When we last left off after 3 innings, the Giants were in the midst of their most trying times of the season. After a great April, they had a flat May, and the Dodgers were making their run to catch up with the Giants, which they eventually did before fading back. Some players were coming back from injury and some were trying to get out of horrible slumps. All in all things were unsettled in many different little ways. And yet the Giants just continued to march on, like good little baseball soldiers.
Since then, well, like I noted in my previous article, it has been beautiful. The Giants fought back first the rampaging Dodgers, who blew their wad then faded back, and then next, the D-Backs, who got incredible performances from their youngsters until their youth was exposed, just as the Giants were in May. Then they got off to probably their best start ever - common theme for this year - after the All-Star break, winning 10 out of 11 in the homestand and against National League West opponents, more importantly. The Giants now stand 12 games ahead of the D-Backs who are now second after passing up L.A. and L.A. has even been caught from behind by the Rockies, with both 13.5 games behind the Giants. Even more amazing to me is that, despite the turmoil in the starting pitching, the Giants went 34-20 again in the 2nd third of the season.
Top of the Lineup: Just as the cream rises to the top, Bonds has risen to the top. After hitting .298/.492/.631 with 13 homers in the first third, he has his averages up to .328/.510/.728 with 33 homers now. His slugging percentage in July was a stratospheric 1.000, which is higher than almost all players OPS, which adds in OBP to SLG. Grissom has stayed the star he was by keeping himself above .300 and he has the 2nd highest SLG and 2nd highest RBI total among regulars. Plus he has provided splendid defense in CF for the most part. Durham has slowed down a lot during the 2nd third, especially during July after a hot June. But he is still providing a spark at the top of the lineup overall, something that has been missing for a long time.
Santiago has also done well, though he cooled off a lot in the 2nd third of the season, mainly because he has been out for a stint on the DL. Snow was slowing sinking towards the bottom of the lineup when Alou struck gold by batting Snow 2nd in the lineup because of his high OBP and poor power numbers. Something a stats-freak could enjoy but probably drove some fans batty until Snow was getting on base almost as much as Barry was doing!
Gallaraga has continued to be stellar off the bench, hitting homers (getting close to career 400) and driving in runs. Plus he has kept his batting average over .300 all this year. Plus he has allowed Snow to concentrate on batting left-handed against righties while El Gato Grande plays against lefties, which have been few and far in-between. In addition, he has sucked it up twice this season, playing a lot at 1B when Snow was hindered by his groin muscle pull.
Bottom of the Lineup: Aurilia has been in a funk all season long, unable to break out and go berzerk hitting. We need him to get hot again this year like he did last year in September and October and all will be forgiven. Hopefully the appendicitis doesn't affect his play much and, if anything, give him a lot of rest before the playoffs (get well soon!). Jose Cruz, Jr. has quietly provided stellar defense in right field. However, we need him to be loud on offense as that is why we got him and he in danger of falling to Scrub status. He is basically delivering what his career numbers suggest except that he walking a whole lot more than he ever did, raising his OBP to the .360-.380 range. Dispels the speculation that Alou "likes" low OBP players or encourages low OBP players to stay low.
Pedro Feliz and Neifi Perez have been adequate while playing off the bench but both have cooled off a lot since hot starts in the 1st third of the season. Feliz, however, does a nice impersonation of Bonds when he plays LF - 6 homers in about 38 at bats. The problem is that is where all his offensive contribution is right now - he's on pace for 17 homers, fourth on the team, and he is not a stellar defender either right now, except maybe at 3B. Neifi is at best an adequate 8th place hitter and not much more. And if he fell any further, he probably would be in the scrubs.
Scrubs: Alfonzo is about ready to move up a level, but at the end of the 6th, he was still here. However, he has been torrid since his benching, hitting .303/.367/.438 with 6 doubles, 2 homers, and 17 RBIs in 24 games. Plus he has continued his torrid hitting in Cincinati, going 6 for 13 there with 2 RBIs. A sign of some faith recently that his slump was over was Alou batting Edgardo 5th in the lineup but he was dropped back down after that game.
