Bengie Molina Moved to Fifth in Order: What Took So Long?

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer ISeptember 16, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 26:  Bengie Molina #1 of the San Francisco Giants hits a pinch hit 3 run home run to give the Giants a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning of their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park on August 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Reebok)

With the exception of the last three contests, the San Francisco Giants have failed all year long to sustain quality offense from one game to the next.

But during two of the three latest offensive outbursts (seven runs, nine runs, 10 runs), catcher Bengie Molina has hit in the fifth spot in the order. Prior to the drop in the order, Molina hadn't hit anywhere but cleanup for the Giants since 2007 when Barry Bonds was still with the team.

The sarcastic comment to make as a Giants fan is: "It's about goddamn time!!"

Despite another season of 15-plus home runs and 70-plus RBI from Molina, the Giants backstop has seen his average drop from a solid .292 last year to his current .265 mark.

Adding to the decline, Molina's on-base percentage has dropped from .322 to .286, and most notably, his average with runners in scoring position has fallen 63 points from .313 in 2008 to .250 in 2009.

Yet, it has seemingly taken Giants manager Bruce Bochy almost the entire season to try Molina in a different spot.

Why it took so long for the skipper to drop Molina to the fifth spot is absolutely puzzling, especially when you consider the fact that the Giants are last in the league in on-base percentage. It would be wise to have your RBI guys lower in the lineup, in order to maximize their at-bats with runners on base.

Too many times this season we have seen the Giants' two best hitters, Molina and Pablo Sandoval, come up to hit with the bases empty. With the two of them not being prototypical power bats, and the fact that AT&T Park isn't home run friendly, it is difficult for the two best hitters to be run producers when nobody gets on base in front of them.

The combinations at the top of the Giants' order during the first half of the season were awful.

In fact, prior to the call up of outfielder Eugenio Velez and the trade for second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the top two spots in the order were downright abysmal.

Players like Randy Winn, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, and Emmanuel Burriss were hitting in the first two spots in the order ahead of Sandoval. With these types of hitters grounding out in seemingly every at-bat, Sandoval and Molina would be forced to try and hit three-run homers with nobody on base in order to compete with teams with better lineups.

However, by inserting Velez and Sanchez into the top two spots in the order and the streaky Winn (who appears to be finding a groove: four for his last 10, four runs, three BB) ahead of Sandoval and Molina, the Giants' "power bats" have a better opportunity to drive in runs.

Clearly, with Pablo "the Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval hitting cleanup there is a better chance of having someone on base in front of him than there was when he hit third. The same can be said for Molina, who now can start to drive in more runs from the fifth spot.

This change in the lineup has already started to pay off. In two games, the Giants have two victories, scored 19 runs, and the "Kung Fu Panda" and "Big Money" Molina have combined for six hits, six runs, two extra-base hits, one homer, and three RBI.

With the offensive outbursts, the Giants are winners of their last three and are still clinging to playoff hopes as they are now just two-and-a-half games back of the Rockies for the wild card. With tonight's game as the last head-to-head matchup between the two teams, the Giants have to complete the sweep or the season may just be over.

But if the season does come to an unofficial end tonight, the Giants organization ought to realize its mistakes. And one of those major mistakes was leaving Molina in the cleanup spot for the overwhelming majority of the season.

As most Giants fans (including myself) have stated, this team was not going to make the playoffs with Molina at cleanup.

If Molina is a team's best option to hit fourth, then the overall lineup isn't going to be good enough to make the playoffs. And with Molina struggling mightily this year, it is frustrating to the orange and black faithful that he wasn't tried in a different spot in the order earlier in the season.

Especially considering that Pablo Sandoval has come into his own (during just his first full season) as a legitimate power source, it is extremely disheartening that the move to switch the order around wasn't made until recently. The decision has now been made so deep into the season that it may end up being "too little, too late."

Now, even though Bochy has finally made the correct move, the only way his contract should be extended is if the Giants make the playoffs.

This team has enough talent (albeit, more than its fair share of pitching and less than its fair share of hitting) to be a playoff team, but decisions like this have significantly hindered the Giants' chances at postseason baseball.


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