After a torrid start to the season, and a very sluggish middle of the summer, the Giants have really turned things up of late. They're the top team in the NL Wild Card race and moved to within a game of the NL West-leading Dodgers with Friday night's victory. With a soft schedule and an improving squad, they look primed for a strong finish.
Last post, we talked about the steadiness of the offense, and how they've really done a complete 180 since the emergence of Joe Panik in that two hole and Andrew Susac as Posey's backup. Each rookie's success has given Bochy freedom with the lineup and in turn, this team in hitting and scoring runs like they were in May. Most
importantly though is their best hitter has started to look like their best hitter again. Buster Posey was having a steady, yet unspectacular season up until the latter part of August, at which point he's really kicked it into another gear. He's hitting right around .450 with 7 homers and 22 RBI over his last 20 ballgames and like it does when your superstar is rolling, it makes the lineup around him better. It's helping that Angel Pagan and Joe Panik are steadily getting on base atop the lineup, giving the middle guys chances to do damage. Posey and Pence there back-to-back in the 3-4 spots have become one of the more imposing 1-2 punches in the league, and I really think Bochy has stumbled upon something there with that lineup. Pence gives Posey legit protection, and Pence has consistently been the most steady and clutch Giants hitter since opening day and he's a strong choice as the cleanup guy for that reason. Pence was brilliant in the 1 and 2 spots in the lineup, but if you read us consistently here you'll know I've longed for Pence to be moved back to the middle of the order and it's showing exactly why. Thankfully, Joe Panik made it possible.
One thing I wanted to mention as part of this teams success lately too has been the improved play of the bench. They were such a major weakness for this team for much of the
season, but with Susac and Ishikawa in tow now and Gregor Blanco all the sudden remembering how to hit a baseball, the Giants appear to be gaining a little bit of depth. Blanco and Posey have been the Giants' two hottest hitters of late, with Blanco registering an average north of .425 in 36 at-bats this month. He's stepped in for Michael Morse seamlessly and has done his part in filling the offensive void since taking over for Morse. Joaquin Arias has also seen his average start to trend upwards of late as well. I'm not quite ready to call the bench a strength, especially with overmatched Juan Perez still seeing crucial at-bats, but they've been getting the job done when it counts of late.
Glancing at the rotation, if you would have told me in June that come September Tim Lineceum would be demoted to the pen and Matt Cain shelved for the year, I would have thought the Giants were toast. However, the Giants rotation, with the way everyone is throwing right now, may be the strongest I've seen it it a couple of years. No Dr. Jeykl and Mr. Hyde Tim Lincecum or the launching pad that was Barry Zito. Madison Bumgarner has been ace-like all year, but Cy Young-like the last couple of months, collecting his 18th win Friday and dropping his ERA to 2.91 with 7 shutout innings of 3-hit ball, 9 K's and no walks vs.
the Dodgers. Tim Hudson, although he's not as dominant as he was those first 8 weeks of the season with that low-2 ERA, continues to pitch like a legitimate number 2 and Vogey has been above-average in terms of fifth man standards. The two guys that are really pushing this rotation over the top and making it one of the better, deeper ones in the league though are Jake Peavy and Yusmiero Petit. Peavy has looked like the Peavy of 5 years ago since coming back to the NL West (5-4, 2.29 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 47 K's in 9 starts) and the vastly underrated Petit already looks much more effective than the man who's place he took. In fact, I know I'm jumping ahead of things a bit here with two weeks left, but if the Giants go into a "best-of" series, their strongest 4-man rotation right now would be MadBum, Huddy, Peavy and Petit. Despite getting hit pretty hard by the Rockies two starts ago, Petit has the ability to dominate with more regularity than Vogelsong at this point and that's what you need in the postseason. Plus if he's a little shaky in his first postseason outing, Boch can turn to his postseason ace reliever, Tim Lincecum.
Besides beating LA, the Giants got some more good news Friday regarding Brandon Belt, as the first basemen has been cleared to play and may be back in the lineup in the next few days. He could get a pinch hit at-bat or two before re-joining the lineup but should be out there any day now. As far as the other injured Giant, Michael Morse, the progressions are nearly as advanced. Morse is swinging at 50%
and his injury which he suffered August 31st, usually has a recovery time of anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. The Giants are hoping to get Morse back before the end of the year but can't be banking on it, which makes Belt's hopefully successful, return that much more meaningful. And remember, the last time Gregor Blanco was pressed into everyday duty late in the year in left field, the Giants won the World Series.