A lot of teams would love to add a .346 hitter for a postseason run.
Not the San Francisco Giants. They had the option of adding suspended All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera to their postseason roster if and when they reach the National League Championship Series, but the latest word out of San Francisco is that they're not going to do so.
Alex Pavlovic of the Bay Area News Group has the latest straight from Giants manager Bruce Bochy:
Bochy: Melky Cabrera NOT coming back for postseason.— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) September 27, 2012
There you have it.
The Giants have officially chosen to take a calculated risk. They have their reasons, but choosing not to have a .346 hitter at their disposal in the playoffs is a bold decision that could easily become a foolish one.
But for now, it's not already a foolish decision because the Giants have done more than enough to prove that they don't need Cabrera in order to win games.
I mean, let's be real.
It was widely expected that Cabrera's positive testosterone test would doom the Giants, but in reality it's done anything but that. Instead of playing significantly worse without him, they've played significantly better.
The proof, as always, is in the numbers. The Giants were 62-51 in the games in which Cabrera played, and 64-53 overall at the time of his suspension. That's a .547 winning percentage. In the 38 games they've played without him, the Giants are 26-12. That's a winning percentage of .684.
Over a full season, a winning percentage like that would lead to a 111-win season, just saying.
The Giants have been so hot since Cabrera's suspension not so much because their pitching has picked up the slack, but because their offense has actually improved since Cabrera was removed from the equation.
In the 117 games the Giants played with Cabrera on their active roster, they averaged 4.25 runs per game. Over their last 38 games, the Giants have averaged 5.11 runs per game. They've been particularly hot in September, scoring 122 runs in 23 games and hitting an NL-best .296 as a team.
The Giants' offense has been so much better in Cabrera's absence because the key hitters the Giants still have at their disposal have caught fire.
Before Cabrera's suspension, leadoff man Angel Pagan was hitting .280/.332/.414. Ever since, he's hit .316/.365/.519 with nine stolen bases and 36 runs scored in 38 games. He's way more of a spark atop the Giants' lineup now than he was before.
Marco Scutaro has been just as good hitting out of the No. 2 hole. In the 37 games he's played since Cabrera's suspension, Scutaro has hit .380/.394/.480 with 29 runs and 24 RBI. He's done an excellent job of picking up RBI and setting the table for the Giants' big hitters.
And those big hitters have held up their end of the bargain as well. Pablo Sandoval is hitting a modest .275/.333/.406 since Cabrera's suspension, but he's also picked up 27 RBI in 37 games. That equates to an 119-RBI season over a full 162-game slate.
Buster Posey, meanwhile, has just kept rolling right along. He was hitting .331/.407/.544 before Cabrera's suspension, and he's hitting .333/.399/.526 with four homers and 26 RBI in 36 games ever since.
Posey, of course, is a significant figure in the Cabrera saga for reasons more than just his bat. The Giants' clubhouse is his clubhouse. It has been all along, and it was evident right away when word of Cabrera's suspension came down that neither Posey nor any of his teammates were sad to see him go.
John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle went looking for sympathetic players in the Giants' clubhouse after Cabrera was suspended, and he found only one (reliever Clay Hensley). Nobody else had much to say, and Posey addressed Cabrera's suspension in a very telling manner.
"Ultimately, it was a bad decision," said Posey, with what Shea wrote was a "splash of anger" in his voice. He then added, "That's all I'm really going to say about it."
You're not going to get any of the Giants to admit that Cabrera had a negative influence on the team while he was playing. Not now, anyway. And though Cabrera is undoubtedly guilty of making some selfish decisions along the way this season, it probably shouldn't be assumed that he didn't want to win as much as his teammates did.
Still, the general chemistry of the Giants has certainly taken a turn for the better since Cabrera was removed from the equation. The team has rallied around Posey, and the energy with which the Giants have played over the last several weeks is nothing short of astounding. Barring an unforeseen disaster of some kind, they're going to roll into October with tons of momentum and tons of swagger.
And indeed, the fact that it won't be their first rodeo makes one like their chances.
It's easy to sit here and say that the Giants won't need Cabrera in the postseason when the time comes just because they haven't needed him over the last few weeks. However, the reality of the situation could change pretty drastically once the postseason actually gets underway.
For all the good things that can be said about the run the Giants are on, it must be looked at from a certain perspective. Yes, they're playing .684 baseball without Cabrera, but they haven't been beating up tough competition. Most of their wins have come against teams like the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, with series victories against the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs mixed in.
These aren't the teams that the Giants are going to come across in October. If the season ended today, they'd be set for a matchup against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. The Reds took the season series from the Giants, three games to four.
The Giants could also come across the Washington Nationals, who beat them five times out of six this season. They could come up against the Atlanta Braves, who split a series against the Giants at AT&T Park the last time the two teams hooked up. The St. Louis Cardinals are another potential opponent for the Giants, and they managed to split their season series with the Giants at three games apiece.
The Giants are going to be able to match up against the best of the best that the Senior Circuit has to offer because of their pitching, but it's not hard to imagine their red-hot offense suddenly going cold against the strong pitching staffs featured by the Reds, Nats, Braves and Cardinals.
Per FanGraphs, all four of them rank in the top six of the National League in starters' ERA.
Of course, it must be noted that Cabrera handled himself pretty well against these clubs this season.
- Vs. Cincinnati: .333/.379/.333
- Vs. Washington: .368/.350/.526
- Vs. Atlanta: .462/.533/.923
- Vs. St. Louis: .286/.304/.381
It's doubtful that the Giants are going to suddenly start missing Cabrera's personality, but they could easily end up missing his bat when they're in the middle of what they hope will be a run to their second World Series in three years. He may be a jerk who cheated his way to a .346 batting average, but switch-hitters who routinely post high-line drive rates like Cabrera aren't so easily found.
This is to say nothing of his rocket of an arm that opposing baserunners know to fear.
The Giants shouldn't be faulted for banking on the notion that their chemistry and their hot hitting will hold true in the postseason without Cabrera, but there's no denying that they've effectively chosen to deny themselves a legitimate weapon.
They wouldn't have even had to start him if they didn't want to. To make sure he knew his place, Bochy could have kept Cabrera confined to the bench, using him only as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement.
Even in a role like that, Cabrera still would have been an asset. If Bochy were to continue to roll with a left field platoon that includes the likes of Gregor Blanco and Xavier Nady, going to the bench for Cabrera would have been like going to the bench for Babe Ruth. He may not be a better teammate than the left fielders the Giants are using these days, but he's certainly a better individual player.
And now for another but...
Are the Giants still a World Series-caliber team without Melky Cabrera?
Even knowing how much of an asset Cabrera could have been for the Giants in October, we should all stop well short of forecasting their inevitable doom. If their pitchers perform up to their capabilities and their offense stays hot, the Giants will be more than capable of matching up against the Reds, Nationals or whoever else they may come across.
Full disclosure: I've felt this way all along about the Giants. They were my preseason pick to represent the National League in the World Series, and this was before I knew Cabrera had stuff inside him that would allow him to hit .346.
The Giants have been one of the strongest teams in the Senior Circuit since Day One. They will continue to be one of the league's strongest teams in October regardless of what they do with Cabrera. They're just as legit this year as they were back in 2010.
And besides, one assumes that the Giants know what they're doing. The announcement has been made, and it stands to reason that the Giants know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they've made the right decision.
But rest assured, they're also crossing their fingers behind their backs right about now.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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