San Francisco Giants: April In Review

As we say goodbye to the first complete month of San Francisco Giants baseball, it’s time to look back on the month that was, and prepare for the season ahead. The Giants have already had ups and downs, ranging from offensive explosions to silence, and the rotation still has more to show before we get an idea of what we will see over the rest of the year.

The Giants’ two big acquisitions have certainly paid off so far for San Francisco. Veteran Tim Hudson has proved to be a reliable force in the rotation, finishing the month 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA, while Michael Morse will complete April with a .302 average and six home runs. San Francisco’s left fielder is only the fourth Giant with 20+ runs batted in before May 1, and has been joined by several of his teammates who have been heating up throughout the month.

“The offense has been picking up nicely,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “They’re starting to stretch out their at-bats a little bit.”

After starting the season slow, Hunter Pence has gone 15-for-35 in his last nine games, and has fit into the two-spot well. Brandon Crawford, who was originally slated to platoon, has hit .429 against lefties this season, a big improvement from last year’s .199 average.

Angel Pagan has returned that spark to the top of the lineup that the Giants had so desperately been craving last season, and the leadoff man will finish April with a .340 average. He has been able to play through a partial tear while knocking in 14 runs.

On the bottom of the lineup, Brandon Hicks has been able to fill in as San Francisco’s starting second baseman, already knocking out five home runs – one of which being a walk-off grand slam against the Indians on Sunday afternoon. The non-roster invitee impressed during Spring Training, and has been able to secure his role in the lineup for now.

While several players have been able to find their rhythm at the plate, others have yet to get there. Buster Posey is slowly finding his swing after a tough slump, and is 8-for-his-last-18. Pablo Sandoval has yet to get comfortable at the plate in the middle of a contract year. The Panda is batting just .177 with two home runs, and has just one hit in his last 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position..

The offensive outbursts have been a welcome sight for a starting rotation that has had trouble as a whole when it comes to getting started this season. Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum have been question marks at the end of the rotation, and while each has had his own solid outings, neither has yet to string together several solid outings. Lincecum recorded his first quality start on April 20 against the Padres, while Vogelsong recorded his best start of the season last Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. Both have had rocky starts and issues with their mechanics.

Hudson really has become the biggest contributor to this rotation, already pitching 45 2/3 innings with 31 strikeouts and just two walks. On a warm night where the ball is carrying better than normal atmospheres at AT&T Park, Hudson kept the ball down and finished just one out shy of a complete game. Before the game, Bochy had mentioned that it could be difficult to stay with the starting pitching on a night like this, but Hudson’s outing was just another example of how the veteran has been able to handle just about anything that has been thrown at him so far.

Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain have had their strong moments, but have not fully sparkled in No. 1 and 2 starter expectations. Bumgarner has had his own ups and downs, ranging from an eight inning, two run outing to a four-inning season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Still, his velocity has remained similar to last season and Bochy isn’t concerned. Fellow starter Cain has given up 13 earned runs over 31 innings pitched – almost half of which came from his most recent start against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field – and had to sit out of yesterday’s start after a Jeremy Affeldt-like index finger injury. Manager Bruce Bochy said Cain should be ready for his next start.

Yusmeiro Petit started in place of Cain lat night, and gave yet another example of how the Giants’ bullpen has been a major bright spot for the team this season.

“Petit has been the unsung hero,” said Bochy. “He helped in Colorado, and yesterday. It’s something we didn’t have last year.”

San Francisco relievers rank second in the league with a 2.06 ERA, and their ..203 opponents average against is the third lowest. Petit is just one of several who have come in and shut down opposing offense in important situations. Jean Machi’s four wins are tied for the second-most in the majors and his 0.66 ERA ranked as the fourth lowest in the National League. Juan Gutierrez has not allowed an inherited runner to score, Santiago Casilla has induced four double plays – tied for the most in the majors – and Sergio Romo is 6-for-6 in save chances so far.

“The bullpen is resilient. They’re able to pitch late, and not afraid to be out there,” said Bochy. “They’re right up there with the best. There have been some hiccups with the starts, and they’ve been there for us.”

Overall, the Giants have been able to put together the offense and pitching needed to finish April at the top of their division, but time will tell whether the bullpen can stay as sharp as they are, whether the rotation will find their groove, and if certain players will be able to get going.

As the season goes on, we may begin seeing some new faces at the ballpark. Heath Hembree has been a solid closer for the Fresno Grizzlies, holding opponents scoreless with the exception of last night’s two-run outing. He has five saves with four walks and ten strikeouts through 10.1 innings pitched. When asked about the talent in the minor leagues, Bochy was quick to mention Dan Runzler and Derek Law as well.

“It’s great to have the depth in the minor leagues. There’s some good power arms down there,” said Bochy. “In a long season like we have, it’s nice to have that luxury.”

The Giants finish April with a 13-11 record against their opponents in the National League West, and will begin May with a ten-game road trip in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Their away series against the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies mark the only two division match-ups we’ll see this month.

When asked about the way the Giants have been playing recently, Bochy said he feels like they are closer to who they are.

“The first month is getting a feel for who you are, and I like where we’re at,” he said.