San Francisco Giants: Have We Hit Rock-Bottom Yet? 5 Clues (Updated)
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Losing three of four in Atlanta was disappointing.
Losing a series to the hapless, last-place Houston Astros over the weekend was disappointing. But a 4-6 road trip was assuaged by Sunday's 6-4 win, highlighted by homers from Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval.
Both multi-run homers, no less.
The week seemed to hit rock-bottom Thursday, when the Panda injured his left shoulder swinging the bat in Atlanta. Then, the punchless world champs lost twice to the Astros.
Sandoval's insistence on returning to the lineup Saturday while still obviously hobbled was heroic, and could (fingers crossed) in retrospect be a turnaround moment for the Giants. Maybe.
Atlanta swept Arizona, and the Giants NL West deficit as of Monday was just a game-and-a-half. A silver lining to a cloudy week, if nothing more.
Silver linings aside, Brian Wilson has gone on the 15-day disabled list, Carlos Beltran continues his Greta Garbo routine ("leave me alone until I can swing from both sides"), and the Giants lack a healthy fifth starter.
What now? Here are five things to watch for as the Giants prepare for a lengthy homestand.
Whose the Closer?
Last spotted leaving the scene of his latest crime, Wilson's return is questionable
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Because, for now, it's not Brian Wilson. The Giants' closer is disabled through at least August 31.
Wilson's injured elbow seemed a surprise; all we had heard about is all saves he's accumulated over the last four seasons (162) or how many he's added in 2011 (35).
Funny that we weren't hearing about these numbers:
Wilson's 1.49 WHIP is his highest ever as an established closer, and markedly higher than the 1.17 he posted in 2010. His 3.19 ERA is more than a run higher than last year's 1.81.
His command is consistently off-kilter; he has issued 31 walks—five more than the 26 he allowed in all of 2010—in 21 fewer innings.
He has already blown five saves and incurred more losses (four) than all of last year (three). Further, his six victories this year are misleading—two of them followed his own blown saves.
Wilson has been fantastic since he became the Giants closer in 2008, and an indispensable part of last year's title run.
Without Wilson for at least a couple of weeks and Sergio Romo's elbow also balky, Bruce Bochy has had to assess his closing options on the fly. It's been a committee deal. There've been few save situations, making it seem less than critical.
At home, however, there are likely to be more late inning-hold and save situations. A well-structured bullpen will be essential to taking full advantage.
Will Carlos Beltran Be Allowed to Make out the Lineup Card, Too?
Beltran has a little of Bonds (attitude, not bat) in him
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Let me see if I understand:
Carlos Beltran is nearly healthy enough to swing the bat right-handed, yet he doesn't want to play until he can bat from both sides, says Andy Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury-News.
According to Baggarly, "I asked Beltran: Would you bat right-handed against a right-hander? 'That’s not me,' he said. 'I’m a switch hitter.'"
Yes, Carlos. We know. A wealthy ($20 million a year) switch hitter who bats a measly .244 with two RBI in ten games before getting hurt.
And who insists on playing right field even if that forces the club's best defensive outfielder, Nate Schierholtz, to left field.
And who takes the World Series-winning manager's jersey number (Not a big deal? Perhaps not. But I wonder).
Attaboy, Carlos. On a club desperate for runs, the planets must align before you will rejoin the lineup. Meanwhile, the one-legged Panda practically begs his manager to play him Thursday in Atlanta.
Way to strengthen that clubhouse chemistry, Carlos.
Maybe the Band of Misfits isn't so thrilled by its newest member, or how management bows to him.
What Excuse Will Bruce Bochy Invent Next for Not Playing Brandon Belt?
A rarely-seen view of Brandon Belt swinging a bat in a game
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Manager Bruce Bochy sat rookie Brandon Belt Friday in Houston, playing Aaron Rowand in an outfield alignment that had Nate Schierholtz in RF and Cody Ross in LF.
Combined, Rowand, Schierholtz and Ross went 0-12 with five strikeouts.
Batting leadoff, Rowand (.236 BA, .278 OP) was his usual reliable self: 0-4. He stormed back into a tie with Cody Ross for the team lead in strikeouts with 81.
The rookie Belt—who had as many home runs entering the weekend as Rowand (4) and more walks (13, to Rowand's 10) in one-third as many plate appearances—sat.
Meanwhile, the manager, who says he is "trying everything" to get his offense jump-started, has tried such time-honored tactics as using a substitute (first base coach Roberto Kelly) to deliver the lineup card to home plate.
Yeah. That's what we need—more superstition!
Belt played the final two games in Houston, punctuating the weekend with a four-hit, three-run-homer performance in Sunday's win.
Bochy likely would have started Belt this Tuesday and Wednesday at home against the Padres no matter what he did over the weekend; righties Matt Latos and Tim Stauffer are slated to start for the Padres.
Will he trust his rookie against a left-hander like Wandy Rodriguez when Houston visits AT&T this weekend? He should; we'll see.
Seriously, Will Bochy Ever Trust Younger Players?
Fans, meet Hector Sanchez, rookie C. This is as close as you will come to seeing him, so look closely.
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Here's how little trust Manager Bruce Bochy has in young players:
When Buster Posey was injured, the Giants named career backup Eli Whiteside the starter and promoted journeyman Chris Stewart from Class-AAA Fresno to back him up.
When Whiteside struggled, he and Stewart were platooned, even though Stewart is superior defensively.
When Whiteside suffered a mild concussion earlier this week, Stewart was named the everyday starter and Class-AAA prospect Hector Sanchez was promoted to serve as his understudy.
In effect, Bochy has declared Stewart—a guy not good enough to be on the major league roster at the beginning of the season—an every-day player, largely because Bochy's only alternative is a rookie.
(Hide your eyes, Bruce...I know how much that word frightens you)
I like Stewart, and love his defense. But nearing the end of a difficult August road trip through the humid South, why not give a start to Sanchez, a fresh-armed rookie who can hit a little (.261 at Fresno, .283 overall this year) and give Stewart a breather?
That didn't happen in Houston. But he was unwilling to give Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford legitimate shots, either. And it's hard to believe his attitude will shift unless his hand is forced by G.M. Brian Sabean.
And his stubborn dependence on veterans may cost his team a playoff berth.
How Long Can the Pitchers Hold Up Without Run Support?
Lincecum's ten losses symbolize the offense's non-support
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Television cameras caught Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum in the dugout after another brilliant outing (seven innings, one earned run, seven strike outs) was wasted in a 1-0 loss to the Braves.
Tossing a glove over his shoulder—an innocent enough move—conveyed just a hint of exasperation.
And why not? It was Lincecum's tenth loss; in eight, his offense has provided two or fewer runs.
And that helps explain how Lincecum has come to lose ten games—ten—despite an ERA (2.53) and WHIP (1.14) lower than all but one of his four previous seasons.
In the exception—2009, his second Cy Young season—Lincecum's 2.48 ERA and 1.04 WHIP were scarcely better.
He easily could, and should, be 15-6 instead of 11-10. And he should be a serious candidate for his third Cy Young award.
But the shame of it all isn't that Lincecum and fellow rotation stalwarts Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner all will have double-digit losses this year.
It's that the Giants could miss the playoffs despite having the major's second-lowest team ERA (3.13, scarcely behind the Phillies' 3.11).
The pitchers all say the right things. Listen to Lincecum blaming himself Wednesday in comments to the Mercury-News' Andy Baggarly:
Yep—toss a shutout every time. That's the answer.
You do wonder, though, if the Giants' staff actually believes it has to be perfect. And if that daily burden could have something to do with the arm problems that have caught up to several of them in 2011.