There was no way that anyone could have predicted that the National League West would have the three best teams in the National League. The Dodgers have had the best record in the National League (and probably all of baseball) since April. The Rockies have surged since firing Clint Hurdle and the Giants have quietly put together a good season. But the Giants seem so ordinary. How are they doing so well and will they continue to do so?
Part of the ordinary feel of the team from San Francisco is that they don't hit very well. Out of sixteen National League teams, they are fifteenth in runs scored, fourteenth in home runs and dead last in On Base Percentage and OPS. In fact, only two regulars have an OPS+ over 100. Several regulars are really struggling at the plate. Bengie Molina has a 78 OPS+ and has walked only three times in 271 plate appearances. Second baseman, Emmanuel Burress has an OPS+ of 49. Others on the wrong side of the OPS+ list: Renteria (68), Randy Winn (82) and Fred Lewis (92). Sandoval has been a pleasant surprise and leads the team with a 151 OPS+.
The strength of the Giants is their pitching. They have two number one pitchers in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The two are now a combined 17-4 and each have an ERA+ over 170. Lincecum is simply unbelievable. He now has 134 strikeouts in 114 innings pitched.
But not only do they have two number one pitchers, they have decent three and four pitchers in Barry Zito and Randy Johnson. Face it, neither one are going to give you the fire they had in their best years, but they are better than most three and four pitchers for most teams. Johnson can still strike people out and his K/BB ratio is a healthy 2.78. Zito has a 96 ERA+. If he can stay around the 100 mark, the Giants will be very happy with that. Their only problem so far is the fifth starter. Jonathan Sanchez wasn't getting the job done. But they just got a great start from newcomer, Ryan Sadowski. So if Sadowski can lock down that position, they will be in great shape.
Starting pitching has led to a great bullpen. They have seven relievers with ERA+ figures over 100, most of them way over. And those seven have 159 strikeouts in 187 innings pitched. That's pretty good.
The Giants did score ten runs on Monday night against a good Cardinal team (while Lincecum was pitching another gem) so that is hopeful. But the Giants' hopes are pinned to their top two pitchers and the bullpen continuing to get the job done. Looking at their lineup, they don't have the kind of players that will get much better. In other words, guys like Renteria, Winn and Molina are well past their primes. They could use some more help for their offense. And like a lot of teams, they are one or two injuries away from being a poor team as they don't have any depth.
If the Giants' pitching holds up, they have a good shot at the wild card and it will be an interesting battled the rest of the way with the Rockies to see which team gets that spot.