San Francisco Giants Update: What We Learned from the Cincinnati Reds Series

Augustin KennadyContributor IIIJuly 31, 2011

I realize that knee-jerk reactions are moronic. I realize that one regular season series means nothing in the context of an entire season. I realize that whenever a player changes teams or recovers from injury, there can be a period of adjustment.

This weekend’s three-game sweep by the Cincinnati Reds was painful, but the series did not mean much in the grand scheme of the season, and the San Francisco Giants did very well for themselves by winning a series against the Philadelphia Phillies immediately beforehand. What worries me about this past series is not that they lost but rather how they lost.

Madison Bumgarner has a live arm and tremendous potential. When you throw eight innings of shutout ball in Game 4 of the World Series, you are given enormous latitude the next season. Generally speaking, Bumgarner’s 6-10 record belies slightly impressive statistics otherwise.

But his statistics are not that good. A 3.80 ERA is hardly dominant. The median ERA in the National League (the Los Angeles Dodgers) have a collective 3.85 ERA. Bumgarner has also proven to be extremely hittable. Opponents are batting .276 against him this season, far higher than the collective batting average of the best hitting team in the NL (St. Louis Cardinals at .270). By comparison, Tim Lincecum holds opponents to a .220 BAA and Matt Cain owns a .222 BAA.

The bottom line is that Bumgarner is good – but he is not yet an “ace” by any definition.

Ryan Vogelsong was roughed up a bit early in his start, but the veteran rebounded nicely. It could be telling, however, that as the season has progressed, Vogelsong’s walk total has steadily climbed and his strikeout totals have dropped precipitously. While nobody expects Ryan Vogelsong to enjoy the kind of dominating second half of the season that he experienced in the first half, it would be calamitous to the Giants if, by October, Vogelsong were exhausted.

Finally, Barry Zito proved once and for all exactly what and who he is. Apparently, Zito’s “new found love of the game of baseball” that he rediscovered in the minor leagues lasted all of three starts. Were Zito a man of self-respect, he would retire at the end of the season, thereby releasing the Giants (and Major League Baseball) of a $19 million per year parasite. Were Zito a pitcher in Japan, seppuku would be the only viable option.

Instead, Zito will soon become the most expensive long-reliever in the history of baseball. To make matters worse, Zito’s struggles seem greatest in his first inning of work. How that will work for a middle reliever I don’t know.

Zito’s line from his previous three starts looks like this: 0-3/10.26 ERA/16.2 IP/8 BB/11 K. Jonathan Sanchez’s worst stretch in his career was not this embarrassing. If anything, Sabean’s decision not to trade Sanchez will go down as savvy, as the Giants would otherwise be without a capable fifth starter.

That takes care of the pitching in the Cincinnati series. It was, in short, far from good.

But as poor as the pitching was, the offense actually managed to be even worse.

Carlos Beltran, the Giants’ new “best hitter,” was an utter disappointment. The ...err... Olympian is now 2-for-17 in a Giants uniform, which translates to a .117 batting average, which is only marginally better than Tim Lincecum’s batting average on the season (.105). Granted, of course we are only dealing with a very small four-game sample size, but this is an inauspicious start if ever there were one.

Any Giants fan out there who actually watched Carlos Beltran succeed admirably in his attempts to feebly dribble a weak ground ball to the right side of the infield in nearly every at bat would be lying if s/he said that flashes of Sidney Ponson and A.J. Pierzynski did not come to mind.

Jeff Keppinger has turned out to be a good pickup, and has actually proven himself to be a legitimate “replacement” for Freddy Sanchez. If I were Sanchez, I would go ahead and get the shoulder surgery right now and stop vacillating. It would be better to have Freddy healthy for next season than risk having him re-injure his shoulder this year, especially when we have a solid player already at his position.

We have also learned that Brian Sabean was, in another life or in another dimension, a washed up shortstop. His affinity for signing them is astonishing. It is the only possible explanation for the Orlando Cabrera signing—another aging shortstop whose career is on the (sharp) decline and who will likely be able to contribute at a level only marginally above replacement.

The “minimally exceptional” Orlando Cabrera was 0-for-3 today. His line, for those of you who don’t know, is:  .244/.277/.321/4 HR/38 RBI in 91 games. Miguel Tejada, the oft-maligned now injured-but-supposedly-ready-to-return shortstop who Cabrera apparently is replacing? His line through 81 games reads: .242/.274/.334/4 HR/26 RBI. To call this an improvement is like saying a brain tumor is better than a liver tumor. They both suck.

That’s really about all we “learned” from the Cincinnati series. We already knew before this series that the Giants are anemic offensively throughout the rest of the lineup. Scoring five runs in a series—one game of which went to extra innings—is pathetic by any metric.

Now the “champs” return to AT&T Park to take on the Diamondbacks and the Phillies. I hope more than anything that I will have to eat each and every word I have written here in this “assessment,” but I really don’t think that will happen.