The Giants, having already played 108 games, have 54 to go. They currently have a two-game lead on the Arizona Diamondbacks, and that lead will be up for grabs over the next three days as the Snakes come to Third and King to attempt to wrest the divisional grasp from Bochy’s Giants.
With Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong going for San Francisco, it won’t come easy. Of course, the D’backs will have Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and the just-acquired Jason Marquis, all of which are no slouches themselves.
Kennedy (3.22 ERA and 3.46 FIP) and Marquis (3.95 ERA and 3.75 FIP) have really given the Giants’ lineup a lot of trouble, and Hudson (3.81 ERA and 2.95 FIP) was knocked around pretty good in April by the Giants in Arizona, but he has tremendous stuff and is having a good season.
Both Kennedy and Hudson are missing bats at about a league-average rate or slightly above. What’s more, with walk rates of 2.43 per nine innings and 2.03, they’re showing very good control. Despite playing in the live ballpark that they have in Arizona, each has given up fewer home runs than their league-average peer. They’re pretty darn good.
As far as Marquis goes, I don’t know what to expect from him going forward. Maybe the D’backs got him simply because he’s given the Giants fits. He doesn’t miss near enough bats and his walk rate, while good at 2.91 per nine innings, is nothing special when coupled with those low strikeout totals. What he has done this season is kept balls from going into the bleachers (0.60 home runs per nine), but it remains to be seen if that’s been pure luck, and more importantly if it’ll continue when he starts making roughly half his starts in Phoenix.
Lineup-wise, their hitters can and will score runs. They are anchored by the young and fantastic Just Upton, who has a .402 weighted on-base average and has already been worth 5.2 wins above replacement level (fWAR). They are also getting supplementary if not flat-out good seasons from center fielder Chris Young, third baseman Ryan Roberts, left fielder Gerardo Parra and catcher Miguel Montero, with WAR totals ranging from 2.8 to 3.2.
Perhaps not quite to the extent that Buster Posey was to the Giants, but Arizona also took a huge blow when they lost shortstop Stephen Drew for the season. Even without him, the Cain-Lincecum-Vogelsong trio will have their hands full.
● ● ● ●
Tracing back to the number of games the Giants have played (108), it seems like a good time to update the run differential chart I’ve been showing.
The Giants had been making huge strides in this area since around game 80, but after an ugly weekend sweep at the hands of the refuse-to-sell Cincinnati Reds, their run surplus was nearly wiped out completely, bringing them to the brink of catching a case of AL Centralitis. There’s nothing quite like another rough inning from the youngster Madison Bumgarner and a start from Barry Zito that’ll crush your run differential so efficiently.
I know exactly what to make of Zito’s ineffectiveness when he’s sporting an 82-84 mile per hour fastball. With Bumgarner, it’s not so clear.
Bumgarner has been on a serious run lately. He’d been striking out a ton of batters in his six starts prior to Saturday and walking almost zero. With that and the outstanding 2.49 FIP he’s assembled this season, a few hopeful (and smart) Giants fans were ready to heap him on the pile of the very best left-handers in the game. I’m not so sure I’m ready to do so. That’s not to say I don’t think he’s excellent or that he’ll soon be at that level.
The lack of walks is nice but at what cost is it coming at? At some point, I think Bumgarner will have to figure a way to strike a balance between pounding the strike zone and not pounding it so much that hitters start pounding him. He’s given up a 21.4 percent line drive rate this season which is quite high, up from 15.4 percent and 16.9 in 2009 and 2010. I don’t know if that’s just chance, but I’d be miffed if most didn’t agree there have been times this season where it seemed like the hitters knew what was coming. Only 10 starters in the National League sport a higher figure.
Tracking back to the run differential, the Giants’ worst deficit of the season came at the end of game 73 and at minus-13, but over the next 21 games they peaked at plus-19. That’s 32 more runs than their opponents over a three-week period.
After the weekend series, though, they sit with just three more runs scored than they’ve given up.
What’s worse, if you take a look at what they’ve done on a month-to-month basis, they’ve never once asserted themselves as a team that can put much or any distance between themselves and their opponents in terms of scoring runs and giving them up.
This is certainly a red flag when trying to figure out what the Giants might be able to accomplish come October – there are 13 teams across baseball with run differentials better than the Giants, including the Diamondbacks, and the Phillies are blowing away the NL with a plus-110. That said, it doesn’t much concern me in terms of figuring out the Giants’ odds at winning the division.
The Diamondbacks do currently have a better run differential (+25) than the Giants, but it’s not so much better than San Francisco that it should be a sign of doom or things to come. If anything, it should merely show Giants fans that Arizona is a legitimate threat and not to be taken lightly over the next 54 games.
● ● ● ●
Carlos Beltran should help. (I’m skeptical that Orlando Cabrera will and see him more as Miguel Tejada 2.0.) I don’t even care to look at what Beltran has done so far: Not much. I think it’s something like 2-17, but in such a small sample, it’s frankly not important.
It’s very likely that Beltran will start to hit like he was in New York, and soon. We would all be wise to give him at least a few weeks to settle in and get comfortable. After all, Beltran was playing for a contract this season; he most assuredly wasn’t playing half a season for a trade.
● ● ● ●
For fun, I’d like present my radical idea of the week. Just don’t expect one every week.
Gary Brown went 2-4 last night with another double (26) and two more stolen bases (42). That pushed his line on the season to .323/.393/.475 for an OPS of .868 and a wOBA of .390 in the A-Advanced California League.
He has a .500 average over the past 10 games with a 1.041 OPS – it appears that his mid-season slump is over.
So my radical idea is this: with Andres Torres’ weak offensive side being his right-handed side and Gary Brown being a right-handed hitting center fielder with glorious speed, wouldn’t Brown be an excellent candidate to be Torres’ platoon partner?
This season Brown has hit .439/.493/.591 versus opposite-handed pitchers for an OPS of 1.084. Compare that to his .828 OPS versus righties, and you can sort of see which he’s handling better. It’s a normal platoon split and to be expected.
Without knowing a great deal about Brown’s abilities in the outfield, I’d have to assume that, with his tremendous athleticism, he’d have some chance of being a decent comp to Torres defensively. He’d also add more value on the base paths than Torres because he’s younger and would likely steal a great deal more. And, as fast as Torres is, he doesn’t have 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Could he hit as well as or better than Torres against lefties? Could he be more valuable than Aaron Rowand, factoring base running, defense and the ability to get on base?
The honest answer is I have no idea. What I do know is that it was nice to have Darren Ford on the bench when he was around. The problem wasn’t that he wasn’t useful at all, it was that other than his legs he was nearly useless. So mentioning of Brown is nothing more than food for thought, a curiosity. (Feel free to sprinkle in your two cents in the comments.)
Brown hasn’t spent a single day above A-Advanced yet so the Giants would certainly have to give him some at-bats in Double-A before considering it. But there’s still time. He’s still young and requires the minor league at-bats to achieve the proper polish, but I think the Giants would be making a big mistake if they didn’t at least see what the kid is capable of, especially against left-handed pitchers, come September.
Follow Rory Paap on Twitter (@paapfly).