Fire up the Stove

As of yesterday, the options for Andres Torres and Barry Zito have officially been declined, making them free agents. No shocker there. Both guys had their time in the sun with the club, but it was time for the Giants to move on. Neither guy really made any significant contributions all season, when both were expected to play somewhat significant roles… the organization can’t let that happen next year.

The free agency period is nearly upon us. The exclusive negotiating window teams have with their potential free agents will end in the next day or so, at which point the offseason will officially begin. As it stands, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong’s status with the Gigantes is still very much up in the air. In his live chat last week, Baggs’ stated what most of us know on the Lopez front: there’s mutual interest, but no deal is in place. Javy’s been a huge (and underrated) piece in Bruce Bochy’s bullpen since he came over from Pittsburgh, and I expect there’ll be a deal announced shortly… probably another two years for the lefty extraordinaire. The Giants specifically didn’t trade him at the deadline because they wanted to bring him back. Generally, when a player and the club have mutual interest, a deal gets done.  I’ll say this though: if Lopez doesn’t sign, there are a few other intriguing lefties out there. A guy I’ve always liked is JP Howell. He had a very good year for the Dodgers, and he’s only 30.

As for Vogey, Baggs has been indicating for a while that the Giants won’t pick up the $6.5 million option for next year, but they’ll renegotiate a cheaper deal. There hasn’t been much talk either way so far, which isn’t all that surprising when it comes to Sabean doing business… but I did find the comments on from Vogey’s agent last week interesting. I can’t seem to find the article now. Essentially, that there hadn’t been any contact from the Giants yet… Can you picture Vogelsong sitting by his phone, staring intently, waiting for the call to come in? Me neither, but it really didn’t sound like there’d been a whole lot of communication. Vogey wants to come back, but Sabean would be absolutely nuts to give him anything more than $1 million at this point. If they could come to some reasonable terms, I’d gladly have him back to compete with Petit/Surkamp/Kickham for the 5th starter spot. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that at this point.

With Lopez and Vogey being the last remaining free agents-to-be on the club at the moment, the Giants aren’t going to be offering any qualifying offers. There’s some significance here, as at one point they could have potentially been looking at a couple of potential first round picks… but they weren’t willing to take the chance of losing Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum to free agency. I have to admit, the more I think about the Timmy situation, the more I wish they would have waited and made the qualifying offer. It’s all water under the bridge at this point, though. The Giants will take their 14th pick in next year’s draft, and they’ll like it.

A few more offseason thoughts here. CSN has had a few free agent power rankings posts on their site lately. If I remember right, they basically copied and pasted the left field, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher rankings from hardballtalk.com. I want to address the site comments on these posts. It’s amazing to me how unrealistic or distorted a view people have on Sabean, the Giants and their offseason agenda. The front office has said numerous times already that they aren’t going to sacrifice their first round pick, which is not protected. So… Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo are out of the picture, as are any other players who receive a qualifying offer. If you aren’t familiar with the qualifying offer and draft pick compensation, take a look at this article from SB Nation. Pretty good explanation of the process.

Also, you have to look at the market for free agency. There’s not much talent out there this year. Cano, Ellsbury, and Choo are going to make some major green. Even if you take the qualifying offer out of the equation, when’s the last time Sabes forked out $100 million for a free agent not named Barry Zito? It’s not the way he does business, and the Giants have already committed nearly $130 million to the payroll for next season. Barring something very unforeseen (like a hard push for Masahiro Tanaka), Sabean has already spent his big money for the offseason. As hard as it is for those of us who support the orange and black to watch what the Dodgers are doing down in La-La Land, you have to understand the way the Giants do business. Every team has holes that need to be filled, and while the Dodgers may be willing to empty their pockets and farm system to acquire talent, the Giants just don’t play that game. They never have. You may disagree with the way they do business (as I do from time to time), but this club won the World Series only one year ago. Sabean is banking on his key players from 2012 having a bounceback season in 2014, despite his comments about windows closing.

Personally, I don’t see any indications that the Giants will be in on Tanaka. I don’t think they’ll even make the final three teams involved. The estimates being tossed around for his services are pretty outrageous, but there are teams willing to spend that kind of dough. Tanaka could be a game-changer, but I’m really not getting my hopes up anymore. I’d bank more on a Bronson Arroyo or AJ Burnett. Maybe Sabes ponies up a bit more for a guy like Ubaldo Jimenez.

