If you had walked into any ballpark in America on Friday night, settled into your seat, and announced that you thought St. Louis Cardinals hurler Adam Wainwright was the best pitcher in the National League, you wouldn't have gotten much argument from the baseball fans around you. You may have gotten an odd look or two, especially if you were at Miller Park (honestly, why are you making such declarations at a Cubs-Brewers game, anyway?), but Wainwright has as good a claim as anyone to that title.
Coming into Friday's contest at Busch Stadium, Wainwright was 8-2 with a league-leading 1.67 ERA. He led the NL in FanGraphs WAR. In his past four starts, Wainwright was 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, and had been blowing heaters past everyone, striking out 31 while walking just three in that span. That's getting it done.
The San Francisco Giants, however, were not impressed. In 4⅓ innings, the Giants lit up Wainwright to the tune of seven runs on eight hits en route to a 9-4 win that improved San Francisco's record to 36-19. Yep, that's the best record in baseball, and the Giants also have the largest lead among all the division leaders.
What has propelled the Giants to this point? The club has suffered through injury problems to key players all season. Matt Cain has missed several starts (and will miss another one on Saturday). Marco Scutaro and Buster Posey have been fighting back problems (though Posey has been able to play through them, mostly). First baseman Brandon Belt fractured his left thumb.
Enter Michael Morse. Unlike the 2010 and 2012 World Series champion Giants teams that depended so heavily on pitching, the current incarnation of the club is scoring runs; San Francisco is currently fourth in the league in that category, while ranking second only to Colorado in home runs. Last winter, Morse signed a one-year deal, hoping to revive his career after a sub-par 2013 spent in Seattle and Baltimore, and he has had a huge impact thus far.
Morse has been superb, hitting .296/.354/.575 (.393 wOBA) with a team-leading 11 homers and 37 RBIs. He has also proven to be surprisingly versatile (though no one will label him a Gold Glove contender), shifting from left field to first base to help in the absence of Belt. But Morse's bat has been the big driver of this Giants offensive explosion through the first two months of the season.
Morse hasn't been alone, however. Angel Pagan has been steady in center field, and has been outstanding at the plate: .326/.367/.451 (.359 wOBA). Hunter Pence has also been very effective, hitting .287/.362/.463 (.362 wOBA) with six homers, and if things weren't good enough in Pence’s life, his beloved scooter was finally returned after it had been stolen.
Predictably, Posey and Brandon Crawford have provided excellent defense at catcher and shortstop, respectively. They've each had their moments offensively, as well. Truthfully, Posey's offense has not been, well, Posey-like, but he is second on the team with seven home runs. Crawford, on the other hand, has been somewhat better than expected: .237/.307/.424 with six homers. Speaking of defense, Brandon Hicks has provided an often-spectacular glove at second base in Scutaro's absence, and though his numbers look ugly (.185/.302/.384), he has provided almost-league-average production, including eight home runs. In fact, once Belt returns from the disabled list, the Giants will boast better-than-league-average offense at no fewer than seven positions.
Meanwhile, the pitching has only been middle-of-the-pack, but Tim Hudson (5-2, 1.92 ERA) and Madison Bumgarner (7-3, 2.85) have been brilliant, and hope springs eternal that Cain will get healthy and return to form.
What we are seeing is that these aren't the same Giants we had become accustomed to over the past few years. They've won eight of their past nine and, with 10 consecutive upcoming games against sub-.500 teams after this series with St. Louis is complete, San Francisco will be looking to put even more distance between itself and second-place Los Angeles.
Is anyone ready to revise those Dodgers World Series predictions yet?