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SF Giants 2011 Mid-Season Report Card: What Worked and What Tanked

Let’s make two things clear at the start: first, Federal law mandates that every MLB blogger must publish a “halfway report” on their respective team somewhere around the All Star break. You can look it up, it’s right there in the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. So bring on the dark-suited auditors with the narrow ties, this entry puts my blog house in order. 

Second, these ubiquitous team-at-midseason reports are often merely random ego exercises in baseball puffery by the author. And I believe I have assembled just the right amount of arbitrarily selected information to prove that.

On July 4th 2010 the San Francisco Giants were 41-40 in 4th place in the NL West, 7.5 games behind the 49-33 San Diego Padres. They had been 4-11 in their last 15 games, but turned it around and went on to win the National League West and (you might have read) the 2010 World Series. 

On July 4th 2011 the Giants were 48-38 in 1st place in the NL West, three games ahead of the Arizona D’Backs. So the Giants are doing so much better than last year, right? Then why doesn’t it feel that way?

 The San Francisco Giants 2011 Mid-term Report Card

Winning baseball games A Comments: Enough of the constant chattering about how weak the NL West is as a way to explain why the Giants are in 1st place. If you actually watch the games you know their success can be traced to a pitching staff that has been dominating virtually all National League hitters for two years.
As of July 7th the Giants are 50-39, third best record in the NL after Philadelphia (55 wins) and Atlanta (53). The Giants have the 5th best record in the Majors (add Boston @ 52 wins and the Yankees @ 51).  
Starting pitching A Comments: Ryan Vogelsong (6-1, 2.13) has been a major contributor to the team’s 2011 success. After an April injury, Barry Zito has returned and posted three dominant starts in a row (3-0, 1.29). This is now a team with 6 quality starting pitchers and it may be time to think about moving one of them for some offense.
For the first time this year the starters have serious defensive back-up in the infield courtesy of the amazing Brandon Crawford at short and Pablo Sandoval slapping great leather at third.
Bullpen A+ Comments: Simply the best pen in baseball. The Giants pen has won 20 games because the lack of offense steals games from the starters. Closer Brian Wilson is 6-1. Their 1.22 WHIP is third best in the Majors. In Triple A Fresno, lights out lefty fireballer Dan Runzler is waiting to join them.  
Hitting and run scoring D Comments: The hitters do not play well with others. The offense recently moved up to 27th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored, but let’s not start sucking each other’s d–ks quite yet.
The Giants lost their three best hitters (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Freddy Sanchez) for much of the first half. Sandoval is back, but Posey will not play again this year and Sanchez may be out for several more months. Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Andres Torres have not been able to carry the offense and plate runs. Miguel Tejada has been a bust in the batters box and on the field.
There’s a lot of baseball left (ever hear that before?), and the Giants front office is steady, smart, and not prone to make panic moves. It will be fascinating to see what they do about this offense.
Working opposing pitchers C- Comments: Probably should be a “D” but Pat Burrell works a count better than just about anyone else in the game. So Burrell brings the curve up.
It is uncanny how often Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff, and so many other hitters seem to start their plate appearances at 0-2 and are lucky to only ground out and not hurt themselves or others.
This is a classic egg and chicken conundrum: what comes first, good hitting or working opposing pitchers and the count?
Defense C+ Comments: What can you say about Miguel Tejada at short and Bill Hall at second, Pat Burrell in left and back-up catchers behind the plate?
The immediate future of the infield defense improves every day the Giants play Brandon Crawford and Emmanuel Burriss up the middle. Left field will improve dramatically when Brandon Belt finishes his injury rehab at Triple A Fresno.
The number one task for the Giants front office is to go out and get an everyday catcher to “replace” Buster Posey for the rest of the season. And that needs to happen soon.   
Manager A Comments: Bruce Bochy’s reputation as a Jedi Bullpen Master is well earned. Bochy keeps the starters focused and the bullpen fresh. The pitchers in the pen know exactly what their roles are on this team, and you have no idea how rare that is on teams around both Leagues.
And, somehow, Bochy also finds time to get enough runs out of this damaged line-up to win games and keep a death grip on 1st place in the NL West.
Bruce Bochy is at the peak of his talent and he is a joy to watch working his craft.   
2011 Second Half Prediction A Comments: It may not feel like the Giants are dominating, but the ESPN.com standings don’t lie. This year isn’t like last year, and I’m digging every minute of it. 
The San Francisco Giants are a team built to make, and be successful in, the MLB post season. With a clubhouse full of driven players who have been there before and want to get back.
If the front office can reboot the catching and find a game-changing bat that can deliver more runs (and Brandon Belt may be that bat), they will go toe-to-toe with Atlanta and Philadelphia in October.