by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
April 24, 2007
What a difference two weeks can make. Two weeks ago when I
last checked in on the state of the San Francisco Giants, things looked rather
bleak. The team’s record was only 1-5, Barry Zito had an ERA of 8.18 and Barry
Bonds was hitting just .222. But now just a fortnight on, the tide has turned
as have the Giants fortunes. The team has won 8-of-11 games (including their
last 5-in-a-row) to raise their overall record to 9-8, Zito has thrown 13
consecutive shutout innings and Bonds, now batting .348, had tied Jimmy Rollins
for the National League lead in home runs with 6 before Rollins went deep again
on Monday, an off-day for the Giants.
Things are definitely looking up.
As I did before, I will start at the top where the team has
been the strongest, and as before, that’s been with the starting pitching.
Following the team’s series sweep of Arizona this past
weekend, the Giants starters ranked second in baseball with a 2.81 ERA and third
with a .219 batting average against. Overall as a staff those numbers were 3.18
(5th in MLB) and .236 (6th).
The Giants completed the sweep of the D’Backs on Sunday
behind an absolutely dominating performance from right-hander Matt Cain who
allowed just three hits in a complete game, 2-1 victory. Cain surrendered a
base hit to the first batter he faced in the game but then did not allow another
until the 9th as he overcame another bout of poor run support (2.48
R/G in four starts) to earn his first win of the year. For the season, the
21-year-old Cain has now allowed just 11 hits in 29 innings while holding
opponents to a miniscule .120 batting average (and a .196 slugging percentage)
to go along with his 1.55 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. His career BAA through 42 major
league starts is a mere .200.
Matt Cain Factoid: Since 1900, only four
pitchers have held opposing hitters to a .205 batting average or lower through
their first 40 career starts.
Herb Score - .199
Matt Cain - .203
Nolan Ryan - .204
Sandy Koufax - .205
Meanwhile Russ Ortiz has turned in back-to-back impressive
one against the Pirates and the second against his old team, Arizona this
past Friday night. Noah Lowry picked up his first win during this stretch
despite poor run support (2.25 RPG) and for the year he now has a 2.70 ERA, a
1.15 WHIP and a .211 BAA. And veteran Matt Morris, who struggled last year
after signing a 3-year, $33 million deal, is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA on the year in
And then of course there is the well paid Zito. Loudly
maligned by those quick to rush to judgment, Zito bounced back from a rough
start (or more precisely, a rough inning) against L.A. to toss 13 consecutive
scoreless frames; the first 6 in the thin, mile high air of Coors Field and the
next seven coming on Saturday against the D’Backs in a 1-0 nail bitter in which
Bonds provided all the support the other Barry would need. The result of this
is a much improved 3.70 ERA and a .222 batting average against.
As I stated before, things for the Giants, are really
starting to look up.
Back when we first looked two weeks ago, the bullpen had
allowed 26 hits and 11 runs in just 18 innings, producing a 5.50 ERA, a 1.71
WHIP and a .317 BAA. 80% (8-out-of-10) of all inherited runners had been
allowed to score. Those are some ugly numbers.
Since then however, the relievers have come together and
begun to lock things down. Over their last 22 combined innings since April 8,
the pen has reduced those unsightly numbers to a much more palatable 3.27 ERA, a
1.32 WHIP, and a .254 BAA while allowing just 42% (5-out-of-12) of inherited
runners to score. Collectively they have not allowed a run in their last 11
innings pitched. Right-hander Brad Hennessey and lefties Jonathan Sanchez and
Jack Taschner have led the charge, combining to allow just 1 run in 10 innings
over 11 appearances and even embattled closer Armando Benitez has delivered 4
saves in 4 opportunities on the year.
Surprisingly, the bullpen has been a key reason why things
are now looking up.
