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Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's Halfway Through the 2011 Season...

And what do we know?

We know that the Giants are ahead of the pace they were at last year when after 81 games they were 41-40. They sit at 46-35 after tonight's 2-1 disaster in Chicago (they should have won but at least Timmy was spared going under .500 again). The Giants were in 4th place at this time last year. They needed a scalding hot July and a Padres collapse to win the division on the last day. This year they have racked up injuries, lost their best offensive player(s), yet somehow sit in first place by 2.5 games.

It's unexplainable. The team doesn't have Posey or Freddy Sanchez. Huff has been a no show with the bat pretty much all year. Torres is looking like the journeyman outfielder he had been his whole career. Bochy refuses to let Pat Burrell start. And our catchers and shortstops arguably are less threatening than our pitchers with the bat.

So how is this team in first place?

Well, obviously the pitching (and in particular the bullpen) has been lights out. But we can't expect them to maintain this pace. At some point, the offense needs to pick up the slack. And Sabean is going to have to work the phones to get some legit reinforcements (he'll have to do more than get lucky on some misfits this season, there are too many holes and injuries).

So what next? What do the remaining 81 games have in store for the Giants? What do they need to do to legitimately defend their World Title?

1) The team needs to get healthy. The Giants and Sabean have about a month to evaluate the club when their line-up is at full strength with the pieces that are coming back THIS season. That means Fontenot and Belt specifically. Sabean needs to see if Belt can pick up any slack in the offense. If not, a trade for a corner outfielder is likely. If Belt can provide some offense, look for Sabean to upgrade at shortstop or second base. Fontenot is a great utility guy but he's not an every day guy. He's proven that year after year.

2) The Giants need to avoid a major pitching injury. They've been cruelly savaged by injuries this year but have been lucky to not have it hit their bread and butter: the pitching. Wilson spent a week on the DL to open the season, Casilla was out for awhile, and Zito of course just came back. Neither Casilla nor Zito were really missed. However, if Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, or Wilson were to go down for a stint, it would no doubt finally be the straw that'd break the camels back. The Giants have zero pitching depth in the minors. Which leads me to...

3) Jonathan Sanchez needs to figure it out. Zito had a very encouraging first start back. He'll have some other nice starts like that. And he'll have those starts where he causes Giants fans to curse the gods. The Giants hitting is so bad that they genuinely need 5 amazing starters to consistently limit opponents to 3 runs or less. Vogelsong has been a godsend. What Giant fan ever thought they'd say that? He's what Ainsworth was supposed to be, only way older! I have my doubts that Vogelsong can keep it up all year. And I don't much think Zito will all of a sudden return to Cy Young form. The Giants NEED Jonathan Sanchez to be the above average starter he was last year. When Jon Jon is right, he's as dominant as the righty aces. He just can't be expected to go deeper than 6 innings. And with our pen, we don't need him to. But he needs to get back to the gradual improvement path he was on. The Giants need him to come back from the DL like Jonny 2010.

4) Sabean needs to get a bat and maybe two. If Belt doesn't contribute at all and Burrell continues to waste away on the bench, Sabean needs to get a couple of legit hitters. My pipe dream is Hunter Pence and JJ Hardy but that would likely empty the farm system. I don't know who'll be available in a few weeks but Sabean HAS to get this crew some help. Who knows how long the Giants will have this run of amazing pitching and the Giants are due a significant pitching injury. They need to cash out while they can, push all the chips in, and gamble for multiple titles while the iron is hot. The Giants can still win the division with the team they have now but they can't seriously expect to knock off the Phillies, Brewers, Braves, or Cardinals if they don't upgrade the offense.

With 81 games down and 81 games left to go, I can't say I'm unhappy with where the Giants are. The Posey injury is really depressing and the Giants are definitely feeling the absence of Freddy Sanchez with the Bill Hall/Manny Burriss combo at second. But they're in first. But they need help. And we know the Rockies are going to go on a tear at some point in the 2nd half. They must DEFEND and reinforcements are needed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Look At The Giants Outfielders

We're 2.5 months into the season. The All-Star break is about a month away. The Giants have survived an insane amount of injuries (welcome to the DL Freddy, you get to take Pablo's vacated DL spot) and somehow have managed to cling on to first place. They've done it without their star catcher and for the most part without their best hitter (Kung Fu Panda). Panda's back and looking like he missed zero time (and managed not to gain back any weight). That's good news. The bad news is the Giants have a negative run differential and very few teams make the playoffs with a negative run differential. It can be done (see: Giants 1997, Padres 2005) but it's rare. And it's next to impossible to go deep in October and actually win a ring with a stat like that accompanying your team.

