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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Assessing the Giants after 15 games

So two weeks into the season, the Giants sit at 8-7. They've had several games they could have and probably should have won but they've also had some nice come from behind wins in games they probably should have lost. They've been hit with the injury bug already with Andres Torres, Barry Zito, Cody Ross, Santiago Casilla, and Brian Wilson seeing time on the disabled list. And they trail the Rockies by 4 games. Colorado, by the way, has the best record in baseball at the moment, sitting pretty at 12-3. Of course, they've largely played teams that are not expected to contend or have not started the year off too hot (the Dbacks, Dodgers, Pirates, Mets, and Cubs). Meanwhile the Giants have played the Dodgers twice, the Padres, the Cardinals, and the Dbacks. Not exactly terrific teams either, but a schedule that has been slightly more difficult. The Giants also have played 6 games at home and 9 on the road while the Rockies have played 8 in Denver and 7 on the road. And this week comes the showdown between the two. The Giants have lined up their top 3 in Lincecum, Sanchez, and Cain while the Rockies will counter with Esmil Rogers, Ubaldo Jimenez (back from his DL stint), and Jorge De La Rosa. It should be a good measuring stick to see where these two teams really are competitively with each other.

But Rockies/Giants is on deck. Let's look at the past 15 games and see what we can assess regarding our World Champion club.

The Giants clearly had some jitters the first week of the season. Opening against their rivals and carrying the weight of expectation and the crown of World Series champions caused them to get off to a slow start. While they easily could have taken the Dodgers series, defensive miscues and brain farts caused them to go 1-3 instead. They had to deal with more hoopla as they were the guests of honor for the Padres home opener as well. And finally, they returned to San Francisco where the real coronation of their 2010 achievement occurred: the raising of the championship banner on Opening Day and the ring ceremony the following night. A whole lot of emotion to deal with. That is why I'm not panicking about the mediocre start. With all the celebratory stuff out of the way, the Giants can now focus on getting back into their normal routine. However, there are some things that may not just go away now that the nerves and emotions have settled. Here are the observations:

1) The Giants are a slow team. This is even more pronounced with Andres Torres out. There is not a single stolen base threat in the every day line-up as it's currently constructed. Brandon Belt has good wheels for a first baseman and Buster Posey has stolen 2 bases already, which is 2 more than he had all of last year. But Posey's stolen bases are a fluke and Belt is more of a deceptive base stealer than a true running threat. Everyone else? Slow. It hasn't been a big issue yet but the lack of speed overall is something that concerns me.

2) Miguel Tejada is going to be inconsistent with the glove all year. Tejada had a big moment in the Ring Ceremony game but, let's be honest, Colby Rasmus should have caught that ball to end the game. Aside from that nice break for Miggy, his Giants career so far has been dotted with errors, poor defensive play, and some really ugly at bats. He hasn't been a liability quite yet, but it's only 15 games in and he's already one of the more maddening Giants. There's no contingency plan for him as both Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza are injured and Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot are not everyday major league shortstops. If Jose Reyes is being shopped come July, expect the Giants to be a player.

3) The Giants have depth. I can't remember the last Giants team that had this much depth. Andres Torres gets hurt? Whipping boy Aaron Rowand gets another shot and takes full advantage. Cody Ross can't start the season? Brandon Belt can take his place. Belt may not be hitting as advertised yet, but he has great at bats and soon his average will start to climb. Sandoval needs a rest? Plug in DeRosa. Freddy needs a day off? No worries, Mike Fontenot will step in and win a game for you. The Giants bullpen has a lot of options as well. Marc Kroon is chomping at the bit to get back to the majors and Steve Edlefsen was super impressive in camp and will likely make it up sometime this year. Ryan Vogelsong gets a chance at baseball redemption while Zito sits on the shelf for the first time in his career. Good teams have depth. The Giants have it.

4) The Kung Fu Panda is back. It's early and Sandoval started last year hitting well too but the good news is the power has returned. Sandoval hit 13 homers last season. Two weeks into this season, he already has 4. That is a great sign. He looks good at the plate and he looks confident. That rarely could be said last season.

5) 2011 is going to be a lot like 2010. A lot of close games. A lot of reliance on the pitching staff as a whole. The Giants are riding out some injuries now but they really can't afford to lose the big guns. A sustained stint by Timmy, Cain, Sanchez, Mad Bum, Wilson, or Posey will hurt the team the most. The Giants have to avoid those key injuries at all costs. They can probably survive if others go on the shelf. The hitting is better but not a ridiculous improvement. The Rockies and Giants look like the two best teams in the division by far. There's a lot of parity in the National League right now. A division title is more realistic than a wildcard berth. The Giants will have to make sure the Rockies don't run and hide. So far, 8-7 is acceptable. Given the hoopla starting the season for SF, they're in a good place. They're over .500 and the line-up and rotation are starting to click.

Now bring on those Rockheads and check the humidor. The Giants can possibly blind them with these: