Giants still winning despite (unexpectedly) awful rotation

USA TODAY Sports

Pitching was supposed to be their strength, but even without, the Giants just keep on winning.

I like to think I'm pretty good at this whole baseball analysis thing. I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on how teams win, why teams win, what kind of performance is real as opposed to fluky, and do an at least above-average job of predicting the direction a team or player is likely to take going forward.

So what the hell have I been missing when it comes to the San Francisco Giants?

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Here are some facts:

  • The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series, doing so in 2010 and 2012.
  • The San Francisco Giants won the National League West in both of those seasons.
  • The San Francisco Giants are in first place in the National League West again right now.

Here are some other facts:

In my defense, outside of last year's Division Series and the 2012 regular season, my colleagues haven't done much better. Only three of the nine SI.com baseball writers picked the Giants to beat the Tigers in last year's World Series. Only two of the nine picked them to beat the Cardinals in the NLCS, and the then-11 SI.com experts went an astonishing 1-for-22 in picking the 2010 Championship Series (kudos to Albert Chen). As far as the regular-season picks, only two of 13 picked the Giants to make the playoffs prior to the 2010 season, and just one, my intrepid editor Ted Keith, picked them to win the West. Eight of 12 picked them to make the playoffs in 2011, with seven listing them as division champions, and this year, which is far from over, just two of seven picked them to return to the playoffs with just one of those picking them as division champion.

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw

So, at the very least I'm not alone in misjudging the Giants. Still, I have a few more facts for you to chew on:

  • As I mentioned before, the Giants are in first place in the NL West heading into Friday's action. They are also tied for the third-best record in the National League.
  • Matt Cain has a 5.43 ERA and 63 ERA+
  • Tim Lincecum has a 4.07 ERA and 84 ERA+
  • Ryan Vogelsong has an 8.06 ERA and 43 ERA+
  • The team as a whole has allowed the third most runs per game in the league, besting only the Mets and Brewers.

I'm beginning to think the San Francisco Giants are magic. That, or Bruce Bochy is.

There might be something to that. In 2010, the Giants were below average in run scoring but had the best pitching staff in baseball led by Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla. Since then, the balance of the team has tilted in the other direction, such that the Giants are winning this season with their bats rather than their arms as Bumgarner, Romo, and Casilla are the only men from the above list who have been above average this season while the Giants hitters have only been below average at first base and in left field.

Maybe what I've been underestimating is not the Giants as a team from year-to-year and series-to-series, but the Giants as an organization on the whole. I come by my cynicism honestly having watched the team grow old and useless around Barry Bonds in the middle part of the last decade under general manager Brian Sabean, who had been on the job for a decade by the time things bottomed out with a 91-loss season in Bochy's first year with the team in 2007, Bonds' finals season.

At that time, Sabean's role in helping to build the Yankees' dynasty of the 1990s as a scout seemed like a footnote, but by the time Bochy arrived, Sabean had already drafted Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Wilson, and Romo and signed Pablo Sandoval. The 2007 draft netted Bumgarner, 2008 netted Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, 2009 brought in Brandon Belt, and prospects Gary Brown, Kyle Crick, and Chris Stratton have followed since while the Giants have been busy winning the first World Series in San Francisco history. The Giants have also made smart moves at the major league level, from extending Buster Posey this spring to reviving Vogelsong's career, to buying low on Casilla, Javier Lopez, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Hunter Pence.

The result is still not a roster that thrills me. Brandon Crawford's bat and Barry Zito's arm have been too important to the team's success thus far this season for me to feel confident in them going forward, but then maybe my entire issue with the Giants is I'm overthinking it. Last year, the Giants lost Melky Cabrera, who was hitting .346/.390/.516 on the season, to a drug suspension and got better. I can tell you why (Posey and Scutaro caught fire and carried the team), but I sure as heck didn't see that coming.

Maybe the solution is to just approach the Giants from the other side. Rather than continuing to be cynical about their lineup and crumbling rotation, I should be optimistic. Bumgarner is an ace! Bochy is a genius! Cain will rebound! Vogelsong can't possibly be this bad! Lincecum and Zito can be reliably average! Some of what Crawford is doing is real! Sandoval will stay healthy! Belt will come around! Sabean will make a key deadline pickup! Posey will put the team on his back again! No one else in the division is any better!

This will take some practice.

More from SB Nation:

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