Tuesday, July 10, 2012

At the Break

In 2009, the Giants were 49-39 (.557) at the All-Star Break, but slumped a bit in the second half (39-35, .527) to finish in 3rd place, seven out, with an 88-74 record (.543). In 2010, they were two games worse at 47-41 (.534), but turned on the jets after that (45-29, .608) on the way to an NL West title (92-70, .568). They went 11-4 (.714) in the post-season to grab the crown. Last year there were 92 games before the Break, and the Giants racked up 52 wins against only 40 losses (.565). Unfortunately they stumbled badly the rest of the way (34-36, .486) and finished in second place, eight games out (86-76, .531). At 46-40 so far this season, they are tied with the Mets and the Cardinals for the sixth-best record in the NL. The Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Braves, and Dodgers are better, and the latter two by a mere half game. In the AL, only the Yankees, Rangers, Angels, and White Sox are playing above the Giants .535 pace. You have to think that a cumulative regular-season record of 312-260 (.545) since that breakout year in 2009 is pretty damn good, and ought to be the envy of many franchises. The club has not had a run like this since those 1997-2004 teams that averaged 92 wins per year and made four playoff appearances and won a pennant. Overall, including a 12-16 post-season record, they played .567 ball, which edges out the current club's .550 overall percentage.

Historical perspective is good in baseball. You have to take the long view in this game, because daily and weekly results can drive you mad. The Giants rode a streak of 36 scoreless innings to the top of the division only to blow it all with a wretched 2-7 stretch immediately after that. A 17-11 June with only 96 runs allowed loses a little luster when the team gives up 48 in the the first week of July. So let's get back to the long view. If they are indeed a .550 team, then we should expect 42 more wins which would only net them 88 overall. It might be enough to win the West, but it is not exactly promising. If they can play .600 ball the rest of the way, that would mean 46 more wins and 92 overall. I like that. 92-70 worked out well for San Francisco in 2010, and it would likely be enough to grab a playoff spot in 2012. Either way it doesn't look like the current .535 is going to cut it. Even if you think the Dodgers are pretenders and the Diamondbacks won't right the ship in time, the Giants will still have to separate themselves from the pack, and the only way to do that is to win lots more games. Ninety wins is usually a good target, that's 44 more, or a .579 pace the rest of the way. There are 17 games left in July, 29 in August, 27 in September, and three in October. Of the remaining 76 games, 39 are at home. The Giants are 26-16 (.619) at AT&T Park and 20-24 (.455) on the road. Those 37 away games loom large, especially since they finish the season with three in San Diego and three in LA. Let's shoot for 20-17 (.541) and 24-15 (.615) at the very least, shall we?

No matter how you slice it, it is going to be a close call, unless of course Tim Lincecum suddenly reverts back to The Franchise and runs out a dozen killer starts. I think he will find himself, but it won't be like flipping a switch. When you are in a deep hole you don't get out in one leap. It takes a lot of scrabbling first. So the rest of the team will have to do as well as they are already doing, and some other guys are going to have to improve. I pick Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, the highly-paid lefty specialists who are pitching like generic relievers so far. Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan could stand to get their collective mojo back, and a bench guy like Nate Schierholtz could step it up, too. The Giants are last in the NL in pinch-hits with 15, for example. They need someone who can come in late and contribute with the stick. And the recurring power shortage (51 HR, tied with LA for last in the league, and 215 XBH, next-to-last with LA at 207) needs to be addressed. Perhaps the All-Star third baseman can get his big bat going again. With Freddy Sanchez out for the year, Ryan Theriot becomes hugely important. I really wish Bochy would not bat him second as his .632 OPS will not cut it there. That's too many PAs for a weak bat, I don't care how good he is at the hit-and-run or "moving the runner over" or any other dink-ball bullshit. Melky Cabrera can do everything The Riot can do and do it a hell of a lot better, so I say move M.C. to that spot and everyone else up one more notch. How about Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval guaranteed an at-bat in the first inning of every game? Doesn't that sound good? Get the best hitters up sooner and more often and the team will score more. But I think that's a vain hope. Ol' Boch does a hell of a job with the pitching staff and with player attitude and morale, the two things a manager has to do properly. We are lucky to have him. But lineup construction is a weak point (how about Brandon Belt, .358 OBP, hitting second?), and even though the improvement may be marginal, this team needs every run they can squeeze out.

The 2012 Giants are in a good spot. They can legitimately call themselves contenders. They've managed to survive a historic collapse by their most valuable player. As long as the starters remain healthy and productive they will stay in the thick of it. Some shoring up of the bullpen may be inevitable, but I think we should be confident that The Brian Trust can find another arm, as that's their forte. A little lineup help would be good, too, but that's tricky. Mostly, they'll have to rely on the guys they have. Perhaps youngsters like The Brandons and Hector Sanchez will chip in a little more down the stretch. Mostly, though, the team needs Timmy. Even with a wide-open division, with no clearly dominant team, the Giants can't afford to throw away starts. The two other teams in the race have been hurt with key injuries (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Daniel Hudson, Stephen Drew, Joe Saunders) and have some guys under-performing (Justin Upton, James Loney), and that's been a boon to the Giants. We all know how hard it is to win when your guys are on the DL.

Ever since Atlee Hammaker gave up a grand slam to Fred Lynn in the 1983 All-Star Game, I get the heebee-jeebees when a Giants pitcher gets the ball. I shouldn't, I know, but I do. That was another one of those deeply scarring events. I'm obviously happy for Matt Cain, and he is certainly deserving of the starting honor. Not only that, he's NOT Atlee, and will do just fine against the AL. Need proof? Check this out. And there have been successful Giants All-Star pitchers since then (Jason Schmidt and Brian Wilson come to mind, and Timmy survived his start, if I remember). Mets fans have a beef about R.A. Dickey, to be sure, but they owe Tony LaRussa their wrath, not the Giants. I'm convinced he picked Cain because everyone expected him to pick Dickey, and we know how Tony loves to be contrary. Let's hope the NL wins eh?




Zo said...

Excellent article, MOC.

Our goal has to be to win the division, not qualify for one of the playoff spots. The best way to win the division is to beat the other teams in the division. We have 43 game left with division opponents, including all of September except for the first two games when we are still in Chicago. We have 12 games remaining against the Padres, split between here and San Diego; 13 against the Rox, 7 of which are at home; 9 against Arizona, 6 of which are at home and 9 against LA, of which 6 are also at home. I like that advantage, and note that San Diego plays much like ATT, so our away games there should not advantage the Puds like it does in some other cities.

nomisnala said...

I think Cain is starting so he can pitch to Posey, and probably Bochy did not want Posey to catch the knuckleballer. I do not think it is a snub, the Mets Knuckleballer will get in the game and hopefully screw-up the AL allstars hitting. Will Cain, get Cained in the allstar game?