Giants need Buster Posey to perform

The 2012 precedent

Two years ago, Posey got off to a perfectly fine start with a .289 average and an .820 OPS in his first 77 games. Then the All-Star break came and went and he staged a full-scale, Mike Piazza-caliber assault on opposing pitchers. Posey posted a .385/.456/.646 line in the second half and won the batting title when teammate Melky Cabrera relinquished his claim to the crown after a failed drug test. He became the first catcher to win a National League MVP award since Johnny Bench in 1972 and the first player since Frank Robinson to win a batting title, MVP award and World Series ring in the same season.

That early success raised the bar and amplified how miserable the 2013 season was. The Giants finished third in the division with a 76-86 record, and the disappointment gnawed at Posey all winter. Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy set a competitive tone at the top, and no one in the San Francisco clubhouse accepted the rationale of: "Hey, this just isn't our year."

"Last year was tough, and it served as a lot of motivation for everybody coming into this season," Posey said. "I've been fortunate to be on two teams that have won the World Series. I've had a chance to go through that and see how much fun it is and the memories you make going through that process. No matter how many times you do it, you're always going to have an itch to do that again. That's the focus for everybody here."

The Giants asserted themselves from Opening Day this season behind a lineup that showed depth and big power. They're 41-15 when they hit at least one home run and 15-29 when they fail to go deep. Their .732 winning percentage when they homer is the highest in the National League. But the Giants responded poorly when center fielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan went down with a back injury in mid-June, and they lost 17 of their next 26 games going into the break. Pagan has begun taking swings from both sides of the plate, but the Giants aren't expecting him back until sometime in August.

"A lot is said about Pagan and our record with him not in the lineup," Bochy said. "Well, if everybody else is still doing their thing, it softens the blow of losing [him]. When we hit a little skid there, everybody stopped hitting. We were a tale of two teams offensively."

Posey, at the center of it all in the No. 3 or 4 spot in the batting order, is tougher for opponents to avoid when Hunter Pence gets on base in the leadoff spot and Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse are producing alongside him in the middle of the lineup. But two bedrock elements of his game are evident regardless of how he's swinging. One is plate discipline. The other is his ability to change course midpitch.

"We have a lot of chasers out of the zone in our lineup, and he's not one of them," Meulens said. "He also has a tremendous ability to stop when a pitch is off the plate or coming in on him and he doesn't want to swing. It's uncanny. I remember watching Shannon Stewart back in the day with the [ Toronto] Blue Jays. He had a great ability to stop the barrel from crossing the plate when he didn't want to swing. Buster is similar. Certain guys will start their swing and swing through it and they can't stop. Buster has a great eye to begin with and a great ability to stop. That's why he doesn't strike out a lot."

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