After getting off to the best start in the majors (42-21) after two months and amassing a 9.5-game lead in their division, the Giants went a major league-worst 10-22 from June 9 to the All-Star break, falling a game back of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The first half of the season was in itself a tale of two halves. A tale which saw Giants manager Bruce Bochy go from telling reporters he had “nothing to complain about” after getting 21 games above .500 to telling reporters “there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough” after the Giants blew their lofty division lead in less than a month.
So rather than start the second half with a comfortable cushion in their race to a division title, the Giants look to be in a fight to keep pace with their NL West rival.
Where do they go from here?
For starters, the Giants need to address their lack of offensive depth.
At first, the orange and black were able to stave off an early-season thumb injury to Brandon Belt, but the loss of Angel Pagan to a back injury left them with a gaping hole in their leadoff spot—backup center fielder/leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco is batting .237 with only five more hits than strikeouts.
All-Star right fielder Hunter Pence, who was already batting second because of the first-half absence of Marco Scutaro, recently moved up to the leadoff position to fill Pagan’s void, which mostly just shifted the lack of production back a spot.
With Scutaro missing the first half of the season with a back injury of his own, the Giants attempted to have newly acquired Brandon Hicks carry the load at second base. Hicks was able to hit eight home runs through May 23, but after his power disappeared, his less than .200 batting average and more than 2-1 strikeout-to-hit ratio became too much of a detriment to keep him on the major league roster.
The injury concerns forced the Giants to have to rely a lot more on guys like journeyman outfielder Tyler Colvin and rookies Ehire Adrianza, Joe Panik and Adam Duvall; all of whom are batting .237 or worse in the majors this season.
The Giants showed that with their starters healthy and all systems go, their offense could produce at a pace that Giants fans hadn’t seen since the early 2000s. However, their injury issues have also shown that they don’t have the bench depth or surplus of major league-ready prospects to jump in if a key player goes down or needs a day off.
San Francisco needs Belt, Scutaro and Pagan to all return healthy and productive soon in order to have a productive second half—Scutaro returned to the team to start the second half but is having trouble playing in consecutive games and only has one hit in 11 at-bats; Belt returned from his thumb injury but hit the disabled list again this week after suffering a concussion.
It would be novel to think the Giants could address their leadoff and second base woes before the trade deadline. However, the Giants don’t have the minor league depth to pull off a trade for any high-profile players without draining the farm system of the few players who could be productive major leaguers in the years to come—namely pitchers Kyle Crick and Heath Hembree, and catcher Andrew Susac.
Offensively, the Giants’ most realistic approach in the second half is going to be hoping Pagan and Belt come back healthy during the final stretch of the season and perhaps trying to find a veteran player in need of a change of scenery before the trade deadline who can be had at a low cost—which Brian Sabean has done before with the likes of Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Marco Scutaro.
The recent acquisition of Dan Uggla is one such low-risk, potentially high-reward move; though a simple change of scenery is unlikely to change the fact that Uggla is facing a second-straight season of batting under .200 and seems to have lost the power that once made him an All-Star.
They’ll also need Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to produce in the heart of the lineup. Posey has had a decent season by catching standards but has yet to put together the type of stretch he did in 2010 and 2012 in which he’s capable of carrying a team. Sandoval was batting under .200 until May 14 but has since caught fire and raised his average to nearly .280.
The same approach to the second half can be said of the Giants’ pitching needs.
They have done well to maintain a solid pitching staff and avoid the same drastic peaks and valleys that the offense has seen this season, and currently have the sixth-best team ERA in the majors.
Madison Bumgarner is tied for most wins in the National League (12)—and was the second pitcher in history to hit two grand slams in one season, according to Daniel Popper of mlb.com—and Tim Hudson has the eighth-best ERA (2.65) in the National League among starting pitchers.
Like the Giants offense, however, their pitching staff doesn’t have a lot of backup options should a starter go down. Matt Cain recently landed on the DL with elbow inflammation and long reliever/spot starter Yusmeiro Petit gave up five earned runs in five innings against the Phillies in his absence.
Cain has also had a bad season in general, racking up the highest season ERA of his career (4.18) and a measly 2-7 record to go along with it, and there’s no time frame for when his elbow will be healthy enough to allow him to pitch again this season.
Vogelsong has struggled as well, though he’s been able to seemingly bounce back after rough outings and has kept his ERA just under 4.00, and he's racked up just short of 100 strikeouts this season.
After Petit, the list of backup starters dwindles down to minor leaguers who simply aren’t ready.
Since Jeff Samardzija is no longer available and guys like Cliff Lee and David Price presumably have too high of a price tag for the Giants’ lack of assets, their best bet in adding depth down the stretch is going to be going the affordable route; the likes of the New York Mets’ Bartolo Colon, Oakland A’s’ Tommy Milone or Boston Red Sox’ Jake Peavy come to mind.
Andrew Baggarly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area recently wrote an article echoing similar sentiments about the possible starting pitching options on the market for the Giants.
With Sergio Romo being stripped of his closer role after seeing his ERA swell up to over 5.00 and blowing three games over a five-appearance span in June, the Giants will also have to bank that the Santiago Casilla/Jeremy Affeldt closer-by-committee plan is able to hold up. There really isn’t another reliever ready to take on the reign as the team’s closer, and the bullpen has done well enough in Bochy’s plan of always going with the best matchups that they’ve been able to maintain the fourth-lowest bullpen ERA in the majors.
Overall, they have a staff capable of making a postseason push, but the struggles of Cain and the lack of starting depth mean it would behoove the Giants to add a veteran starter to give the team a little more leeway should the rotation be anything less than 100 percent or should Cain’s elbow keep him from returning for a while.
Digging into the schedule
During the second half of the season, the Giants will have 27 games (out of 67) against opponents at .500 or better.
They’ll play 28 home games and 39 road games, which actually may be a good thing considering they have a higher win percentage on the road than at home this season.
The Giants will get plenty of opportunities to control their own destiny as they face an NL West opponent in all but three games in September.
They will face their biggest inter-division competition—the Dodgers—nine times during the second half of the season, with six of those nine games coming in September.