So we're 6 weeks into the season and the Giants stand alone in first place with a 23-15 record. They've done it with some amazing timely hitting and solid bullpen work. But they sure as shit haven't done it with their strength - starting pitching.
In fact, it's pretty impressive what the Giants have done thus far given the fact that Ryan Vogelsong has an ERA in the high 7's, Matt Cain has only recently gotten his ERA below 6, and that Tim Lincecum remains an enigma. Barry Zito has been nearly untouchable at home (33 IP, 2 ER) but has been clobbered in his only 2 road starts (6.1 IP, 15 R, 10 ER). Hopefully he can figure out how to pitch in the road grays. And then there's our other lefty, Madison Bumgarner, who is shaping up to be the staff ace in 2013.
(Side note: The Giants rotation is so eerily similar to that Braves rotation of the 90's, wherein each season a different ace stood above the rest. Cain is our Maddux. Bumgarner our Glavine. And Lincecum our Smoltz. Vogelsong most definitely fills the roll of Steve Avery/Kevin Millwood while Barry Zito is our Denny Neagle.)
But aside from Zito at home and Bumgarner all the time, the starting pitching has been borderline average. Starting pitching is this team's bread and butter. However, unexpectedly, this team has come out guns blazing offensively. There have already been a seasons worth of late inning comebacks. More than I can remember in the past few years alone. Amazing 9th inning game tying homers (even if they turned into losses in the end). This team shows a lot of fight. It's like they came back in Cincinnati and St. Louis and determined that from henceforth they will be the Comeback Kids. It's their new identity. The club doesn't seem to know what to do when it has a lead. So usually the pitchers cough it up. It can't be a comeback if you're ahead the whole time!
Which makes this team pretty fun to watch. The Giants believe in themselves and it's starting to rub off on their fans. There was a time when the Giants would be down 2 runs or so in the 7th inning and Giants fans felt the game was over. Not anymore. The Giants are proving that their run to the title in 2012 was no fluke. The line-up from top to bottom is strong, what with Brandon Crawford becoming a true blue hitter and Brandon Belt starting to pick it up a bit. Pagan has been in a little slump of late but he started the season strong. Scutaro has come on real strong after a poor April. And Sandoval, Posey, and Pence have given the Giants a a legitimate 3-4-5 middle of the order for the first time since, well, since 2010 when they had a productive Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell (and that Posey guy).
Romo has shown that his October heroics were no mirage as he has saved 12 of 14 opportunities. The Giants bullpen overall has been a strength though I still feel they're missing that go to 8th inning set up guy. Casilla gets a lot of flak from Giants fans but the truth is, more often than not, he gets the job done. But no Giants fan feels safe when he comes in. Same with Affeldt. I'd prefer Affeldt and Casilla to be the 7th inning guys. Lopez is a fantastic LOOGY. But I feel the Giants need that elite 8th inning set up man to really firm up the club.
Of course, the starting pitching really needs to round into form as well. Lincecum lowered his ERA to 4.07 in his victory over the Braves and he's gone 7 innings in 3 of his last 4 starts and Cain has looked improved. Vogelsong has not yet righted the ship. He needs to get it figured out. The Giants offense has bailed the pitching out for most of the season thus far. But the Giants identity IS the starting pitching and hopefully they're getting to where they need to be.
It is nice to know they've dominated their divisional rivals, going 15-6 in the NL West, and sweeping each and every divisional rival already. That's a good sign. And taking 3 of 4 from the Atlanta Braves is another notch in the belt.
The Giants are a good team. As they should be. They are the defending champs. And 95% of that 2012 team returned. They've been lucky to stay healthy for the most part thus far. And the guys expected to produce in the line-up HAVE produced. Now it's the pitchers turn. If they come around, it could be another great summer at AT&T.