5 San Francisco Giants Weaknesses That Might Be Exposed Down the Stretch
This is not the same article it would have been 48 hours ago.
In the wake of Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension for steroid use, the problems facing the San Francisco Giants have magnified immensely. Gone is the team's three-spot hitter, its left fielder and the catalyst of an offense which had just started to congeal into something formidable.
Sure, the problems unrelated to Cabrera are still present, perhaps even amplified by the absence of his bat and glove. Still, these issues must now find their place behind what must surely be viewed as the team's most pressing need: confidence. A blow of this magnitude can cripple a clubhouse, turning bats soggy and rendering pitchers more vulnerable. Even Lou Seal will need a pep talk before he is next called upon to dance atop the dugout.
And yet, the season isn't over.
San Francisco is a half game out of first place. There is reason to be hopeful. What the Giants must do now is analyze the weakest aspects of their team and reinforce them. The Dodgers are coming full-steam ahead and the Diamondbacks aren't far behind. Here's a rundown on the five biggest issues facing the Giants, and what they can do to fix them.
5. A Patchwork Bullpen
First there was Brian Wilson, whose season ended before it began. Then Guillermo Mota earned himself a 100-game suspension for a second positive PED test. There was Jeremy Affeldt's injury, and Sergio Romo's periodic elbow concerns. A rotating door of band-aid options have also tried their hand, names like Steve Edlefsen, Shane Loux and Dan Otero.
In short, nothing has come easy for the San Francisco bullpen in 2012.
At present, the team is welcoming Jose Mijares (off waivers from Kansas City) and Eric Hacker (a call-up from Triple-A Fresno) to AT&T Park. The plan for save situations is the dreaded closer-by-committee. Jeremy Affeldt has been razor sharp, and earned himself a place as the go-to guy in the ninth inning. Santiago Casilla, while hampered by blister issues, is still a dominant arm. Brad Penny is on the disabled list, where he'll hopefully stay. Throw in Romo, Javier Lopez, Clay Hensley and George Kontos, and the question is simply: Is it enough?
Yes. The talent is there, even if the results have been lukewarm thus far. If the four-man tandem of Romo, Lopez, Affeldt and Casilla can display the dominance we all know they're capable of, the rest of the arms are definitely capable of converting close games into wins.
Solution: Trust Affeldt, don't bring Penny back and stay vigilant on the waiver wire for a potential closer.
4. No Oomph on the Bench
The San Francisco Giants bench is about as threatening as a toy poodle. If Bruce Bochy thinks Joaquin Arias, Hector Sanchez and Ryan Theriot are going to intimidate opposing pitchers, he's in for a rude awakening. The move yesterday to add Justin Christian does not help matters much.
The waiver wire is a gamble, and the options there are either unfeasible (Alfonso Soriano, Scott Hairston) or undesirable (the Houston Astros). Brian Sabean told KNBR host Tom Tolbert that Gary Brown wasn't about to make his major league debut, so what options are left?
Solution: Don't be afraid to use Hector Sanchez. Keep a nose to the waiver wire. Don't count out Aubrey Huff, if and when he returns. Sometimes dire circumstances bring out the best in players.*
*Full disclosure, I advocated for Huff to be DFA'd last week, but at this point, it's time to hope Huff is more parts 2010 Cody Ross than 2010 Jose Guillen.
3. The Fragility of Pablo Sandoval
Another season, another stint on the disabled list for the Kung Fu Panda.
So far in 2012, Sandoval has been sidelined with a broken hamate bone and a tweaked hamstring. His hefty frame leaves him vulnerable for exacerbated bangs and bruises. Now with Melky Cabrera gone, there is absolutely no room for Sandoval to get hurt again. Regardless, the potential remains that he might.
There is perhaps no weakness that would be more immediately and acutely exposed than what a lineup lacking Cabrera and Sandoval would (fail to) achieve. Aside from bubble wrapping Sandoval before every first pitch, there's no real way to insure him against injury. But there are a few things that would go a long way toward upping his odds.
One: Leave Panda at third. Asking Sandoval to play out of a position is a sure-fire way to increase his chances of getting hurt. Two: Keep subbing him late in games. While Sandoval is still in recovery mode from his hamstring, there's no harm in letting Arias or Scutaro spot him at third for the final few innings of select games. If both of these suggestions are followed, the Panda should make it through.
Solution: No first base shenanigans and get him rest whenever possible. Remove all remaining hamate bones next offseason.
2. Filling the Melk Man's Shoes
A collective gut punch was felt around the Bay Area when news broke that San Francisco golden boy Melky Cabrera had cheated his way into our hearts. Now the Giants face 44 games without their best hitter, a man who's been the face of a 2012 club with playoff aspirations. A day removed from the bombshell, and all the What Ifs are floating around fans like the ghosts from A Christmas Carol.
What if we'd signed Carlos Beltran instead? What if Cabrera had been suspended a month ago, when the option to trade freely was still possible? What if Melky wore Gregor Blanco's uniform and maybe no one noticed?
Sadly, no hypothetical will change the actual: the Giants are down a key player and they need an answer fast. We've looked at the dregs of the waiver wire, and there are no mulligans in that lot. We know who's down on the farm. It's like being a letter away from a bingo in Scrabble and just starting at your tile rack, willing the pieces to morph into what you need. Brian Sabean and the Giants simply don't have a bingo.
One way to go is shuffling the current team, position-wise. Brandon Belt and Marco Scutaro could both be slotted into left field, but I don't see it happening. Another choice is to stick with Gregor Blanco and hope he gets hot again. We all saw how vital he can be in the leadoff spot, but his recent woes at the plate are enough to temper expectations. Lastly, the Giants could turn to Xavier Nady, recently signed to a minor league deal after being cut by the Washington Nationals.
Solution: Give Gregor Blanco two weeks to right himself. If he continues to slump, platoon him with Brandon Belt or Marco Scutaro. Make every effort necessary to upgrade via trade before August 31.
1. Tim Lincecum Is Broken
For a moment, there was hope.
Following the 2012 All-Star break, Lincecum was 5-1. There were moments of concern, but overall, a bit of optimism had begun to mix into the San Francisco fog.
Then there was August. First, it was a win at Colorado. While the offense put up eight runs, Lincecum allowed three. Not terrible by any means, but also a bit shy of dominant. In his next start, Timmy gave up three, this time to a visiting Rockies squad. The Giants put up a goose egg behind him, ensuring a loss. Lastly, there was Wednesday, aka the Day the Milk Soured. A team desperately in need of a win instead got four innings of four-run ball from their one-time ace.
With Barry Zito a wild card and Matt Cain pitching below expectations, the highly-touted Giants starting rotation cannot withstand a meltdown from Lincecum. They may have to anyway.
Lincecum won't be shuffled to the bullpen. His spot in the order won't be skipped. There are no Ryan Vogelsongs ready to step in and save the day. The only way out of these dire straits are via the arm of the problem himself. In short, Lincecum must fix himself. Unless he can take the mound and command the game once again, no shortage of Cabreras or closers will even be worth fretting over.
Solution: Watch your DVR'd copy of Lincecum starting Game 5 of the World Series and pray.