Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bleeding Orange yet?

I know I am!

The San Francisco Giants are on the verge of clinching the NL West Division. It will be their first playoff appearance since 2003. As they say, it has been a marathon and looks like the Giants are going to have that strong sprint to finish it with style.

The Giants' season has had its ups and downs. Right after spring training, the make-up of the team was way different than it is now. The starting pitching rotation has been the only constant, except for Mad Bumgarner cementing the No.5 pitcher spot. The plan on offense was to have the lineup work around Pablo Sandoval, Mark Derosa, Bengie Molina and Freddy Sanchez, with some help from veterans Aaron Rowand and Juan Uribe, hoping that Travis Ishikawa and/or Nate Scheiroltz will have a break out season to help steady the ship.

The plan kept changing as the Giants kept adapting to what felt right all the way through, riding all the hot hands and streaks right through September. Aubrey Huff was their best signing of the off season, and the Buster Posey call-up was a godsend, right away upgrading the Bengie Molina spot in the batting order. Posey has also been an excellent catcher. the highlight of which being, calling 18 games in a row, where the Giants pitchers gave up 3 runs or less in each, a major league record since the 1920s. It would be a travesty if he doesn't win the Rookie of the Year award. I know its hard to imagine this kid is just a rookie.

You cannot say enough about the roles played by Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and the mid-season pickup, Pat "the bat" Burell. The contributions by others with timely hits and plays cannot be ignored either. Travis Ishikawa and Nate Scheeiroltz have had some big pinch hit at-bats. Other mid-season pickups Cody Ross, Jose Guillen and Fontenot also had their moments.

But this season, as expected, has been all about the pitching. The ace, two-time reigning Cy-Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, had one of the hottest starts in the league to this season. But then, along came August, the worst month of his young career. People even started questioning if he was done. And then along came September, and the old Timmy is back. Barry Zito had his typical season, a tale of two halves, just that this time, he was good for the first half of the season, and has struggled through the second half. Matt Cain was the work horse that he was expected to be; the most consistent of them all. Mad Bumgarner, another impressive rookie, has shown maturity beyond his age.

To me, the most improved starting pitcher was Jonathan Sanchez. He always had his "stuff". His problem was keeping his composure when things aren't going right. Over the last month or so, he seems to have crossed that hump. Only time will tell, if this is the new Sanchez, or its just a spark in the pan.

The most underrated aspects of the Giants are their bull pen and of course, the beard man, Brian Wilson (the closer). The Bull pen has been solid for the most part, especially over the last two months. Brian Wilson has a MLB leading 47 saves to date. At times, he does makes things interesting, keeping 9th innings closer than it should be. But more often than not, he gets the job done. Only three blown saves this year. An all-star this year, he is definitely in the conversation of being one of the best closers in the game right now. Along with his production, the attitude he brings to the team is invaluable. The team absorbs its swagger from the energy exuded by this warrior.

And now, the Giants are just two wins away (with four more games to be played) from a playoff spot. They could clinch it by Friday, when they play the San Diego Padres in the first of a three game series. A little shuffling of the pitching line-up makes Matt Cain go against the Padres on Friday. If it doesn't get done by then, Zito and Sanchez are scheduled to go Saturday and Sunday. Unless something disastrously tragic happens, the Giants expect to pop open those crates of celebratory champagne this weekend. It will indeed be well-earned.

The season as a whole has been a rough ride with a boat load of pitfalls. But, it had its moments that were magical and inspiring. Going through all those torturous moments was worth the ride.

Giants Baseball might be torture... but for sure, there is magic inside!

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