What SF Giants Must Do to Keep Once-Bright 2014 Season from Slipping Away
There are two ways to look at the San Francisco Giants in 2014.
No. 1: Entering play Tuesday, the Giants trail the hated Los Angeles Dodgers by just 3.5 games in the National League West, and they lead the Atlanta Braves by one game for the second wild-card slot. They're in it, in other words.
No. 2: After building a 9.5-game lead over the Dodgers on June 8, the Giants have imploded, and their chances of being a factor have diminished with each gut-wrenching defeat.
If you're in the second camp, you probably need some cheering up. And if you're in the first camp, you probably need a little support.
Either way, as we accelerate into the stretch run, let's look at the biggest factors that could get San Francisco's once-promising season back on track.
Stability in the Rotation
During the championship runs of 2010 and 2012, pitching was the Giants' calling card.
It's not that San Francisco has lost it on the mound this year; entering play Tuesday, the Orange and Black ranked fifth in the National League in team ERA.
But the starting rotation hasn't been a bastion of stability.
Madison Bumgarner is having another All-Star season, while veteran free-agent pickup Tim Hudson is proving to be a fine addition.
On the other hand, former ace Matt Cain is out with season-ending elbow surgery. And Tim Lincecum has had a typically mercurial year, tossing a no-hitter but also looking erratic and eminently hittable at times while posting an unsightly 4.48 ERA.
Jake Peavy, acquired before the deadline from the Boston Red Sox, has gone 1-3 since joining the Giants. Yet, he's also coming off a start in which he allowed just one run in seven innings, en route to a Giants win.
More of the same from Peavy, plus another bout of dominance from Lincecum, would go a long way toward curing the Giants' unfamiliar pitching ills.
Return of the Morse
When the Giants signed Michael Morse in the offseason to a one-year, $6 million deal, it looked like a typical low-risk gamble.
A then-31-year-old coming off an unproductive, injury-plagued year, Morse was far from a sure bet. He also belted 31 home runs in 2011. If he could recapture even some of that pop, the Giants would make out like bandits.
For a while, they did. On June 5, Morse cracked his 13th home run. Since then, he's hit just three, and the Giants, not coincidentally, have sunk in the standings.
There's hope. Morse is hitting .385 in August and .643 over the past week.
Hopefully for San Francisco, it's sustainable—and contagious.
A Buster Posey Renaissance
Buster Posey has crammed a Rookie of the Year award, a batting title, two World Series trophies, a season-ending injury and an MVP into a scant six big league seasons. So it's tough to say he owes the Giants anything.
If anything could take San Francisco to the next level, though, it'd be a patented Posey hot streak.
It's not like Buster's 2014 numbers are bad. Entering play Tuesday, he's hitting .280 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI. Perfectly respectable—especially for a catcher.
If he went from respectable to great, though, he could well add another accolade (or trophy) to his prematurely impressive resume.
Getting Back to Health
Every team deals with injuries, and the Giants haven't been as hosed as some (hello, Texas Rangers). Still, San Francisco hasn't been blessed in the health department.
Leadoff hitter and offensive catalyst Angel Pagan has appeared in just 72 games while battling an array of maladies. First baseman Brandon Belt, who was leading the team in home runs when he went down with a fractured thumb May 9, is now out again with lingering concussion symptoms, per SFGate.com's Henry Schulman.
Second baseman Marco Scutaro, a key to the 2012 World Series run, has missed virtually the entire season with a balky back.
Pagan is back, which is good news. Belt's return is less certain. Meanwhile, the Giants seem to have at least partially replaced Scutaro's production at second base with call-up Joe Panik, who has hit .282 in 36 games.
Panik was bit by the injury bug when he dislocated his pinkie on a slide August 17, though the digit isn't broken, and he's listed as day-to-day, per Jimmy Durkin of Giants Extra.
As much as they want to get the hobbled players back, the Giants are also hoping for things to get quiet—and stay quiet—on the DL front.
Recapture the Magic
This is where it gets mushy and difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.
Somehow, though, the Giants won two World Series in four years. Call it luck, call it fate, call it what you will.
But it happened. Then it happened again, which makes it hard to dismiss.
It's not just the laundry, either. The 2014 Giants team shares a lot of DNA—from the roster to the coaching staff to the front office—with those championship clubs. This is a franchise loaded with guys who have been there and won that.
Which isn't to say there's some magic switch waiting to be flipped.
Maybe there is, though. Maybe there's a mojo hidden somewhere inside AT&T Park, and if Pablo Sandoval stumbles across it on his way to the postgame spread, maybe the Giants can suddenly be contenders again, just like that.
Stranger things have happened.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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