The 2010 Giants were a nice story.
There, I said it. Even though they're our division rivals, it was kinda cool to see them catch fire from out of nowhere partway through the season, make the playoffs and win the World Series for the first time since the team moved to San Francisco. The fact that they did it without a ton of stars, and with a team filled with zany "characters" (baseball code for white guys with weird facial hair who dance and spit and rub dirt in weird places while playing) instead just made the whole thing more fun. Overall, it caused a lot of people to take West-Coast baseball in general (and the NL West in particular) a lot more seriously than they did before, which is a good thing. And hey, at least it wasn't the Yankees again.
But there's a reason I said they "were" a nice story. Because it's 2011, and now that they won their precious title, they get to go back to just being another annoying division rival with good pitching and an irritating lineup. Plus, nothing ruins a good Cinderella story faster than sustained success. Seriously, no one wants to watch a sequel to Cinderella. So take it from me, Giants fans, your team would be better off going back to being mediocre and forget about this whole "sustained success" thing. And to be honest, I'll always think of the Giants as the annoying team in the division with a bunch of veterans who were strategically acquired by Brian Sabean to block every young player in the Giants' system with even a remote chance of being good.
So, yeah, onto the upcoming series. The Giants just finished up a series where they beat the Dodgers two games to one despite scoring only ten runs over the three games. Sanchez and Lincecum started the two games that the Giants won, and both had solid starts that were followed up by good bullpen work and coupled with just enough offense. That's a good, sustainable way to win baseball games. And as is often the case with good, solid ways to win baseball games, the Diamondbacks did almost exactly the opposite this weekend. By most measures, the Diamondbacks offense raked against the Cardinals, scoring 20 runs with an OPS of .892. That's plenty of offense for most teams, but the D-Backs are not most teams. They lost the series, and were outscored by 11 runs in three games. That's right, the D-Backs scored twice as many runs as the Giants scored while winning a series...and they still couldn't muster a moderately competitive run differential. DIAMONDBACKS BASEBALL!
More boundless optimism after the jump!
What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):
Arizona (5-6) San Francisco (6-6) Edge
Hitting (wOBA): .365 .318 Arizona
Pitching (FIP): 4.67 3.19 San Francisco
Fielding (UZR): N/A N/A N/A
As you might expect from the paragraph above, the strength of the Diamondbacks through four series has been their hitting, while the Giants' forte has been pitching. The Giants are in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories, so the D-Backs would seem to have the advantage there. But the Giants are not struggling nearly as much on offense as the Cardinals were when they came to Chase, and they promptly more than doubled their season run total in the span of three games. So maybe all the Giants' offense needs is a good dose of Chase Field hospitality.
Willie Bloomquist, LF
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Chris Young, CF
Russell Branyan, 1B
Miguel Montero, C
Melvin Mora, 3B
San Francisco Giants
Andres Torres, CF
Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Aubrey Huff, RF
Buster Posey, C
Pat Burrell, LF
Miguel Tejada, SS
Brandon Belt, 1B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
The Giants lineup is an odd hodge-podge of hitters, but they won a World Series with essentially this group of position players, so I guess it works. Andres Torres showed literally nothing that would indicate that he might be a valuable position player until age 31, when he hit well in 170 at-bats of the bench for the Giants. And the Giants, ostensibly because they were bored and tired of Aaron Rowand, gave him the starting CF job where he put up a cool 119 OPS+ in 2010 out of basically nowhere. He did nothing until the end of his career, when he finally decided to seize the opportunity and take flight, which makes him the old grouchy man from Up of major league hitters. The thing is, this happened up and down the Giants lineup last season. Aubrey Huff had established himself as a solidly adequate first baseman (113 career OPS+) before he decided last season at the age of 34 that, while the aging curve was cool and all, he just wasn't going to participate in it, as he put up a slash line of .290/.385/.506 and finished seventh in the MVP voting. Pat Burrell put up an 119 OPS+ in Philadelphia, an 80 OPS+ in Tampa Bay, and a 132 OPS+ in half a season in SF. I like to imagine that Burrell is taking a principled stand against the designated hitter by refusing to hit in the AL.
Of course, the big story in the Giants' lineup is Buster Posey, who was freed from Sabean's and Bruce Bochy's veteraniness last year and immediately made an impact, going .305/.357/.505 in 443 at-bats. He was only 23 at the time, meaning that he should be held as a barometer for all players who are 23 like that bum Justin Upton who doesn't even try and should be traded for relief help and... Sorry, AZCentral took over my keyboard for a second. In addition to solidifying the middle of the Giants order and helping his team to a World Series title, Buster Posey also holds the distinction of being the most successful "Buster" in the history of the world, narrowly beating out Gob and Michael's brother and the lovable rabbit from Arthur. The team also has high hopes for rookie Brandon Belt, who has been given the starting job this season, and they are hoping that Pablo Sandoval will bounce back from a down year last year.
Friday: Matt Cain vs. Daniel Hudson
Insightful Commentary: Matt Cain is the less-favored of San Francisco's two aces, which he really should have seen coming, since his last name is Cain and all. His ERA was better last season than the Great Lincecum, though his FIP was lower. As a general rule, if you have a career 3.43 ERA while also putting up 19.4 (Fangraphs) WAR in five seasons, you're doing something right. And he's right back on track this season, with a 1.43 ERA through two starts. Hudson has looked pretty good in his first two starts, compiling a 3.46 ERA in the process. His tendency so far has been to struggle in the first couple of innings before settling into the game, so we'll see if that continues on Friday.
Insightful Commentary: One of these pitchers is a veteran who inflated his value by accumulating a lot of wins for a AL West team. He was then picked up by a bad NL West team by a GM who wanted a "proven winner" on his pitching staff. He then proceeded to disappoint fans of that NL West team by consistently underperforming his stuff and failing to justify what the team gave up to get him. The other pitcher is Joe Saunders.
Insightful Commentary: As if the Giants really needed another young starter with wicked stuff. Madison Bumgarner has never put up an ERA higher than 3.16 at any level in his pro career. Last season in 18 starts, he put up an ERA of 3.00 despite an above-average BABIP. If he can find a way to raise his strikeout rate, which hovered around league-average last season, he has a chance to be special for a while. Barry Enright is looking to rebound from his last start, where he gave up 4 ERs through 6 innings and earned the Loss. One has to think that Enright is pitching for his job right now, with Duke likely to return soon.
Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks broke their streak of winning when I picked them to lose against the Cardinals, so I'm back to the drawing board on these. Something tells me that the D-Backs' offense will struggle against the Giants' pitching, which has been superb at the beginning of the season. At the same time, the D-Backs' own pitching has been called into question recently, with no one putting up a "quality start" the last time through the rotation. I have a feeling that the Giants' offense will come alive enough to lead them to victory. Giants: two games to one.
On a personal note, Grant Brisbee is one of my favorite non-'Pit writers on SB Nation. Go read his work over at McCovey Chronicles.
(All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.)