The Padres and Giants will play a huge three-game series this weekend in San Francisco, with first place in the NL West most likely on the line. (Through Sunday, San Diego led the division by two games.) It was hard to take the Giants seriously coming into the season because of how wretched their offense appeared—a collection of low-OBP, mediocre-slugging veterans unlikely to score enough to support one of the game's top rotations. For three months this was precisely the case: The Giants were averaging 4.1 runs and in fourth place on July 1 when G.M. Brian Sabean traded catcher Bengie Molina to the Rangers, clearing the way for rookie Buster Posey to start. Since then San Francisco had averaged 4.9 runs, a 20% increase, and at week's end had won 23 of 35. Posey has hit .384/.444/.624 since the trade and made himself a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
It's not just Posey driving the offense. The signing of free-agent first baseman--outfielder Aubrey Huff drew little attention last winter, but he has been one of the NL's most productive players, batting .304/.393/.538 through Sunday while playing home games in a park that has stymied every lefthanded Giants hitter except Barry Bonds. All that production has come with minimal cost: Huff is making $3 million. Andres Torres is even cheaper, earning just more than the $400,000 minimum, and is maybe more important. The journeyman outfielder—he had just 409 big league at bats in 12 professional seasons coming into 2010—has become the leadoff hitter the team hasn't had for years; at week's end he had a .372 OBP while stealing 21 bases at a 75% success rate.
These offensive bargains are supporting a rotation that's as deep as any five-man group since the Braves' heyday. Every San Francisco starter had an ERA below 3.55 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 2 to 1 through Sunday. If neither Tim Lincecum nor Matt Cain is as dominant as he's been in the past, that slack has been picked up by the development of Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner and the improvement of veteran Barry Zito, who has his best command since his Cy Young season of 2002. For all the concern about Posey's defense, San Francisco's pitchers have been more effective since Molina's departure.
Sabean, far from a darling among the sabermetric set, has had his best year in a decade, making low-cost pickups that have paid off handsomely while getting his best players onto the field. With nods to what the Padres have done and what the Rockies could do, this is the best team in the NL West.
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Joe Posnanski and Tim Marchman debate the value of defensive stats at SI.com/mlb
GETTING HUFFY The slugging Huff, a free-agent steal, has helped make the Giants contenders.