating lack of run-support, he's kept his head straight and will look to build off his tough luck, 5-7/3.84/1.28 line over the last 11 weeks of the year. Now that Lincecum and Vogey have gotten going, the Giants really hope big things lay ahead in the second half for Matt Cain as they need him to be himself down the stretch. He hasn't been as bad as his 2-7 record indicates, but this is definitely one of the worst seasons of his career all around.

As a whole, the Giants rotation is sporting an ERA of 3.67 which isn't bad by any stretch, but not as good as some of the front-runners in the NL, and certainly not up to par with their SoCal nemesis LA Dodgers (3.08). The Brewers are the only first or second place team in the league with a higher rotation ERA, but they also have one of the better offenses in all of the league to help make up for the difference. So, in short, the rotation has done enough to win but if they're going to ensure their spot in October, it wouldn't hurt to see that rotation get that ERA maybe down to 3.50 or below to help for the inconsistent offense.

The other part of the pitching staff, the bullpen, has really been a strength. Take away Sergio Romo's recent hiccups during this losing streak, and the Giants have had one of the deeper, more effective bullpens in the league. Giants' relievers hold a 2.82 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Juan Gutierrez (3.11) and Sergio Romo (4.86)
are the only two with 20+ games that don't have a sub-3 ERA. Jean Machi (1.64/0.99) and Santiago Casilla (1.02/0.79) have been flat out stars and Jeremy Affeldt is having the best year of his career at 35 (1.64/0.99). Javy Lopez, Yusmiero Petit and Goerge Kontos can't go unmentioned, as Lopez continues to be the left-handed destroyer he's always been. Petit has quietly put together a nice half too after a slow start. He leads the Giants staff with a 10.6 K/9 rate, and gives the Giants an ideal spot starter or fill in when someone needs a breather or gets hurt down the stretch. I really like the way the bullpen has shaped up, and I like the depth they have with guys like Kontos, Dave Huff and Jake Dunning proven and ready to contribute when need be. However, as good as they are as a unit and even though Casilla seems to have righted the ship in terms of the closers spot, I think this is one area the team could definitely still build on by the trade deadline or possibly the waiver-deadline.

As far as the grades, the offense started out so hot and had this team playing so well which got them to the point they were at the 1/3 point. It has allowed them to take on water without completely drowning and they can't go completely unnoticed. The pitching has clearly been the foundation of the 2014 squad though, both the pen and the rotation. The rotation sports 4 guys who are on pace for double-digit wins, and the one who isn't is Matt Cain, who's capable of being an ace again at any given moment. He did finish off the first half well, throwing three consecutive quality starts, including one 7-inning shutout. Hopefully it's a sign of things t come over the next couple of months. Overall, I give the Giants rotation a B for the first half, and the bullpen a B+. Both solid, but neither perfect by any stretch.

Now, onto the offense. Had I done this at the quarter point after May, your looking at quite possibly a high B, maybe even low A. They were hitting for power, average, stealing bases, getting the 2-out hit and production all over the lineup (including from a seldom known second basemen). However, things have gone in the opposite direction the last month and a half. All things considered, I give the Giants offensive performance a letter grade of C- for the first half. The defense has really been a non-issue for the most part, which is a good thing. Michael Morse has been less of an adventure in left field than I thought he'd be so far, and even though the Giants haven't gotten any offense out of second base, the defense there has been stellar.

Looking Ahead: As we look toward the second half, there are both things that we have to look forward to, and questions that still need to be answered. Hopefully the return of Marco Scutaro yields positive results and allows the Giants to erase second base as one of their areas of concern. Hopefully we have Angel Pagan to look forward to returning before the end of the month, because as good as this pitching can be, I don't think the Giants are a Wold Series contender without a legit leadoff man. If that means they need to venture into the trade market should Pagan not be ready in time, so be it. As I've said here before, the Giants have 3 main question marks right now. One is hopefully being answered in the form of Marco Scutaro, but is very much still in question at the moment. The other two are the center field spot and the closers spot. The Giants don't have the trade ammunition to go out and take their pick of available 9th inning guys or all star outfielders, but they may be able to pluck one useful piece from somewhere if they play their cards right. Again, time will tell as to what exactly they need, but I do expect the Giants to do whatever they can to make a push towards another World Series ring, if that means making another deal or two, so be it. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Scutaro start hitting, Pagan come back and Sabean stand pat. Either way, it'll be a telling couple weeks ahead as we prepare to hit the stretch.

First Half MVP: Hunter Pence  (.300, 12 HR, 67 Runs, 8 SB)
Top Starter: Tim Hudson (119 IP, 7 W, 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)
Top Reliever: Santiago Casilla ( 31 G, 1.01 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
Biggest Surprise: Jean Machi (41 G, 5 W, 1.64 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Biggest Disappointment: Matt Cain (2-7, 4.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

*Cain gets disappointment both because his number of losses and lack of impact he's had. Romo is a close 2nd though. Bumgarner and his 10 wins make a case for top starter, but I don't think you can't forget Huddy's impact early on when MadBum started a bit slow.
The Giants Baseball Blog


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