San Francisco Giants: Has the Misfit Magic Been Lost?
As the Philadelphia Phillies left town following their series win over the Giants at AT&T Park over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of 10 straight and fading from contention in the NL Central, came in to open a three-game set against San Francisco.
A collective exhaling could be heard around the Bay Area, as the Giants, who are in the midst of their worst slump of the season, now had a chance to turn things around against the lifeless Bucs.
Dreams of snapping out of the post-trade deadline funk were dashed Monday night, as the Giants were not only beaten, but shut out by the Pirates, 5-0.
Startlingly, the man who took the loss was Ryan Vogelsong, up to now a near automatic win for San Francisco every time he took the mound.
The loss to Pittsburgh represented the Giants' ninth in the last 11 games. Since the acquisition of Carlos Beltran, San Francisco is 3-9.
All of this begs the question no Giants fan wants to be forced to ask: is the magic lost?
The Decline of Andres Torres
Andres Torres, a journeyman outfielder who had never been an everyday player, got his chance in 2010, and made the most of it.
Torres hit .268 with 43 doubles, 16 homers, 63 RBI, and 26 stolen bases for the Giants last season. He scored 84 runs and set the table nicely for Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey.
After injuring his Achilles in April, Torres never got back on track. So far in 2011, he's hitting just .232 with three home runs and 18 RBI. His on-base percentage is just .316, far too low for a leadoff hitter.
When Torres reaches base, the Giants score. Of that, there is no doubt.
The problem is that Torres is not reaching base nearly enough, and the result is offensive futility for the rest of the lineup.
The leadoff man sets the tone, good or bad, for the hitters behind him. Andres Torres hasn't been able to duplicate his success from 2010.
One can only guess.
But a look at Torres' stats shows that he was off to a good start to the season, hitting .286 with three doubles and a .375 on-base percentage in the first week of the season, but then after going on the disabled list for a month, never got back in the groove.
The Loss of Freddy Sanchez
The loss of Sanchez for the season resulted in an exacerbation of San Francisco's new problem: lack of production from the top of the lineup.
With Andres Torres slumping and now Sanchez gone for the season, the 1-2 hitters in the lineup were just not creating opportunities for the heart of the order to drive in runs.
Temporary Loss of Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval returned to his 2009 form and then some as he shed 40 lbs. in the offseason and began to sizzle at the plate in 2011.
However, when he broke his hand and missed two months of the season, San Francisco's offense, which was already struggling to score runs, was further disrupted.
Loss of Buster Posey
The most devastating loss of the season was that of Giants catcher, cleanup hitter, and unofficial captain, Buster Posey.
The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, along with pitcher Tim Lincecum, are the heart and soul of the Giants franchise, and their youthful, vigorous leadership was one of the most critical ingredients that culminated in a world championship last season.
When Posey was injured on May 25 and unable to return, more than anything else the Giants took a hit to their morale.
Certainly Posey's fantastic defense and offensive production would be missed, but sheer statistics could potentially be replaced (and the later acquisition of Carlos Beltran was an attempt to do just that).
What could not be replaced were the intangibles that Posey brought to the field and the quiet confidence that was so contagious, giving the Giants the heart of champions when the individual statistics didn't make for a World Series-caliber club.
The Decline of Aubrey Huff
Aubrey Huff is a mysterious case.
In 2010, Huff led the Giants in home runs (26) and RBI (86). He hit .290 and had a solid .385 on-base percentage.
Huff produced well from the No. 3 spot in the lineup, and he contributed mightily to San Francisco's (as well as his personal first) World Series championship.
In 2011, Huff's production has declined drastically.
He's hitting just .244 with 10 home runs and 49 RBI. His on-base percentage is just .300.
While he's begun to swing the bat better in the last couple of weeks, his disappointing season has certainly been a huge component of why the Giants' offense has been so stagnant.
Loss of Production at Shortstop
Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria combined to get the job done for the Giants in 2010.
While Renteria was the hero in the World Series, Uribe was a consistent run producer, especially in the clutch, for the Giants last season.
Uribe hit .248 with 24 home runs and 85 RBI for San Francisco in 2010, and though he is struggling in 2011, the loss of production from the shortstop position in particular has hurt the Giants dramatically.
The man that Giants GM Brian Sabean brought in to fill the void left by the departures of Renteria and Uribe, Miguel Tejada, has been a big letdown, and rookie Brandon Crawford is not ready to shoulder the load of a starting spot for the defending world champions.
Tejada, who is currently on the disabled list, is hitting just .242 with 4 home runs and 26 RBI with a dismal .274 on-base percentage this season.
Ross Hasn't Been Boss
The 2010 NLCS MVP, Cody Ross, whom the Giants picked up through waivers last August, was a surprise phenomenon and unstoppable force in the postseason for San Francisco.
His offensive explosion was just what the Giants needed last October, but it hasn't carried over consistently in 2011.
Ross is currently hitting .246 with eight home runs and 34 RBI.
Has the Acquisition of Beltran Destroyed the Misfit Feel?
Last season was special for the Giants.
The word "chemistry" has been bandied about quite a bit in describing what accounted for San Francisco's surprising success in 2010.
Whether it's called chemistry or something else, the intangibles that the Giants had last season were perfect and resulted in a World Series title.
The acquisitions of Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera were similar to that of Cody Ross last year (though the Ross pickup was through waivers) in that those players came to the Giants not as superstars, but as role players that could help in key areas.
Carlos Beltran, however, is a superstar.
Has that disrupted things?
Surely it hasn't been a problem outwardly in the clubhouse, but inside the hearts and minds of these Giants, could there be uncovered a feeling that this isn't Giants baseball anymore?
That it takes one who is seen as a savior for the offense, as Beltran is in many ways, for this club to have a chance?
Last season the Giants played with what they had, plus the addition of key role players, but not superstars, in Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross.
It all resulted in an amazing postseason run.
The results of the Beltran move so far have been drastically poor, but much remains to be seen, and there's still a lot of baseball left to be played.
If the Giants don't get to the promised land this time, however, the question of Beltran's presence on a team of self-proclaimed "misfits" will linger.
Stretch-Run and Postseason Outlook
So what does this all mean?
Well, it is clear that the Giants are struggling because they cannot score enough runs to support a stellar pitching staff.
The additions of Jeff Keppinger, Carlos Beltran, and Orlando Cabrera will certainly help the offense, as these hitters are proven and experienced, but will they be enough?
While it's a good bet that the Giants will make the postseason again in 2011, what is unclear is how deep they will be able to go.
It will very likely depend on the return of that "magic" that they had in 2010.
Or, as Bruce Bochy put it, "We've got to get that mojo back. We've lost it. We've got to get it back, and it better be sooner than later."
Whether you call it "magic" or "mojo," one thing's for sure: it's not there right now.
The good news is that it's August, and if San Francisco can turn things around and "get the mojo back," they've got time to get hot when it counts in September, and ride that feeling into the postseason the way they did in 2010.
Going forward, the schedule is very favorable for San Francisco. They play just 10 games out of the remaining 46 against teams that are above .500.
Is the magic lost? Yes.
But the question really is, for how long?