The Giants have a black hole at catcher right now. Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart are not MLB starting caliber catchers. Period. However, it's hard to find an offensive minded catcher that is good enough defensively to handle this type of pitching staff. Catchers like Posey don't grow on trees so finding a true replacement for him isn't going to happen. But the Giants can improve elsewhere.

Where?

The outfield. Bet you were thinking I was going to say shortstop, huh? No, Crawford should get every chance to nail down that spot. His offense may come and go but his defense is spectacular and these Giants pitchers need someone that can catch the ball in the infield. Besides, except for Jose Reyes, there really aren't any talented offensive shortstops either.

Which leaves our outfield. Take a look at our rotating 5 outfielders:

Burrell

against RHP: .255 AVG, .386 OBP, .875 OPS
against LHP: .152 AVG, .235 OBP, .431 OPS

Rowand

against RHP: .190 AVG, .252 OBP, .533 OPS
against LHP: .380 AVG, .407 OBP, .987 OPS (!!)

Schierholtz

against RHP: .279 AVG, .328 OBP, .787 OPS
against LHP: .150 AVG, .143 OBP, .293 OPS

Torres

against RHP: .281 AVG, .379 OBP, .833 OPS
against LHP: .095 AVG, .240 OBP, .335 OPS

Ross

against RHP: .258 AVG, .346 OBP, .762 OPS
against LHP: .297 AVG, .366 OBP, .879 OPS

Diagnosis?

Ross should be our only every day outfielder. Schierholtz and Burrell
and Torres should never start against lefties. Rowand should never
start against righties.

Granted, it's only mid-June so this isn't the largest sample size and
these splits are based on this year only. That being said...

If Sabean is looking to find a bat somewhere other than catcher, maybe
SS or 2B shouldn't be the goal. This team needs another outfielder that can hit
righties AND lefties. Only Cody Ross is decent in that category.

My sleeper trade candidate? Hunter Pence. We'd have to give up a lot (possibly a Belt AND Wheeler combo) but Pence is a solid starting outfielder who would remain under the Giants control through 2013. He'd fit right in as a solid building block with Posey and Sandoval and our pitching staff. But if not Pence, there should be other outfielders available come deadline time that the Giants could pick up to help fill the Posey (and Sanchez) void.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The 2011 SF Giants - The Year of the Injuries

It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad. You almost expect to see a key Giant get hurt once a week at the rate they're going.

I did the list last post and since then the Giants officially added 4 more men to the Disabled List: Mike Fontenot, Darren Ford, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt.

Fontenot and Ford's injuries are relatively minor and both probably could have avoided the DL had the Giants not needed their roster spots. But Posey is gone for the year. There's been a lot of debate about the play but I'm not going to get into it.

My official take? Clean play, awful result, and it could have been avoided. Cousins had the lane and the hit to Posey was completely unnecessary but it wasn't dirty. And in regards to Sabean's comments regarding Cousins, I have no opinion other than he is acting as a lioness would in protecting her cub. Sabean drafted Posey. Saw him ascend the ranks. Watched him win the franchise a World Series ring. And then saw him get plowed in a horrific home plate collision. Tim Lincecum carries the nickname "The Franchise" but Posey was the real franchise player. The star player the Giants planned on building around for years. And now his future is clouded. And Sabean is understandably pissed. He is protecting his star player like a vicious cornered lioness protecting her young. That's all I have to say about that.

The Giants are without their star catcher, the cornerstone of their present and future, for God knows how long. The most negative nelly would say it's a career threatening injury. The most optimistic says he'll be back by Spring Training as the catcher with no lingering issues. No one knows what to expect. We know Buster himself wants to be the catcher when he returns and Sabean and Bochy have gone on record to say that'll be his call. But we'll just have to see how the rehab goes. In the meantime, the Giants top prospect has also hit the shelf after being hit by a pitch.

To recap: The Giants have lost their star player (Posey), their best hitter at the time of injury (Sandoval), and their top hitting prospect (Belt).

Yet somehow they have managed to linger around first place (where they sit currently by a half game over the not-for-real Diamondbacks).

I'd say bad karma is hitting the Giants after a glorious 2010 but they're still hanging around! They're hanging around with one of the worst offenses in all of baseball. That's how good the pitching has been. And the pitching will have to continue to be dominant if the Giants have any dreams of repeating as NL West champs without Posey.

Sandoval will be returning shortly despite a minor setback but the Giants needed help even with Posey and Sandoval IN the line-up.

The weak spots are clearly shortstop and catcher. It'll be interesting to see what Sabean does to address Posey's missing bat because it will be something the team will have to face before the trade deadline.

My guess? This is the year Jonathan Sanchez is shipped out for a much needed bat. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner would remain as a strong threesome with Vogelsong continuing to pen his Disney movie career comeback. And yes, that means Zito comes back and is the 5th starter but you didn't actually think they'd cut him did you?