San Francisco Giants: 4 More Questions for Bruce Bochy
The day the letter appeared, the Giants were 28-23 and in first place by one-half game in the NL West. Two-and-a-half months later, the Giants are in second place, two games behind Arizona.
What about the issues raised in May? Mostly, they remain unresolved. The difference is, a baseball season in May has barely begun. In mid-August, the stretch drive looms.
And, with the 2011 Giants about as stable as financial markets, those unresolved issues threaten their title-defense hopes.
Can the offense revive itself without Carlos Beltran?
Will Brandon Belt EVER see sustained playing time?
Are the Giants consigned to a journeyman catcher rotation?
Is Jonathan Sanchez the only fifth-starter option?
Time for a few more questions for the skipper. Four, to be exact.
Will You Finally Give Brandon Belt Regular Playing Time?
The Giants' lack of offensive firepower isn't a secret.
But it is pervasive.
And, with Belt recalled from Fresno yet again—replacing Andres Torres, newly-disabled with a shin injury—it's time to stop pussyfooting around with the Giants' top offensive prospect.
Having hit .343 with 148 RBI in two minor-league seasons, Belt has nothing left to prove at that level.
It's time to test him.
Besides, what are the Giants' alternatives?
Cody Ross: hitting more fans in the stands than pitchers.
Aaron Rowand: hitting .241 over the last two weeks, .167 over the last seven days.
Carlos Beltran: still out with a hand injury, with no estimate yet for his return.
Under the circumstances, either Ross or Rowand must play most nights unless there are more roster moves. That leaves Nate Schierholtz and Belt.
Saturday's lineup includes Rowand, Ross and Schierholtz—but no Belt—even though was is uniform, and available.
Saturday night, there was more of the same in post-game comments from Bochy in the San Jose Mercury-News Andy Baggarly's blog.
Sunday, Belt played 1B while Aubrey (Wally Pipp II?) Huff rested. All Belt did was club two homers in a 5-2 win.
Bruce: are we finally going to see a steady diet of Brandon Belt?
Will You Acknowledge That Chris Stewart Is Your Best Option Behind the Plate?
I've flogged this previously (with generally favorable reader reaction) but must ask again: Will Bruce Bochy ever concede that Chris Stewart is a better option behind the plate than Eli Whiteside?
Events of the past few days make Bochy's use of his two catchers quite bemusing.
Tuesday, vs. Pittsburgh: Stewart helps spark a 6-0 victory, catching seven dominant innings from Madison Bumgarner and hitting his first major-league homer. It's just the Giants third win in their last 14 games (Stewart has caught two of the three wins).
Wednesday, vs. Pittsburgh and Friday, at Florida: Stewart sits; Whiteside plays both games. He has three hits (no RBI), throws out one of four would-be base stealers.
Offensively, they're mirror-images (both are batting .221). On that basis, I understand why Bochy would rotate them. Defensively, Stewart is clearly better: he's thrown out a materially higher percentage of base stealers and allowed far fewer passed balls.
The only stated argument you hear for Whiteside is how well he "handles the pitchers" and how much "they love throwing to him." That sounds like doublespeak.
C'mon Bruce. You know catching. When will you acknowledge that Chris Stewart, unless another roster move is made, is your best option?
Will You Let Us Know Your True Feelings About This Club?
Bruce Bochy has always been characterized as a "players' manager." The phrase has always vexed me—are other managers "anti-player"?—but one implication is that he dresses-down his players in private while protecting them in public.
That's admirable—to a point.
On this club, though, you wonder if a few of the Giants' chronic under-performers might benefit from a bit less coddling.
Like Aubrey Huff, who has played in more games–115 of the club's 119—than any other Giant.
Perhaps Bochy has to play Huff, since he's had few alternative middle-of-the-order options.
But after failing again and again to deliver in the clutch—like Friday night in Miami, when Huff popped out with the bases loaded in a 2-1 loss—would it hurt Bochy to sit Huff once in a while?
The change might do him good, especially if his "day off" were accompanied by a well-placed comment to a beat reporter about the need for Huff to step up.
Same with Cody Ross, who has become uncharacteristically spooked by inside pitches.
And Jonathan Sanchez, who has reverted to his wild, unpredictable ways, yet appears slated to start against Atlanta on Tuesday.
Players might well love you for keeping your critical thoughts inside the clubhouse. But Bruce, I bet Giants fans would love to hear just how frustrated you've been with your club.
Will You Get Just a Bit More Creative?
For much of the 2011 season, the Giants have ranked near the bottom in NL offensive production.
But the San Diego Padres had scored fewer.
Not any more. Entering Saturday's game in Miami, San Francisco sat dead-last in runs scored with 408, 42 fewer than San Diego (with 450, they've climbed to 13th in the league after a recent binge).
For whatever reason, Bruce Bochy has been disinclined to step out of the conventional box to get his club's offense jump-started.
Other than replacements prompted by injuries (and, yes, there've been many), Bochy has kept the lineup relatively static.
Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand have shared the leadoff spot, without distinction. How about trying Nate Schierholtz there?
Without Carlos Beltran, there's no protection for Pablo Sandoval. How about batting Jeff Keppinger behind him? Move Aubrey Huff down, and leave him there until he comes to life.
Speaking of Huff, have I mentioned the idea of replacing him with Brandon Belt?
Point is, the status quo hasn't been working too well. Maybe a few lineup changes would help. Perhaps putting runners in motion. Lots of possibilities.
Bruce, point is: when will we see some wrinkles?