As the start of the 2012 MLB postseason draws near, one hitting-related question looms large for Bruce Bochy and his San Francisco Giants:
Who will man left field now that it's go-time?
Left fielder Melky Cabrera left the Giants in August, disgraced and disturbed. Ironically, Cabrera's absence gave the team a shot in the arm. The Giants would finish off the season posting a stellar 29-14 record without their All-Star.
Even so, Cabrera's two successors, Gregor Blanco and Xavier Nady, have not exactly powered through pitchers and dazzled with deftness.
Blanco started off spring training on a tear. Through May, Blanco was a reliable everyday player, with a slash line of .289/.401/.421 and on-pace to capture 85 walks. His SO/BB ratio was 1.27. A career minor leaguer, he was making heads turn with his astonishing transition from bench to base path.
Then, reality set in.
Emerson once said, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." He might have reconsidered his appraisal if he knew anything about baseball.
Consistency is also the hobgoblin of poised bats, and Blanco lacked poise. In June, his approach started suffering from overeagerness. His swing seemed perennially late, and he whiffed when he wasn't fouling pitches off. From June on, Blanco has hit .226/.298/.312. His SO/BB ratio was fast approaching 3.
So much for consistency.
Xavier Nady, on the other hand, started 2012 with the Washington Nationals, playing fitfully. He was the owner of a hideous .151/.211/.275 slash in 109 plate appearances. Nady claimed he was playing through a wrist injury. After a trip to the DL, he joined the Giants on September 1.
In his first AB as a Giant, Nady hit a three-run double against the hapless Chicago Cubs. Giants fans everywhere cheered, then sneered, worried that their skipper would overvalue this impermanent contribution.
(Cubs fans everywhere just sneered.)
Nady has hit .261/.358/.435 as a Giant in 53 PAs but has been underwhelming. Over the same period, Blanco has hit .291/.316/.382 in 58 PAs but has been lackluster.
Nady hits for power, Blanco hits for average. Or, let me rephrase that: Nady hopes for power, Blanco prays for hits. Neither player's potential is actualized much—at least, not recently. Perhaps that potential was a smokescreen from the beginning.
Still, both are showing signs of life, if not vague promise.
During the Giants' final series against the San Diego Padres, Nady hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and had another robbed from him by Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin. For a team with historically few home runs, that kind of pop is enticing, even if it's ultimately a mirage.
Against Clayton Kershaw on the final day of the season, Blanco teased two walks out of the notoriously stingy southpaw. I know it's a small sample size, but it's somewhat promising for someone who had three walks for the entire month of September. Maybe not.
Bochy will most likely platoon Blanco and Nady, then play the hot hand if and when it shows up. It probably won't show.
But in the 2012 postseason, I like Blanco, for wholly unstatistical, emotional reasons. That potential that he was showing early on? I want him to show me it wasn't a fluke, hoping against hope.
Blanco's also a plus defender with nice range. He knows—a smidgen better than Nady, at least—how to work a walk, even if it means accessing his former self, the one that was so patient in the early part of the season. And he's quick, with just three fewer stolen bases than the team leader, Angel Pagan.
Don't forget, Blanco's got a little bit of trickery up his sleeve, too.
Sure, Nady might jack a ball just over the fence and hit the occasional gapper. But he's slower than Blaco, a worse defender, and has less to prove.
In the end, there's not an answer out there about who's the clear choice to win the job. But, in the postseason, when the chill sets in and the laws of the universe get all topsy-turvy, I'd rather have the fast, scrappy guy who played with fire than the lumbering power-hitter.
Call me crazy. It's about that time.