2008 San Francisco Giants
2008 San Francisco Giants / Franchise: San Francisco Giants / BR Team Page
Managed by Bruce Bochy
Opening the Season
The 2008 San Francisco Giants came to spring training without Barry Bonds for the first time since 1992. Without their offensive leader, the Giants, who were next-to-last in runs scored in the National League in 2007, would look to several inexperienced players to support their strong, young pitching, both offensively and defensively. But, though the Giants, the media and many fans refered to these players as "kids", many were old enough to have peers who could be refered to as veterans: Rajai Davis (27), Fred Lewis (27), Dan Ortmeier (27), Kevin Correia (27), Brad Hennessey (28)...
There were holes to fill at each corner as the previous year's infield: 1B Ryan Klesko and 3B Pedro Feliz left as free agents (Klesko eventually retired without playing in 2008). Ortmeier was the prime candidate for first base, but he struggled all spring and finished the exhibition games by giving up switch-hitting and becoming an exclusively right-handed batter. Kevin Frandsen was slated to get the third base job, but was written off for the season after he ruptured an Achilles' tendon in March. Eugenio Velez would be given the opportunity to phase into the second base job following the 36-year-old Ray Durham's disappointing 2007, and the 41-year-old Omar Vizquel was expected to be the lone holdover; but Vizquel had knee surgery at the end of February and was projected to miss the first week or two of the season.
As spring training closed, expected utilityman Rich Aurilia was made the regular first baseman despite hitting just 5 home runs in 2007. As the team headed north, Jose Castillo was claimed off waivers from the Florida Marlins to play third, and it was confirmed that 2007 Single-A shortstop, Brian Bocock, would fill in for Vizquel during his injury (which turned out to be the first six weeks of the season). 28-year-old Steve Holm was a surprise to make the club to back up Bengie Molina at catcher despite having never played at AAA.
Davis, Lewis, Randy Winn and off-season free-agent signing Aaron Rowand all saw significant playing time in the outfield in the opening weeks, but when the Giants attempted to send Davis down after he began the season 1 for 18, the Oakland A's claimed him off irrevocable waivers.
Barry Zito was the mildly controversial Opening Day starter despite a disappointing 2007 and despite pitching to 72 batters without a strikeout before registering his first K of the spring. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Correia filled out the rotation that began the season.
From the Gate
Without the Bonds home run record chase of 2007, the Giants' home attendance fell 15%, from 39,800 to 33,700, through the first third of the season. As they were at the close of 2007, the team was once again next-to-last in the NL in runs scored, but in 2008, they had also fallen into the lower half (9th) in surrendering runs. After 54 games, the Giants stood at 23-31, in 3rd place and 7 games out of first.
With the noxious combination of a 6.52 ERA and less than 1.5 average run support in his first 9 starts, Zito started the season 0-8, prompting gnashing of teeth over the huge long-term contract he had been offered only a year before. Zito finally got his first win of the season with a season-best 6 1/3 inning performance on May 23rd at Florida. Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum jumped out to a spectacular opening to his sophomore season, going 7-1 in his first 11 appearances and putting himself in contention for the league lead in ERA (2.33) and strikeouts. Matt Cain, struggled a bit to a 2-3 record, as his HR and walk rates were up through his first 11 starts, and the Giants continued their 2007 tendency to surrender the leads Cain left with. Jonathan Sanchez' promise showed signs of breaking through, though he stood at only 3-3 through 11 starts, as he had two 10-K starts and the team was 8-3 in his starts.
Brian Bocock received good defensive reviews while filling in for Vizquel, but he hit .143 with one extra base hit in 77 ABs and was sent to Fresno with Vizquel's return approaching. Emmanuel Burriss, who'd been demoted to low-A Augusta in 2007 for lack of hitting, was summoned from Fresno to take over at short and was an offensive improvement despite an OPS lingering near .600.
With second basemen doing only marginally better, overall production in the middle infield was horrendous. With Velez unable to reach base and exploit his speed, Durham increasingly took on the majority of starts at second. While Durham got on base, his power was down, and through the first third of the season, Matt Cain's 2 HRs meant that the Giants pitchers had equalled the number of homers from both middle infield positions (with Durham having hit both homers).
Fred Lewis began well, leading the team in walks and the league in triples while tallying extra-base hits of all varieties. Aaron Rowand led the team in homers (7) and got on base at a .400 clip. Bengie Molina used timely hitting and his position in the clean-up spot to lead the team in RBI through the early going. And Jose Castillo ranked among the league leaders in doubles, but also GiDP's. Outfielder John Bowker was called up in mid-April and became the first Giant (in either San Francisco or New York) to homer in each of his first 2 games - running up 7 RBI in those two initial games.
