Armed And Dangerous: Excuse the awful heading, but in my eyes, pitching has been both the Giants shining glory and their ultimate downfall.
Winning seemed a thing of the past with the demise of Robb Nen before the first game of the regular season. All of a sudden, the pitching staff had to change. Tim Worrell stepped up into the role of Closer despite a severe lack of heat. The bullpen stepped up as well, saving many close games. Their performance as a whole was a key factor in the Giants success. Their work hid a lot of the nuances and faults of the Giants new starting pitching.
And speaking of starting pitching, there was a lot. The "original five," consisting of Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter (Woody), Damian Moss (now a Baltimore Oriole), Kurt Ainsworth (also an Oriole), and Ryan Jensen (last year's surprise, now something of a Triple-A, one-year bust). Jason Schmidt has truly been the Giants Knight in Shining Armor. Every time Schmidt has taken the mound, he has given the Giants a chance to win. Rueter, to some extent, has done the same. He had an amazing record coming into June. Due to injury and less-than-desirable outings, he failed to win another game until September, and he was undefeated after that. Damian Moss started off entirely well enough, going 5-0 in his first five, but his "effectively wild" style failed to go over well with management and the fans. At the deadline, it was "goodbye." The same was true of young Kurt Ainsworth. He, however, seemed to have much more going for him than Moss. A "pure" pitcher, with good stuff and good control, Ainsworth left the season fairly early, with what can only be described as a freak scapula (shoulder blade) fracture. Jensen had an awful first start then left the next early with lower back pain. He was seen once since then.
Next there are the replacements, and there were many. When Ryan Jensen left with a back injury, prospect Jesse Foppert was called up from Fresno. He amazed with his second-degree fastball but struggled later in the year with walks and is now out after Tommy John (ligament replacement) surgery. When Jason Schmidt's mother, Vicki, succumbed to breast cancer, Jerome Williams was called up for a start. He went back down after that but was called up yet again. Another call-up was Brian Powell, now in another farm system. Other starters were surprising Kevin Correia, who made a quick jump from Double-A Norwich to the Senior Circuit, Jim Brower, out of the bullpen to replace Moss and Rueter, Chad Zerbe, another bullpen guy who came in on short notice for Rueter, late acquisition Dustin Hermanson who won his way into the rotation, and deadline Sidney Ponson who is still the source of controversy, and many people wish to see him out of a Giants uniform. (See: Seeking Answers: Sidney Ponson) All said, the Giants used a grand total of 13 starters. I'd prefer to think of this number as…a lot.
Then, there's the bullpen. Ranked as one of the best in the National League, depth played a key role in the ‘pen's effectiveness. Joe Nathan had the most wins of any reliever — 12. Jim Brower proved his value in a series of spot starts. Chad Zerbe made one spot start and greatly exceeded expectations. Jason Christiansen made a successful comeback from Tommy John surgery, and he proved himself with a three-pitch strikeout in one outing, but Scott Eyre was the bullpen's left-handed mainstay. Matt Herges, a late acquisition from the San Diego Padres, was the unsung hero of the staff, consistently making short work of the opponent. Felix Rodriguez was up and down, at his best, making hitters look like fools, and at his worst, being hit like it was batting practice. Worrell, as before states, performed marvelously out of the bullpen for the injured Robb Nen. Admittedly, when Worrell did not get sufficient work, he simply could not find the plate, but it seems that each of the Giants pitchers had that problem at one time or another — most notably, this problem was prevalent in Giants rookies.
Behind The Plate: Here we have the veteran, Benito Santiago, who seems to get younger every year, and we have the young and upcoming replacement, Yorvit Torrealba, who is waiting in the wings for his chance to shine.
Santiago started out the year well, but by the middle of the season, his bat was less than satisfactory. A jammed pinky finger on some iffy base running failed to help matters. Santiago's bat heated up in September, which was really his time to shine and prove himself. However, that seemed to be small compensation for a year that saw him passing too many balls, failing to block pitches, and making some very poor decisions on the basepaths. True, Santiago is an excellent choice
Torrealba, on the other hand, used this year with Benito's time on the disabled list to prove himself. He did so through difficulty, as his wife faced emergency surgery earlier in the year, and his grandmother passed away just a few months ago. Torrealba's fundamentals are solid, and he consistently gets in front of the ball. His arm is comparable to Santiago's, and he is substantially younger.
The third and rarely heard of catcher is Alberto Castillo, who spent a good deal of time playing in the Mexican Leagues, until he was called up. He started off with a bang, hitting a grand slam in front of the home crowd. He made few appearances, but he sure put on a show.
The absolute backup is utility man Pedro Feliz. No comment.
All right. So, age really isn't the point of this segment, but it is a factor in what I have to say and the future of the position on the Giants team. Snow found his spot this year. Surprising to some, it wasn't at the bottom of the order. It was in the two-hole. Yes, J.T. one of the "slow ones," found his place batting second. Unlike Cruz, he has revealed himself to be a patient hitter and had a solid on base percentage for the year, even if he didn't always get hits. Must be a speed issue. He still played solid defense on the year, but he was out for some substantial chunks of time with strains, mostly of the groin. With age comes susceptibility to injury.
On the subject of age, take a look at our spirited and adored backup, Andres Galarraga, El Gato Grande. At 42 years of age, he proved that he still belongs in the big leagues. True, he just isn't fast, but with his age comes experience, as was demonstrated in his smart baserunning. Galarraga is also a role model for a lot of the rookies and youngsters in the clubhouse, notably catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who idolized the Big Cat in his youth in Venezuela. The Big Cat consistently hits the ball hard, and his goal before retirement is 400 homeruns—he's just two short.
Pedro Feliz can play first, too. Impressive.
