San Francisco Giants: 7 Most Important Players to Their Playoff Push

Barry ShillerContributor IIIAugust 25, 2011

San Francisco Giants: 7 Most Important Players to Their Playoff Push

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    Players dropping like flies. A four-game division lead evaporating into a two-game deficit in less than a month.

    And just over a month to go.

    Which San Francisco Giants are most important to their drive—wobbly as it may be at the moment—for a spot in the 2011 postseason?

    Fair to say that something meaningful will be required from everyone on the Giants' dangerously creaky roster. And with so many key performers unavailable, even that might not be enough to hold off the Diamondbacks.

    My recipe for September success goes something like this:

    - More offense from a couple of spots

    - Tighter defense from a couple of others

    - Late-season turnarounds from two pitchers

    - And an injection of energy from a 2010 hero.

    All of that can be accomplished by seven players (and trainer Dave Groeschner, who hasn't slept in two weeks). Here they are.  

Offense: The Two-Headed Beast: Belt(ran)

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    Expecting a sudden course-correction from any of the Giants' offensive deadwood in the season's final month takes extraordinary optimism. Perhaps delusion.

    But it doesn't seem so far-fetched to imagine Carlos Beltran and Brandon Belt—for very different reasons—catching fire and carrying the Giants with them.

    Beltran did nothing for the Giants—two RBI in 10 games—before injuring his wrist in early August. After driving in 66 runs in 98 games for New York, far more was expected.

    A homer in his first game back on Wednesday against San Diego reminded us why the Giants gave up a premium pitching prospect for two months of the 34-year-old switch-hitting outfielder.

    He needs to keep hitting them.

    Brandon (Baby Giraffe) Belt, on the other hand, had done little in 2011 except accumulate frequent flyer miles from shuttling four times between Class AAA Fresno and San Francisco.

    With no healthy alternatives, manager Bruce Bochy finally turned to the rookie last week, installing him in left field. Belt homered three times during a 4-6 road swing through the Deep South.

    Wednesday against San Diego, Belt tripled and singled. Bochy is no fan of rookies, but he and the Giants need Belt to keep on belting. 

Defense: Stewart, Crawford

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    From Pony League to the big leagues, successful teams are defensively strong "up the middle."

    Had Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez not been lost for the season, and Brian Sabean not fumbled efforts to replace Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, and Andres Torres not gone off the reservation, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

    But we are.

    Unless the Giants acquire a catcher in a waiver-wire deal, Chris Stewart has to catch regularly and control opponent's running games.

    He's capable, having thrown out 41 percent of would-be base stealers. Perhaps someone can rent a plane to circle Bruce Bochy's home with a banner citing Stewart's stats; otherwise, we're likely to get too much Eli Whiteside.

    Jeff Keppinger is adequate defensively at 2B, and he'll play daily as long as he's healthy. But 36-year-old Orlando Cabrera has a shaky glove—the Indians weren't even playing him at shortstop before trading him to San Francisco—and his offensive contributions aren't enough to compensate.

    Remember Brandon Crawford? He's batted .270 in 20 games for Class AAA Fresno since his demotion. He figures to be among the Giants' September call-ups, and he's the Giants' best defensive shortstop, vastly superior to Cabrera, Tejada, et al.

    If run production picks up, Bochy could afford to play Crawford. And, despite the presence of all those aging veterans Brian Sabean loves, Crawford should play. Unless you want a dropped pop-up, bobbled grounder or errant throw to decide a tight division race. 

    The center of the diamond, of course, also includes a center fielder. Read on. 

The Energizer: Andres Torres

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    Prior to his most recent, extended stay on the disabled list, watching Andres Torres had become painful. Avert-your-eyes painful.

    The fleet Torres still had his mojo in center field; he patrolled the position with his usual flair and abandon.

    But at the plate, Torres was lost. The stats tell part of the story: .228 BA, .314 OBP, 78 K's, 32 BB. Not quality numbers for a lead-off hitter. Not acceptable, either.

    Numbers aside, Torres was flailing, literally and otherwise. Exhibiting little patience and even less plate discipline, the 2010 Willie Mac award winner was playing himself out of the lineup.

    His injury may have been a blessing, giving Torres room to clear his head. 

    Torres' emergence as a star in 2010 was one of that magic season's most magical stories. He is the club's only legitimate leadoff hitter. The Giants need his speed, energy and glove.

    More than any of those, they need his spirit.


Pitching: Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo

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    You figure Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will be at their best in September. 

    You believe Ryan Vogelsong can write another chapter or two into his storybook season.

    You have faith in the Giants' crazy-deep bullpen to weather the loss of Brian Wilson.

    All of that, however, won't be enough for the Giants to outlast Arizona in the NL West. They need two guys to rise up.

    One is Madison Bumgarner. He's been leaking oil; over his last five starts, the 22-year-old lefty is 1-3, 4.19 ERA, 32.2 innings, 1.38 WHIP. Like his rotation mates, Bumgarner has suffered from minimal run support all season. 

    But with the fifth spot in the rotation a persistent question mark, the Giants need Bumgarner to tighten things up. Now.

    The other is Sergio Romo. The Giants desperately need the other-worldly Romo (0.63 WHIP, 1.67 ERA, 4 BB/53 SO) to dominate when he returns from elbow inflammation.

    Bruce Bochy might continue the closer-by-committee routine made necessary by the crippling absence of Wilson.

    But Romo is Bochy's weapon-of-choice for late-inning September matchups against the likes of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki, matchups that could decide the division race.