Torrealba was doing well off the bench early in the season but his average has dropped greatly since taking over for Santiago when Benito was on the DL. I had thought that he would be an adequate replacement for Santiago after Benito goes free agent, but this has given pause. However, he is still great defensively behind the plate and still have the rest of this year to regroup and do well again. In addition, his decline had occurred after his wife was basically near-death requiring surgery; fortunately, the operation appears to be a success and she was doing fine afterward, but perhaps there are other things that we don't know about that is on his mind.
Aces and Closers: Schmidt, as a first time All-Star, still sparkled, despite his tendinitis problems, with a 2.44 ERA, .198 BAA, 0.97 WHIP, 11-4 record, and team record of 16-4 in games that he has pitched in. Jerome Williams has come in after Ainsworth injury to be 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA, .225 BAA, 1.25 WHIP, saving the Giants big time, who went 7-4 when he pitched and with a little more support could have been 9-2 because he really had only two bad outings so far. He already has two complete games pitched and one shutout at the tender age of 21 and has shown great poise and maturity, as well as being a great success story with his endearing story about his puka-shell necklace that his late mother had given him. Ponson was acquired at the very bottom of the 6th inning and hasn't even pitched one pitch for the Giants yet but has provided a big lift, strengthening the starting rotation over what Moss had been providing plus in the face of Rueter's indefinite stay on the disabled list.
The bullpen has been whipped into shape by all the turmoil and there are many doing well here. Worrell has been leading the way, despite fan discontent over his not being an "experienced" closer, and has continued to excel in the role, with an ERA of 2.02, WHIP of 1.16, and BAA of .224. Plus his K/9 rate is 5th on the team at 6.8, which is not Nen-like but still pretty good. Nathan, after burning out a bit (a lot!) in May, has gotten rest and returned to his steady form, with a 1.07 WHIP and .190 BAA. He looks like the leading candidate to replace Worrell next year if we lose Worrell in free agency. Brower has been good being thrown into a variety of different situations and has been invaluable in all those roles, especially spot starting. Eyre has been steady for the Giants all year, doing well in any role he is thrown into. Herges was acquired from the Padres for just a minor prospect but he has been great for the Giants, with a WHIP of 0.94 and BAA of .216, and his acquisition could prove to be just as significant as getting Ponson because his addition has made a strong bullpen into a rock solid relief corp, giving us four consistently good relievers.
Middle Relief: Felix Rodriguez has been hot and cold throughout the season and his inconsistency has cost us a number of games though when he is on he has saved us a number of times as well. His ERA is low, 3.06 but he has a high WHIP of 1.47 and high BAA of .274, and has been letting inherited runners score on him. Christensen has been either very good or very bad, placing him here, but for the most part has been very good. Zerbe was horrible in the 1st third of the season but had been great in the 2nd third, showing the form we all loved last year, until his unfortunate injury spot-starting (ironically it occurred while he was batting). Ainsworth is only here because he is on the DL but had been doing well previously. Unfortunately, circumstances led to him being traded to obtain a "whale" of a starter; good luck, I wish him well on his career.
Gasoline: Moss' disappointing "dead arm" plus Ainsworth's and Rueter's injuries have forced the Giants to get Ponson. Again the theme of the season, both for hitting and for pitching, appears to be that Moss was very good when he was good but very bad when he was bad, which explains his 9-7 record despite a 4.70 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and .273 BAA. Foppert hit the wall himself in June, resulting in his missing his turn in the rotation, and has only recently got himself straightened out and effective again. Hopefully he can begin to show the form he had earlier in the season when he would face the ace of the other team and still represent himself well against top competition. That could be important in the playoffs if Rueter is out for the year and the playoff rotation is Schmidt, Ponson, Williams, and Foppert.
