This team is confusing, isn't it? The Giants have been over .500 for most of the season. They aren't as baffling as, say, the team they're chasing in Los Angeles because there are several players on this squad that are legitimate All Star candidates. But is this team good? Are they good enough to secure one of the wild card spots or win the division outright? Looking at the NL West, the Dodgers are finally starting to come back to earth but the Diamondbacks are showing signs of life. I've thought all along the serpents in the desert were going to be the Giants main competitor for the NL West title but I can't ignore what the Dodgers are doing and have done. If the Phillies make Cole Hamels available, the Dodgers could very realistically get him and that would be bad. The fact that the new Dodgers owners want to make some sort of splash is already scary.
But let's examine the Giants. They have 3 lights out starters in Mr. Perfect (I can't believe I didn't post an entry on Cain's amazing Perfect Game but life got in the way and many other Giants bloggers pretty much said all I would have about it anyways), Mr. Vogelsong, and the emerging Mr. Bumgarner. Lincecum may have just had a turnaround game against the A's. He's claiming the light has gone on. And it sure looked that way after a nightmare first inning against Oakland but let's see, oh, one more start before we proclaim the Freak is all Freaky again. And Zito has come back to earth but his first 2 months were such a glorious surprise that we'll just be happy if he can go 6 innings giving up 3 runs from here on out for most of his starts. When the rotation has 4 excellent starters, this team can survive many other warts. When the team has 3 excellent starters and 2 not so good starters, it creates a lot more pressure on the Fab 3 and the offense. It is imperative Zito does not have a full blown collapse and that Lincecum really does rediscover his awesomeness if this team hopes to keep the NL West title in sight. With the extra wildcard this season, there is hope even if only 3/5 of the rotation is clicking but it'll be much more difficult given the parity in the National League and how many teams will be contending for those two playoff spots. The goal HAS to be the division.
So even with the rotation as hot and cold as it's been, what about the other aspects of the team?
The bullpen has been scary lately. When Brian Wilson went down, the Giants were hoping and praying someone would claim the closer role. Santiago Casilla has done that. Up until this most recent A's series, one could argue Casilla has been more effective than B-Weez in the 9th. But his latest blow up can not be overlooked. He was atrocious against the A's. Dismal. He pitched in all 3 games of the series and almost blew each game until he actually did blow the final game of the series. His final line against Oakland this series?
1.2 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR, 6 H
Yikes. The Giants have to hope this had something to do with adrenaline and with Casilla facing his old team. Maybe he just needs a break. But the Giants absolutely need for Casilla to be the rock at the end of the bullpen that he had been all season up until this past series. The roles must be defined and the last thing the pen needs is to have Bochy start mixing and matching roles. We don't need Sabean going out there and trading Gary Brown for Francisco Cordero but gosh darn it, if Casilla doesn't fix whatever is wrong with him fast, you never know. Even before Casilla's blow up in Oakland, it has become clear the Giants need bullpen help. Only Romo has been lights out in set up. Javier Lopez has still been pretty solid despite a ridiculously high WHIP (1.83) but the Giants need some consistency. In fact, most of the WHIP's in the bullpen are troubling and point to an eventual collapse. So Sabean will be on the look out for relief. This is ironic given the team's most ready arms in the minors were supposed to be bullpen guys but Hembree, Otero, and Edlefsen have all laid collective farts so far (Hembree not so much, but he just doesn't seem ready). The only question will be if Sabean has to look for a closer as well as middle relief this time. Hopefully Casilla reverts back to dominance and makes the issue moot.
The last aspect of the team is the line-up. They're healthy altogether for the first time all season and they're showing they can score runs. Nothing has been more huge in the past couple of weeks than Brandon Belt's arrival. Once Brett Pill got sent down and Aubrey Huff got injured, Belt has become what the Giants and fans have hoped for all along. He is hitting for power and he's displaying good patience. Aside from Gregor Blanco, there is no Giant that has demonstrated a better eye at the plate. The difference is Belt is now punishing pitchers who throw him a good strike as opposed to missing that pitch. It has made the line-up stronger and has helped pick up the slack for Sandoval, who's essentially going through Spring Training 2 coming back from his wrist surgery. While the entire outfield has cooled off offensively, Posey and Belt and Theriot have been heating up. What is the old axiom? A team just needs 3-4 guys to be hot at once to score runs? The Giants are striking a decent balance. The honest truth is that this line-up, when healthy, should be able to score enough runs for the pitching staff.
And finally, it has to be noted that the Giants started winning more consistently when they started playing better defense. Early in the season they were kicking the ball all over the place. Now, Brandon Crawford has settled down. Brandon Belt is anchored at 1B. And the outfield defense has been incredible. It makes a huge difference.
So are the Giants good? Are they good enough? Well, right now they are 3 games back of the Dodgers for the division crown and begin a 3 game set against them tomorrow. They lead the wildcard. So yes, effectively, they ARE good enough. If Lincecum and Casilla can be who they have been in the past and Sabean gets some bullpen help and the rest remain at the status quo then this team might not only be good, it might be great. But time will tell.