The Giants offense began the season in a deep funk, scoring
just 2 runs a game through the first 7 games of the season. Since then the team
has scored six or more runs in a game 5 times in 10 games. What turned things
around? Well it all began back on April 10 when manager Bruce Bochy returned
Bonds to the cleanup spot after a 1-0 loss to San Diego the night before. The
Giants responded with a 6-5 win over the Pads and since that time Bonds has hit
.462/.559/1.115 with 5 HR, 9 RBI and 12 runs scored in 26 at bats. Like it has
so many times before, the team has simply jumped on the big fella’s back and let
him carry them.
And while Bonds has begun to heat up, three others who
started well have continued to hit the bell hard in April. Ryan Klesko is
hitting .296 in a part-time role. Ray Durham, back in the 5-hole with Bonds
back at cleanup, is batting .300/.377/.450 and Rich Aurilia is batting
.323/.357/.462 even after going hitless on Sunday to snap his career best tying
14-game hitting streak.
On the other hand, much of the rest of the team continues
to have problems at the plate. The Giants table setters, Omar Vizquel and Dave
Roberts, for instance have combined to hit just .208/.264/.258 with 14 runs
scored through the first 17 games, although Roberts is a perfect 5-for-5 in
stolen base attempts. However those two have also been simply outstanding in
the field. Roberts has done a fantastic job with the swirling center field
winds at Willie Mays Field and has more than once tracked down and turned into
an out, a would be triple from triples alley in right center (and he’s hit a
couple there himself). Vizquel meanwhile has yet to commit an error this season
and in fact has made just 4 defensive miscues in his last 176 games. His
acrobatics in the field defy the fact that he will turn 40-years-old on Tuesday.
Though Bengie Molina has hit just .255 with a .305 on-base
percentage in 15 games, he has already come through with a few timely hits and,
belying rumors to the contrary, the two-time gold glove winning catcher has been
a more than adequate replacement for the four-time gold glover Mike Matheny.
Aside from the statistical niceties, Molina has gelled with the young pitching
staff in remarkably short time. In addition, watching Molina everyday for the
first time, I have gained a fantastic appreciation for the way Bengie handles
himself behind the plate and the way he calls a game. When it comes to framing
a pitch, there may not be anyone better in baseball. Bengie Molina was not
signed for his offensive output and to that end he’s been no disappointment
Randy Winn on the other hand has been nothing short of
awful. Through 16 games the Giants right fielder is batting only
.192/..241/.250 and was thrown out in his only stolen base attempt. He has a
team high 13 strikeouts in just 52 at bats, or once every 4 AB, and on top of
that, he has drawn only 1 more base on balls (3) than the free swinging Pedro
And speaking of the
human out making machine, Feliz (.224/.255/.388) has continued to hack at
slop nightly with 10 K in 49 AB with only 2 BB. Additionally, Feliz has been
charged with two errors and he made perhaps the mental gaffe of the year to date
in a game against the Dodgers two weeks ago. Till now Feliz’ one redeeming
quality has been his defense but thus far this season, even that part of his
game has been worthless. The one positive that can be taken from Feliz’ play so
far though is that due to his poor performance, Feliz has made just 12 starts in
17 team games after starting all but 8 of San Francisco’s contests last season.
More Aurilia and Klesko and less Feliz can only be a good thing.
For all that’s been made of the re-signing of Bonds and the
high profile acquisition of Zito, quite possibly the Giants best off-season move
was the hiring of former San Diego skipper Bruce Bochy. Bochy, whose Padre
teams won the last two NL West titles, has been a fantastic addition to the
organization and has provided the team with solid leadership and strong
strategic decisions. Unlike the docile and addled Felipe Alou, he was not
afraid to ask Barry Bonds to move to the third spot in the lineup for the good
of the club and similarly, when it appeared the well intentioned move was a
flawed strategy, he was un-afraid to quickly reverse course. He has handled the
pitching staff flawlessly while exhibiting confidence in his starters and
relievers alike and his confidence has thus far been repaid with results. The
effect a manager can have on his team can often times be over stated, but in
this case, Bruce Bochy appears to have come as advertised.
Things are most certainly looking up.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at email@example.com.