Weren’t You Supposed To Suck?

Who doesn't love them some Baby Panda?

Who doesn't love them some Baby Panda?

In 2008, the San Francisco Giants were brutal. Comically bad. Well, they weren’t Washington Nationals bad, but it was close enough to make a comparison. If this were European soccer, the Giants would be rolling through AAA right now. But hey, this is ‘Merica, and we don’t send our crappy teams to the minor leagues. And thus, the Giants have taken the opportunity to redeem themselves so far in ’09.

We here at Midwest Swing don’t mess with the N.L. West (it’s not the Left Coast Swing for a reason), but it was fairly obvious to any casual baseball fan that the Dodgers would roll through the West, the Diamondbacks might be decent, and the Padres and Giants would suck. As we near the halfway mark of the year, it turns out those predictions are mostly wrong. Arizona is pretty terrible, but they can blame part of that on a big injury to ace Brandon Webb. San Diego is pleasantly not awful -but not good either – (33-42 record) and Los Angeles is dominant like expected, despite missing Manny Ramirez for the last 50 games. The big surprise is the Giants, who currently lead the NL Wild Card race at 41-34. They rolled into Milwaukee over the weekend (see, you stick around, and this will make sense) for a 3-game set and attempted to lay the newfound smackdown on the Crew. And instead of giving you a boring recap of that series, I’m going to give you a boring explanation of why the Giants are a decent team this year. I don’t have to give reasons for my decisions, but I found it interesting. And so you will, too.

Some may think the Giants are only good because of Tim Lincecum, their Cy Young-winning, hippie hair-having, complete game-tossing ace, but he’s only part of the 2009 solution. San Fran is currently tied for the MLB lead in team ERA at 3.61. Starters have hurled seven complete games – only second to the Kansas City Fightin’ Zack Greinkes. And they lead the majors in strikeouts with 594 (7.92 per game). Lincecum is 8-2 with an ERA of 2.37 (expected) and Matt Cain has been fantastic this year (9-2, 2.57 ERA, not entirely expected). Even Barry Zito and his $126 million contract has been good. You compare that to last season, when San Fran was 17th in the majors with a 4.38 ERA, Cain struggled to a 8-14 record, Zito lost 17 games, and you can see why the Giants are making a surprise run at the playoffs this year.

Los Gigantes still struggle on the offensive side of the ball, but Pablo Sandoval, aka the Baby Panda, is hitting .336 with 11 bombs and leads the league with the coolest nickname. Actually, Sandoval and Bengie Molina are both already in double digits for dingers. In 2008, Molina (16) and Aaron Rowand (13) were the only Giants with over 10 homers. That’s some high school style softness right there. They’ve also moved up from 23rd in defensive fielding percentage last year to 10th this season. Considering they didn’t really add anyone but Sandoval (a rookie), it’s a pretty interesting turnaround for the team that hasn’t done shit since Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run a few years back.

Well, I don’t know why they interest me so much, but if they end up making a run at the playoffs in September, remember that you heard it here first. And if they don’t, then, well, you won’t remember this anyway, so whatever.

As for the Brewers-Giants series, the Crew won 5-1 on Friday behind an outstanding performance from Yovani Gallardo. On Saturday, the Brewers came back from a 4-0 deficit with a 3-run shot by Prince Fielder and a solo bomb from Casey McGehee to tie the game. Then Trevor Hoffman gave up two runs in the 9th, but Prince saved the day with a walk-off double in the bottom of the 9th to lock up a 7-6 win. And on Sunday, Ryan Sadowski shut down the Crew in his major league debut as the Giants avoided the sweep with a 7-0 win. Jeff Suppan was prominent involved, so Milwaukee wouldn’t have won anyway, but it would have been nice to score at least once. What’s up with the Crew getting smacked by pitchers making their debut? That’s the fourth time already this year they have lost in that situation.

So yeah, that was fun. At the end of the series, the Brewers were percentage points ahead of St. Louis for the division lead, and the Giants led the Cards by a 1/2 game for the Wild Card (though it’s way too early to talk about that, I’m doing it anyway).

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