As the Giants prepare for today’s home opener, fans are left to ponder the eternal question: Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
On the plus side, the Giants managed a 5-2 road trip against their two main opponents in the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Give an assist to Commissioner Bud Selig. Largely because of that ridiculous opening series in Australia, Clayton Kershaw is on the disabled list and didn’t face the Giants in Los Angeles — and won’t next week when the Dodgers are in town, either.
Also on the plus side, the Giants showed more offense than they did last season. Some of that is due to the return of Angel Pagan at the top of the order. Brandon Belt has learned to look for pitches he can drive and has hit four home runs in seven games. Newcomer Michael Morse has shown that he can bring the right-handed power that plays well at AT&T Park, and manager Bruce Bochy makes certain to get him out of the lineup before his glove becomes an issue. Morse is this year’s Pat Burrell.
But the Giants’ recent World Series championships came mainly on dominating pitching, and there hasn’t been much evidence of that so far this year. Madison Bumgarner has had quality starts and Tim Hudson looked good in his start. But Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have the same problem — reduced velocity on their fastball — and are reluctant to change. So, it’s been Home Run Derby in their starts, and that pattern will continue until they change. And Ryan Vogelsong? Please.
The Giants have a quality bullpen, but when starters get knocked out early or give the opposing team too big a lead to overcome, the bullpen isn’t enough.
They still have their second base problem. Marco Scutaro seems finished, sidelined by a recalcitrant back. Scutaro has always been underestimated by fans and writers, but Bochy knows exactly what he brings to the team. He’s a very smart player, always positioning himself well in the field, and he has great bat control. Bochy loves the hit-and-run and he can always use that with Scutaro at bat because he’ll get his bat on the ball so a runner doesn’t get caught in between bases.
Bochy has been desperate, lately playing Brandon Hicks, a 28-year-old who has shown little with two other clubs, the A’s being the last. Joaquin Arias is a slick fielder, but the ultimate backup infielder, able to play three positions. But he’s also a classic example of the player who looks good in brief appearances, but is a disaster when he plays longer periods.
So it appears the Giants will be a better hitting team, especially if Pablo Sandoval comes around, so they’ll be fun to watch. In any sport, fans love offense. Baseball is no exception. Only a relatively few fans appreciate a tight pitcher’s duel. Many more enjoy seeing balls sail over the fence — and even into the cove at AT&T Park.
But consistent success comes from consistent pitching, not hitting. This will be an entertaining season for the Giants and their fans — but not a pennant-winning one.