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The Baseball Notebook


June 23, 2010 6:00 PM

Surprises In San Francisco

The San Francisco Giants are playing steady baseball right now, and that's moved them past the suddenly slumping Dodgers and into second place in the NL West, just on the heels of San Diego for the division lead and the Mets for the wild-card. And the odds are strong that it's only going to get better by the Bay.


Frisco is getting offensive help from unexpected sources. Aubrey Huff has re-found his stroke 2008, when he was a top designated hitter in Baltimore and has an OBP of .401 and hitting well for power. Juan Uribe has found a stroke he never really showed in his White Sox days and has hit 11 home runs of his own. The club has brought up young Andres Torres to play center and right field, and he's become a multi-faceted threat. When Tampa Bay finally gave up on Pat Burrell, the Giants picked him up and Burrell has slugged .614 in his first 15 games by the Bay. It all explains why San Fran is scoring enough runs to win, even if third baseman Pablo Sandoval is little below par with the bat right now.

The other reason the team scores enough runs to win is that...well, it doesn't take that many. Tim Lincecum is pitching well enough to win his third straight Cy Young Award, if only Ubaldo Jiminez returns to the ranks of the merely mortal sometime soon. Matt Cain has pitched even better, although at 6-5, his luck's been a little tougher. Both Lincecum and Cain are major innings-eaters having cleared the 100 IP mark. Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez may be #3-4 here, but they would be reliable #2s in a lot of places. The setup team isn't dominant, although if Santiago Casilla gets more work, his current 0.84 ERA in 10 IP suggests he might find the form he recently flashed in Oakland when he was one of the AL's best in this role. Closer Brian Wilson is as effective as any, with 20 saves and a 2.05 ERA.

San Francisco's pitching is established and not going anywhere. All that's left is for the offense to keep hitting enough to put them in the playoffs. The Giants have a lot of flexibility in their everyday lineup. Buster Posey has been called up at first base, enabling Burrell and Huff to man corner outfield spots, with Torres between them and moving out the disappointing Aaron Rowand. Uribe's emergence gives them depth in the middle infield and now that Edgar Renteria is back off the DL it's an interesting question as to who should get the at-bats at shortstop. Nate Schierholtz is another reliable contributor in the outfield. Manager Bruce Bochy has a lot of options and everything he needs to make it into October this year.

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Over the past few weeks, the Notebook's been going through the All-Star team position-by-position and casting its ballot. Even though we don't get to vote for pitchers, I believe each league should have a clearly defined group of five starters--enough to comprise a rotation--set as its all All-Stars. Here's who I'd pick in the National League...

It goes without saying Ubaldo Jiminez for Colorado is the runaway choice as the ace of the staff. With thirteen wins and a buck-fifteen ERA, he's nothing short of unhittable this year. On the second tier (really a first tier in any other year), would be St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, who's won ten games with a 2.23 ERA and has thrown 109 innings. Wainwright would be joined by Florida's Josh Johnson, he of the 8-2, 1.80 ERA and 100 IP. I believe these three stand above the rest, with five worthy candidates vying for two spots.

For the final five, I'd start by ruling out Wainwright's teammate, Jaime Garcia. It's tough to do with a 1.79 ERA, but the innings are low. With 85 IP, he's the only pitcher under consideration who hasn't cleared the century mark. That's just too big a gap to overcome at this level.

After that it becomes a tough call. Here's the remaining four, with the key stats I look at--

Roy Halladay 8-6 2.43, 115 IP
Chris Carpenter 8-1, 2.83 101 IP
Tim Lincecum 8-2, 2.86, 100 IP
Matt Cain 6-5, 2.16, 100 IP

I don't look at strikeouts, because I don't believe it matters how you get a guy out, so long as you get him out. While there are obviously situations where it's beneficial to get the K (man on third, less than two out), that's reflected in the ERA. In cases this close, I also look at a pitcher's relative value to his team--sort of an MVP-type criteria brought to the mound. This factor sets Halladay apart from the rest. St. Louis has three pitchers mentioned in this discussion. San Fran has two. But Halladay is responsible for the Phillies' rotation in a way the others aren't. And he's got a respectable lead in IP to top it off. I give him the #4 spot.

For the last spot, I have to lean Cain. I prefer a better W-L record than he's got, but the first job of the pitcher is to prevent runs and let the offense do the rest. If either Carpenter or Lincecum were even a little closer in ERA, I'd elevate them. But Cain's edge is too substantial to be overlooked and the innings are a wash among all three.

So our National League All-Star rotation would be headed by Ubaldo Jiminez and include Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay and Matt Cain.

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