Angel Pagan is one of the game's most oxymoronic and underrated players. At his core, he's an above-average offensive bat that hits for a high average with a fair amount of pop for a speedy leadoff hitter. The hits have been falling in more than usual, making him one of the National League's better players in 2014. He's the spark plug of the Giants' above-average offense.
Hunter Pence is a pretty good player, a guy who will make an occasional All-Star Game appearance and occasionally garner some down-ballot MVP votes but is best suited to be the second or third-best hitter on a contending team. Pence is the active leader in consecutive games played, with 292. He has seen action in every single contest since the Giants acquired him at the trade deadline in 2012. Safe to say that Cal Ripken Jr. isn't sweating just yet. Pence's nickname on Baseball Reference is "Captain Underpants". I can't make this stuff up.
Though he's coming off a good series against Colorado, Buster Posey has been slumping somewhat since the middle of last month. His line sat at .306/.403/.492 after May 11, but he then managed just two hits in his next 20 at-bats before aggravating his lower back when swinging the bat on May 18. Posey returned to the lineup four days later and has more or less maintained his batting average, but hasn't drawn a walk since and has just three home runs to his credit since the beginning of May. The fact that his back caused him to miss three more games at the end of last month leaves concerns that it may still be affecting his play.
Everyone knows Pablo Sandoval as "Kung Fu Panda," but per Baseball Reference, "Fat Ichiro" and "Round Mound of Pound" are equally acceptable. A career low in line drives and a career high in pop-ups have caused Sandoval's 2014 batting line to be worse than any he's put up in previous seasons. Furthermore, his walk rate and strikeout rate have both trended in the wrong direction and it's easy to see why from the PITCHf/x data; sliders are eating him alive. He's swung at nearly 73 percent of sliders and is whiffing 50 percent more often than he usually does.
On Sept. 29, 2012, Michael Morse was involved in one of the strangest umpire rulings that I've ever seen. Check it out. He hits one off the top of the wall, and it's initially ruled in play. Morse is out in a rundown, but after review, they turn it into a grand slam. He's then forced to run the bases backwards and take a fake swing at an imaginary pitch before he can take his home run trot. Brandon Belt's injury has shifted Morse from left field to first base, and the 6'5'' beast of a slugger is enjoying a resurgent season near the top of the National League home run leaderboard.
With regards to playing time, Tyler Colvin has been one of the chief benefactors of Brandon Belt's injury. Colvin has some power against right-handers but has major contact issues and isn't the greatest corner outfielder. He's struggled so far this season and has been splitting time with Gregor Blanco. Blanco is a better defender than Colvin and walks a surprising amount for a guy with little power to scare pitchers away from pounding the zone.
When the Giants won the World Series in 2012, Brandon Crawford's bat was pretty weak. He's improved his power production since and is now slugging close to .450. Crawford has always been a good defender at short, and if he sustains this season's gains at the plate, he'll have become a legitimate plus player on both sides of the ball. Right now, he's on pace to hit a bit over 20 home runs, and if that holds, he's basically peak-form Juan Uribe with the added ability to draw walks. It would have been nice if Juan Uribe drew walks.
The one spot in the batting order where the Giants could use a bit of an upgrade is second base. Brandon Hicks has a 30 percent strikeout rate and a low batting average. He has pretty good power for a middle infielder, however, and draws enough walks to keep his OBP respectable, though sub-par. The walks don't appear to be a batting-8th-in-the-National-League mirage either, as he's managed to maintain that pace in other batting order slots and has a good track record of drawing free passes in the minor leagues. Hicks has lately lost playing time to Ehire Adrianza, a disaster for all parties involved except Ehire Adrianza.
This is a two-game series, but the White Sox will face the Giants again in August so we'll tackle the full rotation. Madison Bumgarner is an ace, and a great example of what happens when a top prospect turns into exactly what everyone expects him to be. He doesn't have a huge fastball, but his slider is one of the best pitches in the game today. He's been very healthy over the course of his young career and has cemented himself as one of the National League's top pitchers. The icing on the cake? He doesn't turn 25 until August.
For years, Matt Cain has been a guy whose results far outpaced advanced metrics. That came to a screeching halt last season, as some of his fly balls finally started leaving the yard. Unfortunately for Cain, it's not looking like a one-season blip at this point, as hitters are teeing off on him like never before. An uptick in walks and a slight reduction in strikeouts haven't helped his case. He hasn't lost much velocity which makes the 29 year-old's decline fairly surprising. Like Bumgarner, Cain's experience belies his age. Over the course of the past decade, he's been one of the best pitchers in the game.
Tim Hudson is 38 years old and leading the majors in ERA. No big deal. He's fought aging well in part because he's always been more finesse than power and in part because his velocity decline has been slow over the course of his 30s. He keeps the ball on the ground and this season has been particularly stingy with free passes. Hudson has had some of the luck factors on his side, including a lower-than-normal BABIP, a high strand rate, and a low rate of home runs per fly ball. However, these things are typical for a guy with the best ERA in baseball. Hudson might be old, but he's still a pretty good pitcher.
If you go by Baseball Reference, Tim Lincecum has been below replacement level every season since 2011. The Freak is damaged goods, and all that's left is plain old Tim. His velocity is notably down from his peak seasons, and his average fastball is below 90 mph in 2014. Without the big fastball, Lincecum made a noted shift in his pitch selection in 2011 to throw many more sliders and fewer heaters. It makes sense, because his once-great fastball is now very hittable and the slider is still effective. Despite the slider, Lincecum's ERA is 4.79 since 2012 despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park. He is one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball.
After repeated ineffectiveness over the course of the decade, Ryan Vogelsong finally washed out of the major leagues in 2006 before surprisingly resurfacing as an effective starting pitcher in 2011 at age 36. After a rough 2013, Vogelsong has been a perfectly capable back-end starter this season. He averages about 90 mph on his fastball and throws a slider, curveball, and changeup. Vogelsong throws his fastball less than 50 percent of the time, so he changes speeds frequently to keep hitters guessing.
Sergio Romo had been one of the game's most effective relievers for several years prior to 2014, but this year has been no picnic for him. His ERA sits at 5.08 after a couple drubbings from the Rockies this past weekend. The peripherals don't exactly paint an optimistic picture. Romo's strikeouts are down and he's allowed five home runs in 28 innings. Despite the high ERA, opposing hitters have a BABIP of just .213 against him. Romo's problem is likely his slider, a pitch that he throws about half the time. PITCHf/x data shows a notable reduction in horizontal movement for the pitch this year. The slider is what made Romo a great reliever in the first place, so there's a pretty big problem if it's losing its bite.
Outlook & Prediction: The Giants have the best record in baseball and have a commanding lead in the NL West. The Dodgers are dangerous, but it's unlikely that the Giants will be caught. Predicted record and finish: 93-69, first place, NL West.