For the second series in a row, we face a team that's last in the NL in scoring at the start of the series. Funny how Arizona lost that particular superlative as soon as we showed up.
Here's my preview on San Francisco's hitters, bullpen, and game one starter.
When the Giants Are Up
--The Giants are the most impatient team in baseball, having drawn just 71 walks so far this year. Their most free-swinging free-swinger is catcher Bengie Molina, who like Cristian Guzman hasn't yet drawn a single walk this year. (It'll be fun to see if he can keep it up against D-Cab.) He's actually producing pretty well at the plate, slugging .577 and destroying lefties. Unfortunately for the Giants, judging by his career numbers, his terrible OBP is likely to continue, while his .279 ISO power is overdue for a 120-point correction. And there are a lot more right-handed pitchers around than lefties.
--Venezuelan 3B/C/1B Pablo Sandoval is another swing-at-anything guy. He's also off to a decent start, hitting .298 / .336 / .462, but he's a little more likely than Molina to maintain his current pace. He's just a rookie, but he's showing the rare bad-ball hitting ability that allows some guys to succeed despite awful strike zone command. Dude can hit, especially left-handed.
--Things are not going nearly as well for the rest of the Giants' hackers. First-baseman Travis Ishikawa actually was a pretty patient hitter in the minors, drawing walks in over 10% of his plate appearances across AA and AAA last season. However, handed the starting 1B job this year, he's lost his way at the plate, walking just 4.2% of the time, and his power has vanished completely as well, not coincidentally. The Giants have benched him for the moment, but since their options are either a) Rich Aurilia or b) playing Sandoval at first and starting Jose Uribe at third... well, it ain't pretty. How about Josh Willingham for Henry Sosa?
--All you folks who booed the Lerners for not signing more free agents, behold Aaron Rowand. Rowand was as highly regarded as any free agent in the '07-'08 off-season, and he's been decidedly awful. Five years, $60 million. And he's only just begun to decline.
--On April 29, 2007, Randy Winn was caught stealing. Since then, he's been successful in 43 of his last 45 stolen base attempts. That's really pretty incredible. Sadly, he's making outs more than 70% of the time he comes to the plate. He'd be quite an asset as a fourth outfielder on a good team.
--Left-fielder Fred Lewis is a speedster with modest power but good on-base skills. He swiped 21 bases with a 72% success rate last season while swatting 11 triples in 468 at bats. He's also a very good defender in left field. Still, he needs to hit for more power than he is (his SLG is lower than his OBP so far this year) to be an asset in left field. And at 28, he's not really that young. He's another every day player in San Francisco who's really better suited to a bench role, or at least a platoon.
--The Giants were hoping for a bounce-back year from 33-year-old Edgar Renteria when they foolishly handed him two years and $18.5 million. He'll never hit .322 again, since that came on a once-in-a-career .375 BABIP. So far this year is looking like a continuation of 2008. He's actually walking at a decent rate for pretty much the first time in his career, but his line-drive rate is way down. Hard not to think he's just gotten old. He was always a terrible fielder.
--DC-native Emmauel Burris is a slap-and-run guy. He's got good contact skills, speed, and he actually walks a little bit. So far this year he's getting on base at a .351 clip while stealing 9 bases in 12 attempts. He's only 24, and he can provide some value, especially with his excellent defense. It's just that if you're going to win with a guy like this at 2B, you need boppers at the classic power positions, and the Giants don't have any.
On the Mound
Randy Johnson: The Big Unit isn't close to the pitcher he once was, and he's always one more back issue from retirement. But he's still got plenty of heat. He's averaging 90-91 on is fastball, and there are plenty of lefties out there getting by with worse.
But for the first time in 17 years, the Big Unit is having command problems. He's walking 4.55 per 9, more than double where he's been almost every one of the last 10-12 years. Chances are he'll settle down and finish with a solid year (and 300 wins), but right now he's looking very hittable.
In the Bullpen
The Giants bullpen ERA is 3.88, good enough to tie them with the Dodgers for fourth in the NL. They've converted 64% of save opportunities and allowed 32% of inherited runners to score, which is about league-average this year, and their team win probability added is a just above break-even +0.35, which is good enough for fifth in this year's NL. Basically, it's a good, not great group.
Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson closes. He saved 41 games last year despite a slightly unlucky 4.62 ERA. He's a groundball pitcher with good, not dominant strikeout numbers. Free agent lefty Jeremy Affeldt throws hard and gets a lot of grounders. Strangely, he was used as a mop-up man by Dusty Baker this year, but he's succeeding in a much higher-leverage role this year. Bob Howry is bouncing back after his round 2008 and more or less reminding everyone that a 70-inning sample size isn't enough to write off a relief pitcher with a track record of success.
If you're wondering about bullpen solutions, Affeldt and Howry are two guys that Bowden could have had cheap.
Season Record: 19-10
The Nationals have yet to win a game started by Daniel Cabrera. Not that this is totally his fault. He's left the game with leads twice and a tie score once in six starts (which is more than I can say for, oh, let's just say Scott Olsen for instance). Still, the fact remains.
Most troubling here is that the Nationals are in the midst of a 6-game stretch against the two worst offenses in the league, and although they took 2 of 3 from the D'Backs, the bullpen is burnt. They desperately need a couple good 7-innings-plus starts, and if they can't get it against these teams, they won't get it anywhere. I plead with Manny to let D-Cab throw 120 pitches tonight unless he absolutely falls apart. It's the only reason he's here, and if you're going to cap his pitch cound at 92, you may as well have signed Randy Johnson.
I'll go out on a limb and say the Nationals win one here. Cabrera's wildness matches up well with the Giants' hackery. And our bats are hot. I'll say Nationals, 6-4.