I didn't know what to make of this team. I hadn't been able to really figure out if it was a good team, a just good enough team, or a not quite good enough team. Part of that was rarely getting to see the 3-4-5 hitters of this team all hit in the line-up together: Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Pablo Sandoval. Cabrera and Posey were fixtures except on days when Hector Sanchez needed to play. But Sandoval was in and out of the line-up due to his injuries and the line-up never got a sustained look at its true 3-5 hitters. Then along came Hunter Pence. And he did his best to be a Pablo replacement except he wasn't very good initially. But that didn't stop us Giants fans from fantasizing about what could be. All of a sudden, this crazy line-up that scored runs aplenty on the road but barely at home started taking shape in our Giant fan minds. Thoughts of a 3-6 line-up featuring the Melk Man, Posey, Pablo, and Pence was inspiring. All of a sudden we had legit hitters in the middle of the order, any of whom could pop a home run or knock in a run. Just wait until we had them altogether!! Yeah, the Dodgers got Victorino and Hanley but what about that patchwork rotation of theirs? Joe Blanton? Bahahaha. We had a line-up that now could match up with LA and the better rotation. We just needed Panda to hurry up and get healthy so he could be added to this new middle of the order. Not to mention Angel Pagan had rediscovered his hitting stroke and the Brandon's seemed to be finally finding their groove. The runs were bound to pour in. We were going to be scoring like Wilt Chamberlin - a lot!
Except we only got to see that magical line-up once. It came. It saw. It scored 6 runs. It won. And then Melky Cabrera - beloved new fan favorite, unwitting creator of The Melk Men and the Melk Shake, All Star Game MVP, top run scorer and hits leader of the National League - tested positive for testosterone and was suspended for 50 games.
Look, the Giants were a flawed team even with the magical new line-up. I had them clearly behind the Nationals and Reds but thought they were about even with the Braves and Cardinals. I thought they had a slight edge on the Dodgers and Pirates and Dbacks. But there were red flags. The closer by committee approach has historically failed by teams that have tried it and the Giants are using one. The rotation is statistically strong but really, the Giants have little leeway in regards to poor outings by Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong because Lincecum and Zito have become such wildcards. That's what made this team so hard to evaluate. Were they a true playoff team? Were they just good enough to get in? Once in, could they survive by having the Big Three dominate?
Now Giants fans might not have the opportunity to find out. The loss of Cabrera isn't just a blow to the line-up and the defense, it's a blow to the team morale and chemistry. Melky Cabrera was one of the guys. He and Pagan and Blanco had seemed to develop a close friendship as outfielders and Latin players. Melky was respected for his work ethic and his consistency. Now all of that has been called into question. His teammates feel betrayed as well they should. On a club where the team has been emphasized, Melky has issued a huge blow to the Giants playoff chances by being selfish. And let's not mince words, it was an incredibly selfish act. He was using performance enhancing drugs so he could stay in this game and make money. A lot of money. And he did it knowing there was a risk of getting caught. Especially in a time when baseball is stressing testing and trying to clean up the sport. He did it anyways. He got caught. And now his season is over and he has dragged 24 other guys seasons down with him. Guys that thought he was on their side. Guys that thought he was a cog in the machine to help them reach their goal of making the playoffs. And let's not pretend that the Giants players are not upset. All you need to do is listen to their curt comments regarding the suspension to realize how much simmering anger lies below the surface.
And for what? Why did Melky Cabrera choose to cheat? Was he cheating in 2011? Everything is called into question now and in my opinion I think he did cheat last year. And this year he kept it up as his free agency approached. Had he not got caught, he would have suckered some team (likely the Giants) to give him a huge multiyear deal. Not only has he potentially cheated his own teammates of a playoff run but he has cheated himself. Earlier comments from this year indicated that Melky was in love with San Francisco. He felt comfortable here. He loved the vibe. He could envision being here for awhile. He had not had that since his Yankees days. He was playing on his 4th team in 4 seasons when he opened the year with the Giants. He wanted some security and a place to call home where he knew he would be for awhile. Well, good luck Melky. You have assured yourself of playing for another team next year. Brian Sabean will not resign you. Brian Sabean doesn't like to be made a fool and you have made him look foolish. He will send you packing without hesitation and you will likely have to settle for another 1 year deal to prove yourself all over again. Most fans will have turned on you, especially if the Giants now fail to make it to the second season. You will be seen as THE reason the Giants failed, if they indeed fail. Everything you were working so hard for, you have lost. Including the goodwill of Giants fans and millions upon millions of dollars.
That being said, is this a nail in the coffin for the Giants? They'll go in one of two directions. They will fold or they will steel together and get stronger. When this happened to the Dodgers with Manny Ramirez, Juan fricking Pierre became Rickey Henderson and the Dodgers surged into the playoffs. Could Gregor Blanco be our Juan Pierre? We can only hope. He did go 2 for 4 today in his first game P.C. (Post Cabrera). Still having a 3-4-5 of Panda, Posey, and Pence is at least not as agonizing as our line-up sans Buster in 2011. But those guys will have to provide a lot of key, clutch hits and the surrounding guys will need to get hot or stay hot. Belt has been tremendous in August but he and the Giants can't afford for him to follow it with a cold streak. Crawford needs to keep being clutch. And Blanco and Pagan really need to have good AB's. The Giants do not have a fork in them. But the issues that already plagued the team (no closer, questionable offense, shaky starting pitching from 2/5 of their rotation) will be harder to gloss over without the steady bat and glove of Melky Cabrera in left field.
We'll see how it pans out. The only thing we can deduce from here is that the Giants will have an additional 12-16 million to play with this offseason that they will NOT be using on the previous fan favorite formerly known as The Melk Man.