What can you say about the 2012 Giants after 22 games? Well, they're looking awfully similar to the 2011 Giants and have some shared traits of the 2010 team (say like a distant cousin). That is, their starting pitching is rounding into one of the top rotations in the National League as we've come to expect and they're struggling to get key hits that would break games open and make things a lot less, well, torturous. But there are some striking differences as well. The 2012 Giants have been kicking the ball around an inordinate amount. At first, it could be attributed to beginning-of-the-season jitters. But April is over. And the defense remains suspect. Brandon Crawford has made some spectacular plays but has a surprising 4 errors already on the young season. Angel Pagan has had some misplays in the field and his defense seems to be about as average as was advertised when he was acquired. Sandoval has been inconsistent with throws and Buster Posey has had a share of bonehead plays early on. This team should be better defensively but they're still making questionable defensive miscues. I will say it's less maddening than seeing Aaron Rowand miss the cutoff man for the umpteenth time but it's a problem that needs to be rectified. The Giants modus operandi is pitching and defense so they have got to tighten it up.
The other concern is the bullpen. Brian Wilson has been lost for the year which is not only a blow to the bullpen but for the clubhouse. It's nice to hear B-Weez say all the right things and still be visible in the dugout but will his attitude stay positive as the months go on? As the frustration of not being part of the team on the field mounts? That's yet to be determined. Wilson's been notorious for being cranky if he's not on the field. It won't be easy for him if Heath Hembree is eventually called up and starts making the Giants believe he could be the heir apparent. That likely won't happen until the summer (if then) and I doubt Hembree gets many closing opportunities unless Santiago Casilla completely tanks. Brian Sabean has always been a believer in legitimate closers and Bochy and Sabean are both big on set roles in the bullpen. If Casilla can hold on to the closer's role (and he's done a nice job so far and made the 9th less stressful than Wilson ever has) the Giants still need to fulfill Casilla's 7th inning slot. Right now middle relief is shoddy at best. Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt haven't found their way and can't be trusted in close games at this point. Guillermo Mota has been thrust into short relief and the results haven't been good. Right now, Bochy seems to have the most trust in Hensley and Romo and they've earned that trust but Sabean isn't one to rest on his laurels if he thinks the bullpen needs help. The Giants have minor league depth with the likes of Otero, Edlefsen, Runzler, and Hembree but expect Sabean eventually to go out and get another bullpen arm or two around the deadline. It's about as much a sure thing as the sun coming up tomorrow.
Aside from the inconsistent defense and the unreliable middle relief, the team is looking competitive and should be in the hunt for the NL West all year. Barry Zito had a great start in 2010 (lest we forget) so his awesome start to 2012 comes with that caveat. If he can continue to be a decent #5, it'll go a long way in making this team legit contenders. My one concern was Ryan Vogelsong. After a career year in 2011, I wasn't sure what to expect. But Vogelsong looks every bit as focused and poised as he was last season. He may not have the 4th lowest ERA in the National League (like he finished 2011) but it seems like he'll be an above average #4 starter who'll pitch a good amount of quality innings. Tim Lincecum's diminished velocity likely means his Cy Young days are over but he is still the anchor of the staff, despite Cain and Bumgarner starting to strut their ace like stuff more consistently.
The offense, while struggling with runners in scoring position, still has shown the ability to score runs which is a nice departure from 2011 and reminiscent of 2010. I remember the 2010 team would plod along scoring 2,3, or 4 runs then explode for 8, 9, or 10 runs on any given night. The 2012 Giants seem much more willing to score the benchmark 4 runs than the 2011 squad but they MUST not give those runs back in the field. Melky Cabrera and Hector Sanchez have been revelations while Pagan has begun to heat up. Pill has been as advertised off the bench and against lefties while fans still clamor for Belt to be given a sustained opportunity to prove himself. With Huff out indefinitely due to anxiety (and there's no guarantee he'll be activated after his 15-day DL stint is over) and Nate Schierholtz asserting himself as the right fielder, the Giants are getting to see more of their younger players and although they're not saying it, you have to believe they're hoping one of the triumvirate of Belt, Pill, or Hec-Chez claims the starting spot afforded to them due to Huff's absence.
All said and done, the Giants finished the first month 2 games over .500 at 12-10 with some issues clearly needed to be worked out. With the loss of Brian Wilson and Aubrey Huff (two big blows to the clubhouse as well) and Freddy Sanchez still no sure thing to return regularly as the second baseman, the Giants are looking to their youth to provide answers. Right now one can say there are no veteran leaders on the team which could affect the team when it goes on its first extended losing streak. Even with the starting pitching in fine form, all teams eventually go through cold spells. And just as Sabean is addicted to veteran bullpen arms, he's also partial to veteran leaders. If Huff has an extended absence, Sabean's biggest trade season shopping items may very well be a grizzled veteran for the bench and dugout and bullpen depth. But we can worry about that in July. For now, the Giants need to fix the issues with their current team and continue to win each series (5-2 overall). With a nice homestand to begin May, it's a good time to rack up some W's.