If They Play Like This for a Whole Season: Hitters
The leaders in batting averages were noted above. If all the other data were extrapolated, we would get the following leaders:
Runs: Bonds (119), Cruz (95), Grissom (93), Aurilia (77), Durham (72)
Hits: Grissom (192), Aurilia (147), Bonds (141), Durham (140), Cruz (138),
Doubles: Durham (36), Grissom (35), Aurilia (32), Cruz (27), Alfonzo (23)
Triples: Perez (6), Snow, Grissom and Durham (5)
Homers: Bonds (50), Cruz (24), Grissom (23), Feliz (17), Santiago (15)
RBI's: Bonds (102), Grissom (80), Cruz (75), Alfonzo (66), Aurilia (63)
Walks: Bonds (150), Cruz (104), Durham (65), Snow (59), and Alfonzo (54)
SB's: Grissom (14), Durham (11), Bonds (11), Cruz (8), and Alfonzo (6)
Comments: The Giants have continued to do well offensive. At the 2nd third mark, the Giants were 5th in batting average, 5th in on-base percentage, 5th in slugging percentage, and 7th in homeruns, all down from before, but now 6th in the National League in runs scored, versus 7th, surprising since the Giants fell a notch or two in all the other offensive areas... Giants pinch hitters are first in batting average, slugging, and OPS, 3rd in homers, and 5th in on-base percentage...
Durham's lack of runs scored is disturbing because it shows a total lack of run production from the 2nd and 3rd positions in the lineup and needs to be rectified... Despite all the complaints about nobody driving in and protecting Bonds, he is on pace to score 119 runs now, about what he scored last year despite his much lower batting average and on-base percentage this year so far... He should really bat third but maybe now that Alfonzo is hot he can bat 2nd or 3rd now that Aurilia and Snow have been out and see how he does there now... Our catchers have combined for 70 RBIs - 3rd in NL - and our first basemen have combined for 66 RBIs - 8th in NL - which works out to about 100 RBIs during a season if they continued at this pace... Other notables, besides LF, include CF (6th), 3B (8th now, but with a bullet now that Alfonzo is hot and close enough to 5th with another grand slam), and SS (10th but close enough to reach 5th with a very good game or two; unlikely now that Aurilia is out)...
The Giants are on pace to score 771 runs with 188 homers for 2003, compared with last year's 783 runs scored and 198 homers... I guess the Giants still aren't missing Kent, Bell, Lofton, or Sanders much (though Dusty apparently does since the Cubs acquired Lofton for the stretch run; Darren Baker strikes again! :^), though there were rumors that that Giants were looking to re-acquire Sanders again (Ugh! to semi-quote Bonds, if you can't raise your level now, during the stretch run, when are you ever going to?)...
If They Play Like This for a Whole Season: Pitchers
In pitching, the leaders would be:
Games: Eyre (83), Nathan (80), Rodriguez (77), Worrell (75), and Brower (53)
Wins: Schmidt (17), Nathan, Rueter, Brower, and Foppert (11)
Saves: Worrell (35), Brower (3), Eyre (3), and Rodriguez (2)
Innings: Schmidt (216), Rueter (167), Foppert (137), Brower (112), and Williams (106)
K's: Schmidt (225), Foppert (132), Nathan (95), Williams (75), Brower (71)
K/9: Schmidt (10.0), Nathan (9.1), Rodriguez (8.0), and Foppert (7.5)
Comments: I left off Ainsworth and Moss as they should not be among the leaders at the end of the season and if they did, then it wouldn't really matter as they belong to another team now. I will admit now that I took the easy route out and calculated the pure ratio instead of adjusting to circumstances, like Williams putting up most of his stats in the 2nd third so his year end numbers should probably be increased to adjust for that.
Despite all the problems the pitching staff has faced this year, the team overall is still 4th in the NL in ERA and 3rd in the NL in runs scored... However, the team's starters are only 7th in the NL in ERA while the bullpen is 4th in the NL in ERA, obviously the strength of the team this year... Some commentators have noted the Giants overuse of the bullpen but only Nathan and Eyre are headed for any high in game appearances and none of them for innings pitched...
Despite all the chaos and disruption caused by injuries, Alou has somehow kept the ship steady as she goes. The Giants just keep on chugging and are still winning games at a high pace (.630), in spite of the slight drop in run production during the 2nd third of the season. The year is still looking "to be beautiful" as I noted in the 3 innings article.
Again, it was no one player but one player or another player, coming up big in any particular game, to win games. But it did help that Bonds at one point had something like 20 homeruns in 40 games and put a fright into opposing pitchers. Plus Jerome Williams saved our bacon by coming in and playing as well as any of us would have hoped for, as well as Brower in his spot starting.
