Team Record: 6-0 Standing: First Place, Northern Division (Two games ahead of Second Place Visalia)
It might seem like just another good start for the San Jose Giants, but the truth is that the team is turning its 20th season into its best, at least to start the year.
The Giants have been a perennial powerhouse in the California League. They had the best record of any Single-A team in the 1990s. Manager Lenn Sakata has led them to a playoff berth in every one of his years as manager, including each of the last five years. But the 2007 team set a franchise record for a winning streak at five games, and extended it Tuesday to 6-0.
The start has come with no particular outstanding individual performances, but instead with the usual outstanding team performances that mark a Sakata team. The team is smack in the middle of the league in terms of team batting in most major stats. They also are just fourth in the 10-team league in ERA and third in WHIP.
So can this team of little Giants keep it up?
The answer will most likely come from the outfield. The team's offensive power is mostly centered on the three outfielders that helped to lead the Augusta GreenJackets to one of professional baseball's best records last season. Mike Mooney, Ben Copeland, and Antoan Richardson have all been regularly lined up in the heart of the order. Mooney and Copeland blend speed and power, while Richardson adds elite speed.
So far, Mooney and Copeland have lived up to their billing. Both are batting over .300, and Copeland leads the team in RBI and hits.
Richardson, however, has taken his time warming up. He went hitless in his first two games, and is batting only .200 through Tuesday's game. He has gotten on base, with five walks, but he has also only been successful on two of his four attempts to steal bases.
The team does have other offensive prospects. Shortstop Emmanuel Burriss was a top draft pick, and also has top speed. Catcher Adam Witter is performing well after skipping Low-A. And William Thompson has also been placed in the heart of the order. But the grouping of outfielders is likely to be the barometer of the team's performance.
The Giants pitching is solid enough, but it will have questions to answers. Paul Oseguera had been a steady reliever in college while battling injuries, but started his San Jose stint in the rotation for his first professional start. Yosandy Ibanez is a 24-year old defector from Cuba who is making his American professional debut. And Dave McKae's fringy fastball has some wondering if he has the stuff to be a regular starter.
One thing you can expect is that this team will battle. They blew a big lead on Tuesday, and came back to tie and win it in the later innings.
They've also already gone into extra innings and prevailed twice in the young season. The team won the Northern Division first half title in 2006, and it would be unwise to bet against them doing it again in 2007.
Player of the Week: Ben Copeland
The team hasn't had any overwhelming performers in its record start, but Copeland has been right up there. Starting all five games in left field, Copeland leads the team in batting average (.346) and RBI (six). He is the only player on the team to have hit at least one double, triple, and home run. And batting in the No. 2 spot of the order, he has been an important catalyst in the offense, both in driving in runs and scoring them himself.
By the Numbers: 5
The Giants do lead the California League in one stat: triples. The Giants have hit five triples this early year, each one by a different player (Copeland, Brad Boyer, David Maroul, Barry Gunther and Richardson). And all this has been done without the team having yet played in Municipal Stadium, whose right-center field is made for triples.