The Giants seem to be on a roll now, and walk-off wins sure are a lot of fun. With the Giants’ come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night, they’d won five games in a row – including a feel-good sweep of the Colorado Rockies – and seven of their past eight contests. And again, this is fantastic and exciting news, especially when you consider that they are very nearly at full strength after Mark DeRosa’s and, more importantly, Andres Torres’ return from the DL. But it’s probably time for a little bit of context to get a better picture of how this team is looking overall.
They have played 36 games this season; they are sitting in a virtual tie with the Rockies (19-15) for first place in the NL West at 20-16.
The Giants, along with the Braves and Phillies, have been one of the best pitching staffs in the major leagues in 2011. They’ve given up just 124 runs, or 3.44 runs per game. Only the Braves and Phillies have given up fewer. That’s excellent. But here’s where it gets interesting, or perhaps depressing. They’ve scored just 125 runs this season in 36 games, or 3.47 runs per game. That’s dreadful; only the Minnesota Twins have scored fewer, and they’ve been awful this season.
Yet, the Padres have been laughed at quite a bit this season because their offense is simply abysmal. Not the Giants. Brad Hawpe jokes have been all the rage. Meanwhile, while playing in what is unquestionable the worst hitters park in baseball, they’ve scored 127 runs, albeit after playing one more game than the Giants. Park factors considered, they’ve been a better offensive team.
So, the Giants’ run differential is currently just +1, and their Pythagorean record just 18-18. They’re overachieving. They are on a run, but at their current level of offensive production, it simply isn’t sustainable.
The difference between a below-average offense versus an above-average one is not huge. It’s about one run per game. A team that scores four runs a game is below average, and a team that scores around five is above average. With the reduction of steroid use in the game and the improved pitching, if that’s even a factor, scoring has gone down considerably. Still, scoring four runs versus scoring five runs is a decent benchmark.
In the Giants’ 36 games, they’ve scored five or more runs in just 13 of them, or just over a third of the time. What’s more, most of those games in which they scored five-plus runs came in April – this hasn’t been happening hardly at all recently. The thirteenth and last occurrence of scoring five or more came on May 3, when they beat the Mets 7-6 in extra innings. That’s when Aubrey Huff “busted” his slump with a solo home run. Before that, they scored five against the Pirates’ illustrious pitching staff on April 28. So, most of those “offensive flurries” came in the season’s first few weeks.
I wrote, sometime back, that the only real difference between the Padres’ offense and the Giants’ was a few home runs. Well, the Giants haven’t been going yard hardly at all lately, hence their regression back to being an equal team offensively, at best, to the Friars.
The Giants’ best hitter thus far, Pablo Sandoval, is out with the broken hamate bone; he cannot possibly return fast enough, and hopefully he continues to produce at similar levels to what he was prior to injuring himself. Their other best contributor, so far, is Torres, who has spent most of the young season on the DL and has logged very few at bats.
Of those players that are both available now and have played a considerable amount already, Pat Burrell is the cream of the crop. His OPS is currently .793 (.357 wOBA) — it’s worth mentioning that his bat comes with a poor, unathletic defensive presence in left field, and he’s been somewhat relegated to part-time duties recently. Meaning, the Giants don’t have a player on their roster that’s played a lot, is at Bochy’s disposal today, and has an OPS at or over .800. Ouch.
Some would say, “b-b-but Aaron Rowand’s been hitting.” His OPS is .698. Boy, have our standards fallen. Buster Posey? .697. Freddy Sanchez? .700. No-three-hitter Mike Fontenot? .773. Huff? .635. Miguel Tejada? Undefined.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, then, who is holding the line. It’s been the bullpen. Javier Lopez has a 0.63 ERA. Sergio Romo carries a 0.93 ERA. Ramon Ramirez’s ERA is sitting at 1.08. Guillermo Mota, who’s been extremely valuable in the early going, has an ERA of 2.08. And after his rough start and with his new, wicked two-seam fastball, Brian Wilson has looked much better lately. Meanwhile, the starters have been pretty darn good. Tim Lincecum, whose horn I plan to toot later, is best among them with a 2.11 ERA and sterling peripherals.
Just like it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who is holding the line right now, it shouldn’t take one to come to the conclusion they can’t possible hold it forever. Not to this extent. Carrying this offense is exhausting. It can be done over a month or two, sure. We saw that last September and October. But to do it over the course of 162 games would be borderline unprecedented.
I don’t think the offense will struggle this much all season. It seems impossible. But I also don’t think the ‘pen will continue to pitch like a collection of Mariano Riveras and Billy Wagners, either. I hope the hitters start doing their part soon. And despite the less-than-incredibly-optimistic post, let me be clear: I do not think the Giants are primed for a plummet in the standings, or a string of losses. I just don’t believe they’ll be stringing together many sustained winning streaks while scoring just one, two, or three runs a night.
Update: Giants score just three runs, but win again, after coming very close to coughing the lead up in the late innings. I guess it really is magic inside. At least for one more day, anyway.