The San Francisco Giants are at a critical junction in their season. After a strong first half, the team has encountered recent misfortune.
The misfortune has been an inability to perform and win games.
In their last 13 attempts, San Francisco has won just three. They have lost four-straight series, including one to the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants have surrendered their NL West lead for the first time since July 25.
This team is at a pivotal turning point. If they cannot reverse their recent skid, they will slip onto a downhill path that may lead to the elimination of a postseason appearance.
San Francisco certainly has all the right pieces to win this division. If the Giants can make the postseason, the pitching staff will carry them through the playoffs.
However, there are players at every position on this team that must step up if the Giants are going to be serious about contending.
Here are the five players whose performances will be urgently important, down the stretch and in upcoming games.
Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz have been sharing time in left field since Carlos Beltran was brought in to an everyday role in right.
Both players have the potential to be offensive contributors in this lineup. Ross was a key run-scoring catalyst for the Giants in the postseason stretch in 2010. Nate has shown that he can be a real threat at the plate when he’s gotten hot in 2011.
Niether player has brought that consistently to San Francisco yet this year, although Schierholtz is batting .277 with seven HRs. Cody Ross is hitting just .246.
One of the two outfielders needs to step up and prove their worth as the defending champs' starting left fielder, because neither are having much success in a shared role.
Both Schierholtz and Ross can be key players in the lineup and help this team defend its title, but someone needs to step up.
He was a huge impact in 2010.
He was the perfect leadoff man, and one of the only true base stealers on the team.
The Giants desperately need to keep Torres’ speed in the lineup and in center field. However, Torres desperately needs to find some of the pop that he had in his bat last year, when he hit 16 HRs and hit .268.
So far in 2011, the 31-year-old has struggled. He has not found last year’s swing. He is batting just .231 with 3 HRs. The Giants “small-ball” style of play desperately needs back a key component to the offense.
Even if he cannot bring back the offensive success he once had, the Giants need to get this guy on base.
Maybe a little more patience at the plate will be a key ingredient to wins for San Francisco and Torres, who has struck out 75 times in 286 ABs.
Aubrey Huff’s performance has been a real disappointment for the Giants in 2011. The team’s first basemen became a fan favorite in 2010, when he had a career year, batting .290 and hitting 26 HRs.
He was the No. 3 hitter in the Giants’ lineup last year. So far this year he has hardly proved his worth being in the lineup at all. Meanwhile, Giants top-prospect first basemen Brandon Belt has continued to dominate in Triple A.
Huff started the 2011 season at an alarmingly slow rate, finishing the month of April with a measly .211 BA and a .275 OBP. Since then, his performance has increased steadily, but slowly. He is currently batting .249.
However, as much as the Giants have struggled in the past two weeks, Huff has finally found some success. He is hitting .353 so far in August with a .405 OBP. In the Giants last victory, Huff went 3-for-4, coming a triple away from hitting for the cycle.
If Huff can keep up his recent performance, the Giants will surely follow. His stability and perhaps re–emergence as a legitimate offensive contributor will be key in the Giants reclaiming of the NL West.
He was probably the most potent bat available on the market at the trade deadline.
When the Giants snagged him in a deal that sent their top pitching prospect to New York, they solidified their chance of repeating success.
The trade spoke for San Francisco, making a bold statement that the defending champs were going to lay it all out and do everything in their reach to make a run at the title again in 2011.
The Giants have not exactly performed well since Mr. Beltran's arrival with the team.
While Carlos can certainly not be blamed with the teams struggle, he has not yet made the impact expected. While he has only played in 11 games so far for San Francisco, he has hit .244 and gotten just four hits.
Not only has he been relatively quiet at the plate, but Beltran has missed the past three games due to a strained wrist.
However, it’s not time to panic yet, as he is expected to return to the starting lineup in the next game, the beginning of a challenging road trip for the San Francisco.
If Beltran can stay healthy, the Giants can count on him making the impact that he was acquired for. This will be an increasingly important factor in the Giants success.
San Francisco’s greatest pitfall remains their offense (or lack thereof).
However, another problem has recently made itself alarmingly clear, and that is the fifth spot in the Giants starting rotation.
While the Giants still boast a league-leading pitching staff, their fifth man has been in flux all season, with the injuries and relative ineffectiveness of Sanchez and Barry Zito.
In the wake of recent disastrous outings for both struggling southpaws, Giants fans have growing concerns regarding the stability of the starting staff.
The Giants rely very heavily on their loaded pitching staff, which carried them all the way last season. They certainly will not revert to a four-man staff, in a valid fear of overworking their stars.
Sanchez is 4–7 with a 4.29 ERA in 18 starts for San Francisco while Zito is 3-4 with a 5.62 ERA. Jonathan Sanchez's numbers have been less atrocious, and he has youth on his side.
Sanchez is just 28. While he been notorious in struggles with his command, he has shown in the past that he can be a dominant pitcher.
On the other hand, the 33-year-old Barry Zito has made clear to San Francisco in a four-year, $126 million stint, that his days as a formidable starting pitcher are long behind him.
While neither have earned their spot in the rotation this year, it is Sanchez who has the potential to turn around his career and this season for San Francisco.
His stability will be key in the playoff race.