Giant statement: San Francisco off and running
Looking to bounce back from disappointing year, club starts 2014 strong
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants remain a work in progress as they approach Tuesday's home opener at AT&T Park against the Diamondbacks.
Fortunately for the Giants, emphasis can be placed on the "progress" part of that statement, based on the season's first week.
Despite falling short of playing their best -- of course, no team has peaked at this time of year -- the Giants finished 5-2 on their season-opening, two-city trip to Arizona and Los Angeles. Obviously, more went right than wrong for the Giants.
Here's a look at the facets of the Giants' encouraging start:
Hitting when it counts
Though the Giants own a so-so .251 team batting average, they're hitting .370 (20-for-54) with runners in scoring position. They also entered Monday ranked second in the Major Leagues with 40 runs scored.
Manager Bruce Bochy admitted that the offense's productivity came as a bit of a surprise.
"Only in the fact that as we were starting Opening Day, we weren't swinging the bats all that well," Bochy said. "But the bell rang, they answered it and we came out swinging."
Center fielder Angel Pagan led the Giants, hitting safely in every game and batting .419. Buster Posey (.320, two homers) and Michael Morse (.350) looked sharp. So did first baseman Brandon Belt, who ranked second in the NL with four home runs through Sunday. They helped compensate for Hunter Pence (.138) and Pablo Sandoval (.148).
Pence doubled twice and homered in the last two games at Los Angeles and apparently is emerging from his slump. And nobody seems to be worried about Sandoval.
"Pablo's numbers would be a lot better if he had any luck at all, because he has squared up on some balls," Bochy said.
As Monday dawned, the Giants led the Majors with 11 home runs. No, the world has not spun off its axis.
The Giants can go deep with regularity, at least when they're not playing at AT&T Park. Posey, Pence, Morse, Sandoval and Belt are legitimate slugging threats. Pagan and Brandon Crawford possess more pop than many observers realize. Though Morse was the only offseason addition, this is not the team that finished next-to-last in the National League with 107 homers last year.
"We have a lot of guys who have big potential power -- adding Morse, the growth of Belt, and Pablo -- they're definitely power threats," Pence said. "They can drive the ball."
With muscles toned and flexed, the Giants have regained the knack for the big inning. They have scored four runs three times, five runs once and six in the first inning of last Friday's opener at Dodger Stadium. With their deeper batting order, the Giants present more of a constant threat to opponents. They're rarely out of a ballgame.
Pitching and defense? No, defense and pitching
The Giants have diverged slightly from their usual blueprint for success, which calls for stifling starting pitching. They've received strong efforts from Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, who brushed aside the remnants of a bruised knee and stomach illness to work six innings. But overall, the rotation has been less than imposing, compiling a 3.92 ERA.
The defense, however, has been virtually airtight and often spectacular. The Giants looked a little shabby on Opening Night at Arizona, but they've been more than competent since then. Not much has gotten past Sandoval, Pagan or Pence. Gregor Blanco seems to make a fetching grab whenever he replaces Morse in left field. And, quite soon, opponents may stop trying to take an extra base on Pence, who has three assists from his spot in right field.
"There's really not a better feeling than being solid defensively," Pence said. "... Doing the little things right -- it keeps the energy and the mojo going."
Better to be lucky than ...
The "mojo" Pence cited was with the Giants when they won the 2010 and 2012 World Series, though it didn't fully benefit them until the season's second half. This year, karma, luck or whatever you want to call it seems to be in effect already.
Consider last Friday's game at Los Angeles. Brandon Hicks recorded a double on a popup that landed barely behind the infield dirt because Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez neglected to wear sunglasses. Unable to find the ball in the smoggy sky, they could have limited the Giants' scoring in their six-run outburst to three runs had one of them made the play.
One inning later, Gonzalez hit a grounder wide of first base that eluded Belt for an apparent single. But Hicks, playing second, crossed behind Belt, scooped up the ball and threw it to Ryan Vogelsong for the out.
That's how rallies end before they even begin. That's the good fortune that seems to grace teams that are playing well otherwise. This is the state of the Giants right now.