The season is far from ideal. There’s that Timmy thing, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are still in front of the division. But now the Giants have hitting and speed, and with the season still four months from conclusion, they very well could finish where everyone thought they would: in first.
Melky Cabrera breaking a record by Willie Mays — and who ever imagined those names would be linked?
Barry Zito holding his own instead of making fans hold their breath. Gregor Blanco proving the MVP of the Venezuelan Winter League can be a very valuable leadoff batter in the National League.
And isn’t it interesting Melky and Blanco in the last couple of years were both with the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals?
What’s more interesting is how the Giants’ men in control — general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy — understood what Blanco and Cabrera might contribute.
Now that Bochy has settled on a lineup, Blanco, hitting around .290 at the top of the order, and Cabrera, at a ridiculous .368 after Tuesday night, have certainly contributed.
It wasn’t very long ago the Giants, plodders, were leading the league hitting into double plays. This season, because of Blanco, Cabrera and Angel Pagan, who found his niche at No. 5 after being tried at leadoff, the Giants take the extra base, steal bases — including home as they did Monday — and keep the opposing team off-balance.
“We had to get more athletic,” Bochy said. “It was critical for our club.”
Cabrera is the X-factor. Or is he? Melky may need an interpreter for his interviews, lacking confidence in his English, but he needs no help at the plate. Three singles Tuesday night gave him 50 hits for May, overtaking the club record of 49 set by Mays in 1958, the Giants’ first year in San Francisco.
That’s one Hall of Fame connection. Bochy, who managed in San Diego, had another one: Tony Gwynn, an eight-time National League batting champion with the Padres.
“He takes what they give him,” Bochy said of Cabrera. “He doesn’t try to do too much. He’s just a great hitter.”
Cabrera indicated as much when he arrived on the New York Yankees six years ago. His defense wasn’t bad either, and in New York they still talk about a game-saving, over-the-fence catch he made against the Boston Red Sox in June 2006 when he, at 21, was the youngest player on the roster.
In 2009, Cabrera was a large part of New York’s World Series championship, but that winter he was traded to Atlanta, where he was a disappointment. That got him to Kansas City, where he was impressive. In December, that got him to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez.
“It was obvious what he had done,” a scout told Jeff Bradley of the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger about Cabrera. “He got himself in shape. Maybe he heard rumors out there from the New York days he was getting soft in the middle.”
The Giants, figuratively, were soft all over the place offensively in 2011. No longer. Buster Posey has returned. He leads the team in RBIs. Melky Cabrera leads in repetition and success.
“What a treat to watch him day in and day out,” Bochy said.
If he’s on your side. Which in Bochy’s situation, he is.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.