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Friday, June 3, 2011

Giants Roadtrip Recap: The Shape of Things to Come

We have survived the first week of 2011 AB.

After Buster.

It wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always fun, but we did it. Like a junkie trying to kick a bad habit, in some ways that first week is the most crucial. In it you prove to yourself that you can do this. This is who you are now. And through the good and bad, you're gonna be ok.

More importantly, they did it. The Giants won a game without Buster Posey. They won a series without Buster Posey. They survived a roadtrip without Buster Posey. They slept through the night without reaching out for Buster Posey. They made it through the Notebook without crying aloud to Buster Posey. And believe it or not, all of those seemed to be in question there for a while.

Not counting last Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Marlins (in which the Giants literally fielded 9 holograms while the actual players were curled up in the fetal position, weeping openly in their lockers), the Giants are a surprising 4-3 in 2011 AB.

Yes folks, it's going to be ok. We've got 4 months left with this team. And while it's hard to fight the urge to mope around and wonder why this happened to Buster, it's time to move on. It's time to turn the page on Buster's injury, stop burning bags of dog poo on Scott Cousins' doorstep, buckle it up and get after it.

And in Milwaukee and St. Louis, the Giants proved that they can and will do just that.

The Giants can be proud of who they are. Look at them mom, they made it. They're ok.

On the surface, the Giants' series in Milwaukee looked like a disappointment. Save for a grand slam from rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford, the offense continued to be non-existent. A plethora of first-pitch outs made (FPOMs) and ugly swings on balls in the dirt described a majority of the Giants at-bats.

But upon closer inspection (particularly in light of their performance in St. Louis), Milwaukee may have been a necessary step toward surviving in this post-aPoseylictic world. They scored a huge come-from-behind win on Friday night, sparked by Crawford's grand slam in his first career hit. While they squandered opportunities to win Saturday's game, they did receive another gem from Jonathan Sanchez and erased a 2-0 deficit. Sunday was yet another nondescript, lifeless Sunday drubbing. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Sunday drubbings have all too common this season. In fact, the Giants have gone 2-6 on the Lord's day this season. They've given up an an average of 5.4 runs on Sundays vs. only 3.3 runs all other days of the week. And no, I don't have enough time on my hands.

In sum, Milwaukee wasn't as bad as it looked. In many ways the Giants were still trying to gain their bearings in this suddenly new season. Being in 2 of the 3 games and avoiding a sweep was a large victory in the grand scheme of things.

St. Louis

The significance of the series in Milwaukee revealed itself in the Giants' performance against the Cardinals.  Having lost 5 of 6, not even Henry Wofford could have predicted a series win for the Giants in St. Louis. Not only did the Giants do just that, taking 3 of 4 from the National League's hottest offensive team, but they beat them using their own offensive firepower.
Some credit the warm weather. I credit Bruce Bochy delivering a pregame speech similar to this:

 Monday's 7-3 victory was the Giants' highest offensive output since May 3rd...of 2010.

Tuesday's loss was a gut-wrencher, but at least it wasn't on the offense's shoulders. A two-run lead in the 8th is all you can ask of this offense. Without Posey and Sandoval, these are games you cannot afford to give away. Two run leads late in games may be at a premium for the rest of the season. You have to cash them in.

Wednesday night's 7-5 extra inning win was one of the more bizarre games of the season -- and I'm not talking about the lights going out. For one, it was just the third time this year the Giants won a game in which they allowed more than 4 runs. The Diamondbacks and Rockies have each done that 9 times. What's more amazing, it's just the second game they've won in which the starting pitcher allowed more than 3 runs. Read that one again. Again. One more time. Yeah, that's insane. Now you may be saying, "but how many times have our starters even allowed more than 3 runs?" 14 times. And we've won 2. The Giants offense finally picked up their starter.

Thursday night's game was icing on an already optimistic cake. Giants fans would have likely been satisfied with a 2-2 split in St. Louis considering the circumstances. But taking 3 of 4? That's just crazy. 

You want to talk crazy? The Giants scored 12 runs. 12 runs! Not only was it their highest total of the season, but they've gone 7 games this season without scoring 12 runs total (April 26 - May 2). In their four games against the Cardinals, the suddenly surging Giants offense scored 29 runs, more than they scored in their previous 10 contests.

But this night belonged to one man and one man only. Aubrey Huff was quoted as saying he woke up June 1st and told himself, "A new season starts today." Well, after hitting only 4 home runs through 54 games in  March, April and May, he now has 4 in the first two days of June. Two nights can't break a slump, but Thursday's performance should take some of the grind off. By finally laying off his usual poison of breaking balls in the dirt, he was able to look fastball, see fastball and hit fastball. Huff's slump became all the more dire the moment Buster Posey was injured. And on this night, he answered the call.

Am I flexing or preparing to punch myself in the face? On this night, flexing.
It's rare that you judge a road trip by anything other than the overall W-L record. But that's exactly what we have here. Obviously a 4-3 result is fantastic, but transcending the wins and losses is the fact that the Giants simply got through this road trip. The team was deflated and the fan base was devastated. But in situations in which nothing makes sense, sometimes the best thing you can do is just get back out on the field and seek stability from the familiarity of baseball's routine. The Giants needed to get back to the motions and show themselves (and the fans) that they are still a semi-functional baseball team. And that's exactly what they did.

There's no telling how this whole charade will play out. The offense has to improve, regardless of how well the pitching is. Bay City Ball put it perfectly: "No amount of pitching will be able to carry an offense this bad."

But the last 4 games have shown glimpses of a group on the upturn. Cody Ross is starting to make solid contact, Nate Shierholtz looks to get more consistent at-bats, and Freddy ".300" Sanchez continues to harness superhuman powers from his mole. Brandon Crawford is just really, really good looking.

It's a new season now. And Posey's absence will certainly be felt. But Wednesday night's bizarre, nauseating and thrilling victory was above all reassuring. This is still the same San Francisco Giants. And they still have a few tricks up those sleeves.

Song of the Week: We're Gonna Make It by Little Milton

The lyrics are pretty much inaudible, but the video is way too awesome to pass up. Here's an audible version of the song, but the moral is:

Cause togetherness brings piece of mind, we can't stay down all the time,
I've got your love and you know you've got mine,
We're gonna make it, I know we will

And finally, for Buster. Heal well, friend. I cannot wait to sing this to you on Opening Day 2012:

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