The San Francisco Giants know what a championship hangover feels like. They went through one in 2011 when they went 86-76 and missed out on the postseason.
But what's happening this year is worse. It took a little while for it to kick in, but what the Giants are dealing with in 2013 is a real skull-rattler that has pushed them into fourth place in the National League West. Hope is fading fast.
No, it hasn't completely disappeared yet. It would have if the Giants played in a better division, but they play in a division in which the leader is only four games over .500. They also know from what's happened with the Los Angeles Dodgers that a rise from the ashes can happen in the NL West.
For the Giants, however, a similar resurgence is going to be awfully tough.
They have less time to turn things around, for starters, and one needs only to take stock of the numbers to conclude that things aren't looking good for the defending champs.
In their last 50 games, the Giants have racked up 17 wins and 33 losses. That's a .34 winning percentage that would equate to well over 100 losses over a full season. They've been worse since the middle of June, losing 19 of their last 25.
If it's reasons you want, heck, pick one.
Over at FanGraphs, they have nifty "Last 30 Days" filters for stats that are very helpful in situations like these. Put a filter on team offense over the last 30 days, and you'll see that the Giants have scored fewer runs than any other team on baseball.
That has much to do with how guys who are supposed to be hitting suddenly aren't hitting.
Pablo Sandoval has played in 19 games since June 4. In those games, he has a .434 OPS.
Hunter Pence had an .860 OPS on June 15. He has a .464 OPS in 23 games since.
Marco Scutaro missed some time in the middle of June with a nasty finger injury. He collected two hits in each of the first two games upon his return, but he's hitting just .226 with a .511 OPS in 17 games since.
Brandon Crawford, meanwhile, has more than just regressed to the mean after a surprising start. He had his OPS as high as .840 as late as May 12. In 49 games since, it's .620.
While it's possible to have faith that Sandoval, Pence and Scutaro aren't this bad, you need only remember who we're talking about. It's not unheard of for Sandoval to have a bad year, Pence was brutal down the stretch last year and Scutaro isn't much more than a singles hitter even when things are clicking.
For now, what's going on with the offense is reminiscent of what happened in 2011, when Bruce Bochy was swapping bodies in and out of the lineup all season while the Giants were on their way to finishing last in the National League in runs scored.
The Giants would have been doomed all the way if they didn't have any pitching in 2011, but they did. Tim Lincecum was still an ace, Matt Cain was still one of the best-kept secrets in baseball, Madison Bumgarner was coming into his own in his first full season and Ryan Vogelsong was writing the beginning of one of the great redemption stories in recent memory.
The 2013 Giants are different, and not in a good way. They have a 4.15 ERA on the season and a 4.28 ERA over the last 30 days. Among the notables, only Bumgarner is still what he was in 2011.
Cain seems to be broken. After having zero starts in which he allowed six earned runs or more in 2012, Cain has already had five such starts in 2013. His most recent outing saw him fail to escape the first inning for the first time in his career. Word from Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area is that Cain has loose bone fragments in his elbow, though Bochy insists they aren't affecting Cain.
Lincecum, to his credit, has been better lately with a 3.83 ERA in seven starts since the start of June. But he's still not the top-of-the-rotation guy he used to be. A "good" night for him now constitutes a quality start rather than seven or eight dominant innings.
Then there's Barry Zito. He's been outstanding at home, but he has yet to log as many as six innings in a start on the road while racking up a 9.38 ERA away from AT&T park.
The Giants' best starter in recent days? That would be Chad Gaudin, who has a 2.86 ERA in five starts since the beginning of June. A great story and a lift that the Giants' rotation certainly needed, but not exactly the kind of stretch they want to count on continuing for much longer, seeing as how Gaudin hasn't been a full-time starter since 2009.
So...what can the Giants count on? Good question.
When the Dodgers were struggling to find their footing, they were at least able to look forward to reinforcements.
Zack Greinke's return was going to be a factor once he returned from his broken collarbone. The Dodgers also didn't have Hanley Ramirez for most of the first two months of the season. They also always had the Yasiel Puig card to play when the time was right, and the means to go make a trade if they decided they needed help from outside the organization.
Thus, we arrive where the Dodgers are now.
Greinke struggled to find his footing when he was fresh off the DL, but he has a 3.33 ERA over his last seven starts. Ramirez and Puig both established themselves in the lineup in early June and have been on a tear ever since. Ned Colletti put some money in the Miami Marlins vending machine last week and got Ricky Nolasco, who allowed one earned run in seven innings in his Dodgers debut.
The Dodgers are rolling now, and they still might not be at 100 percent. They can allow themselves to hold out hope that Matt Kemp could still be a factor in 2013, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today hinted this week that the Dodgers are in on Matt Garza. Their best days might still be ahead of them.
It's hard to envision such a future for the Giants. They're certainly owed some better days going forward, but that's not so much because of help on the way.
On the disabled list are Angel Pagan, Santiago Casilla and Vogelsong. Pagan's going to be out until much later in the year after having hamstring surgery late last month. Casilla will be a nice addition to the Giants bullpen, but the 'pen is already the one area that's a strength for San Francisco.
Vogelsong, meanwhile, will stabilize the rotation if he gets back to where he was in 2011 and 2012, but that's a big "if" given how poorly he was pitching before he got hurt. As far as stats like FIP and xFIP were concerned, Vogelsong's 7.19 ERA was only slightly misleading (see FanGraphs).
As for the trade market, I was of the mind that Nolasco would have been a terrific fit for the Giants. But the Dodgers were more aggressive, and it's no wonder why.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News recently got general manager Brian Sabean to be honest about his team's predicament:
You can’t remake the whole lineup; you can’t remake the whole team.
We’ve been miserable in scoring runs obviously; we’ve been miserable on the road. So there’s no possible way you can get as much help as you actually need from the outside world. It’s just not going to happen.
We pretty much know who’s available and what it’s going to take. At this point, its not in best interests of our organization to move forward with anything from the outside.
The team has to be in a better position not just as far as its play but in the standings.
This is as good an indication as any that the Giants are going to stick with what they've got for now and see what's what when the deadline comes.
That's in less than three weeks, by the way. Based on how things have been going, the better bet at this point is on the Giants getting to the deadline and seeing what they could fetch for impending free agents like Pence and Lincecum. If they don't turn things around in the next few weeks, the Giants could well be sellers.
Here at the end, we find the only question that matters: What's it going to take?
Well, Murphy's law has gotten the Giants to where they are, so what they need is the opposite. They need Sandoval, Pence and Scutaro to start hitting again, and they also need Cain to figure himself out, Lincecum to get even better, Zito to pitch better on the road and, eventually, for Vogelsong to be his 2011-12 self when he comes off the DL.
That's a lot of items for one checklist. Taking care of all of them is going to take a lot of help from the baseball gods. But seeing as how the Giants won the World Series last year, I'd say the baseball gods don't owe them any favors.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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