But just as Giants fans should not have been euphoric last year with how well the season started, Giants fans should not be ready to jump off the bandwagon quite yet. The Giants have been beset by injuries, some foreseeable, some not. And many players had slow starts, but some are appearing to be snapping out of it now. But it is too soon to be claiming that one is right just because of the poor start.
The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Being right one-ninth into the season don't win any prognostication awards. Only being right at the end of the season is what counts. Being right so early could be Primo Prognostication or it could just be dumb luck. Would anyone have believed that Florida would win the World Series one month into last season? Heck, their manager at the one month mark was not even the manager who led them to the World Series.
Willie McCovey went 4-4 in his first major league game, foretelling his Hall of Fame career. Johnny LeMaster homered in this first at-bat, which only goes to show how freaky that feat is. Willie Mays famously started his career 0-12 and was a miserable 1-24 when he finally got his second hit but he was able to hit .274/.356/.472/.828 in 464 at-bats his first season. Dan Gladden hit .351/.410/.447/.857 his first season with the Giants in 342 at-bats. And you know who had the way better career. If one season's worth of performance does not necessary foretell what's going to happen, how would less than one month's worth of games be enough to proclaim oneself to possess "foresight". That is the height of lunacy and totally premature and immature.
At the End of One Inning, Does it Matter What the Score is?
It is too premature to gloat and claim to be right in their forecast, whether good or bad. At the number of games we are at, basically we just finished the first inning and we are in the bottom of the second inning. And the Giants were 7-11 after the aforementioned 18 games (or one "inning" of the season), not good by any stretch of the imagination but that was greatly affected by the replacement of Ray Durham with Cody Ransom, enough said. Taking those games out, the Giants were 6-8, so losing Durham cost us around one win. Unfortunately, he's injured again more seriously and we're going through another stretch without him again. Alas, it looks like he is becoming injury prone and last year was not an aberration.
But like last year, the key question is whether his replacement will keep the team on a winning note or not. As I had noted last season in a couple of articles, the Giants record with their bench players were very close to and sometimes better with the bench players than the starter. Last year, it was Neifi who kept the team over .500 when coming off the bench while Cody Ransom has not been the answer this season (and indeed has been replaced by Brian Dallimore and Deivi Cruz for the moment). That's why the Giants kept Feliz but dumped Rivera and kept Benard on the DL as long as they could.
The unusual thing this year versus last is that Durham's replacement became Pedro Feliz. This is because Alou moved Edgardo Alfonzo to 2B, clearing 3B for Feliz, for a while until it became clearer when Durham might return (or so Alou claimed, though it came on the heels of Alfonzo butchering three plays at 2B the game before). Last year the team went 28-19 when Feliz batted at least 3 times in a game (presumably starting), good enough for a 97 win season over 162 games. However, this year the team is just 6-13. This just illustrates that a team is always a sum of its parts, all its parts, and while Feliz is hitting for a higher average this year, his power is way down, and that's being reflected in the Giants poorer record with him in. But he's starting to come around too, having hit a couple of homers in consecutive games, so who knows.
And like last year, the question now is whether Feliz will deliver. Again. Because last year, pre-Fringe people were questioning whether Feliz could deliver or not. They were calling for him to be traded. Given his .793 OPS in 2003, it looks like the pre-Fringe were wrong last year, though certainly his track record up to that point in the majors was not encouraging. However, he did once hit .298 with 33 homers in AAA, so he did have success at the highest levels of the minors and it wasn't like he's never hit before, the question was whether it was good enough for the majors. And he finally did.
And Just Because They are Journeymen Doesn't Mean They Aren't Valuable
And like last year, pre-Fringe people were saying "Jim Brower? Who's he? A journeyman pitcher? Doesn't matter as long as we got rid of Livan." But it did matter. Sure, we got rid of Livan but most people were calling for him to be traded for a old pair of bowling shoes or a used deck of cards. Instead, we got someone who was integral to the bullpen, filling many roles during the year. He was a very valuable member of the bullpen – as his reliever splits prior to the trade suggested that he would be – plus was good as a spot starter as well.
And like last year, pre-Fringe people were saying "Dustin Hermanson? Another journeyman pitcher? He hasn't pitched well for years!" And he hadn't. But he was injured during that time of low performance so one couldn't really know from the stats what he would do. But one did know that when he was on earlier in his career, he was a very good pitcher, certainly good enough to take the 5th spot in the rotation, if not the 4th spot. And he did well in spot duty in 2003 though thus far in 2004 has had his ups and downs, but it's still early.
Main Problems so Far
So that's one win lost for Durham being out but then there's the problems with the performances of Schmidt and Rueter, two key starters. Both have not been sharp for various known and unknown reasons to start the season. The Giants over the past two seasons were 43-15 with Schmidt on the mound and 44-16 with Rueter on the mound. However, this year the Giants were 2-3 and 3-4, respectively, with them on the mound and both have performed erratically. If the Giants were winning at the rate of the past two years, that would have resulted in records of 4-1 and 5-2, respectively, or a total of an extra 2 wins apiece. That's five wins lost that we usually would have, making their current 13-18, 7 games back record, reversed to 18-13, only 2 games back.
