Wilmer Flores

Flores holding up his end of Giants' anticipated '23 power surge

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants, outside of Wilmer Flores, have not lived up to their expectations in the home run department this season.

By re-signing designated hitter/outfielder Joc Pederson and signing free agents Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto, San Francisco was banking on another power surge fueling a playoff push in 2023.

That hasn't been the case. After the Giants' 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday at Oracle Park, the team is 20th in MLB in homers with 141. Just two seasons ago, the Giants led the NL in home runs (241) during their franchise-best 107-win season.

With 33 games remaining, the Giants' current home run leader is veteran infielder Wilmer Flores, who blasted his 19th home run of the season Saturday.

Flores not only has tied his career-high in home runs but has been the Giants' best hitter this season. Flores is batting .299/.359/.543 with 19 homers, 48 RBI and a team-best .902 OPS.

Since July 17, Flores has hit 11 of San Francisco's 34 home runs (32.4 percent) and has an 8.4 percent home run rate during that span, which is the fourth-highest in baseball. Flores' 11 home runs since then are tied for the fifth-most in baseball.

"If you look up at the board any time Wilmer's at the plate, you see the great contact numbers, you see the low strikeout numbers," Giants manager Gabe Kapler said postgame. "Those numbers get even better when facing left-handed pitching. So against [Max] Fried or any other pitcher over the course of the last two months, it's hard to argue that Wilmer isn't one of the better hitters in all of baseball and one of the more clutch hitters in all of baseball.

"I'm not sure where we'd be without him sitting in the middle of our lineup on the more recent side. He's been as valuable as any player in the game over the last couple of months."

Flores said after the game that his swing adjustments this season have been minimal, but he has taken a more aggressive approach in the zone and is generating more power from his lower half.

Even on the brink of a career milestone, Flores is more concerned with helping the struggling Giants notch wins, and his approach at the plate always has been to hit the ball hard and not hunt homers.

"It's really cool every time you set a personal mark, but looking for wins right now," Flores said.

"Personally, I'm not looking for homers -- I'm looking to hit the ball hard. If it goes out it goes out, [that's] good for us, but it's out of my mind to hit 20 or 30 homers, it's just hit the ball hard somewhere."

The Giants expected to generate much more power from their lineup this season, with four or five players potentially hitting 20-plus home runs and one or two possibly reaching the ever-elusive 30-home-run mark. Flores, third baseman J.D. Davis (15) and injured outfielder Michael Conforto (15) are the only Giants hitters within striking distance of 20 long balls.

"We expected to hit a lot of home runs this year. We haven't," Kapler shared. "I think Wilmer is one of the guys we expected to contribute in the way that he is. I think he's exceeded that. I think this probably will turn out to be his best season to date. But I think the contributions he's made have put us in a position that we're in."

The Giants' lineup is devoid of star power, but Flores is the closest thing they've got. The 32-year-old should eclipse 20 home runs and could finish the season with a .300 batting average.

By most accounts, Flores' career season and his 144 OPS+ should earn him recognition as one of the better players in the game today.

"I think to some degree he is underrated," Kapler said. "We appreciate him the most because we see him every single day, but he does kind of fly under the radar. Part of that has to do with overall at-bats. Some of these guys that play every single day and start from the start of the season to the end of the season are going to end up with 600 plate appearances. Wilmer's not going to end up with that many because he has played more of a role on our team over the last couple of years and has been one of the best pinch hitters.

"There's some value in him not starting games so he can come off in the biggest spot and make the biggest impact. And therefore he doesn't have the counting statistics that are going to get him the national recognition, but we see it and appreciate it. There's nobody I'd rather have up in the biggest moments."

As soft-spoken as Flores might come across, the 11-year veteran is one of the Giants' leaders in the clubhouse and -- at times -- singlehandedly has kept the team afloat throughout a disastrous second half.

"We're right within playoff striking distance, and I think a lot of that is attributable to Wilmer and his performance," Kapler added. "Both on defense and on offense. He's been a really good first baseman for us and then goes over to third base. He's unequivocally one of the leaders in our clubhouse, one of the guys everybody looks up to and looks to in times like these, times of struggles."

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