SF Giants Lesser Known Struggle: League's Best Pitching Every Other Day

Richard AllmanContributor IJune 25, 2009

PHOENIX - JUNE 11:  Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez #57 of the San Francisco Giants is greeted by Randy Johnson (R) and teammates after being removed from the major league baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 11, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 2-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The book on the Giants reads like this: the team has an excellent pitching staff but struggles to push runs across the plate. If anything keeps them from winning, it will be their lineup which lacks a true middle of the order hitter and often features some no-name hitters towards the bottom of the lineup.

Approaching the All-Star break, however, I am beginning to rethink this dilemma.

After watching Jonathan Sanchez labor through another start on Monday against the lowly A's and remembering the pitiful Angels series in which the Giants starters got rocked in the first two games of the series for over seven runs each, I'm starting to wonder just how good the Giants pitching staff really is.

First, the obvious. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have been absolutely dominant this year. Both look like Cy Young contenders and are showing no signs of slowing down.

Yesterday, Lincecum pitched a complete game in which he gave up just one run and struck out 12. Matt Cain shut down the powerful Rangers in his last start, going eight while giving up just three hits.

Every day these two men take the mound, every fan can feel confident that the Giants will win. Cain has posted an 8-1 record while Timmy is 7-2. A fan cannot ask for a better duo to anchor his team's rotation.

The problem is the rest of the rotation. The three lefties have been mediocre at best. Randy Johnson comes into tonight's game with an ERA sitting at five. Sanchez is even worse, with an ugly 5.57 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He has gotten progressively worse as the season has gone on, and has not pitched over six innings all year except for a lone outing on April 17.

The fact is, this is a man who needs to be moved to the bullpen. He pitches significantly better the first time through the lineup and is always a different pitcher sometime after the fifth inning.

It is clear that he does not have what it takes to be a starter in the league, and the team needs to put him in the 'pen where he can help the team instead of almost guaranteeing a loss every fifth game.

Barry Zito is another animal. He has shown flashes of brilliance, mixed with Zito-like starts such as his outing against the angels where his line read: 3.2 IP, 10 H, 7 ER. It seems as if Barry Zito comes to pitch every other start.

His ERA of 4.54 is not ideal, but certainly better than his ERA in late June during the past two seasons. When his curveball flattens out, the balls start to fly. This happens roughly every ten days.

A pitching staff with three out of five members posting ERA's above 4.5 is generally not considered dominant.

The hitters, on the other hand, are starting to come around. Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa are heating up and are showing a lot of promise. Pablo Sandoval is developing into a superstar. Aaron Rowand is finally earning his paycheck. If the Giants trade for a hitter at the deadline, who gets replaced?

The only position I see an opening at is second base. Aquiring an outfielder will cut the playing time of Schierholtz and Andres Torres; both have performed well. Taking out Ishikawa to put in someone else at first base will also stunt his growth at the major league level at the time that he just seems to be blossoming.

Surprisingly, at this point in time, I am more content with the batting order than I am with the pitching rotation. Granted, it is not an all-star lineup by any means, but I think it would be detrimental to trade for someone like Josh Willingham to take time away from Schierholtz who could probably produce more at that position anyway.

Any trade they can make will not benefit their lineup enough to justify slowing the development of their young talent.

In short, I don't want Mark DeRosa, Josh Willingham, Nick Johnson, or any mediocre position player. They have nothing to offer. What the Giants really need is a fifth starter. And a fourth starter. And maybe even a third starter.

Now, the Giants are not going to move Barry Zito or Randy Johnson out of the rotation. The best we can hope for is Sanchez to move to the bullpen (although the bullpen has been so good lately, I don't know who gets replaced) and bring up Kevin Pucetas from Fresno to replace him.

Some have been calling for Alderson or Bumgarner, but it doesn't feel right to me (see Kershaw, Clayton).

The jump from AA to the majors is too much for 19 and 20 year olds, and I think another year of development will produce the best long-term results. Pucetas has been solid at AAA and he deserves a shot at Sanchez's rotation spot. I think anyone with an arm can do better than Sanchez at this point.

Down the stretch, the Giants are going to need solid pitching to pick up their frequent power-outages at the plate if they want to win the wild card or even possibly catch the Dodgers.

At this point, I'm not sure if they have it. As we stand now, it just feels like the Giants can manage a good outing every other day, and I'm not sure if that's going to cut it.


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