After a month into the season, we still have no idea what kind of team this is. A Punnett square to help explain the possibilities:
For the first part of the season, they were erring on the side of the upper-right corner, with 60 percent of the rotation spinning duds, but the lineup scored enough to make for it. Then they shifted to the bottom-left corner, and it was 2011 again, BYOB, in which the last "b" was either booze or Beltran, depending on your preferences. Now, for this three-game winning strike they've been all over the place. They've had, in order, a rough outing, a stellar outing, and an iffy outing from their starting pitchers, and they've scored just enough to win in all of them.
I can't figure out if we should expect the Giants from the last game at Coors, the Tim Hudson Giants from Friday night, or today's Giants. I guess there's another possibility. The Ron Howard square.
That's the 81-81 square. There are worse squares. Maybe that's the Giants' square. I have no idea. The different paths to success and failure since 2008 are all so danged different. This team enjoys messing with us. But I'm pretty sure that warm, pleasant feeling over the last few days is cautious optimism. I'll take that over whatever was wrong in San Diego and the first part of the Colorado series. Let's go for a lower-right for three-fifths of the games, and an upper-right for the other two each time through the rotation, with the various heroes and scoundrels switching places every so often.
Mostly, I want to believe in a team that can string hits together like this team did on Saturday. It's so much easier to watch, even if the starting pitching was shaky.
It's a known fact that Zacks make better baseball players than Zachs. Don't bother arguing. There's a Hall of Famer and an ace on one side, and Zach Duke on the other. Unless you want to claim they get credit for Pat Zachry, which is just sad. This is probably why the Giants shouldn't have made the Beltran deal. And for four innings, the Giants looked like they were facing Zack McAllister. You had an idea of how the rest of the game was going to go.
But in the fifth inning, there were runners. Consecutive runners. There were hits with runners on base, even. The Giants took the lead they wouldn't give back, and our glorious Saturday wasn't spoiled. That's the story of how everything worked out.
Except, let's look at one of the heroes of the inning, even if he isn't the one that comes to mind right away. Gregor Blanco had a huge hit and a stolen base, which was long overdue and most welcome. Michael Morse started it off, and Hunter Pence gave the Giants the lead. Angel Pagan had another great at-bat that probably deserved more than one RBI. Those are the obvious heroes.
The inning doesn't happen, though, without Brandon Hicks working a tough, tough walk. A reminder, this is Brandon Hicks:
Average patience, poor control. That's how a middle infielder with 20-homer power gets left in the minors for most of his 20s. Obviously, brickish hands didn't help his cause, but usually players like Hicks can be just one refinement away from sticking around.
Here's the plate appearance in question, from Brooks Baseball:
The three green squares just outside the zone were fastballs with running movement coming back to the plate. All of them came after the third pitch, that red square up there, which was a well-placed fastball to put the count at 1-2. The three subsequent fastballs weren't a mistake from McAllister; that's right where he wanted them to be, give or take. And on another day, with another umpire, the Indians possibly get out of the inning without taking as much damage.
Instead, Hicks walked. He's just one behind the team lead. If you think that's frightening, don't look at who leads the team, because that's even weirder. We're almost certainly still in sample-size hell, but if there's any chance that Hicks has tightened up his strike zone, any chance all, the Giants will have yet another Goodwill success story.
Even if he's the same old Hicks, you have to respect that plate appearance.
Tim Lincecum ...
The thing about Tim Lincecum is ...
Hey, everyone, I figured out what's wrong with Tim Lincecum, and all he has to do is ...
Heck, I don't know. At this time last season, it was obvious that Lincecum had no idea where the ball was going. He was gripping and flipping like a guy trying to knock down milk bottles and impress his date at the carnival. The hitters would sit on the fastball, and if they didn't wave over an offspeed pitch, they'd hit it 450 feet or walk. So many danged walks.
This year, the walks are gone. Hooray? But the binary choice of missing/hitting it hard is still there. He's moved from not knowing where it's going at all, to not knowing where it's going in the strike zone.
My guess: The other shoe is going to drop, and the control will eventually regress. Lincecum had stretches of one- or two-walk outings in 2012, too. The difference with this year is that this stretch is coming at the beginning of the year, so we're paying more attention to it.
I will say, though, it was refreshing to see Juan Gutierrez get Lincecum out of a stat-melter of an inning. There's no way that would have happened last year.