San Francisco Giants 2011: 5 Things They Need To Do To Win the NL West
While the pitching is fantastic as expected, the offense is sputtering—the eight-run effort Wednesday afternoon was anomalous, and should not be considered a sign that things are about to change for the better.
The team has holes all over the field, and needs some new blood in the starting lineup.
Manager Bruce Bochy and the coaching staff can help out as well by being more aggressive in an effort to score in any way possible.
Here are five things the Giants must do if they want to make sure they win the division.
5. Pick Up a Veteran Catcher off the Waiver Wire
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The Giants currently employ two journeymen signal-callers in a platoon behind the plate.
GM Brian Sabean is getting his money's worth—Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside are both hitting barely above the Mendoza line and play decent defense.
The difference between the two is that Stewart throws out about 10 percent more runners, while Whiteside slugs about 75 percentage points better.
The two players are at a similar skill level, one that is far too low for a team looking to go deep into the playoffs. One of them needs to be replaced by a veteran signal-caller so that the other can be relegated back to the backup role.
4. More Pinch-Hitting
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The Giants are blessed with an incredibly deep bullpen, and should begin to use it to generate more offense.
When a starter is due up in a potential run-scoring situation before the seventh inning, most teams elect to keep him in the game if he's pitching well.
But the Giants have the luxury of giving a guy like Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz or Cody Ross an at-bat in a key situation, and letting the extremely effective bullpen handle an extra inning.
It's not the most efficient way to handle a team, but extreme times call for extreme measures.
3. Be More Aggressive on the Basepaths
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In recent years, the Giants have been a slow team, and this year is no exception.
But this year's corps isn't the worst we've seen.
Andres Torres, Darren Ford and Manny Burriss are by far the team's biggest base-stealing threats, but guys like Cody Ross, Mike Fontenot and Aubrey Huff have all been successful on over two-thirds of their steal chances.
With Ford and Burriss both in the minors, the onus falls on the rest of the team to pick up the slack.
Realistically, the Giants aren't likely to score with just a guy on first. They need to send their baserunners to give themselves a fighting chance.
Moreover, few things bother pitchers more than having to worry about potential base-stealers.
Going from first to third on singles more frequently would also help a lot—the chance to have a guy 90 feet from home with fewer than two outs is well worth the risk of having him thrown out.
2. Bigger Focus on Small Ball
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With little power in their lineup, the Giants have to rely on "moving the line" to score runs.
The problem is the team doesn't have enough good hitters to string together more than two or three hits in a row the vast majority of the time.
As an alternative strategy, the Giants should make a concerted effort to consistently use small ball as a way to create scoring opportunities. Bunts and sacrifice flies should be much easier for struggling hitters like Andres Torres or Aubrey Huff to execute.
Bruce Bochy can get creative—hit-and-runs, double steals and suicide squeezes are all exciting plays that the savvy manager could call to keep the opposition off-balance.
With the stellar rotation behind it, the San Francisco offense only needs to scrape together three or four runs each game to win. Even the Giants should be able to manufacture at least one or two runs via small ball.
1. Play Brandon Belt
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There is no reason that San Francisco's top-ranked prospect is sitting on the bench while Aubrey Huff is dead weight in the middle of the order.
With a WAR of minus-0.9, Huff is essentially worth one loss more than your average Triple-A call-up, an atrocious mark that is completely unacceptable from a guy earning $11 million a year.
Belt has recently been promoted from Fresno, and he is far better than the normal replacement-level player—the rookie hit .324 with seven homers and 11 doubles in 184 Triple-A at-bats.
With a better glove to boot, Belt is definitely worth more to the Giants down the stretch than Huff, and should be getting the lion's share of playing time at first base.