At the beginning of the season the baseball world was wondering if the San Francisco Giants could offer the 21st century its first true dynasty. The Giants had won two World Series in three seasons and had done so in spectacular fashion, with impressive pitching, great defense, and opportunistic hitting being the defining characteristics of those championship runs. A third of the way through the 2013 MLB season fans are just hoping the Giants will avoid finishing the summer with a losing record.
As it stands, the Giants are hovering around .500 and are battling with the Padres for third place. Oddly, the most compelling reason for the struggle is not the offense, which ranks 14th in run production. Rather, the starting pitching has been so truly awful that it has produced the fourth-fewest quality starts and is the chief suspect as the team underwhelms.
Madison Bumgarner is the only one in the rotation living up to his career numbers. The 23 year old is sporting a 3.30 ERA and very impressive 1.01 WHIP while striking nearly a batter an inning. These stats are each the best in their respective categories on the team and are very close to his career numbers.
The only other semi-bright spot on the rotation is Tim Lincecum, who still appears to be headed to a reliever role in terms of his career trajectory but has pitched well enough to be worthy of a back of the rotation designation this season. The 29-year-old lefty has lost the velocity that once helped him secure back-to-back Cy Young Awards but he has managed to strikeout about a batter an inning while posting a respectable 1.24 WHIP. Unfortunately, once a runner gets on base he seems likely to score, otherwise his ERA would be much lower than 4.57 and he would have more than 5 quality starts in 14 starts.
Yet, there is reason for hope. The National League West was supposed to be one of baseball’s best divisions. Instead, the Giants are one of four teams playing .500 baseball and vying for the top spot in the standings. One good series and San Fran could be leading the pack, which means Giants tickets to AT&T Park are far from a lost cause.
This is not simply well-wishing either. The offense is stranding runners at an alarming rate. A club with the 5th best batting average and 10th best OBP should be producing more runs, even with just a league-average 15th-best slugging percentage. There are five solid hitters in the order (Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford, and Pablo Sandoval when he returns). All the club needs is a couple more timely hits from the other three and the team can overcome the scoring gap on the season (-10) and produce more than a couple more wins.
In addition, it appears Matt Cain is returning to staff-ace form. Since May 5, he has lowered his ERA from 6.49 to 4.70 and has gone 5-1 in eight starts. The Giants may wish to add a starter or two through a trade (Hello Josh Johnson!), but it may not be necessary as Bumgarner and Cain are two shaping up to be two solid starters and all the postseason rotation needs is one more pitcher to step up to make this team a contender and bring the franchise one postseason run closer to being universally recognized as the first MLB dynasty of the 21st century.