SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Entering the week, the 42-21 Giants are a full three games up on their cross-bay rivals for the best record in Major League Baseball. Unlike past post-season -bound squads where the starting rotation was called on to cover the blemishes of very bumpy lineup, this year’s team is deep.
While Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey will bet getting their share of All-Star consideration there are a handful of other players who have picked up their game and put the Giants on top of pro ball. Here’ s our countdown for the key surprises of 2014:
5 – Jean Machi
The bullpen could probably make a claim to earn all five spots on this list. It has been flat out dominant through the first 60 plus games. As a group, the Nationals have a slightly better ERA 2.17 to 2.39, but the Gaints’ pen has converted nearly twice as many saves, earned six more wins and held opponents to a tiny .211 batting average against. So who’s leading the Giants staff in ERA? It’s not one of the proven arms like Romo, Affeldt or Lopez, it’s Machi. He’s given up one earned run in 28 innings this season, good for a .32 ERA. He’s now become a reliable out creator and gives Bruce Bochy a ton of flexibility to get through the late innings.
4 – Angel Pagan
Having “table setters” who can get on base consistently is the hallmark of a solid offense, and the Giants really struggled in that department with Pagan injured last year. Now he’s back and in the top five in the league in batting average, hitting nearly 50 full points higher than his career average. He’s projected to score around 90 runs with 8 homers. It’s probably about what the team has hoped for, but coming off an injury, the constant production was no sure thing for a center fielder coming off hamstring surgery.
3 – Brandon Crawford
You’ve got to love watching a local kid make it big. The Pleasanton native made the team because he makes playing shortstop a work of art (aside from the occasional throwing error) but this hear his bat is making noise, and at opportune times. He’s only 2 homers short of his total from all of last year, and could flirt with 20 before the season is over – that’s Posey territory. Even more impressively, he’s driven in 32 runs already. That puts him on a pace to get 82 for the season. Any team with that kind of production out of the bottom of the order is going to be playing in the postseason.
2 – Michael Morse
Fantasy baseball enthusiasts saw – on average – about 300 players getting snapped up ahead of this guy in drafts before the season, which means he wasn’t even on a roster in most leagues. Now ESPN says he’s a top 15 outfielder and he’s added the homerun power to the middle of the Giants order that was seriously lacking last year. He’s probably the biggest reason the Giants have gone from second to last in the NL for home run power last year but are 2nd only this year to a team that plays in the rare air of Colorado.
1 – Tim Hudson
The 38 year old looks even better than he did in green and gold a decade ago. He’s never been a big strikeout guy, but his control and efficiency have allowed him to pile up scoreless innings and have made the once-risky $26 million offseason signing of an aging pitcher coming off ankle surgery look like the deal of the year.