(May 18) They're just past the quarter pole in the long long slog through the baseball season, the San Francisco Giants are.
The club's record stood at 20-20 on Friday, 40 games played of the scheduled 162, and although the remaining games may play out for better or worse in the event, finishing the season with half those games won would constitute an improvement over recent seasons, providing a measurable personal consolation I admit for dashed hopes that the club might do much better than that this year. In that respect at least, so far, so good.
Concerns aroused on Opening Day that the club might do worse or even much worse for the rest of the season have frequently enough been validated in miffed play and missed opportunity, with the acknowledged intervention of the admittedly remarkable feat of some athlete on the other team's squad also bearing its own responsibility for the bad outcome now and then.
The experienced, not to say grizzled, veterans of baseball collected on the Giants' lineup this season were gathered there with an eye to avoiding just such calamities with a steady (but it was hoped non-too stolid) season's play in the field. Half the time the assembled Giants squad can't yet meet this expectation. Maybe the warming weather of midseason will limber them enough to cause improvement.
Predictably, Giants relief pitching has coughed up a bunch of games, a likely trend for the foreseeable future with that staff, so any improvement will have to come from somewhere else in the squad. Hit into fewer rally-crushing double plays, move the guy along, make the other team beat you, don't beat yourself, catch that ball, make that play, all that sort of talk needs not only to be taken to heart but more adroitly practiced if the team is to be any better in the balance of the season than it's been so far. Waiting around for the presumptively drug-depleted Barry Bonds to crush yet another home run is a handy tactic the Giants have available, but not a strategy for winning a majority of the club's remaining games. The Giants recently called up outfielders Lewis and Ortmeier from their Fresno AAA club in the absence of injured Dave Roberts. Lewis hit for the cycle in Denver, with a home run, a triple, a double, and not just one but two singles. Veteran outfielder Randy Winn has responded by delivering a week's worth of sharp appearances at the plate himself.
The starting pitching could hardly be improved. It's been admirable. Even the vaunted left arm of Zito seems to be coming around after its disastrous introduction to the team and its fans on Opening Day. It will be interesting to see how it responds to his start tonight in Oakland against his old team, the Athletics, here on the verge of midseason, that long middle of the scheduled games overlapping summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day in America.
UPDATE: (May 19) Hardly had the notoriey of the first day of the season fallen satisfactorily from immediate recall than Barry Zito reproduced last night in Oakland as best he could the exact flavor of his bad first day on the job just across the Bay. Not all of the 15 runs the Athletics scored last night were scored against him, but he did set the tone.
UPDATE: (May 19) The Giant's 7th inning from tonight's game is curious:
B Bonds singled to right. O out OAK 3 SF 0
R Klesko lined out to center. 1 out OAK 3 SF 0
B Molina homered to left, B Bonds scored. 1 out OAK 3 SF 2
M Sweeney struck out swinging,
M Sweeney safe at first on wild pitch by D Haren. 1 out OAK 3 SF 2
M Sweeney stole second. 1 out OAK 3 SF 2
O Vizquel popped out to third. 2 out OAK 3 SF 2
M Sweeney to third on wild pitch by D Haren. OAK 3 SF 2
K Frandsen grounded out to shortstop. 3 out OAK 3 SF 2
Sweeney showed some pep in his progress around the bases in that inning, beating it on down to first when the pitch he swung at and missed for strike three eluded the catcher, then successfully if improbably stealing second base from there, and then once again on his own initiative going from second to third on the pitcher Haren's second wild pitch of the inning. Sweeney didn't complete the circuit of the bases for a run, but more than made up for striking out in the first place, turning his missed stroke into an apperance at third base with no appreciable help from the two who followed him in the lineup.
Each game of baseball evolves uniquely from the press of its bounding rules on the activities of its wilfull participants. Often enough a nice, nice, bit of play leads nowhere, as was the case with Sweeney's advance here. The score for the inning remained the same from his failed hack at the ball to Frandsen's mistruck grounder that conclusively ended the thing at last, the same score it would have been had the catcher simply caught the ball Sweeney missed in the first place. It was nice, nice, baseball, even though effectively it might as well not have happened at all.
UPDATE: (May 21)
Good pitching beats beats good hitting, and visa versa—A truth universally acknowledged in the lore of baseball.
In spite of the repeated comic lapses of Zito's left arm, the collection of starting pitchers on this year's Giants squad is better than any they've gathered together in more than a decade. Yesterday's series (and road trip) ending game in Oakland featured Matt Morris, pitching one of the best games pitched so far this year in all the National League, giving up 2 hits and a run in nine innings and credited for the win. Morris is now 5-1, and but for the previously mentioned tendency of his team to play quite poorly at times, could as soon be 7-1 or 8-1 instead.
The Giants, past the quarter mark, are now 21-22, within striking distance of mediocrity. With good play tonight against the Houston club they'll have it in hand, satisfying my own admitted minimal standard of appreciable improvement on their part for the year, the winning of all of the games half of the time. Achieving that, and some nice play like Sweeney's the other night, would make for a bearable season, I'm thinking.