That's not to suggest that they are to blame or that we should be happy about our current record either. There is nothing to be happy about with the team in the cellar and so many games back, except for Bonds amazing feats and Grissom's great start to the season. But, if Schmidt and Rueter can come back and pitch well enough to make up for their poor stretch early this season – and they have had bad stretches every year, just usually not both at the same time and early in the season – the Giants would make up 4 games in the standing during the season and be that much closer than now.
And that's the main point I'm trying to make, that there is an ebb and flow to the season. That's why, despite the Giants hot start last year, the Dodgers finally got their players all performing together and caught up with the Giants and the D-backs got help from their prospects to get back close to the Giants, before the Giants pulled away from the pack in the second half of the season. Most people forgot about that, they just remember the wire-to-wire win and the huge lead we had at the end and not the struggles we had in May and June. Thus, to read the tea leaves so early in the season is basically as accurate and suspect as reading tea leaves, as the team could rise again once all our key players are producing and you would have made unnecessary moves, costing your team either trading chips or more money.
Giants Roster is Always a Work in Progress
In addition, the Giants roster is always in flux, it never stands still. Sabean always tinkers with the roster when there are problems and now has a manager who tinkers like he does. And he usually starts his problem solving with internal solutions because he always stocks up in the minors with players just in case of a rainy day. And internal solutions often involve the journeymen, spare parts players that can be stored at AAA via cheap acquisitions or throw-in players.
Last year it was starting problems so they brought up people from AAA who were hopefully ready. Luckily, Jim Brower, Jerome Williams, Dustin Hermanson, and Kevin Correia delivered while Foppert only ate up innings. That's what they are doing this year except the problems are team-wide: offense, starting pitching, bullpen.
But players are already starting to come out of their early season doldrums: Alfonzo, Pierzynski, and Tucker all have started hitting better, closer to their career norms, and Schmidt and Rueter have started pitching better. And the team has gotten boosts from unexpected sources like Tony Torcato and Brian Dallimore on offense, Wayne Franklin and Tyler Walker in pitching. A team, if it is to win, needs both to do well.
But will they continue? Who knows? I certainly don't and neither do the Lunatic Fringe. They have predicted disaster for the team. I have predicted that the team should do well enough to win the weak NL Western division. A week ago, the Fringe were gloating "I told you so." After going 5-2 on the latest homestand, the Fringe weren't looking as right anymore. With the sorry start of the road trip, the pendulum swings again. But where will it end and in what direction? One won't know until the end of the season, it is too soon to claim clairvoyance, though certainly they appear to be more prescient at the moment. But it is way too early to claim any sort of "victory" in prediction.
In any case, Sabean has now used many of the cards that he had up his sleeve. Although he still have few more sitting in reserve in AAA and AA. However, internal options are obviously drying up and future external moves will soon be necessary.
What these moves are will be dictated by areas where the Giants have a surplus. As usual, surplus is all relative. With Feliz's emergence and Dallimore's hot start, some have suggested that Alfonzo could be on the trading block. But I don't really see anyone taking him right now without the Giants taking the other team's headache. Plus I still think that Alfonzo will eventually come through; he already is hitting .294 since his low point in batting average, with a .379 OBP since being moved ahead of Bonds in the lineup. If Alfonzo can't drive in Bonds, perhaps he can get on base and force other teams to either pitch to Bonds or advance runners via an intentional base on balls.
However, it is looking like Alfonzo is every bit the streaky hitter that Mets fans warned me about. But there's still time for him to have a good year. Kent got off to a poor start in 2002 and recovered nicely, so that's a good example of the fact that there's plenty of time to recover and have a good season.
Any Big Move Now is Premature
Besides, it is too soon to be making moves. Moves made now are acts of desperation and the other GMs will sense the blood in the water and go for the throat in any trade negotiations. The price of any trade will necessarily be exorbitant and costly to the Giants, unless another hot head like Milton Bradley implode and a team suddenly wants to deal. But that's the problem, the hot head is now in your hands and you don't know when the music will stop, is it now or is it never? Do you feel lucky, punk?
Will he suddenly mature and give you a great performance for at least one season without having an incident or will he revert to type and do it again? Oh yeah, that's right, oops, he just did it again. That's not a sign of maturity, it's a sign that he still hasn't matured.
Sometimes a trade will shake the player and he'll follow the straight and narrow. But really, how many players do you know of that are trouble makers eventually matured in the spotlight of pro sports and reform themselves? It is more like a game of Perfection, with the timer ticking off furiously, except that you can't read the face of the timer and so all you know is that it is ticking with no idea when the loud DING will tell you that you are out of time and luck.
Lots More Games to Play
So Giants fans, especially those now ascribing to the Church of Eternal Lunatic Fringe, please hold onto your hats, the ride is not over. This is a time for internal solutions and the bouncing of a number of fringe players to find one who can perform well and stick in the majors, at least for this season. A big move is more likely closer to the trading deadline, when teams have finally decided that their season is over and they may as well trade some of their better players for some great prospects (and some of the Lunatic Fringe are talking about trading Barry Bonds!).
But right now a big move now will cost the team Big Time and cause more fans to cry in their garlic fries. And I don't think that's going to happen, you're just going to see more call-ups of players from the minors. So please sit down, I and other realists want to enjoy the season and see what's going to happen next, even if you have "predicted" this downfall and want to gloat very loudly next to us about it; my one hand is already clapping.
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.
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