Off the field, team president and managing partner Peter Magowan, who had led the effort to prevent the team from moving to St. Petersburg before the 1993 season, announced in mid-May that he would step down from both positions after the season, with Larry Baer taking over as team president and William Neucom taking over as the head of the ownership group.
Through much of the middle third of the season, the Giants clung to the middle spot in the under-performing, 5-team NL West, staggering forth as close as 4 games back over the 4th of July weekend (despite a then 39-49 record) and creating enough hope for the Giants to continue to give sizable playing time to veterans. But by the time August began and the mid-season closed, the Giants had slipped into 4th place for the season's first extended period. After 108 games, the Giants stood at 45-63 and 11.5 games behind division-leading Arizona.
Whether out of belief that they were still in the race or to display veterans for sale before the trade deadline, infield veterans Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham, Omar Vizquel and Jose Castillo continued to get the majority of the playing time in July. Durham was the only one dealt before the deadline, however (to Milwaukee for minor leaguers Darren Ford and Steve Hammond).
Yet, though rookies were relegated to supporting roles, the Giants did keep a steady stream of new blood moving through the roster. A one-season record number of Giants (12) had made a MLB debut even a month before roster expansion: Brian Bocock, Steve Holm, Clay Timpner, John Bowker, Emmanuel Burriss, Alex Hinshaw, Travis Denker, Brian Horwitz, Sergio Romo, Osiris Matos, Ivan Ochoa and Geno Espineli (the total would become a major-league record 16 by season's end as Ryan Rohlinger, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Palmer, and 37th overall draft pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Conor Gillaspie, would eventually arrive).
Without a player having yet reached 10 HR, the Giant offense continued to be lacking. With the departure of Ray Durham, no remaining 2008 Giant middle infielder had hit a home run for the club. Shortstops had been particularly anemic, batting just .216 with 11 doubles, a triple and 39 walks (.285 OBP & .254 SLG) through 108 games. With Durham gone, Fred Lewis was the Giants' leader in both OBP (.349) and slugging (.446). Rookie John Bowker and Aaron Rowand tied for the team lead in HR at 9.
Tim Lincecum continued to be one of the best pitchers in the league, with an 11-3 record and the league lead in strikeouts (167), though a reported bout with the flu cost him an All-Star Game appearance. Closer Brian Wilson did make an All-Star appearance as he continued to rack up saves (29) at a league-leading pace despite a 4.46 ERA.
Matt Cain's early-season HR and walk issues dissipated, and while his ERA dropped (to 3.70), his record continued to suffer at 6-9. Jonathan Sanchez continued to be successful through June, but the Giants did not win any of his July starts as Sanchez failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning each turn and his record fell to 8-7. Barry Zito's ERA actually rose from 5.53 to 5.80 in June and July, but he managed a 4-4 record during that time to stand at 5-13. Over the season, Zito was averaging just under 6 walks per 9 innings.
The Giants played .500 ball over the last third of the season, remaining 9 to 13 games out over the final two months and finishing 4th the NL West at 72-90, aherad of San Diego.
Venezuelan Pablo Sandoval provided the Giants' most surprising story after his mid-August call up, just days after his 22nd birthday. Sandoval played catcher, first base and third base and hit .345 over 145 AB, slugging .490, but drawing few walks (4). An eighteen-year minor-league veteran, the 36 year old Scott McClain, up for his fourth cup of coffee since his 1998 debut, hit his first big-league homer. Such were the glimmers Giants fans had to cling to.
Tim Lincecum wrapped up his first complete season at 18-5. Lincecum led the league in strikeouts (265) (and wild pitches with 17) and was second in wins and ERA (2.62) and would be the landslide Cy Young Award winner. Barry Zito, despite his 0-8 start, won the second-most games of Giant pitchers, finishing 10-17 with a 5.15 ERA. Matt Cain's 2008 turned out remarkably similar to his 2007, pitching well (3.76 ERA) but with little to show for it in his won-lost column, (8-14). Brian Wilson finished second in the NL with 41 saves, despite his 4.62 ERA. The Giants' pitching finished in the middle of the pack in the NL (despite AT&T Park defying its reputation and slightly favoring offense).
Catcher Benji Molina finished as the Giant leader with 16 HR and 95 RBI. Randy Winn wound up with a solid season, finishing 4th in the NL in hits (183) and 10th in stolen bases (25 - against 2 caught stealing) while hitting .306. The conclusion of Fred Lewis' season was complicated by a bunion which necessitated season-ending surgery in early September. Lewis finished with a .351 OBP and .440 slugging with 21 SB in 28 attempts.
Emmanuel Burriss' first big-league home run on August 31st was the Giants' first (and only) homer from the shortstop position in 2008. The Giants' shortstops combined for a dreadful .228/.295/.281 season, with Omar Vizquel getting most of the playing time.
Awards and Honors
- Maria Guardado: "Reliving the meteoric rise of 'The Freak'", mlb.com, January 18, 2022.