What's going on with the Giants?
Not many baseball analysts saw San Francisco as the top team in the National League back in March, but through two months and change, that's exactly what the Giants have become. They have the best record and largest division lead in the majors, as well as the best run differential in the NL. The season is going so well that Hunter Pence even got his stolen scooter back.
So how is the orange and black attack doing it? Unlike when the team won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, pitching is only part of the answer. You won't believe this, but even though they play in a large ballpark, these Giants can hit, and star catcher Buster Posey has barely gotten started. Amazingly, San Francisco hits better at home (OPS .725) than they do on the road (OPS .703), but even if that trend doesn't hold up, the offense is built for the long haul with solid performances across several positions.
Particularly impressive is the outfield, where Angel Pagan is playing as well as he ever has, Michael Morse has slugged .571 to make up for the fact that he can't really play left field, and Hunter Pence is being the solid all-around player he always is.
Of course, the Giants wouldn't be where they are without great pitching, and they have that as well. Instead of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain leading the charge, Madison Bumgarner and freshly acquired ace Tim Hudson have turned into a two-headed ace that shuts down opponents with ease. When combined with a lights-out bullpen that features multiple hurlers with closer-quality stuff, you get a staff that is fully loaded and very tough to score on.
So be afraid, Mets fans, be very afraid. Or just remember that this series is only three games long, so anything can happen! Let's just root against a Mets sweep, though, lest the hype train get out of control. Just kidding.
Who are these guys?
Brandon Belt is on the shelf with a broken thumb, which stinks for San Francisco's offense (and for Belt). At least their defense can improve, though, by shifting Morse over to first and subbing Gregor Blanco into the outfield. The 30-year-old former Brave doesn't hit for much average or power, but he maintains value by walking a ton, stealing some bases, and playing great outfield defense. You might remember the incredible catch he made two years ago to preserve Matt Cain's perfect game. A career walk rate of 11.6 percent doesn't hurt Blanco's case, either, and he's a great example of how useful a player can be even if he doesn't hit very well at all.
If the Mets knew that Brandon Hicks was capable of hitting eight home runs in 50 major league games like he's doing this season, they probably would have given him a shot last year, when the 29-year-old journeyman was hitting a modest .283/.348/.450 at Triple-A Las Vegas. Originally drafted by the Braves in 2007, Hicks has always walked and struck out a lot, but he's until now lacked the power to stick around the big leagues as a "three true outcomes" guy. However, Marco Scutaro's back injury has given Hicks a chance to shine in the Bay Area, and if not for .215 BABIP and 30 percent strikeout rate he would probably be in the All-Star discussion.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Jon Niese vs. Matt Cain
Cain was sent to the disabled list with a hamstring injury after his May 21 start in Colorado, but he's scheduled to return to action tonight against our Metsies. Considering the way Cain produces fly balls, the dimensions of AT&T Park, and New York's lack of power, the outlook for the right-hander is pretty good. Fortunately for the Mets, Cain hasn't looked like the same guy who contended for Cy Young Awards from 2009 to 2012. During the past two seasons, he has still produced the low BABIPs that he's known for, but his walks and home runs per fly ball have trended upward and made him appear more like a mortal figure.
Niese's consistency this season has made him seem more like a cyborg than a mortal, but Mets fans should love him all the same for the way he picks apart opposing lineups and refuses to beat himself with walks. In his last outing, Niese pitched eight solid innings in Philadelphia, and given the efficiency with which he pitches, we should expect the lefty to go that deep a little more often.
Saturday: Bartolo Colon vs. Tim Hudson
The Mets aren't the only team that made a good deal with a veteran starter this winter. When the Giants inked Hudson to a two-year, $23 million dollar contract, they probably figured that they would get a reliable innings-eater who could keep the ball in the yard. What they got was one of the NL's best pitchers in 2014. Hudson has combined a remarkably low walk rate with a remarkably high ground ball rate to post a 1.75 ERA in 11 starts so far this season. The last time the Mets saw him was last July 24 when Hudson suffered a brutal ankle injury on a close place at first base involving Eric Young Jr. With the speedy outfielder out of commission for now, Giants fans are hoping that Hudson can shutout the Mets for seven innings like he did with his last two opponents.
Colon and Hudson have a lot in common. Both pitchers debuted in the late 90s, are using low walk rates to remain as effective as ever, and are big fans of the two-seam fastball. The strange thing about Colon is that he's using the pitch to rack up the strikeouts this season thanks to the sinker's ability to confuse left-handed hitters. He's still posting a ground ball rate of 39 percent despite the two-seamer's effectiveness. Whatever Colon is doing, though, is working. After allowing six home runs in his first three starts of 2014, he has let up just three big flies in his last eight.
Sunday: Zack Wheeler vs. Tim Lincecum
The opponents haven't been stellar, but over his last three starts, Wheeler appears to be blossoming into the ace we all hoped he would become when Sandy Alderson acquired him in exchange for Carlos Beltran in 2011. A rare combination of high strikeouts, low walks, and a high ground ball rate has made the 24-year-old's last three outings a joy to watch, and it's clear that his command is as good as it's ever been. Also, how many good pitchers to the Mets need to churn out for Dan Warthen to finally gets some credit?
Sunday's matchup pits hopeful future ace Wheeler against a former ace in Lincecum. The Freak used to be one of baseball's most dominant pitchers, but the last three seasons have seen him slide into mediocrity even while the Giants continue to flourish around him. Lincecum's strikeout rates have only dropped off a little bit since the glory years; it's his high amounts of walks and home runs surrendered that are the real problem. We don't know if he'll ever compete for the Cy Young Award again, but Lincecum is only 29 years old and is as durable a starter as they come, so a late career resurgence isn't out of the question.
Prediction: The Mets' slide continues with just one win out of three.
What about some GIFs?
With the Mets hosting San Francisco last September, Josh Satin hit a two-RBI single to cap a four-run ninth and complete a thrilling comeback victory.
How does first place feel? Just ask this young Giants fan.
Tailgating in McCovey Cove? Brilliant!