Things are looking up

Giants 5, Dodgers 2
Today’s game was probably my favorite game of this Giants season.  Zito looking like he did in 2002, getting a win (at home), and a come behind win against the Dodgers.
What more can you ask for?
When the season started, I thought this Giants team was gonna be one of if (if not the) worst teams in franchise history.  With the franchise record for losses being 100 in 1985, one look at the roster prior to the season would suggest surpassing that mark easily.  Most people (including myself) predicted this team to be the worst in baseball this year.
After years of Brian Sabean risking the future for small short term gains, it finally started to catch up to the team a few years ago.  The last two seasons the Giants would have likely been the worst team in baseball had it not been for a guy named Barry Bonds.  Without Bonds, the downward spiral seemed to reach rock
Yes, this team is still a lousy team, but a hell of a lot better than expected.  Third place, only four games out of the division lead (and yes, I know it’s a horrible division, but still), and on pace for 72 wins is a lot more than expected.  What’s more, they’ve gone 22-20 since May 19th, when they were 17-29 and on pace for 60 wins, about as expected going into the season.
What makes things more promising is that, if you look at the performance up and down the roster, nobody is really overachieving, and on top of that certain guys who were playing over their heads earlier in the season (Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Bengie Molina) have come back down to what was pretty much expected of them, and yet the team has been playing better since then.
If anything, this team should continue to play better.  While nobody is playing above their heads, some guys should perform better in the second half.  Offensively, things will probably be about the same as the first half, with a slight improvement, due to Omar Vizquel.  While he’s never been a good hitter, especially at this point in his career, he’s a lot better than he’s been hitting and will likely improve upon his Neifi Perez-like stats in the second half.  And if not, he’ll likely lose his starting  job to Emmanuel Burriss, who himself is a mediocre hitter, but at least it’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve been seing from Omar.
But look for the pitching to be a lot better in the second half.  Tim Lincecum is the real deal and, barring (god forbid) injury, will continue his dominance in the second half.  With Matt Cain, it’s not a matter of if, but when will he emerge into the ace we’ve been waiting for him to become, and it’s looking more and more like it will be at some point this season.  His rookie year, he would have become an instant ace had he not walked so many batters (over 4 an inning).  Last year, he cut down his walks, but the fewer strikeouts really hurt him.  This year, the walks remain down, while the strikeouts are back up (slightly higher even) to what they were his rookie year.  Mainly, he’s been having bad luck in that more balls in play have been falling in for hits, and that he’s been giving up a lot more home runs, which is essentially the result of one extra bad pitch every few games, something that can be easily improved upon.  What’s more promising is that, since April when he had 29 strikeouts to 23 walks, he’s had a phenomenal 78 walks to 24 strikeouts.  What’s been really killing him, however, are the occasional starts where he’s just gotten rocked, therefore skewing his percentage/ rate stats, and (which has been the biggest problem since his rookie year) the lack of run support and bullpen help, resulting in his weak records that fail to display his true abilities and performances.
Jonathan Sanchez is another guy waited in the wings to breakout.  While not as heralded a pitching prospect as Cain and Lincecum, the 25 year old pitcher’s stuff ranks among the best younger pitchers in the game.  And Kevin Correia is a little better than he’s pitching, and should be the best you can hope for from your #5 pitcher.
But Zito is the one who we’ll likely see the most improvement in the second half.  Over his last few starts, his velocity’s been back to what it was in Oakland, and his stuff has gotten a lot better as well.  While one would be dreaming to expect him to return to his Cy Young form from 2002, look for him to return to what he was his last few years in Oakland, which would be a really solid, reliable,  #2 starter, which in a rotation with Cain, Lincecum, and Sanchez, would make him a great asset (salary aside), especially for your #4 pitcher.  As for the salary, what’s done is done, and in a way, his salary is made up by the Giants paying the best pitcher in baseball league minimum.
Overall, this team still isn’t going anywhere this year, especially considering  at least one of the teams in the division that are heavily underachieving (D-Backs, Rockies, or Padres) will likely go on a second half tear, but at least it will be fun to watch this team continue to move in the right direction.  And an effort to continue in this direction, along with a strong system in the low minor leagues, this team has a decent shot at being once again a World Series contender in a few years (something that just a few months ago I thought would be a lot longer).  And who knows, one or two really good bats in the off-season, and a slightly improved bullpen may be enough to bring the Giants back.  All I know is, the Giants finally have a future to look forward to.


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