The amazing thing about the Giants so far is that most teams playing so well and dominating their division and league have either a lot of players playing at or above their peak years so far or have experienced very few injuries and no major ones, or both even. The injuries we all know about.
The Giants only have one regular player and one reserve who can be considered to be playing above their heads: Grissom and Neifi. And Grissom has done this before, only when he was much younger; somehow he has been rejuvenated under Alou. And Neifi, no longer supported by the thin air of Colorado and no longer hampered by his unhappiness at playing in Kansas City, has been relatively useful this year as a bench player. Snow is borderline in this area, but he has slowly drifted into his expected range of performance. Everyone else is either doing as expected - Bonds! - or doing worse than expected - Alfonzo!
Out of the pitchers, I suppose there are more over achievers and perhaps that is where our advantage so far lies. Schmidt has turned it up a notch and is pitching in the upper echelon. Worrell has been great replacing Nen as the closer. Williams has been great in what he has done. Nathan and Eyre has done extremely well too.
However, there has been as many underachievers here, counteracting the superb performances. For every Schmidt, there is a Rueter and Jensen. For every Williams, there is a Moss and Foppert. For each Worrell, there is a Christensen. For each Nathan, there is a Zerbe. So back to the mid-point, back supposedly to zero. And yet the Giants continue to win.
One of the bigger heroes in the 2nd third is Alfonzo. I noted in the 3 Innings article that if Alfonzo could get hot, we could go on a hot streak and pull away from the competition. From the game after his benching for one game, he has hit .303/.367/.438 with 17 RBIs in the 24 games up to the end of the 2nd third of the season and the Giants went 15-9 (.625) in those games. During that time, we went from 6 games up to 12 games up on the competition. Perhaps Alou should "bench" Cruz soon and get his big bat going too in time for the post-season that we appear to be headed for.
Hopefully Alfonzo can continue his great hitting to justify his high salary. I'm sure all will be forgiven by fans if he can be the RBI machine we had all envisioned during the most important months: September and October. If he can keep this pace up, he can get his RBI total up to the 80-100 range we had expected from him when he was signed.
It was Jeff Kent and Reggie Sanders disappearing act, for the most part, during the playoffs that cost us last year in the World Series. Luckily Aurilia, Snow, and Santiago made up for their lack of presence. Hopefully we can get all eight of our cylinders hitting should the Giants make the playoffs. Alou so far appears to have the magic going.
With a 12 game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks and 13.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, for some, it looks like it's time to look into getting playoff tickets. But there is still a lot more games to go and better teams have collapsed under the pressure of a pennant race. Fortunately, with such a large lead, the pressure will be not be great as it would, say, if the lead was more tenuous. So it is looking pretty good. But with 54 games to go, there is still a lot of games to be played and a number of different scenarios can happen.
Magic Number Machinations
Only in a year where your team leads by 12 games at the 2/3rd point can we look into magic numbers. Still, the news, or non-news, as noted, is that there is still a lot of games to be played and anything can still happen. Especially injuries, like the Giants have experienced this year.
A look at sundry collection of the injuries the Giants have endured will give you the flavor of how the wheel can come off the semi-trailer: Aurilia (appendicitis and faulty tear duct; what a year he has had!), Durham (hamstring pull AND hip bursitis at the same time), Alfonzo (jammed finger on play), Zerbe (hurt while swinging the bat), Snow (re-injured groin pull), Schmidt (tendonitis), Rueter (shoulder strain), Santiago (dislocated pinky), Ainsworth (broken shoulder blade), Foppert, Moss and Jensen (dead arms), half the team but especially F-Rod (flu). I'm sure I missed something but this is off the top of my head. Unfortunately, there have been bereavement/emergency leaves as well.
Still, it is fun to play the "What if" game where we wonder, "what if the Giants...."
If the Giants play .333 ball: they'll end up 86-76 and the D-Backs would have to play well at a .574 clip (31-23) to win the division, not too onerous, and the Dodgers and Rockies both basically need to play .600 ball. Both not out of the realm; for example, the D-Backs played .574 ball in their second third of the season. The Dodgers were hot for a while too, playing .667 ball when they made their mad dash to catch up with the Giants, ever so briefly, before we said good-bye to them in the rearview mirror. The Rockies, well, they're the Rockies and never really had any real hot streak nor cold streak. They basically waited for the D-Backs and Dodgers to fall back to them, so who knows what type of streak they are capable of.
