Despite Pitching Problems, Giants Roll

San Francisco Giant outfielder Melky Cabrera will miss the playoffs due to a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

First, I would like to apologize to my editors and my readers for my lack of communication, and lack of writing activity regarding the San Francisco Giants. I have been quite busy with personal issues. I feel like I finally have the time to write about my beloved Giants.

This has been a very interesting year for the Giants with its ups and downs. Baseball, like its players is always moving forward in time. New players come into the league, old players move onto the next phase of their lives. Of course, players come and go from one team to the next until their careers have run their course.

The Giants are no exception to these constant changes. In the previous winter, the Giants traded erratic lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for Melky Cabrera (more on him later). Sanchez did not do well in Kansas City, and was subsequently traded to the Colorado Rockies. The Giants also traded Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Angel Pagan. It does appear the Giants did have a plan for 2012, and for the future. The Giants needed to get more athletic, more team speed, and more offensive production. As the baseball adage goes “speed doesn’t slump.”

Where to start on the 2012 Giants? It has become a foregone conclusion that each year the Giants will have great pitching. I like and enjoy this assumption. Both the starting rotation and the bullpen were assumed to be solid. However, in baseball like in life, stuff happens….

Three bad things happened to the Giants with regards to their pitching. The first and worst thing to happen was the season-ending Tommy John surgery on closer Brian Wilson. Whatever you think of Wilson and his eccentric behavior, he was a very effective closer, and a huge part of the Giant team. This injury required a reorganization of the Giants’ bullpen, and Santiago Casilla picked up most of the slack. When he wore down, the other Giants relievers picked up the slack. It meant that the Giants would have a closer by committee with manager Bruce Bochy going with whoever had “the hot hand.”

One of their reliable bullpen arms, Guillermo Mota, was found to have used a performance-enhancing drug, his second violation, and was suspended for 100 days. Other relievers did get a chance to pitch with Mota being unavailable. The Giants have gotten nice years from George Kontos, Clay Hensley and mid-season pick-up Jose Mijares.

The second bad thing to happen to the Giants’ pitching staff was Tim Lincecum’s horrible and inconsistently bad year. No one is quite sure if it’s mental or physical. Regardless, Lincecum has had a horrible year. It has been a combination of poor run support, poor pitch locations, and the infrequent blown save by the bullpen. The hope for the Giants and Giant fans is that Timmy will turn it around in September and get hot for the playoffs in October.

There have been some good, even great, things that have happened with Giants’ pitching this year. The Giants have gotten good years from Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgardner. The bullpen has pitched well — led by Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. One of the truly great things that happened was the perfect game by Matt Cain on June 13, the 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball history and the first in Giants’ franchise history. Unfortunately, I was not at that game. (I missed it by one day.) I did see it on television, as it happened, and it was spectacular! Perfection does not happen very often, but when it does it is absolutely beautiful. Cain was in perfect sync with his catcher, Buster Posey. And the perfect game was saved by a fantastic catch by Gregor Blanco. The last play was a groundball to third base, and a long throw to first base by Joaquin Arias.

The Giants’ catching is solid. Posey has come back from his horrible injury in 2011 to have a great year in 2012. Posey might even get some serious consideration as a Most Valuable Player candidate. Bochy is smart enough to rest Posey when he needs it, and Posey is versatile enough to be able to play first base to save his legs from too much wear and tear. Posey has been ably backed up by rookie Hector Sanchez, who has shown himself to be a very capable catcher with real tools and skills, both defensively and offensively.

The Giants’ infield in 2012 has had problems. I think that it started with the fact that Freddy Sanchez would not be healthy enough to play second base during the season. Aubrey Huff had a great year in 2010, a mediocre year in 2011, and an injury-filled year in 2012. Huff was also sadly dealing with the dissolution of his marriage. I think that it’s hard enough to play professional baseball, but then, you have to deal with outside distractions. (On a personal note, I do feel badly for Aubrey, and I hope that he can find some peace within himself. Baseball is just a game, but life is what it is.) Pablo Sandoval went on the disabled list for a month with a broken hamate bone and pulled muscle. He’s had a productive year on both offense and defense. One of the greatest defensive plays in 2012 was Sandoval and shortstop Brandon Crawford chasing a foul ball down the third base line. Sandoval got a glove on the ball, flipped it in the year, and it was caught by Crawford on a diving grab. Unbelievable! It was also a number one play on ESPN. Check it out on youtube, if you get a chance.

Brandon Belt has played most of this season at first base. He is finally starting to look and play like a Major Leaguer. I think that it was a matter of gaining experience and maturity and being comfortable with the game. Belt’s at-bats are much better now with far more patience at the plate. Belt’s defense has never been in question — he is a solid defensive first baseman.

