5 Issues the San Francisco Giants Must Resolve If They Want to Make the Playoffs

Mark ProbstCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2012

5 Issues the San Francisco Giants Must Resolve If They Want to Make the Playoffs

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    The San Francisco Giants are one of the top three teams in the National League when playing at home.  With a .619 win percentage, they often look unstoppable in the comforts of AT&T Park and the odds-on favorites to win their division. 

    Then they go on the road. If the Giants would’ve just been able to play .500 baseball on the road in the first half, they would currently be in first place by a game and a half.

    Instead, the Giants logged a 20-24 record away from San Francisco and currently sit out of the playoff race if play began today. While it’s just a couple of games that separate the teams, the Giants will have to improve their level of play on the road if they want to be one of the five teams headed to the postseason, let alone win the division. 

    Leading up to the All-Star break, the Giants had a seven-game homestand, followed by a six-game road trip that essentially was a snapshot of the their strengths and weaknesses. At home, the Giants went 5-2, threw four straight shutouts and drove in runs by stringing together base hits and clutch hitting. 

    Additionally, their bullpen was outstanding. They battled two first place teams, including sweeping the Dodgers to move into first place. 

    When they took the momentum of their great homestand to open a series against the Washington Nationals, they fell flat on their face. After only allowing 10 runs during the seven games at home, the Giants pitching staff gave up 45 runs in the six game on the road. 

    Starters wilted in the heat, the pen contributed very little relief and the Giants offense was outmatched in their ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark. 

    With 37 of the remaining 76 games on the road, including trips to Atlanta, Philly and St Louis, the Giants will need to rectify many of their current shortcomings that have been evident all year, but were magnified on their last road. 

Leadoff Hitter

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    The Giants started the year with Angel Pagan in the leadoff spot. After he got off to a slow start, hitting just .250 in the month of April, he started to pick it up in May and hit for power.  This coincided with Gregor Blanco’s emergence in May as Blanco took control of the leadoff role, hitting .315 with a .427 on-base percentage. Pagan was moved to the five hole and flourished as well, hitting .375 in the month with an .884 OPS. 

    Unfortunately, June saw both cool off, Blanco going absolutely ice-cold as his averaged dropped almost 100 points to .218, and his on-base percentage of .277 is far from what the Giants need from the leadoff spot. 

    If Blanco isn’t able to regain the stroke he exuded in May, the Giants won’t be able to wait very long before giving someone else a shot. Justian Christian was called up from Fresno last month and has played well as of late. With his speed, the Giants will give Christian an extended shot if Blanco continues to slump. 

    Other than Blanco and Christian, the Giants don’t have another option currently on the team or in their farm system, so if these two can’t get it done, Brian Sabean will need address via trade. 

     

Closer

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    While Santiago Casilla was outstanding for most of the first half, his last few outings have been a disaster. Blowing three of his last four save opportunities, he’s sporting a 7.71 ERA over his last 10 appearances.

    Prior to the Giants' three-game series with Oakland from June 22-24, Casilla was 19 of 20 in save opportunities with a 1.32 ERA. After the A’s, Reds, and Nationals roughed him up over the last two weeks, his ERA jumped to 2.84, and it clearly hurt his confidence.

    Casilla has the body type and stuff to be a closer in the big leagues, but it’s still in dispute if he has the mental makeup, and many analysts feel he does not.

    Bruce Bochy claims that Casilla is still his closer and is just going through a rough patch, but the jury is still out. 

    There has been talk of Sergio Romo taking over the roll, but the Giants don’t feel his small frame and frequency of sliders could take the four and five nights in row that is required from a closer. 

    The Giants also have their young flame throwing prospect Heath Hembree in Fresno, but at 1-1 with 5.52 ERA, the Giants don’t feel he is ready to be thrown into the fire of a pennant race. 

    The closer role is probably one of the top two items that Sabean will be addressing at or before the trading deadline.

A Fifth Starter

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    It’s almost unfathomable, but Tim Lincecum might need to be replaced in the rotation if he continues to be mired in a slump that no one seems to be able to figure out. If you would’ve told most Giant fans at the beginning of the year that Sabean was looking to add a fifth starter, they would’ve assumed it would be for Barry Zito’s spot in the rotation. 

    Almost as amazing as Lincecum’s downturn, Zito has shown incredible resilience and improvement this year, as his first-half record is over .500, and he is 4-3 at AT&T Park with a 3.09 ERA. It’s still not the Zito of old, but it’s a huge improvement and good enough to stay No. 4 or 5 in the rotation.

    That cannot be said for Timmy’s numbers, as he is 3-10, sports the worst ERA in the big leagues and the Giants are 4-14 in his starts. While Bochy and Sabean claim they are going to keep running him out there, if he only wins one time in his next five starts, or worse yet, doesn’t win at all, they will have to make a change. 

    The Giants were able to sign Brad Penny after he started the year in Japan and left after not feeling comfortable out of the States. He has been used in relief and has pitched well in three of the four games he’s appeared in. At this point, Penny would be the likely candidate to spot start if the Giants decided to sit Lincecum or put him in the bullpen. 

    Starters in Fresno such as Eric Hacker or Dan Otero are unlikely candidates to come up and take over the fifth starter role if Lincecum’s struggles do continue, although both have spent time with the big league club. 

    This is another issue that Sabean will likely look to address if they don’t see a marked improvement from Lincecum in July. 

More Pop in the Lineup

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    With dominant success San Francisco starters have at home, mixed with the crazy dimensions that make it difficult to yank the ball out of AT&T Park, the Giants typically don’t have to worry about winning slugfests at home. 

    When they go on the road to places like Arizona, Washington and Houston, it’s a different story and they are at a huge disadvantage. The Giants offense isn’t built to hit three-run home runs, and when they get behind three or four runs on the road, it becomes very difficult. 

    With Buster Posey leading the club with 10 home runs and Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera just a few back, the Giants will likely hit more home runs in July and August as they visit the more hitter-friendly parks in the heat. 

    Regardless if their production does pick up, the Giants will be lucky to have one of those hitters hit 20 home runs total. Many teams they will be battling for a playoff spot already have multiple guys who are in the mid-teens and will likely finish the year with 30 or more. 

    This is one area that Sabean will probably not make a big play. Home runs are expensive.  If you want to sign a big slugger that hits home runs, you have to pay for it, and that’s something the Giants don’t have the appetite for. 

    Still feeling snake-bitten from last year’s trade that sent their star pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, to the New York Mets for Carlos Beltran, the Giants don’t have the chips or the stomach to do it again this year. 

    If Sabean adds any kind of pop, it will be a Cody Ross or a Pat Burrell type of pickup, which he is notorious for. It will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, but they still won’t be able to match the long ball power of the other NL teams competing for a playoff spot. 

Middle Relief

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    Middle relief is the one issue that is currently a problem, but could work itself out. Prior to Brian Wilson’s Tommy John surgery and Guillermo Mota’s suspension for PED’s, the Giants had the best middle relief in the NL with Casilla and Mota.   

    If the Giants go out and get a closer, and Mota comes off his suspension in August, it will move everyone back and solidify the middle innings if a starter isn’t able to go seven. 

    Clay Hensley has looked good at times, but has been inconsistent. George Kontos has also been a mixed bag, and at his age, the Giants would like a little more experience in the role. 

    If Sabean can bring in a closer, Casilla would likely handle the seventh inning, and Mota will go back to being the mop-up guy if a starter falters.