Aubrey Huff

Early struggles give Giants a needed dose of reality

Just ask any A’s fan. Or any Dodgers, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks fan around here — that is, assuming D-Backs fans actually exist. The Giants’ offseason was silly with good feelings, self congratulation and unabashed love from old fans, new fans, bandwagon fans and people who didn’t want to be left out of conversations about “The Beard” at their work happy hours. It’s enough to make opposing fans sick, and it’s enough to give the Giants themselves a false sense of superiority in a new season.

That’s why this 1-3 start against the Dodgers shouldn’t lead to Giants fans drawing the shades, sobbing under the covers and mourning the smugness they never got to fully enjoy. In four games we saw a couple close losses, a blowout straight from the second half of last season to reassure the guys that they still have the talent to succeed, and another somewhat close defeat. Enough to remind the Giants that despite the parade, the commercials recreating the parade and everything else, there’s still little margin for error. Remember, the playoff run was extremely difficult save for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, and without Brooks Conrad they might not have survived the first round.

With that World Series win, the Giants have built up enough equity to quell fans’ natural reaction to freak out. It’s frustrating to watch Aubrey Huff take three wrong routes on the same fly ball, Barry Zito’s fastball barely touch 84 mph, or to see Dan Runzler look like some middle reliever for the Pirates instead of a member of the mighty Giants bullpen.

But Aaron Rowand’s hitting the ball as well as anyone so far. Brandon Belt is an early (emphasis on “early”) favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. Pablo Sandoval absolutely crushed a ball into the right field bleachers last night, causing several Dodgers fans in the vicinity to throw down their machetes, brass knuckles and TEC-9’s in disgust. Besides another fat pitch to Matt Kemp (which Giants pitchers seemed unable to avoid all series), Zito’s velocity worries were sort of quelled by above-average break and location on his off-speed pitches. Well, for him anyway.

Besides, while the Giants would have loved to jump out to a great start, lead the NL West wire to wire and win 110 games, that was pretty unrealistic considering the schedule and hangover from all the celebration and adoration. This year’s squad was never going to peak early*; they still don’t know what they’re going to look like a month from now, let alone the end of the season.

(*For the sanity of Giants fans everywhere reading this, we’re not going to bring up the possibility that the Giants peaked in Spring Training. That’s just silly talk. Stop it.)

Perhaps the best part about the bumbling Conrad-esque style of play the Giants showcased in their opening series was a realization that all the focus on the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation and East Coast bias is a waste of energy. An NL West championship isn’t an inevitability for the Giants, and even in their championship season of 2010 they started 1-5 in their first road series against L.A. and S.D., and went on to go 3-11 in their first 14 road games against NL West opponents before rallying in the second half to finish 19-17 in that category.

As the kids would say when I was a kid, there’s hella season left. Hell. Of. Season. Bruce Bochy deserves some time to see how this year’s team fits together. It’s going to look odd at times with all these veterans playing high-stress defensive positions. But once they figure things out, Giants fans can go back to driving A’s, Padres, Dodgers, Rockies and “D-Backs” fans crazy once again.

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