Giants: midseason report card

814482.jpg

Giants: midseason report card

Perfection and deep flaws. A beard in the recovery room and a merry band of Melk Men. Another thorn for the Panda, four shining All-Stars in the firmament -- and one more disabling, domestic injury for Jeremy Affeldt.

The Giants have seen and done much in the first half of 2012, none of it more memorable or historic than the cool night of June 13, when Matt Cain threw the 22nd perfect game in major league history.

Cain is one of four All-Stars. The other three -- All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, and his cascade of multiple-hit games, Pablo Sandoval, who has no more hamate bones to break, and Buster Posey, the comeback kid -- were voted to start by a fully stoked and technologically savvy fan base.

Yes, the Giants have everyones attention in the Bay Area -- even if no one can figure out what in holy hell happened to Tim Lincecum.

The Giants are 46-39 at the All-Star break, a half-game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and very much expecting to play postseason baseball -- especially with an extra wild-card berth this season.

They could be -- and by all rights should be -- better off in the standings as they begin the unofficial second half Friday with the Houston Astros. But the Giants also havent forgotten they were 7 out in late May. And theyve kept from imploding in the ninth inning without Brian Wilson, who went to get a new arm.

So it could be worse. Aside from Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, the Giants are healthy. And they have much more baseball to play.

ROTATION: A-
Even though Lincecums shocking 6.42 ERA is the worst among all qualified major league starters, the Giants still rank fourth in the majors in rotation ERA. Yes, the other guys have been that good. From May 6 to June 18, the Giants were 17-0 in games started by Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. They even managed a 9-8 record in Barry Zitos starts, which is not bad for a de facto No.5 guy who was wearing a hit-me sign at the end of spring training. And we havent even mentioned bull-strong 10-game winner Madison Bumgarner, who doesnt need a calf-sitter for the All-Star break even though both he, and especially Vogelsong, had the numbers to go to Kansas City.

BULLPEN: B
The Giants lost closer Wilson to Tommy John surgery and Guillermo Mota to childrens cough syrup. Their bullpen ERA ranks in the middle of the pack, well below where the relievers are accustomed to performing. But considering the casualties, including Wilson on the season-opening road trip, the 'pen has little of which to be ashamed. Closer Santiago Casilla dominated while converting 19 of his first 20 opportunities before slipping in his final six outings. The Giants found fresh blood in Brad Penny and George Kontos, and they maintain the leagues best righty-lefty specialist combo in Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. The next few weeks will be critical as management ascertains whether to stay with Casilla or grab a more established saves earner such as Jonathan Broxton or Huston Street.

DEFENSE: C-
A flunk-tastic April weighs down the grade. The Giants, most especially young shortstop Brandon Crawford, have been much, much better afield in the last two months -- and perfect for one glorious night behind Matt Cain. Still, only the Colorado Rockies have committed more errors among NL clubs. Going forward, the outfield defense -- despite Angel Pagans occasional gulps in center -- looks to be solidly above average and the infield appears to have stabilized with Ryan Theriot and Crawford forming a regular middle-infield tandem.

LINEUP: C
No major league team has hit fewer home runs than the Giants, yet they are scoring almost a half-run per game more than they did last season. GM Brian Sabean envisioned a more athletic lineup and his acquisition of Cabrera was one of baseballs best offseason moves. While Posey might be a little light to be a true cleanup presence, his return has meant everything to the clubs psyche -- now and going forward. The lack of power is a big concern, though. In addition to hitting the fewest home runs in the majors, the Giants have gone deep just 14 times in 42 games at AT&T Park.

BENCH: D
Nate Schierholtz is handy to have around and Joaquin Arias gets credit for handling the Giants most important 27th out since Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz in Arlington. Still, a .161 average by pinch hitters wont get it done. Some right-handed power would be nice. And it aint gonna come from Emmanuel Burriss.