Second base looked a little bit like a black hole with no one really filling the job. The Giants did get some nice productivity from Ryan “the Riot” Theriot, along with Joaquin Arias and mid-season acquisition Marco Scutero. Scutero has provided a nice “shot in the arm” for the Giants. He has a veteran presence, and is productive with both his glove and bat. Scutero, like Arias, has filled in at other infield positions as well.

Crawford has developed at shortstop like Belt at first as a solid Major League player. Crawford’s defense, which was shaky in the first half, has smoothed itself out. He has made some spectacular plays, and is now a solid Major League shortstop. Crawford has also developed into a better, more patient Major League hitter, and should continue his development as he spends more time in the Majors.

Third base has been problematic with Sandoval’s injury. I still think that Sandoval does have weight issues, and he’s going to need to fight them for the duration of his Major League career. Sandoval is a very athletic talented player, but he needs to keep his weight under control.

The Giants’ outfield started out the season with Melky Cabrera in left, Angel Pagan in center, and Nate Schierholtz in right. Melky in the first half of the year was a huge offensive spark while playing solid defense. Most Latin American players tend to be very aggressive hitters, and Melky was no exception. Melky had such a good first half that he was named to the National League All-Star Team, where he hit a home run and was named All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.

It is always exciting to see people dress up at AT & T Park in different costumes, which fans do for specific players. There was a group of five guys who would dress up as “Melk Men.” The “Melk Men” later were joined in the stands by the “Melk Maids.” All of this ended on Aug. 15with the suspension of Melky Cabrera by Major League Baseball for 50 games for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. This took care of the rest of the season, even into the playoffs. The Giants have had enough of PEDs, especially with Barry Bonds when he was here. This is one legacy that the Giants can do without. Melky is also in his option year; this means that he is eligible for free agency after this year. I hope that the Giants do not re-sign him, and sign someone else. I think that Melky will get a second chance with another team. One thing about team sports is being there for your teammates, and giving everything you have. Melky’s use of PEDs shows him being absolutely selfish and not considering that he is part of a team. Melky’s playing time has been taken up by assorted other players such as Justin Christian, Francisco Peguero and Gregor Blanco. Blanco has been a huge asset to the Giants as a number four outfielder. The Giants signed local Bay Area product Xavier Nady to a minor league contract for the September run to the playoffs. He was coming off an injury and had been released by the Washington Nationals. However, Nady recently pulled a thigh muscle so it remains to be seen what his contribution to the Giants will be for the rest of the year.

Angel Pagan has stepped up from the start of the season, and played a nice center field, along with being a good lead-off hitter. Pagan and Martin Scutero have been very good at the top of the Giants line-up, getting on base and providing the offensive spark that was needed. Prior to the season, I was worried about Pagan as a defensive player, taking poor routes to the ball. He has shown himself to be very capable. I think that this is something that Pagan has worked on very hard to improve.

The season started off with Nate Schierholtz in right field. While Schierholtz was solid defensively with a strong arm, he never seemed to get on track as a hitter in 2012. Schierholtz also complained publicly about his lack of playing time. It happens. Everyone has a role on the team, and Schierholtz wasn’t happy with his role. Schierholtz was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with two minor leaguers, for outfielder Hunter Pence. The Giants have wanted Pence for quite a while, and he seems to have fit in well with the team, providing offense and solid defense with a tremendous outfield arm. (In case you can’t tell, as a baseball fan, I love great defense, and good pitching.)

What will happen for the rest of September? The Giants are in first place by 4 ½ games over the hated Los Angeles Dodgers. The remaining 25 games are all against National League West opponents. The Giants have six games against the Dodgers, including the last three games, Oct. 1-3,at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. The Giants have seven games against Colorado, six games against Arizona, and six games against San Diego. The Giants have 13 games at home, where they’re now having problems playing well. They have 12 games on the road, where they’re now playing well. I hope that the division is settled by the time it gets to the last series of the year versus the Dodgers.

So, the answer to what happens the rest of the season is this – excitement, tension and torture. The only thing that we can do is wait and see. This is why I love baseball. Go Giants!

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One Comment

  1. Dave Edlund

    September 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    It is so nice that the Giants have a 4.5 game lead in mid-September. Last year, they like 7-8 games out of it by now. And in the 2010 World Series year, they were still trailing the Padres and had to go to the final game of the regular season to pull it out.

    One thing that is very different from the 2010 team is he Giants lack of HR power. I sure miss it. Only Posey has over 10 HR’s from the full season Giants. The Giants have only 2 splash HR’s down from 5 each of the last 2 seasons.

    I am very disappointed in the Panda’s impact on the team because I think he has more raw talent than he has demonstrated this year. Weight is only one of his problems, but possibly his biggest. He has not hit a HR in about 2 months and that is something he should be able to do regularly.

    But so many new stars has emerged for the Giants like Pagan and Scutaro and we are well positioned to make the playoffs!

    GO Giants!

    McCovey Cove DAVE

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