If the Giants play .400 ball: they'll end up 90-72 and the D-Backs would have to play very well with few mistakes and win at a .648 pace (35-19), and the Dodgers and Rockies, .673 ball. Coincidence of coincidence, at the beginning of their big losing streak, up to that point the D-Backs had been playing .648 ball in the 54 games up to the losing streak. Even the Dodgers best streak would leave them short in this case.
If the Giants play .500 ball: they'll end up 95-67 and the D-Backs would have to play to their fullest potential, a blazing .741 (40-14) to win the division, the Dodgers and Rockies, .770 ball. So it looks like if the Giants can just keep it together and limp into the playoffs hopefully with every healed by the end of the season, they should win the division easily.
If the Giants play .600 ball: they'll end up 100-62 and the D-Backs would have to set what is probably a record pace, or nearly so, of .833 (45-9), same with the other two at .855 and .865, respectively. The Giants could be done by mid-September if they play this well.
If the Giants play .630 ball, their current percentage: they'll end up 102-60 and the rest of the division can just pack it in and wait until next year, unless someone happen to catch the Phillies for the wild card, but the D-Backs are 5 games behind them for that. Not a big lead but it will be if the Phillies continue to play well. Then there are the surprising Marlins, who are ahead of the D-Backs by 2.5 games themselves. And St. Louis was a half game ahead at the time the Giants reached the 108 game mark.
Last fun permutation: there are 28 home games left and 26 road games left. The Giants have won at a .700 pace at home. If they continue at "only" a .600 pace, that would mean the Giants would have at least 17 wins, depending on how they do on the road. If they then win only a third of their road games, a pretty sad record, which would finally drop their road record under .500, they will be 26-28 (.481). That would mean the D-Backs would have to win at a .700 (38-16) pace to win the division. As noted above, none of the teams contending with the Giants have won at a .700 pace over 54 games this season so far, though with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back, who knows.
The Last Third: Use the Force!
What is the recipe for success - that is, making the playoffs - for the Giants? Basically they just have to do "what brung them here": playing solid baseball, with good starting pitching, better relief pitching, and strong defense. That alone will ensure that they won't fall in a horrible losing streak, like the ones that have brought down the D-Backs and the Dodgers over the past month or so.
It is also time for players who have not really done much to start revving their engines in preparation for the post-season that the Giants have a strong chance of making. Alfonzo has started delivering what he was brought here for. Apparently it has taken him this long to adjust to Pac Bell Park - he noted in a recent interview that he has been finding that his hits to right field that normally would be a big hit would become outs there. It would be my unprofessional guess as a fan that his struggles at the plate are the results of him adjusting his swing to the parameters of Pac Bell Park. He is now appearing to be hitting for average and on-base percentage and is starting to hit for some power. We need him to become a force in the playoffs.
Jose Cruz is another player who needs to step it up offensively soon. His batting average is below Neifi, for goodness sakes! He has been scoring runs, even more than Durham, and he has been walking up a storm, driving up his OBP, but we didn't get him to get walks and score runs, we got him so that he could hit homers and drive in runs. He has been adequate so far but he needs to bring it up a notch. Now is the time to turn it on as this is when the Giants are going to be playing for all the marbles. He also needs to become a force in the playoffs, like he was the first weeks of this season.
Of course, everyone else will also need to continue to contribute as well as they have been. But if the Giants can get everyone humming at the same time, this is an offense that can regularly score 6-10 runs a game, easily. With that type of offense working on all cylinders, and our current pitching, the Giants could easily run through opponents towards the goal of winning the World Series. And somehow, this year, Alou, the old baseball soldier, has been able to get his troops working well enough to win at a .630 pace in spite of all the injuries and slumps. Imagine what he could do if everyone was healthy and contributing at their peak? I think the ending is going to be beautiful!
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. E-mail him at GoGiants_25@yahoo.com and maybe he'll reply back.
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