Take Five: Giant Reflections After Five Games
As the Giants were going into the ninth inning of what would be their first loss, I told my son something:
"I would just like to see them go out fighting."
I've supported this team for four decades and have remained optimistic, but with Saturday's score 7-1 and just three outs left to do anything about it, I had serious doubts.
Despite the expected loss, I did end up getting what I'd hoped for, a fight. It came in the form of a walk and two singles, the second of which produced a run.
Detractors will say that the game ended fittingly with a double play since the team has hit into 12 so far. But I'm still heartened by that brief offensive resistance.
Mike Krukow, on the Saturday pre-game show with Duane Kuiper, talked about the importance of "magic" in a game like the Friday home opener. That 13-inning come from behind win seemed as improbable as it gets, but the team had stayed close and somehow pulled it off, thanks to a fortuitous mix of timely hitting and good luck.
Anyone who has played any sport knows that luck does play a part. It helps when the luck comes early in the season so players believe. And the fans as well.
But it will take more than luck, a few timely hits, Renteria looking Tony Gwynn, and an appreciative fan base. Here are five prescriptions for success beyond the first week:
1. Infielders need to hold onto the ball.
We're not going to see plays as we did just a couple years ago with Omar Vizquel. Juan Uribe and Pablo Sandoval will never have that kind of range or grace. But balls hit to the them need to be fielded cleanly.
2. Baserunners need to continue to use intelligence on the basepaths.
The Giants have proven in years past that raw speed is not sufficient. Two fine examples of that have been Fred Lewis and Eugenio Velez. While I would have put my money on Lewis in a footrace against Randy Winn, Lewis was successful in eight of 12 attempts last year whereas Winn stole 16 bases in 18 tries. The less we remind ourselves of Velez pickoffs, the better.
The best example of intelligent baserunning in the first game when Bengie Molina went from first to third on a Bowker single, enabling him to score on the Uribe sac fly.
3. Bochy needs to figure out how to keep the bullpen strong.
A 13-inning game will deplete a bullpen, but the success of this team will depend on starters going six innings or more. When that doesn't happen (Game 4, Jonathan Sanchez), then someone, like a Guillermo Mota, needs to be the long reliever, to soak up innings.
True, the Giants' pitching is delivering as promised and is ranked fifth in the Majors. But Brian Wilson has been in three pressure games already. That is not a pace that can continue.
4. The team needs to continue to practice plate discipline.
Right now they are tied for No. 13 in team walks with 20. Last year they finished dead last in that same category, averaging 2.4 a game compared to the four per game so far this year. Small sample size, yes, but encouraging.
5. The bench and minor league players need to keep showing that they can step in.
In what has to be described as a "good problem to have," Buster Posey is reaching Renteria-like numbers in Fresno. We can all imagine a similar "good problem" when Freddy Sanchez returns.
The team, as it is now constituted, is doing well. But there must be the feeling that others are ready to push any starter who is not producing. A strong bench and minor league are signs of a successful team.
An .800 winning percentage will go down, of course. But the team can stay in first place if it continues to play smart, aggressive and inspired.
And fans will stay tuned to the end of games because they may never know when magic is about to happen.
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