|Guess who wasn't in the preseason predictions for early season heroes?|
But those flashes are about it. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, and were supposed to be better (on paper at least) here in 2011.
One of the most important things they boasted going into 2011 was depth. Someone high up in ESPN or Sports Illustrated or whatever even called them the deepest team in the league. And that has saved them from face-planting so far this year.
For most of Spring Training, the big questions were "What to do with the outfield logjam?" and "What happens if one of the pitchers gets hurt?" These are questions that weren't really a problem last season at all.
In 2010, every starter made almost every start, with only the fifth spot being platooned between Todd Wellemeyer and Madison Bumgarner. In 2010, everyone pretty much knew what the outfield was for most of the year, and when they added Pat Burrell, Andres Torres, and Cody Ross, there was nothing to worry about there.
In 2011, people are hurt. That just didn't happen last year, and the Giants and their fans definitely took it for granted. Mark DeRosa hurt himself early, but then Andres Torres came out of the dugout and people kind of forgot about all that.
First, Cody Ross hurt his calf, which lessened the overcrowding in the outfield for a month. It gave Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz an extended look to see which one was more expendable.
And then Torres went down. The Giants went from having too many outfielders to having to play the Water Buffaloes plus Aaron Rowand EVERY DAY because there weren't any outfielders on the bench. At least Aaron Rowand has been hitting, but to put that in perspective, Madison Bumgarner pinch-hit against the Dodgers. Luckily Mike Fontenot homered before he got up there.
And then Barry Zito grew a mustache. And got in a car accident. And fell awkwardly off the mound and got an injury that can only be remedied by not doing anything (AKA pitching) for a long time. So that pitching depth that was one of the only concerns going into the Cactus League was finally going to be tested, due to a guy who was missing the first time due to injury in 12 years in the majors.
Luckily, the Giants had a second-chance-special starter waiting in the wings.
But the team is still not as deep as I would like it to be. There still isn't a clear backup shortstop. Mark DeRosa hasn't stepped in to being a regular anywhere, and while he can still play 30 positions, he's not doing any with consistency, for some reason. Miguel Tejada is hitting .195; DeRosa is hitting .333 in limited at-bats.
Darren Ford is providing intangible depth in the outfield. For a guy who still doesn't have a major league hit, it seems that every run he scores is important. Yesterday it showed how speed can tie a game, with Ford going first to third on a hit-and-run and then scoring on a sac fly, and also win a game, going first to third on an errant pickoff and then scoring on a ground ball with the infield in. Amazing. Batting average: .000. Usefulness average: 10 bajillion.
It was a bummer having to send Brandon Belt to the minors, but if there was one position that I had no worries about in the slightest, it was first base. The depth chart at first was as follows: Belt, Huff, DeRosa, Sandoval. That's deep. Even with Belt gone, the Giants have lots of insurance. They also have depth on the 40-man and at Fresno, with Travis Ishikawa and Brett Pill down there.
THEN SANDOVAL GOT HURT. But he was OK so I stopped thinking that I did something personally to anger the baseball gods.
While it's clear now that the Giants still have more than 80 percent of their season left to go, they're already dealing with the unforeseen more than they had to in 2010.
Rotation uncertainty is not something that they can afford. Lineup changes are a little more manageable, but not if everyone on your bench plays first base and left field. Imagine a bench full of J.T. Snows and Moises Alous. Sure, they'd hit the snot out of the ball and be really good at their respective positions, but if there was any sort of roster crunch, they wouldn't help you out very much.
The Giants are being tested early on. Take out three of the catalysts (Ross, Torres, Uribe) and your World Series MVP (Renteria) and you've got an entirely different chemical reaction going on. So far it has only been sporadically impressive. Professor Bochy has to experiment some more before I feel more comfortable.