The NL West is an unpredictable place. This time last year, the Dodgers were looking into re-signing James Loney because they knew they couldn't afford anyone better. At the beginning of last season, I was nervous about the Rockies' pitching staff for years to come because they had Ubaldo Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin. That last sentence may as well have been a fever dream at this point.
The Giants having a terrible offense is something we can all rely on. The 2011 Giants were amazing in their lack of complexity as a baseball team. They pitched really well, but they couldn't hit, and that was pretty much all you needed to know about them. That team scored 570 runs. No Diamondbacks team has scored under 600 runs. No, not even 2004.
This isn't a new problem either. They won the World Series in 2010 with an offense that probably fluked its way into being average, which is notable only because they hadn't come close to being average since 2006 or so. The point is, the Giants had a season (2008) where Randy Winn started 92 games in the third spot of the lineup. It's been a while since they've been good at offense.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
|More Hitting (OPS+):||93||103
Am I Making a Clear Enough Point about the Hitting Yet? (OBP):
First of all, I'm a little dubious of the park factors involved in Baseball-Reference's OPS+ figure, since they seem to think that the Diamondbacks play their home games on the moon and that the Giants literally play underwater all the time. So keep that in mind.
Otherwise, yikes. I mean, when the Diamondbacks look over what has gone wrong this season, this is probably a good place to start. I think it was generally assumed that the Giants were going to have better starting pitching than the D-Backs, so it was up to the offense to compensate. And like every person who passes you going 95 in their neon blue Hummer on the I-10, they're doing a poor job of compensating for anything.
But give the Giants some credit here. Last year, they posted a wRC+ of 83, which was saved from being the worst in baseball only by the continued existence of the Seattle Mariners. Throw in some garden-variety bad luck with two outs last year, and they scored even fewer runs than they "should" have given their already putrid numbers. The joke then was that if their offense had been just below-average rather than mind-bogglingly awful, they would have made the playoffs easily at the expense of the Diamondbacks. Well, their offense is now below-average, and it's probably not a coincidence that they're on pace to go to the playoffs.
- And the most annoying part of the Giants' new found offense is that it's not coming from miraculous freak seasons by Freddie Sanchez and and the corpse of Aubrey Huff. Everyone who's hitting well for the team makes you nod and say "that makes sense." It's guys like Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Belt. They're all young, and they're all good bets to get better.
- You'll notice I didn't mention Melky Cabrera, who was having an all-star season two years after being perhaps the worst everyday player in baseball. That's because Cabrera decided to become the villain from every bad Hollywood movie made about the internet from 1995 to 2008.
- Everything about Bruce Bochy's treatment of Brandon Belt makes me unbelievably grateful that he doesn't manage a team that I root for. In 2011, the Giants let him start the season, then decided they'd seen all they needed to see after a month...then let him rake in Fresno for a little while...
- ...then called him up just to let him sit on the bench and soak in Aubrey Huff's wisdom or something...then stuck him in left field because otherwise he might derail the Brett Pill Experience...
- ...and then sent him back down in 2012 because for some reason he wasn't settling into a rhythm through all of this. And now he gets to platoon with Buster Posey because Hector Sanchez needs time behind the plate. Hector Sanchez is the Giants' version of Konrad Schmidt. It really makes you appreciate Gibby.
- Buster Posey is sixth in the NL in fWAR this year, and he's only that low because Fangraphs doesn't like his defense, which is stellar by all accounts. He has an OPS of .941 in a park that surpresses offense, while playing the single most important defensive position in baseball for a contending team. I'm not saying he deserves the MVP, but I'm a little surprised no one else is. The rejected title for this article was "Buster Posey and the Agony of Reverse Schadenfreude."
Monday: Patrick Corbin (5-6, 3.93) vs. Barry Zito (10-8, 4.42)
Insightful Commentary: Patrick Corbin pitched really well for six innings against one of the better offenses in the NL in his last start. Unfortunately, he was expected to go out for a seventh. The 6.2 inning, 3-run loss that he took doesn't really tell the whole story about how effective Corbin was against the Reds. Unfortunately, it pretty much does sum up the Diamondbacks' performance over the last couple of weeks.
Lost in the discussion of how similar Barry Zito is to Tyler Skaggs is the fact that Zito's average fastball has hovered right around 85 mph since about 2007, and that's a good 5 miles per hour slower than Tyler Skaggs'. Zito has lost velocity since his early days for a variety of reasons, but there's no evidence at all to suggest that Skaggs will develop similarly at all. They're both lefties who use their fastball to set up a powerful curveball. Let's just leave the comparison there. And yes, I used this opportunity to talk about Skaggs because I really don't want to talk about Barry Zito.
Tuesday: Ian Kennedy (12-11, 4.27) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (12-7, 3.02)
Insightful Commentary: For all that's gone wrong this year for Kennedy, he still has an outside chance at 15 wins and an ERA below 4. Now, I'm not holding my breath on either of those accomplishments, and even if he does get there, it won't mean much because neither stat tells anything close to the full story. But from a psychological perspective, both would make me feel better about IPK going into next season. And games like his latest start, where he went 6.1 scoreless, make you feel like it's possible.
There's a real argument to be made that Vogelsong is having a better season this year than he did in 2011. The ERA and FIP are both just a touch higher, but he's striking out guys at a slightly higher rate, and his BB% is almost identical. I remember watching him near the end of last year, and thinking smugly that there was no way he would duplicate his performance from last year. The peripherals weren't there, and even when he was going well, he never looked dominant in the way that Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner all can. But here he is, doing the exact same thing he did last year, inelegance be damned.
Wednesday: Trevor Cahill (9-11, 4.02) vs. TBA
Insightful Commentary: This should be a Madison Bumgarner start, but the Giants haven't made an announcement yet. It doesn't seem like he's injured, so unless they're simply giving his arm a break, I'm not sure why he wouldn't be starting. Stay tuned!
I'm trying to say something new about Trevor Cahill. Really, I am. In this space alone, I've defended him, attacked him, praised him, and buried him. But frankly, he is what he is. His numbers aren't identical to what he did in Oakland, but they're certainly close enough that if you told me before the season started that this is what he was going to do, I probably would have said, "Yeah, I can see that." And then I would have accused you of being a wizard, since you were from the future and all.
Final Verdict: My opinion has no impact on the outcome of the games. This is good, because I'm a bit torn about this series. In the baseball version of "Would you Rather," I'd chose the Giants over the Dodgers every time. So, logically, wouldn't it make sense for the Giants to pull ahead as much as possible?
If one of them has to win the division, I want it to be brutal. I want an awful race to the finish that sees both teams tied on the last day without being good enough for the wild card. I want a play-in game that lasts 18 innings and only ends after Xavier Nady scores from first on a routine grounder that Hanley Ramirez fields but doesn't care enough to throw to second. This series is the first step. D-Backs two games to one.
Head over to McCovey Chronicles for the Giants side of the story.
(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)