Slump-Dog Millionaires: Giants' Molina and Rowand Earn Last Night's Paycheck
So far in 2010, we're beginning to see why the San Francisco Giants have earned their new tag line. In case you haven't heard Giants announcer Duane Kuiper say it, he sums up the season in the following sentence.
Giants baseball. It's torture.
And it has been.
During the first month of the season, the Giants were seemingly the real deal. They led the National League in batting average in April (.280), and went 13-9 to grab a firm hold on second place behind the upstart Padres.
The pitching was also stellar, posting a 2.75 ERA and allowing a paltry .214 opposing batting average. If you take out Todd Wellemeyer and his rocky start, San Francisco starters were 10-2 with a 1.98 ERA in the first month of the season.
Yet May proved to be just as bad as April was good, especially on offense. This included two major slumps by two major figures on the roster (and payroll).
Aaron Rowand was seen as the position player version of the Barry Zito contract. Great baseball guy with a lot of respect, but not worth the money that the Giants paid him, which is around $12M/year for five years.
Rowand simply hasn't hit any sort of offensive stride since putting on a Giants uniform. He's had his streakiness, but for some reason his productivity has, almost without fail, been followed by an extended period of absolutely nothing in terms of offensive force.
Take this year for example. Rowand hit .429 in spring training, and carried it over into the first month of the season, hitting a solid .304 in ten games. And then he got nailed in the face by a fastball.
After a stint on the DL, Rowand stormed back into the box score, notching 11 hits on a seven-game hitting streak, recording at least two RBI in five of those games, and at one point hitting a season high-batting average of .333 on May 7.
And since then . . . nothing.
No hits in his next 16 at-bats over four games, and 5-for-34 over eight games. Only one RBI in his next 16 games. If you take out the week after his trip to the disabled list, he had a .132 batting average in May, notching only three RBI and amassing 22 strikeouts in only 80 at-bats.
Bengie Molina also created a little hullabaloo this off season, demanding over $6M/year from New York before settling for $4.5M to stay with the Giants. Granted, Molina doesn't make as much as Mark DeRosa does this year, but he was re-signed with the expectation of staying on par with his production the past couple years.
In April, he still looked like the 2009 Big Money Molina. In fact, he looked even better than before. Molina mashed his way to a .344 average in the first month, knocking in eight RBI and, to the surprise of everyone, taking five walks.
Remember, Molina has never walked more than 27 times in a season. He's still on pace to blast that record out of the water (projected 35 walks).
But in May, Big Money went broke.
Like Rowand, he started the month on a hot streak, having a hit in ten straight games from April 23 to May 4, hitting .349 over that span.
But overall in the month, his batting average was an underwhelming .184 in 24 games. He hit one home run, had 14 hits, and only had three RBI. For a middle of the order hitter who has made his living hitting cleanup the last two years, those stats won't work.
To put that in perspective, in his first three games as a Giant in 2010, Buster Posey had six hits and four RBI. And, over the course of the season so far, backup catcher Eli Whiteside, who has played in 23 games to Molina's 44, has more home runs (3 to 2) and almost as many RBI (8 to 11).
That isn't very impressive, especially from Molina, who has to know that the writing is on the wall for him with Posey already taking time in the majors.
But sometimes all you need is one game to regain the faith in a player. In the case of Wednesday's game, it was redemption day for two.
It started out just like any day in May. Bengie Molina lined out sharply in his first at-bat. After Buster Posey singled (again), Rowand promptly hit into a double-play.
In the fifth inning, Molina struck out. With two down in the inning, Huff and Posey singled, bringing up Rowand.
It was another RBI situation, and the fact that Francis chose to pitch to Rowand, even with a base open and the pitcher on deck, is indicative of the kind of slump he's in. But Rowand blasted a high fastball over the center fielder for a go-ahead double.
It was Rowand's only hit of the night, but after the San Francisco offense got shut down by Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday and then shut down again in an extra-inning loss on Tuesday, that double was huge, and gave fans a rare chance to cheer for their center fielder.
Molina only had to wait one inning to get his ovation from the crowd. After Pablo Sandoval golfed a ball to the left-center field gap for a double, and then took third on a sac fly by Juan Uribe, Molina had his chance.
Given the month that Molina had, with two strikes and two outs, many fans may have chosen the time to run to the bathroom or start dinner. But on a 1-2 curve ball from Rockies starter Jeff Francis, Molina lined a single back up the middle to score Sandoval and the Giants went up 4-1.
Again, lots of cheering for someone who has had a humble amount of RBI for a fifth-place, sixth-place, or even the cleanup hitter.
The month of May was not kind to Rowand. It was equally unkind to Molina.
And while one hit certainly does not break a slump, it can certainly do wonders for a player's confidence. The temperature's heating up in June, and hopefully Rowand and Molina heat up with it.
But as for last night, against a division rival and in the sweep-breaking game, I was proud of my guys, and I think a lot of Giants fans were, too.
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