Giants: midseason report card

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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 spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ty Blach is the young one in the race to be the fifth starter, but on Sunday he sounded like a veteran. Asked if he has gotten a hint one way or the other about his opening day role, Blach smiled.

“I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better,” Blach said. “I’m enjoying the process and having fun.”

Smooth. 

Those days are adding up to a nice spring for Blach, the left-hander trying to unseat Matt Cain. While Bruce Bochy didn’t shed any additional light on the current lean, team officials hinted Sunday that this is not as open-and-shut as it seems. Matt Cain, who will start Tuesday, looked like a lock to be the fifth starter a week ago, but the Giants are considering all options because they have an off day during the first week and two more shortly thereafter. 

“We’ve had discussions every day,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some tough calls.”

The Giants are expected to announce their official rotation when they return home for the Bay Bridge Series. Whether he’s starting, long-relieving, or pitching in a completely new role, Blach has certainly done all he can to make sure he’s in the big leagues on April 2. He gave up two runs over six innings Sunday, walking one and striking out one while giving up seven hits. Blach has allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings this spring, but four of those came when he was ambushed coming out of the bullpen one day.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be in a good spot,” Blach said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season rolling.

After pitching out of the bullpen most of the spring, Blach got his pitch count up to 85 on Sunday. 

“We’ve gotten him stretched out,” Bochy said. “That’s a solid, solid job. We’ve got guys stretched out where you want them. We’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see as we get close here which way we’ll go.”

POSITION BATTLES: The Giants will carry a backup for Denard Span, and for about a month it looked like Gorkys Hernandez would be that guy. But Hernandez has slumped so badly this spring that he went over the minor league facility Sunday to get a ton of extra at-bats, and Justin Ruggiano has emerged, reaching base in nine of his last 16 plate appearances. The plan a few days back was for Ruggiano to go to Sacramento and get 50 or so at-bats to see where he’s at, but this is another race that could change in the coming week. 

Cory Gearrin has done his part to hold off any charging relievers, throwing two sharp innings while going back-to-back for the first time this spring. 

FAMILIAR FACES: A rough day for a couple of longtime Giants. Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco both have oblique injuries, hurting their odds of breaking with the Twins and Diamondbacks, respectively. Elsewhere, David Hernandez showed that he made a smart decision asking for his release. He was signed by the Braves. 

AROUND CAMP: Hunter Pence really does do all he can to make every single teammate feel welcome in the clubhouse. He spent some time with young right-hander Roberto Gomez on Sunday morning, learning a few Spanish phrases. When the players went out to warm up, Pence threw with Jae-Gyun Hwang. These are small gestures, but for the new guys, they matter. 

BARRY’S BACK: We all knew Barry Bonds would step into the cage at some point, and on a quiet Sunday morning, there he was. Bonds, 52, took about five or six easy hacks before crushing one out to deep right. He’s still got it. The other day, reporters asked Bonds if he could suit up in the WBC if asked. He said he can absolutely still hit, but he would need to DH and he would need a day or two off before games. Being a big league hitter is not easy, even if he always made it look that way.

 

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants knew Barry Bonds would step back into the box at some point. It happened Sunday, with Bonds taking a few cracks at BP pitches from Gary Davenport.

Bonds warmed up with a couple of lighter swings and then blasted a homer to deep right. That was enough, as the 52-year-old walked away with a big smile on his face. 

Bonds is in camp as a special instructor, and he still picks his spots to show off his legendary swing. When he was the Marlins' hitting coach last season, he beat slugger Giancarlo Stanton in an impromptu home run derby.