By Michelle Dingley
After a shaky start to the season, the Giants are returning to form.
That might sound strange coming off Sunday’s 4-1 Giants loss, but after getting swept by Arizona to start the year, the Giants have taken the next two series and are 4-5 in their first 9.
The Arizona series was truly one to forget, with balls flying out of the park and our aces falling apart. Next up were the Rockies at Coors Field, a park even more live than Phoenix’s Chase Field. We benefited from the change of scenery. It all started with an astonishing performance by Barry Zito. Zito adjusted his pitching mechanics over the spring, but after getting rocked hard, he went back to his old delivery. He was a bit of a question mark – even more than usual – entering his first start of 2012. Yet the southpaw did what Lincecum, Bumgarner and even Cain could not do: get us our first W of the season. He pitched a complete game shut-out, giving up just 4 hits and striking out 4, with a remarkable zero walks. This was hardly the game expected from the back end of the rotation, but we were more than happy to take it.
The next game was almost the exact opposite. We sent our ace, Lincecum, to the mound, hoping to build on the momentum from Zito’s start two days before. The Freak had cut his signature long hair before the game, ostensibly hoping a change would get him back on track after his opening day loss. Instead his fate was more like Samson, and Timmy had the shortest start of his career. He was pulled after only 2 1/3, giving up 8 hits and 6 runs, all earned. The Giants were down early, but they rallied for 7 runs in the top of the 4th to take a one-run lead. They immediately gave the lead back, eventually losing 17-8.
The Giants pitchers looked much better in the next 4 games. In the Colorado series finale, Bumgarner took a no-hitter into the 6th, giving up just one run in 7 1/3 as the Giants won the rubber match 4-2. In the San Francisco home opener, Matt Cain was spectacular. He pitched a complete game one-hitter, with only a single by Pirates starter James McDonald keeping Cain from perfection. He also struck out 11 in the gem. On Saturday, Zito looked shaky, giving up 2 in the first, but he calmed down. With echoes of 2011, the Giants won in walk-off fashion. In the Pittsburgh series finale Sunday, Vogelsong came off the DL to take the mound for the first time this season. He gave up just 2 runs in 6 1/3, but that proved to be too much as the Giants could barely muster anything against Pirates starter (and former Giant) Kevin Correia.
The pitching is coming back. We needn’t worry about the starters, the core of our team. There may be some worry about the bullpen, now that Brian Wilson is more than likely out for the season. At least we are scoring runs this year, unlike last season, which was one of the worst offensive years in San Francisco history. We scored four or more runs in 8 of the first 9 games, plating a total of 43 runs, for an average of 4.78 per game. Our offense is greatly improved. Buster is back, Melky Cabrera has been quite impressive, and the Panda has looked good at the plate. Rookie Hector Sanchez appears to have a major-league swing, Huff looks improved from his 2011 slump, and Brandon Crawford could spend the whole season above the Mendoza line. Here’s to hoping Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Belt pick it up and perform like we expect them to.
Our team is younger, faster and more athletic than it has been in recent years, yet we have been bogged down by errors throughout the first three series. Our defense has been weak to pathetic in a number of games. We have committed 14 errors already, making at least one error in 6 of the first 9 games. The Panda has 4 errors under his belt, the sure-handed Crawford has 3, Buster has 3 (though one I credit to a bad throw from Sandoval), Pill (who has only appeared in 14 innings) has 2, Burriss has 1 and Pagan has 1. This has to be dealt with. Having seen the errors committed, it’s my opinion that most of them came from rushing a play or trying to do too much. That seems to happen in high-stress situations, perhaps fueled by their pitcher imploding, or the prospect of losing to the team that kept us from the playoffs last season. That is no excuse. Fundamentals are key. They are professional baseball players and they need to act like it. I’d rather see them be a bit more cautious and get the sure out than watch them try to make a spectacular double play and end up getting neither out. Sometimes you just have to eat it. We can’t be giving away free bases and extra outs. We can’t keep throwing the ball away. We need to stop looking ugly on the field. We need to clean up the defense.
This is not a dire situation. We are 4-5, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing to be proud of either. It’s very early in the season, but we should have a winning record. We should be in first place. The hitting is better than last year. The pitching is coming around. If we can just shore up the defense, we’ll be coasting to the top in no time.