San Francisco Giants: Ship Sailing Smoothly Despite a Few Ugly Swells

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San Francisco Giants: Ship Sailing Smoothly Despite a Few Ugly Swells
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Even after absorbing Tuesday's loss to the visiting Baltimore Orioles, the San Francisco Giants are humming along now that May is but a memory.

Since the calendar flipped to June, the Gents (quick note: I don't care that the New York nickname was Gints and neither does anyone else in the Bay Area) are 9-5. If you include the last five games of a mediocre preceding month, San Francisco is 13-6.

So things are good for the baseball-conscious in the City.

Nevertheless, there are three glaring and potentially enduring problems with the club.

Forget about the recent rockiness from the bullpen and the struggles out of the No. 5 slot in the rotation. Neither is serious.

The 'pen has too many talented arms for this stretch to be anything more than the periodic lull that even the best units suffer. Dirt merchants like Sergio Romo, lefty Dan Runzler, lefty Jeremy Affeldt, and newcomer Santiago Casilla all have top-shelf arsenals plus each fireman has shown signs of snapping back to form in their latest outings.

More importantly, closer Brian Wilson hasn't been perfect, but he's been consistently dandy. There's little sense in hitting the panic button when the most critical arm isn't inducing ulcers.

As for the final spot in the rotation, it admittedly hasn't been pretty.

But that can be said of virtually every team in Major League Baseball and Todd Wellemeyer has actually been splendid at home—2.97 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .209 BAA, .606 OPSA and 1.71 K:BB in 36 1/3 IP.

Granted, Wellemeyer's been the batting practice pitcher every group wants to face on the road, but he's currently hurt i.e. he's moot for a while.

Joe Martinez is now manning the position and, though the results weren't what fans wanted to see in his first start on Tuesday, there is ample reason to be optimistic.

Martinez was erratic as a starter in 2009 but remember he was coming back from that fractured skull courtesy of a Mike Cameron line drive. Those episodes tend to rattle a hurler so it's not unreasonable to overlook the initial returns.

In 2010, the 27-year-old was tossing it nicely at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League. His line of a 3.06 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 2.36 K:BB in 67 1/3 IP covering 11 GS is quite fine considering the PCL is apparently like playing in an entire league full of pre-humidor Coors Fields.

Furthermore, Martinez twirled it better than his final line (6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K and 1 HR) looked. His sinker was working; the grounders just found too many holes. That could be attributed to a range-challenged defense, but it seemed more like bad luck.

Regardless, the Orange and Black pitching is rarely cause for concern.

Nah, the three biggest bugaboos facing the squad now and potentially for the foreseeable future are catcher Bengie Molina, shortstop Edgar Renteria and center fielder Aaron Rowand.

Let's work from the easiest solved up.

Molina is simple—the pitching staff loves him enough to justify his presence even when not hitting and his lumber is showing signs of life after an atrocious May. Giant fans also need to remember that backstops are rarely a source of offensive production and that's OK because they contribute in so many other ways.

Bengie doesn't do everything well in the Tools of Ignorance, but he does enough to win the praise of some very good pitchers. If Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are happy, so am I.

And he's only on a one-year contract so if Big Money goes Big Arctic again, Buster Posey's here to stay.

Renteria's imminent return isn't too tough a situation to deal with, either. It actually could prove to be a positive moving forward if handled correctly by all involved.

Once the veteran finishes his rehab assignment (from a hamstring strain), he'll expect and receive playing time. Fine, except it can't come at the expense of arguably the Giants' best hitter to date and the man who's been patrolling the hole in Edgar's absence.

Juan Uribe leads the team with 41 runs batted in and is tied with Aubrey Huff for the lead in home runs with 10.

His 41 ribbies are also a high for all MLB shortstops. His tater total is good for second in that regard, his .843 OPS ranks third and his .289 average is tied for fourth. If you're hip to those sexy sabermetrics, his wins above replacement (WAR) is 1.8, which trails only Troy Tulowitzki's 2.1, Derek Jeter's 2.0 and Hanley Ramirez's 1.9.

In other words, Uribe must play as much as possible.

The keys, however, are health and versatility.

Los Gigantes have two crucial bats that demand playing time, but would benefit from rest due to injury issues.

Uribe, who is dealing with a balky hammy of his own, is one and the other is Freddy Sanchez, who has been raking since finally recovering from off-season surgeries to knee and shoulder. Both have been invaluable so they haven't seen much down time, but a blow here and there would probably be beneficial come August and September.

So Renteria, whose bat was blazing prior to the hamstring snag, shouldn't disrupt the mix too much or dilute the suddenly respectable offense.

He can be used at short to directly spell Uribe. Additionally, he can be used to rest Sanchez, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, or first baseman Posey thanks to jack-of-all-infield-trades Uribe (and a touch of the Kung Fu Panda).

As San Francisco fans have seen, Uribe can play second base or the hot corner with excellent ease. Since Pablo can also play a quality first sack, manager Bruce Bochy essentially has a game of musical chairs on his hands.

If you want to get really creative, the 34-year-old Renteria could even be used to give fellow sore spot Molina a break. Uribe would move to third, Sandoval to first, and Posey behind the dish.

Finally, Renteria's contract is also up at the end of '10.

If he hits, SF gets the best of both worlds—it eases off some valuable assets without losing production. If he doesn't hit, there's less artificial incentive to play him.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Rowand. The center fielder is a large and sincerely troublesome thorn in the franchise's side.

A-Row's been swinging a flaccid noodle since mid-May (sub-.200 BA, sub-.300 OBP). It's gotten so bad that he's begun to lose reps because (A) he's shown no hints of pulling out of the massive slump; and (B) the Giants have Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell smoking the ball while flashing adequate-to-insane leather.

Further complicating matters are the atrophying five tools of Nate Schierholtz on the bench.

Usually, the answer is easy—bench Rowand until someone cools off or he gets hot. The rub is that the Giants must deal with an unusual kick to the groin—Aaron's bloated contract for five years and $60 million, running through 2012.

That money is a sunk cost , but try convincing baseball executives and managers. The average member of that group will tell you it's not sunk because Rowand could still be productive again and they'll waste at-bats or innings in tribute to the idea.

To a degree, the logic is sound.

Aaron Rowand is notoriously streaky and that means a hot one might be just a matter of time—the gamble could pay out. But the San Fran lineup isn't all that prolific even when cruising along; it can't afford 0-fers when there's a more attractive option available.

Right now, the fellas have four such players.

Uh oh.

Aaron Rowand doesn't seem the type to become a distraction nor does he seem like the sort who would be thrilled about cooling his cleats. Yet it's almost impossible to justify his presence on the field as anything but a defensive replacement at the moment.

Something's gotta/will give.

Which means the San Francisco Giants could find themselves in a particularly awkward spot. For two more years.

 

**www.pva.org**

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