MANAGERFRONT OFFICE: B-
You might give the front office a C if anyone there knew how to turn on a computer. All jests aside, no computer program couldve told you that Gregor Blanco and Theriot would be smart pickups on minor league deals this winter. Deals for Cain and Bumgarner got done, ensuring -- especially in the case of Cain, who wouldve been an impending free agent -- that they wont be distractions during the season. Manager Bruce Bochy had to feel his way through myriad lineups in the first two months and was subjected to daily pitchforks over his handling of Belt, but the team was able to survive 40 games without Sandoval. The real test lies ahead. With few shiny baubles in the minor leagues, itll be a challenge for Sabean to acquire top talent at the trade deadline. And the Lincecum situation is delicate, to say the least.

Giants notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

Giants notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

SAN FRANCISCO — About 45 minutes after the Giants announced that Chris Marrero had been designated for assignment, the left fielder walked up to the locker of one of the newcomers. Marrero patted Christian Arroyo on the back and shook his hand, congratulating him for his first call-up to the big leagues. 

“That’s my boy,” he said later. “I was really happy for him.”

The Arroyo promotion and the addition of Drew Stubbs signaled the end of Marrero’s April run in the lineup. He was cut and Aaron Hill was put on the disabled list, clearing two roster spots. Just as Arroyo forced his way up with three huge weeks in Triple-A, Marrero forced his way onto the opening day roster with a monster spring that included eight homers. He had just five hits in 38 at-bats before Monday’s moves.

“The team is struggling and we’ve got to make some moves,” Marrero said. “I believe in myself and I’ll go down and get back to how I felt in spring training. This is what I’ve worked for my whole life. I lost the feel that I had in the spring. Things were a little rushed. I came in and worked hard every day to try and find it. I’m going to keep working. I haven’t lost confidence in myself.”

Marrero was put in a bit of a tough spot. He played just about every day in Scottsdale because he was trying to win a job, and when he finally did make it, some Giants coaches felt he was a bit worn down. The team’s brutal start to the season put a glaring spotlight on left field, and this move became obvious over time.

Marrero said he likes it here, and that if he isn’t claimed, he will go to Triple-A Sacramento and try to find that spring swing and get back up here. Count Bruce Bochy among those hoping it goes down that way. 

“We thought a lot of him and still do,” Bochy said. “He’s a good hitter.”

--- Arroyo had a 4.4 GPA in high school, so the Giants knew he was smart. He’s savvy, too. There’s nothing like picking up the longest-tenured player on the team, literally. After snagging a ricochet in the fourth inning last night, Arroyo kept running and lifted Cain off the grass. They then chest-bumped. 

“That just kind of happened,” Arroyo said. “He hit it, I looked at Cain going down and saw the ball, went running and got it, instincts took over. I made a throw and got the guy. It was a fun play. In that moment, I was just pumped up. It’s one of those plays you get excited over.”

Arroyo said he heard Cain yelling and he thought he was hurt, so that’s why he ran over. Cain did have an X-ray on the foot that got hit but it came back negative. 

“Christian did a great job handling himself,” Cain said. “He picked me up big-time.”

The best part of the play came hours after it was made. As Cain talked to reporters, Brandon Crawford — who was in position to scoop the grounder in the fourth — was standing at his locker, a few feet away.

“Let it go through next time,” he said softly.

--- Denard Span was out on the field Monday afternoon, but he’ll miss another two to four days with that right shoulder injury. This will truly be a day-to-day situation. If at any point the Giants feel they need coverage, Span can be put on the 10-day DL. 

--- Hill apparently felt discomfort after playing long toss on the road trip. He can swing a bat but he was going to be kept from throwing for three to four days, so he was put on the DL.

--- This spring, Posey was asked about facing Sergio Romo. Here was his long tendencies-filled answer. Posey faced Romo in the eighth and flied out. 

"It was a little weird, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I caught him for so long. It's definitely interesting being in the batter's box instead of being the plate."

