Return to health makes Giants optimistic
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium, you could see a brighter future for the San Francisco Giants. It was a future that was so bright that it looked a lot like 2010.
These are becoming the healthy Giants now. That means that they should also be the real Giants.
The backdrop for Tuesday's edition of renewed hope was only an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs and a 5-4 loss at that. But six of the eight position players anticipated to start on Opening Day for the Giants were in the San Francisco lineup, all hale and hearty. And one of them was catcher and cleanup hitter Buster Posey.
The very presence of Posey, behind the plate and in the lineup, was uplifting for the rest of the Giants.
"It was nice seeing him back there again," Tuesday's starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner said. "It was good to play with him again. I've been looking forward to it all year long, looking forward to seeing him out there looking strong and healthy. I was just glad to see him back there."
This was Posey's third start of the spring. He caught four innings. His movements appeared to be as fluid and as athletic as they were before he was injured.
It could be argued that the 2011 Giants never recovered from the horrific injury suffered by Posey. His 2011 season was ended on May 25 by a home-plate collision in which he suffered three torn ligaments and a broken bone in his left ankle and lower left leg.
Now, every exhibition game in which Posey plays, uneventfully, normally, is a cause for joy among the Giants.
"He's coming through these games with no problems," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He'll DH [Wednesday] and probably get a couple of days off then. You're right, that's the important thing is that he's not shown any problem with the catching part, or running the bases or anything. Probably early next week you'll see him getting stretched out. I think you'll see him up to six innings by the 20th or 21st."
The Giants won the World Series in 2010. They encored in 2011 with a season characterized by devastating injuries. This created a truly difficult situation that was further exacerbated by some substandard performances by Giants hitters.
Posey was absolutely crucial to the Giants' success, but he was far from alone in the San Francisco wing of the disabled list. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval had suffered a broken bone in his right hand in April. He eventually returned to the lineup, but the situation deteriorated further when second baseman Freddy Sanchez, a reliable contact hitter, went out for the season in June with a dislocated shoulder.
There were times when Showtime's "The Franchise," the inside-baseball series centered on the Giants, seemed to be in large part a documentary on sports medicine. This had become the inescapable theme of the Giants' season.
Through all of this, the Giants' pitching remained strong, although closer Brian Wilson missed time late in the season with elbow inflammation and starter Barry Zito missed much of the season with a foot injury. The Giants had the second-best team earned run average in the Majors, at 3.20. That was actually better than their ERA of 3.36, with which they led the Majors in 2010.
But the offense fell off dramatically. The Giants were a mid-range offense in 2010, finishing ninth in runs scored in the National League. Last season, they were last in the NL in that category, generating only 3.52 runs per game.
But at this moment, the health news for the Giants is showing promise instead of peril. Beyond Posey's encouraging performances, Bochy said that he hoped Sanchez could play second base by this weekend. Sanchez has been limited to appearances at designated hitter so far this spring.
Wilson looked strong in his first game appearance of the spring. Starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is making significant progress after being sidelined by a back strain. The Giants are approaching something like an actual state of good health.
"We are and it's a good thing" Bochy said. "With Posey, and with Sanchez getting close. With Vogelsong, he throws [Wednesday], he'll throw a bullpen and he'll take a couple days, then he'll face hitters and we'll have him on the mound. And of course, Wilson is pitching now. We're getting healthy at the right time."
Any time would be a good time for the Giants to approach full health, but yes, this is an ideal time to get healthy. Assume even average good health for the Giants in 2012, the usual wear and tear, but no season-ending injuries to key players. Combine that with the continued strength of this pitching staff and you'd have something very much like the combination that won everything for the Giants in 2010.
This team is not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but with this kind of pitching it didn't have to be that to win in 2010. It requires now some bounce-back seasons on the offensive side, and a baseball season with an absence of catastrophic injuries.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.