San Francisco Giants: 5 Candidates to Be Their 'Melky Cabrera' in Second Half
Melky Cabrera is the player Brian Sabean always thinks he's trading for.
Remember Jonathan Sanchez?
He was this pitcher the San Francisco Giants had for a while. This one time he pitched a no-hitter, but a whole bunch of other times he didn't. During the offseason, the Giants traded Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals for Melky Cabrera. At the time, the trade was perceived as a rather even deal for both sides. In hindsight, it seems like highway robbery.
To say Melky Cabrera is on fire in 2012 is to pay fire a compliment. He has 102 hits, 49 runs and a .353 batting average. Those numbers are good for first, second and third overall in the National League.
Last week, Cabrera overtook reigning MVP Ryan Braun for the third starting spot in fan votes for the 2012 All-Star game. Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanchez is 1-3 with 5.70 ERA.
For a team that lost its star closer, has two starting pitchers struggling and not much in the way of a power offense, Cabrera has been a major reason they sit only three games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
Certainly, Cabrera is a force to be reckoned with, but some of his truly Herculean statistics will inevitably regress a bit in the latter half of the season.
Who, then, will the Giants count on to take them through the homestretch and back into October baseball?
Here are five candidates to be the Giant's second-half "Melky Cabrera."
5. Hector Sanchez
Bruce Bochy must soon decide what role he wants Hector Sanchez to play.
Who is Hector Sanchez?
He came aboard the Giants roster from spring training as the backup catcher. It quickly became apparent that the kid could hit.
He slotted in as Barry Zito's main backstop, and the occasional spot starter for Buster Posey during grueling stretches of the schedule, which did not allow for Sanchez's bat to make many appearances.
Couple this with Bruce Bochy's fears about being down to only Pablo Sandoval at catcher in the event of another Scott-Cousins-type apocalypse, and the immediate future appears rather uncertain for Hector.
The interleague play portion of the season provided an excellent opportunity for Bruce Bochy to get Hector Sanchez some at-bats without burning his backup catcher. Sanchez could start at DH and slide to catcher if Posey got hurt or simply needed a rest.
Instead, Bruce Bochy went with Justin Christian, which is like having a new sports car you've been itching to really put some miles on, but instead getting behind the wheel of a used VW bug. Now that interleague has come and gone, the chances for Hector Sanchez to play will be even slimmer.
Right? Maybe not.
Remember, it was Sanchez catching Tim Lincecum in what seemed like a resurgent performance for the ailing ace. Bruce Bochy said point blank that Posey will catch Lincecum the next time around, but take that with a grain of salt.
Certainly no one expects Sanchez to usurp Posey as Lincecum's regular guy, but a few more starts here and there are definite possibilities.
With the added playing time, the extra looks and maybe a bit more leniency to allow Sanchez and Posey to be on the field at the same time, Hector Sanchez has the potential be a real offensive threat for a team in need of extra bats.
4. Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval needs to turn it around quickly.
The Giants can't win without Pablo Sandoval.
Sure, they literally can, and did an admirable job when Sandoval missed five weeks to recover from a broken hamate bone.
They hung around, and fueled by the well-documented heroics of Melky Cabrera, they welcomed Sandoval back to a squad still very much in the running for a postseason berth. Then the next 14 games happened.
Sandoval's dominant performance against the Dodgers Monday night was his first game with multiple extra-base hits since May 1. Over the weekend in Oakland, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area described Sandoval's approach as "hacktastic."
Well, perhaps the extra adrenaline that comes with a Dodgers-Giants series kick-started something for him, but one thing remains certain: If Sandoval can hit for power and do it with consistency, the heart of the Giants order will be seriously scary.
We haven't focused much on defense, but the glove is another area in which Sandoval's improvement could be a huge boost to the club. With Joaquin Arias stepping-in to sub at third late in games, Sandoval needs to take that lack of confidence being shown by management and prove to them that he's not a liability in the infield.