Was there a nod or "hey what's up" look between the two?

"I've caught him long enough to know you don't look at him," Posey said, smiling. 

--- If you missed it, the standing ovation for Romo was a very, very cool moment. Also, here's my story on Madison Bumgarner, who spoke for the first time since his injury. And here's the first story on Arroyo, with a fun anecdote about his mom. She'll be in the stands Tuesday. And finally, my game story from last night. 

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning Tuesday, as Christian Arroyo strapped on his gear and grabbed his bat, Buster Posey looked over at Matt Cain. 

“Goodness,” he said. “He looks really young.”

There was a time when that was said about Cain, now 32, and Posey, now 30. They broke in as fresh-faced kids, too, but these days they’re the grizzled vets, anchors of a clubhouse that got some fresh blood on Monday. Arroyo brought the energy to AT&T Park and Cain and Posey did the rest. 

The starter, in the midst of a surprising resurgence, threw six dominant innings against the visiting Dodgers. Posey threw one runner out at second to end the eighth and back-picked Justin Turner at second with two down in the ninth, clinching a 2-1 win that felt like a must-have in the clubhouse. 

“I mean, we needed it,” Posey said. “I don’t think you can underscore it. We definitely needed it.”

The front office sensed that after a sweep at Coors Field. After weeks of saying the Giants had to be patient with Arroyo, Bobby Evans pulled the trigger Monday morning. Drew Stubbs was also added to temporarily take over in center. The message was clear: A sense of urgency was needed throughout the organization, and the players responded with perhaps their cleanest game of the year. 

Cain did the heavy lifting, allowing just two hits and a walk before his right hamstring bit. He was pulled while warming up in the seventh, but he’s optimistic. Cain missed two weeks last year with the same injury, but he said it’s not as bad this time around. 

“Last year it was something that was definitely more on my mind when I did it,” he said. “I pushed too hard. I thought we were being a lot smarter today.”

The bullpen backed Cain, with Steven Okert, George Kontos, Derek Law (who allowed a run but shut down further damage) and Mark Melancon carrying it home. Melancon ran into some trouble in the ninth when Turner alertly took second on a spiked curveball. With Adrian Gonzalez up, the Dodgers were a single away from tying it up. Turner strayed too far off the bag and Posey gunned him down.

“It was just instinct,” he said. “He was anticipating a ball being put in play and took that one or two extra stutter steps. 

Melancon emphatically yelled on the mound. Cain watched the final out from the trainer’s room. The win was his first over the Dodgers in four seasons, and while on the mound, Cain lowered his ERA to a staff-best 2.42.

“He did a great job locating his fastball,” Posey said. “He threw his curveball for strikes, expanded the zone with his fastball, mixed some changeups in. He did a nice job.”

The approach looks sustainable, and the Giants need it. Madison Bumgarner had another MRI on Monday and while the Giants don’t have a firm timetable yet, manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that it will “be a while.” 

In the meantime, the Giants will try to find a mix that works. Hunter Pence was moved up to leadoff Monday and he drove in a needed insurance run. The infield trio of Brandon Crawford, Arroyo and Joe Panik combined for the first run, with Crawford doubling, Arroyo moving him over, and Panik skying a ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly. 

Bochy praised Arroyo for his approach in that moment, and the rookie said he was focused hard on getting Crawford over. It was the kind of at-bat the Giants teach in the minors, and they hope more is on the way. The Triple-A squad is more talented than it’s been in years, and with big leaguers continuing to drop, the depth will be needed. 

As he got dressed Monday night, Arroyo rattled off facts from the night’s River Cats game and talked about how much he believes in the players there. He’s part of a wave that’s coming slowly, a group that includes Ty Blach, who faces a monumental task Tuesday. The young left-hander will go up against Clayton Kershaw as the Giants try to keep the momentum going.

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said. “We know it. I thought tonight was huge for us to stop things.”