Glaring Replacement: What? Find a replacement for Jeff Kent? Impossible! …Right? Wrong. It was a tough thing, finding someone to fill in for Kent, at least defensively. Wait. That wasn't the hard part. We found Ray Durham, formerly of the Oakland Athletics to fill our needs. In comparison to Kent, Durham is quicker, compensating for his…lack of height. Durham had an impressive on-base-percentage on the year, though is quickness was not utilized in the "small ball" strategy as skipper Felipe Alou had hoped. Finally, "Ray from Across the Bay" pulled through for the Giants in the clutch. Admittedly, his hamstring injury put a large damper in the Giants' designs.
They tried to work around the injury in a number of ways. The Giants finally wound up picking up Eric Young from the Milwaukee Brewers. He performed well, coming to a contender, was a competent replacement for Durham, and generally showed a lot of heart. He failed to make the playoff roster for space reasons, and because of contract situations, he's probably gone. Durham, however, is on with the Giants for some years to come, and his contract is quite back-heavy.
This Is The Hot Corner: Edgardo Alfonzo did not live up to expectations. That was the first half. Then he got hot. Still, some said that that was not enough to redeem him
Alfonzo wasn't the hitter behind Bonds that everybody expected him and thought he would be. At the start of the season, he was downright Popsicle-esque. That is to say, pretty darn cold. It is generally agreed that Alfonzo is one of the toughest men to strike out — fourth in fact. His bat actually began to heat up sometime in the month of July, and he was fairly solid from then on. Alfonzo played a key factor in the Giants playoff run, short as it was, and is finally showing that he has the potential not to be a liability during his tenure in the orange and black. Alfonzo definitely was not the .300 guy the Giants were hoping he was — at least not at first — but his later performance was something to behold, and his lack of strikeouts makes him a good candidate to hit in a solid middle position and advance the runners.
Pedro Feliz also played a good third base. Again, the man plays almost anywhere. Utility at its finest.
Ready For The Tough Hop: Some see Rich Aurilia as the heart and soul of the Giants team. He plays hard; he takes every comment, every game to heart.
Aurilia has seen some less-than-desirable times this year. He has been something of a liability, with his eye problems and an emergency appendectomy. Aurilia is a solid player and has grown steadily better over time. His bat is solid, and when he's on, he can hit almost anything. Admittedly, Aurilia has slowed down since an All-Star year in 2001, but he missed numerous games, due to the previously mentioned injuries, neither of which are terribly common. A career Giant, he risks losing his contract this year, simply because of financial problems and money going into other players' long-term contracts.
Gold-glover Neifi Perez has played fantastic backup for Aurilia at short. He has an amazing arm, glove, and hands, and he constantly treats the fans to quite a defensive show. Perez is also a decent hitter, and he was key to the Giants' strong bench.
The Boondocks—Now With Much More Recognition: Barry Bonds. That about sums up the Giants in left. Bonds has become a fixture in left, and at age 39, he can still perform. Sure, people say that his age will get the better of him, but there are no signs of him slowing down yet, and the Giants like it that way. Despite what you think of him, Bonds was one of the best things to come to the Giants in a long while — yes, even I remember his coming over 10 years ago. Questionable arm withstanding, Barry has produced this year, against all odds, playing through his father's suffering and eventual death, and still excelling. It doesn't matter that he takes a few days off. It is almost expected. We bring in the backups to take his place. Take a pick: pickup from Milwaukee Jeffrey Hammonds, chronically injured Marvin Benard, prospect Todd Linden, utility man Pedro Feliz. They rarely make the news. Bonds breaks records, makes headlines, and does the seemingly impossible.
Coverage: The Giants gave Marquis Grissom a chance to play center full time, and he met the challenge beautifully. Coming from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Grissom had been playing only part time. When he came to the Giants, he was out every day, playing his heart out, and he was willing to hit anywhere Felipe needed him.
When Durham was out, Grissom led off spot. When Aurilia was cold or the Giants needed someone in the three-spot, they turned again to Grissom. When the needed nothing, Grissom was perfectly fine with hitting at the bottom of the lineup. Grip, as some know him, also played solid defense. Centerfield is big, and PacBell (SBC) Park's is no exception. There was a good deal of running back to warning track, running into walls, sliding, and just playing hard. Again, it's good that a player showed up, because Grissom, like Durham and Alfonzo, has a long-term contract.
Wheeling It Big: There is little doubt that playing right field at PacBell (SBC) Park is a challenging thing. That may even be an understatement. Jose Cruz, Jr. has met the challenge PacBell's (SBC's) outfield stunningly, meeting the challenge of his predecessors, making a fair bid for the gold glove in the process, and even being compared to Roberto Clemente. Rarely missing a game, he has racked up the outfield assists and has the potential to be a human highlight reel. His defense is, for the most part, excellent, but his bat has been his downfall. Cruz simply is not a patient hitter. He has a tendency to strike out, which has hurt the Giants, especially with runners in scoring position. This lack of offensive production hurts Cruz's chances of being re-signed.
The Unmentioned: True, not every player was mentioned in this hopefully comprehensive and relatively quick overview. I just couldn't include everybody. If you want to know about any player that I didn't talk about, just email me and I can write something else up in the off-season.
This Really Is The End: I had wanted to be more light-hearted and comical in this final look at the Giants, but I simply can't bring myself to it. That would be even harder to write, and such an article would entirely undermine the feelings of grief being expressed by many-a-fan. If anybody wants that kind of view, I'm sure I can be found in the off-season. In March, I can be found back where we started last year — Spring Training.
Amy Lew has been writing close to anything and everything for SFDugout.com since its inception. . A Giants fan since age eight (1994), she writes ‘Who's Hot and Who's Not,' does her fair share of special features, and serves an unofficial editor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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