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Monday, June 13, 2011
Giants still team to beat in NL West

By David Schoenfield

So, what's gone wrong this season for the World Series champions? Well ... Buster Posey is out for the year. ... Freddy Sanchez just joined Posey on the out-for-the-year list after dislocating his shoulder. ... Brandon Belt is on the DL with a broken wrist. ... Aubrey Huff, last season's best hitter, is hitting .234 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage. ... Miguel Tejada is hitting .227 with one home run and looks older than a redwood tree -- and moves about as well as one. ... Pablo Sandoval hasn't played since April 29. ... Andres Torres missed nearly 30 games. ... Nobody has more than eight home runs. They're 15th in the NL in runs scored. ... Barry Zito has made just three starts. Madison Bumgarner is 2-8. ... Tim Lincecum has allowed 16 runs his past three starts.

Matt Cain
Matt Cain, who tossed a perfect game in June, is a worthy pick to start the All-Star Game for the NL.
Let me catch my breath. So, what's gone right?

The Giants are 37-29 and leading the NL West by one game over the Diamondbacks. That .561 winning percentage puts them on pace to win 91 games, just one off last year's 92.

Of course, we know how they're winning: great starting pitching, great bullpen. Their 3.27 ERA from the rotation ranks just behind Philadelphia (3.20) and Atlanta (3.20) in the NL. The bullpen ERA is 3.20, seventh in the NL. The bullpen also has a 17-6 record, as the Giants completed their 20th comeback win of the season on Sunday, most in the majors. They're 18-9 in one-run games and 7-3 in extra innings.

Can they keep it up? Their record in one-run games is probably unsustainable, so they'll have to score more runs. Ryan Vogelsong is unlikely to keep pitching like this: In his past seven starts, he's allowed six runs. Their run differential indicates they should be .500, not eight games over, so while they haven't been hitting, they have been getting timely hits, something else that might be unsustainable.

Bill Hall is not the answer at second base. Signed after getting released by the Astros, he was hitting .221 with a 56/9 strikeout/walk ratio. The only decent year at the plate he's had since 2007 was last season with the Red Sox. He's merely adequate defensively, and that might be kind. They're going to have to improve at second base. Of course, they also have to improve at shortstop, where Tejada and Mike Fontenot are not the answers.

On the positive side, Sandoval will return Tuesday to help boost the offense. Zito just made a good rehab start in Class A, so when he's ready the team will have six quality starters, opening up trade possibilities. The Giants are 10-8 since Posey was injured. The bullpen is so deep they can't even find enough innings for Sergio Romo and his 0.71 WHIP.

But it's that rotation that still makes them the team to beat. Despite the team's offensive struggles, I wouldn't bet against Lincecum, Matt Cain and company just yet.