Brian Wilson: Do the S.F. Giants Need Him Fully Healthy to Win the NL West?
Tuesday night's game might have indicated how much they miss their bearded right-handed closer.
It seemed the magic was back at AT&T Park. A sold-out crowd of 41,288 roared in excitement as the Giants rallied from a 4-0 then 5-2 deficit to tie the game in the eighth inning.
As fans might have thought for a brief moment their waterfront ballpark was Mecca again, where Giants baseball at home means spirited comebacks, and eventually, thrilling walk-off wins, the Padres brought San Francisco back to recent reality in the top of the ninth inning. Brian Wilson, their eccentric finisher who calls the top of the ninth inning home when the Giants are leading or tied, was no where in sight.
Filling in Wilson's orange shoes was the struggling Ramon Ramirez, who has limped through August with a 7.36 ERA and a 2.05 WHIP for the month. A quick double, sacrifice bunt, hit, yet another hit later, and the Giants were down 7-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Asking the Giants to come back twice in one game might be asking a bit much for a team dead last in the National League in runs scored. All Wilson could do was watch in despair as his temporary replacement was rocked around by the suddenly hot-hitting San Diego Padres.
This game could have been a preview as to why the Giants need Brian Wilson—and his 35 saves—fully healthy to win the National League West. A bullpen that was once a lock-down staff now looks rather ordinary without the fearless closer.
Who should close for the Giants in Brian Wilson's absence?
Wilson himself understands his importance to the team and wants to be out there as soon as possible. Although the Giants' closer did not want to speak to the media about his elbow injury, head trainer Dave Groeschner said he is optimistic Wilson will pitch again this season sooner rather than later.
"There’s nobody in the clubhouse that wants to be out there more than him,” Groeschner said to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News.
Baggarly also reported that Bochy remains optimistic that Wilson will return from the disabled list when he is eligible to do so on Aug. 31.
The Giants' strong desire to have their closer back is with good reason. With set-up man Sergio Romo also on the disabled list with a sore right elbow, the remaining bullpen pitchers still standing essentially move up two notches, leaving some pitchers in unfamiliar roles.
So far, that unfamiliarity cost the Giants Tuesday night's game—and almost Game 3 of the Atlanta series, where Dan Runzler and Jeremy Affeldt turned a comfortable 7-1 lead in the ninth into another nail-biting 7-5 victory with the tying run left at the plate.
The negative consequence of the loss of Wilson and the Giants' scrambling of roles is the team lost someone who has a mind for pitching the ninth inning. The 27th out is the hardest one to get in a game and not every pitcher has the mental makeup for pitching the ninth in a save situation.
Wilson also has the experience in big-game save situations that the other pitchers do not have. Last September, Wilson had a 1.26 ERA and 10 saves in 11 opportunities.
Now that Wilson is on the disabled list, the Giants must rely on the likes of rookie Steve Edlefsen and Runzler to contribute during the stretch run. Edlefsen hardly dominated Pacific Coast League batting with his 5.66 ERA at AAA Fresno.
Runzler has not fared much better as he was lit up in his recent relief appearance against the Braves. He has a 7.77 ERA in the big leagues this season and has pitched erratically, struggling to throw the ball over the plate.
The Giants most likely cannot win the National League West without a good, strong bullpen. Without the anchor of their bullpen, the Giants could very well see themselves on the other side of the one-run games they were winning earlier.
If the Giants are going to make the playoffs by scoring the least amount of runs in the National League, a stellar bullpen will be needed. Without Wilson and Romo, the Giants do not have as much depth to make that happen.
If Wilson's injury is temporary, the Giants have just enough depth to survive his loss for a couple of weeks. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez or even Santiago Casilla—who all have great numbers this season—could fill in for a few games.
However, if the injury is anything more, the Giants may as well go there separate ways and start their long winter come October.
This article was featured on The Talking Giants Baseball Blog.
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