The San Francisco Giants are at a critical point in their season. They have had a terrible start to the month of August and have won just five of their last seventeen games. The slump has allowed the red hot Arizona Diamondbacks to take over the NL West, and they now lead the division by 2.5 games.
The defending World Champs have consistently displayed one of the worst offenses in baseball in 2011. They have endured injuries all season long and are now on the verge of having to send their newly acquired offensive centerpiece, Carlos Beltran, and one of their best bullpen arms to the disabled list.
While the offense certainly needs to step up to support their pitchers, it will be crucial down the stretch that the staff continues to perform. While offense is the Giants greatest pitfall, they have a hole to fill at the fifth spot in their starting rotation.
With injuries and the relative ineffectiveness of Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito, the fifth man has been in flux all season.
Concern regarding the stability of the rotation has been solidified by recent disastrous outings by the two struggling southpaws.
Zito, who has been sidelined indefinitely with the ankle injury, is 3-4 with a 5.62 ERA. Meanwhile Sanchez is 4–7 with a 4.29 ERA in 18 starts for San Francisco. However he has pitched just nine innings in two starts since returning from the disabled list and has a 9.00 ERA in those appearances.
Zito does not appear to be returning anytime soon. The Giants only other viable options for a starting pitcher in the big leagues seemed to have been Jonathan Sanchez, before he exited game two of a three game series with the Atlanta Braves in the third inning with a left ankle sprain.
A serious dilemma arises for San Francisco.
The team will not want revert to a four–man pitching rotation, in fear of overworking their valuable young arms.
Sanchez as been inconsistent and struggled with his command his entire career, yielding high strike–out and walk totals. However when he has his best stuff, he has been un–hittable.
Although his recent numbers provide little encouragement for a season turn–around, he may be the Giants sole option for the spot, if the ankle injury is not serious.
The 28-year-old Sanchez reported, "I know I can be the pitcher that I was in August and September last year."
He has the talent and potential to bring a good performance to the mound, as long as he can keep his control and focus.
Sanchez' stability will be key in the playoff race this season, if he can stay healthy.
If the injury sustained to Sanchez in the Atlanta game is serious, the Giants have no option for a fifth starter. They will be forced to move to a four–man rotation, unless they have enough confidence in any minor league prospects. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and prospect Eric Surkamp could make his big league debut in this important role.
Neither option is ideal. The Giants have four very talented starting pitchers, three of them All–Stars in 2011. However they already carry the team with the worst offense in the leagues, and account for the teams ability to be as good as they have been.
Time will whether Sanchez or Zito will be able to make the next start in five days. However the Giants are going to need to step up their game in these injury plagued and offensive deficient times.
How they handle this unfortunate situation will be key to whether the team regains their NL West title or gives it up to the up and coming Arizona Diamondbacks.