The Positives: The Giants are in first place in the NL West, 1.5 games in front of the Dodgers and playing their best baseball of the year. They are finishing up a 4 and 2 road trip having won 2 out of 3 from both the Braves (nipping at the heels of the Nationals in the NL East) and the Phillies (hurting for reasons that are not all that clear because they are a very good team). This follows up on a horrible 1 and 5 road trip before the All-Star break, redeemed by the G-Men practically singlehandedly winning the All-Star game (four Giants on the roster, with the Panda hitting a three run triple and Melky a two-run homer) and assuring that the NL has home field advantage in the world series. The pitching is as good as it ever has been. Lincecum has had two good starts in a row (cross your fingers that he’s back), Zito has had something like six straight quality starts (including today when the game was lost in the 11th inning and the fine game he pitched in Atlanta),and Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner are simply the best rotation in baseball. To top it off, the Giants bullpen is really good with Affeldt and Lopez doing their job with little drama and Romo being routinely awesome.
On the hitting front, Melky continues to lead MLB in hits and the G-Men have shown flashes of power (2 dingers from Schierholtz today for example, after a Grand Slam from Crawford yesterday after a three-run homer the day before – Crawford is officially en fuego) and the team batting averages and RBI’s are improving steadily. The defense is also routinely excellent (even though early season errors continue to weigh the stats down) and what can you say about Buster Posey. What a stud! If he continues the way he’s going (over .300, hits to all field, multi-hit games and solid behind the plate) he will be in contention with Kemp for the MVP
The Questions: Has Nate earned a starting spot for the rest of the season? If he keeps hitting dingers the way he is doing now there is no way Bochy is going to remove him. Can Blanco return to form? He missed a suicide squeeze sign yesterday and he looks tired. He needs a rest. It looks like Huff is done (for his career I bet) with his latest injury and Hector Sanchez is on the DL but is expected back quickly. It was a real joy to see Eli Whiteside (Crash Davis incarnate) come up and take a start behind the dish, settle everyone down and get a couple of important hits.
The Negatives: It’s like a broken record but runners in scoring position continue to haunt the Gigantes, and the power numbers are way low for a contending club. The Giants are gap to gap hitters but in the smaller ball parks they need to start hitting homers. That brings me to Brandon Belt. He is once again lost at the plate. He’s a great defensive first baseman but a streaky hitter, and he is not on a streak right now. If Sabean is going to dip into the trade market by the 31st (during this series of home games, when the trade deadline comes) he has got to be looking for a power hitting first baseman, or someone that can play third and send Pablo to first. There are a lot of candidates, including Carlos Quentin from the Padres and Placido Polanco from the Phillies. The Giants just need a solid hitter, not a superstar rental (ala the Beltran deal last year). None of us know exactly what Sabean is going to do but for sure it’s something. Sabean is constitutionally unable to stop working the phones.
The last word on the negatives has to be Santiago Casilla. I thought that putting him in for the same yesterday (after he blew a save in the Atlanta game, his 5th blown save in 8 games) was a good call for confidence but he still looks like a deer in the headlights. Casilla is MUCH better suited to earlier innings. There are a couple of closers out there and Sabean might very well go after one of them, maybe Broxton from the Royals (who are in fire sale mode) if we can stand having another ex-Dodger on the team
The Division: Realistically, it’s between the G-Men and the Dodgers now. The teams are currently 1.5 games apart and playing each other a LOT between now and the end of the season in September (which actually ends up in LA on the last weekend of the season). The Dodgers are back at full strength with Kemp off the DL and next weekend’s games should be classics, which is why the tickets are already gone. I suspect that the division lead may change more than once between now and October, which isn’t a bad thing as long as the Giants are on top in October.
The Games: The Padres are in fourth place (15 games back) in the NL West (above the Rockies) but have always been tough on the Giants. The Padres certainly know what is at stake and would like nothing better than to be a factor in the division race by knocking off the front runner. The Mets, who are in third place in the NL East, 8 and /12 games out, are in town for four games. The Mets (damn it all) just got swept by the Dodgers in NY so the way I look at it the G-Men have to be on the attack big time.
Ciao, and GO GIANTS!