San Francisco Giants: 5 Changes Bruce Bochy Must Make to Win the NL West
Colorado sweepings aside, the Giants will need to get better if they hope to make a playoff run in 2012. With the July 31 trade deadline behind us, manager Bruce Bochy and the team's front office will need to use waiver claims, internal promotion and creative positioning to put forth the best possible Giants team going into the season's stretch run.
If Bochy and GM Brian Sabean don't think they need to make any changes to compete, let us consult the following list of names: Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Randy Choate, Shane Victorino, Brandon League. Those folks represent the talent acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the last 10 days.
Hunter Pence is a great player, but last time I checked he isn't five people. And as long as that remains the case, the Giants will need to make some moves.
Here are five changes Bruce Bochy must make to ensure San Francisco wins the NL West.
5. Bolster the Bullpen
Stocking the bullpen is August Baseball 101.
Brian Sabean didn't pull the trigger on any deals for bullpen help ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Fortunately for him, relief pitching is often available in August as fringe teams fall out of contention.
Which pitcher Sabean should target is quite difficult to say. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez fill the left-hander niche quite nicely, so the focus should be on a righty. They might more specifically be interested in a closer.
Santiago Casilla has been hot-and-cold in the role, and Sergio Romo's recent troubles and persistent knee issues make him ineligible. The list of names isn't long, and most come with a huge price tag or major baggage (or in the case of Heath Bell, both). Regardless, the need is there, and glaring. Look for a right-handed relief pitcher to join the team either as a set-up man or closer candidate before the month is over.
4. Make Hector Sanchez the First Threat off the Bench
Hector Sanchez is the best batter on the San Francisco bench.
Once a week he straps on his gear and plays catcher for Barry Zito. Otherwise, he's been a glorified bench warmer. The issue for Bruce Bochy is that using Sanchez in pinch-hitting situations costs him his only backup catcher. That would be understandable if it was true, but the team has this other guy named Pablo Sandoval.
Sandoval may very well be a lousy catcher. Yet, if the situation called for it, he could get in the squat and take over. He may not like catching; in fact, he's told the media as much. Unfortunately for the Panda, he has absolutely no say in the matter. If the Giants need him to catch, that's what he'll do—which means using Sanchez to pinch-hit should be anything but a no-brainer.
Now, Sanchez is far from a perfect hitter. It's not as though we have a hidden Jason Giambi on our bench that we just keep forgetting is there. This is not a perfect scenario. There's an offensive anemia plaguing the Giants, and every bat needs to be available every game. If you need a reminder as to impact a pinch-hitter can have, just search "Pat Burrell 2010."
3. Pick a 1st Baseman and Stick with Him
Perhaps no player has spawned more fan blogs and angry KNBR calls than one Brandon "Baby Giraffe" Belt. He's been bad. Really bad. Unfortunately for San Francisco, no one else has been much better.
Let's exclude moonlighter Buster Posey from the situation. That leaves us with Belt, recently recalled Brett Pill and Pablo Sandoval. First things first, we need to eliminate Sandoval.
The problem with having the Panda at first is that it opens third for a platoon of Marco Scutaro and Joaquin Arias. Which in turn means the gamble is this: who has the potential to hit better, Brandon Belt or Scutaro/Arias? Well I know Belt can hit home runs, but Arias? Yikes. Scutaro is a hard read at this point, but I like having him around as a super utility rather than plugging him in at third base and leaving him there.
So it comes down to Belt and Pill. You can make an argument with either player, and honestly, the point here is the same no matter who Bochy decides to go with. What's most important is that San Francisco commits to a first baseman, someone who will play four out of every five games, and leaves them alone. We need a first baseman who's comfortable, not someone fighting for their job until the NLDS.
2. Designate Aubrey Huff for Assignment
In 2012, Huff has appeared in a grand total of 34 games. He's been on the disabled list for anxiety issues, hurting his knee in celebration of Matt Cain's perfect game and hurting the knee again in his first game back from the injury. In the few moments where he's been healthy enough to play, Huff's posted a .148/.284/.246 line. Those are the numbers of a player that can no longer compete.
Bruce Bochy would be wise to let Huff go, to not attempt to wrangle a roster spot for him when he "heals" from his next injury. There are other players the Giants need more this season, and it insults them to let Huff take a single swing or field one grounder. Enough is enough. We love you Huff Daddy, but it's time go find your briefs.
1. Play Small Ball
In baseball, we tend to focus on the big moments. Mammoth home runs, no-hitters and slick double plays dominate our Top 10 highlights every night. But the little things are what make champions, which is why Bruce Bochy needs to get some things fixed in a hurried.
First off, sacrifice bunts. The Giants' starting pitchers rank 11th in the National League in successfully executed sacrifice bunts. That's unacceptable. The bottom of the Giants batting order is lacking in power, but the potential for singles and walks is there. Batters like Brandon Crawford and Angel Pagan need to know that if they get to first, the pitching spot will buy them a base.
Another weak area is hitting with runners in scoring position. At the beginning of this past weekend's series against the Rockies, broadcaster Dave Flemming noted that the Giants were 1-for-39 with two outs and the bases loaded. That stat is so putrid it makes me want to wash my hands after typing it.
The problem with most of the batters is that they are swinging for the proverbial "five-run home run," which is to say, looking to slug their way into glory instead of sitting on something to bloop into shallow right. Baseball is a team game, and hitting approaches should reflect that.
Finally, we come to the errors. They've come in all shapes and sizes, from mental blunders to mismatched arms to the truly inexplicable. And they have to stop. The Giants are sitting on 81 errors, good for second worse in the majors.
There is no quick fix solution I can offer beyond the painfully simple, bordering on desperate advice that they just stop making them. Solidifying the defense gives the starting pitching leverage, which in turn lessens the pressure on the offense. Maybe you can't win a game from lack of errors, but you can certainly lose one from a surplus of them.
Should Bochy be able to get the small things sorted out, suddenly each game is much easier to win. San Francisco is much more of a threat. Throw a hot bat from Hunter Pence and a semi-decent Tim Lincecum in there, and baby, you got a stew going!