How the SF Giants Can Fix Problems Exposed During Recent Failures

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How the SF Giants Can Fix Problems Exposed During Recent Failures
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Go ahead, Giants fans. Close your eyes tight and pretend it's June 8. No one will blame you.

A mere three weeks ago—doesn't it feel like longer?—the Giants were 42-21, 9.5 games up in the National League West. They were, quite simply, rolling—pitching well, hitting even better and in all ways exceeding expectations.

Then, without warning, the wheels came off.

Since June 8, San Francisco has gone 4-15, including a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park that sealed a gut-punching four-game sweep and a dismal 1-6 homestand.

The Giants have now lost six consecutive series—three of them sweeps—and watched their comfortable division lead evaporate. Entering play Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers had moved into a tie for first. 

It's easy to look at the Giants' slide and draw a straight line to last season, when, after a promising start, San Francisco was undone by a June swoon. 

There are differences. By the end of last June, the Giants already had a losing record. This year, even after those dreadful three weeks, they stand at 46-36. If they'd gone on a 15-4 tear to move 10 games over .500 and catch the favored, hated Dodgers, there'd be joy by the Bay.

Instead, there's hand-wringing, head-shaking and a host of questions. Most pressingly: With June in the rear view, what can the Giants do to restart the engine and resume their winning ways?

Let's begin in the bullpen.

Closer Sergio Romo has blown three of his last five save attempts and seen his ERA balloon to 5.17. Worse, he has looked eminently hittable; his once-devastating slider is suddenly unreliable against righties and a liability against lefties. (As CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly notes: Last year Romo threw 506 sliders and only one was hit for a home run; this year he's thrown 244 and five have been hit out.)

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Recognizing the need for a change, manager Bruce Bochy announced before Sunday's game that Romo will be relieved of closing duties. Instead, Bochy said, he'll use a mix of pitchers to get the "final six outs," per SFGate.com's Henry Schulman

"I think it’s the right time we tweaked this a little," Bochy told Schulman. "[Romo is] still going to be part of the mix, but we’re going to back off a little bit and do it by committee."

It could work. Bochy's committee includes weapons like lefty Jeremy Affeldt (1.33 ERA) and righties Santiago Casilla (1.17 ERA) and Jean Machi (1.36 ERA), all of whom have proved their late-inning mettle.

On the offensive side, things are equally dicey. The Giants have scored just 12 runs in their last seven games, and they've been shut out twice. Their power and situational execution—two early strengths—have virtually disappeared.

After an uncharacteristic slump, Buster Posey has begun hitting the ball with authority (his game-tying double Saturday night against flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was a true thing of beauty). Yet others—including, notably, Michael Morse—have tailed off.

Morse still leads the Giants with 13 home runs, but he's been stuck on that number since June 5. As a team, the Giants hit only 14 home runs in June after clubbing 63 in the season's first two months. Meanwhile, their batting average with runners in scoring position has fallen to .243.

There is help on the horizon. Brandon Belt, who was leading the team in home runs when he broke his thumb in May, could return by next week, according to MLB.com. So could leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, who has battled a back strain.

Matt York/Associated Press

The Giants may also look for reinforcements at the trade deadline. 

Second base is the most obvious place for an upgrade. After flashing some early power, Brandon Hicks has gone stone cold—he entered play Monday hitting a pedestrian .168. Joe Panik, the Giants' first-round pick in 2011, had two hits in his first start June 22, but he has managed just two hits in 16 at-bats since. And Marco Scutaro, still rehabbing his ailing back, remains an enigma.

The Giants have been linked to several names, per MLBTradeRumors.com, including the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy. 

San Francisco is also rumored to be considering a trade for a starting pitcher—the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price and the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija are the big fish—though, for now, that doesn't appear to be a pressing need.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson are having terrific seasons. Matt Cain pitched like his old self in his most recent start against Cincinnati. Ryan Vogelsong is in the midst of yet another improbable renaissance. And Tim Lincecum just tossed a no-hitter.

Really, scanning the Giants' roster, it's hard to find many glaring holes. Hunter Pence is hitting .293/.356/.469 while playing almost every inning. Pablo Sandoval has shaken off his early funk and made the panda-hat crowd stand up and cheer. Posey, again, looks like Posey.

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Even the admittedly thin bench has been bolstered by unexpected contributions from the likes of minor league free agent Tyler Colvin, who got the call after Belt's injury and has posted a .717 OPS in limited action.

The Giants almost certainly aren't as bad as they've been for the last three weeks, or as good as they were for the first two months. Meet somewhere in the middle and you get a team that can contend but likely won't run away with the division.

Pretty much what most people expected.

The key, for now, is to stop the bleeding. Whether they do it through a reshuffled bullpen, the return of injured players, a couple of deadline pickups or some other means, they've got to do it. And soon.

Otherwise, there could be a whole lot of Giants fans with their eyes closed tight. 

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