San Francisco Giants: 4 (Not Quite Desperate) Measures Needed, Now
Time for a deep breath, everyone. Make it two, even three deep breaths in, then out.
(Whoa, there—I was talking about natural, mindful breathing—not aided by anything.)
By nightfall it might be a full game (by which time Arizona will have wrapped up its four-gamer with Houston).
Falling out of the division lead—especially in the clumsy, two-left-feet way the Giants have fallen—isn't great. Or fun.
Nor is it what fans expected when G.M. Brian Sabean acquired Carlos Beltran, the big bat Giants Nation had clamored for.
I was skeptical, even wary, about trading for Beltran, who had missed over a season's worth of games in 2009-2010 with knee problems.
At age 34, another physical breakdown was foreseeable, if not predictable. Since Sabean did little else to address his club's offensive woes, Beltran's presence was especially critical (Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera were acquired as much for defense as offense).
No telling when Beltran will be back from his wrist sprain; indications Thursday were that he might miss Friday's opener in Miami. There was even talk of sending him to the disabled list.
What, then, can Sabean and Bruce Bochy do to pull the club out of its stupor as they begin a crucial 10-game road trip? Here are four suggestions.
Untangle the Outfield Mess
Bruce Bochy is my nominee for the Major League Baseball Einstein award.
Not for brilliance, even though he was brilliant in 2010.
It's for his strict adherence to the principal, allegedly coined by Einstein, that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
How else to rationalize Bochy's continued insistence on playing Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres and Cody Ross (pictured above) despite their season-long pratfalls at the plate?
I've chronicled the woes of the above three so many times, their pitiful numbers are now easily recalled at a moment's notice.
Suffice to say that, after 118 games, what you see is likely what you're gonna get.
So, time for changes, such as:
1) Bring Brandon Belt (.954 OPS at Fresno) back to SF. Create roster room by waiving Tejada or Fontenot or finding a creative reason to DL Ross, Torres or Rowand (that may be moot, if Beltran is DL'd).
2) Install Belt in LF, or move Huff there and play Belt at 1B.
3) Accept that Nate Schierholtz is one of your three best outfield options, irrespective of splits, and play him daily. If Beltran returns soon, put Schierholtz in CF, leave Beltran in RF and Belt in LF.
4) Finally, stop worrying about "keeping everyone fresh." Abiding by that philosophy is going to ensure that the entire roster gets a whole lot of rest—by missing the playoffs altogether.
Stop Coddling Eli Whiteside
Since Buster Posey's injury, Bruce Bochy has rotated Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart on nearly a game-by-game basis.
It took a while for Stewart to settle in, but he has gradually emerged as a palpably better option than Whiteside.
Whiteside has been nominally more productive at the plate; he has twice as many RBI (14, to 6 for Stewart), although the difference narrows considerably when normalized for plate appearances (Whiteside has had nearly twice as many).
It's defense where the two are clearly separated—with a huge edge to Stewart.
Two statistics especially bear this out:
Passed balls: Whiteside 7, Stewart 2.
Percent of would-be base stealers thrown out: Whiteside .25, Stewart .41.
If Whiteside were demonstrably more productive at the plate, this might be a tougher call.
As is, Stewart's defensive superiority is more important to a club that struggles to score and has been in so many low-scoring games.
Not saying you play Stewart every day; he's never been a mainstay and no one knows how pennant-race pressure will affect him.
But platooned with Whiteside? That makes no sense.
Find Another 5th Starter
Let's cut to the chase:
The Giants have given Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez every opportunity–some might say too many opportunities—to demonstrate that they belong in the Giants' rotation.
Each has amply demonstrated that he doesn't (belong, that is).
I doubt you need the numbers to buttress this argument. But if so, here you go.
Meanwhile, the Giants have 44 games to play, meaning that the flammable rotation spot previously taken by Zito/Sanchez will come up eight or nine more times. Who's going to take those turns?
Bruce Bochy demurred when asked about it yesterday, but let's assume sanity will prevent him from trusting either of his unstable lefties again.
I've got three ideas:
1) Dan Runzler: strong lefty, major league experience, tried as a starter at Class-AAA Fresno. He could get the Giants through five innings, anyway.
2) Guillermo Mota: same skills, same scenario.
3) Eric Surkamp: impressive left-handed 2008 draftee, killing it at Class-AA Richmond (8-4, 2.03 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 156 Ks in 128.1 innings).
Surkamp is a higher-risk option, but might also be higher-reward. With everything on the line over the next 44 games, why not go for it?
Get over Last Year's Misfit Magic
Not particularly picking on Andres Torres here. He's only one (relevant) example of last year's cast of characters that truly was greater than the sum of their individual parts.
I had the haunting thought last winter that the Giants, concerned that fans might howl if too many of last year's heroes departed, acted more out of emotion than logic in re-signing Ross, Huff, Burrell, et al.
This isn't about being "right." But, in hindsight, might Brian Sabean have done better by shopping the open market? Or, committing to one or more of his prize farm system projects?
We'll never know. But, it's not too late to accept that last year's magic is this year's muck, and make a few cold-blooded moves.
Like, release Mike Fontenot, who appears utterly lost at the plate and in the field. Manny Burriss is batting .331 with 19 steals at Fresno. Could the Giants use some of that?
Like, release Mark DeRosa, who has had one at-bat since being reactivated and appears to have no role whatsoever. Brandon Belt—remember him?—is batting .304 at Fresno, with an OPS of .954 (44 BBs/45 Ks). Think the Giants could use some of that?
You get the point. You hope the Giants do, too.