Sandoval is hardly a bad third baseman, but the weight he's added and the clutch-moment mistakes he's made will need to be rectified before the Rawlings committee will consider him. If he can amend his glove woes, and couple them with a dangerous bat, Sandoval could easily become a second-half All-Star.
3. Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt is finally hitting the long ball. Can he keep it up?
Welcome back, Brandon Belt.
The power-hitting first baseman started his 2012 campaign with a whimper. As recently as June 11, Belt had yet to hit a home run this season. Now the Baby Giraffe is cooking.
According to Nate Stuhlbarg of CSN Bay Area, since hitting his first home run of the year, Belt's had an 11-game hitting streak that includes four home runs and 12 RBI. His average has jumped from .224 to .265.
If Brandon Belt has finally arrived, then the Giants are in a position to have offensive threats into the bottom third of their lineup, something that hasn't happened since the slugger days of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.
If Belt can solidify himself as the six-spot hitter, Angel Pagan can fall back to the seven where he'll act as a second leadoff hitter late in the order. Brandon Belt's prowess at the plate could really be the key to a team-wide offensive surge for the Giants.
The problem with 11-game hitting streaks is that they are streaks. Belt has had problems in the past where cold streaks totally dominate his play. The most important game for Belt is the one he plays after having an 0-for-4 night.
If he can isolate poor nights with the bat and follow them up with better ones, he may be the name everyone's talking about down the stretch.
2. Gregor Blanco
Gregor Blanco needs to cut down on his mistakes and find his stroke again.
Gregor Blanco is having a special year.
After a journeyman career took him through the big leagues and farm systems of the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals, Blanco has finally found a home in San Francisco. Likewise, the Giants hope they've finally found the leadoff batter that has evaded them for so long.
Blanco can steal bases, slug bunt, and even hit for a little power. Perhaps his most valuable asset as a leadoff hitter is his plate discipline.
As of June 21, Blanco was averaging 4.06 pitches per plate appearance. Making the opposing pitcher work is a pillar of good hitting. You take him out of a rhythm, get your pitcher more rest and raise the odds of seeing something you'll be able to get the bat on.
The downside with Blanco is inexperience. He's made some foolish baserunning errors, and even though his defense is stellar (at least Matt Cain thinks so), he's still figuring out some of the nuances of playing Major League baseball every day for a full season.
The more comfortable Blanco gets, the more likely he looks to succeed Melky as the Giants breakout star in the season's latter half.
1. Tim Lincecum
If Tim Lincecum can get back into form, the Giants won't need any heroics from the rest of their lineup.
As it always does, the Giants' fate comes down to Tim Lincecum.
What we saw on Friday night was relatively encouraging. After giving up three runs and loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, Lincecum dug inside himself, flipped some switch and struck out the side. And then he retired 16 of the next 18 batters, while striking out eight and allowing no hits. It was vintage Lincecum.
Let's say this start marked a turnaround. No one's expecting a perfect game out of Lincecum or some 15 strikeout performance. But how about seven innings, one run?
If Timmy can start getting back into the habit of delivering one or two run performances into the seventh and eight innings, the onus on hitting is reduced.
Sure, the Giants need to hit regularly, with power and patience. But if a Lincecum start doesn't inherently mean earning five-plus runs each time out, it doesn't require someone like Melky Cabrera get at least two RBI and go 3-for-4.
It buys Pablo Sandoval a bad start or a botched stolen base by Gregor Blanco. Tim Lincecum pitching decently is no cure-all, but it does a heck of a job covering a few mistakes here and there. And when batters don't feel the game is entirely on their shoulders with every at-bat, they hit better (mostly).
In essence, a good Tim Lincecum makes every batter a little stronger, which allows for no batter to have to do what Melky Cabrera's done in his first half.
Also, we'd still like Melky Cabrera to do the same thing in the second half.