One thing I do expect to take place this winter is a trade or two. Every indication I’ve gotten is that the Giants don’t think too highly of the free agent class (and how can they?). If that’s the case, maybe they’ll put some packages together to land a pitcher or left fielder. But who do they trade? Other than Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar and Adalberto Mejia (all mentioned by Baggs last week as “untouchable”), I’d think every other minor leaguer in the organization is available. I think Clayton Blackburn could be a nice trade piece… Add Joan Gregorio and Chris Stratton to that list, as well as any of the high-octane relievers. Stratton is a guy I’d like to hold onto, though. On the hitting side, I’d have to think Sabean would listen on anyone. I’d like to see Susac and Williamson be off limits, but those are probably the two most coveted guys. Either way, the Giants understand the limitations of modern-day free agency, and may try to get creative in strengthening the roster.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to talk about in the coming weeks, but that’s all for now. The hot stove is almost upon us, so things should start to get interesting (or not interesting, depending on your expectations) very soon.

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Giants 2014: Left Field

*Update: Forget the part about signing Jose Abreu… 6-years, $68 million deal with the White Sox. What happened to the Giants as favorites here? Much more on that topic to follow. 

What are the Giants going to do with left field? That’s the question everyone is asking this offseason, although the more I think about it, the more I feel left field is a secondary issue to solidifying the starting rotation. The Giants are a pitching-driven team, and it’s very likely they’ll head into winter with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots locked down. Finding three worthy pitchers to fill in around those two will be an incredible challenge for Brian Sabean – getting a #3 might be the toughest task of all (Tim Lincecum ain’t it). I think the rotation is more of a priority for Sabes than left field, but finding that elusive everyday left fielder is still an issue, and something that will be discussed and speculated all offseason. So I guess it’s our turn on Cove Chatter to dip our toes into the left field water.

Where it’s been: Barry Lamar Bonds had a 1.045 OPS in 2007. Barry Lamar Bonds wasn’t invited back for 2008, for reasons I still can’t understand. But those days are long gone. In the six seasons since the Giants decided they no longer needed the services of the greatest hitter in their franchise’s history, left field in San Francisco has taken the form of a community bicycle – nearly everyone has taken a ride. During those six seasons, here are the guys who’ve started more than 50 games in a season in left field for the Giants: Fred Lewis, Randy Winn, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres. Seven players in 6 seasons – That’s a revolving door, folks. Lewis is the only homegrown player among that group. He wasn’t bad for a couple seasons, but he also had the insurmountable task of replacing Bonds… he never had a chance.

Burrell was as valuable as anyone on the 2010 squad – and he was a Sabean Special dumpster dive. Burrell also demonstrated how valuable raw power can be. Sure, his outfield defense was miserable, but his bat was a key factor in the Giants’ late-season surge. Maybe more important though, Burrell and Aubrey Huff made one hell of a cocky pair, and their swagger went a long way in leading that young team down the stretch. Sometimes a little attitude goes a long way in this game.

Melky was a Godsend in 2012, and we all found out why in August. Remember all those early-season cries for management to lock him up long-term? That could have been bad…real bad. Regardless, Melky’s production gave the Giants a very deep lineup. The platoon of Blanco/Torres in 2013 didn’t come close to making up that production. The floodgates opened when both of those guys were thrust into starting roles after Angel Pagan’s injury. I have to give Sabean some credit, though. He definitely tried to get production out of LF after Pagan went down. But neither the vets (Tanaka, Francoeur) nor the kids (Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero) could really establish any consistent offense out there.

Where it’s headed: All of these things have made LF a significant hole in the Giants offense for the second consecutive offseason. So… how do they fix it? I’ll be honest; there are about a dozen different ways they can go here. But we can definitely look at a few of those ways Sabean may take to fill the void.     

In-house options: Blanco, Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero. Those are your in-house outfield options. Maybe Brett Pill to a lesser extent. All of them have spent time in the majors, but very little for the 3 rookies. It’s conceivable that any of these 4 could be your Opening Day LF next spring, depending on who steps up in spring training (don’t forget John Bowker once opened the season as the starting RF after a strong spring). Here’s my issue with these guys: none of them are MLB regulars right now. Blanco is the closest, and the Giants have sure tried their damndest to make him a starter. Yes, he’s got a nice tool belt – defense, speed, OBP. Give him 155 starts in left, and he’ll probably give you a .330 OBP with 5 HR in return. That’s not awful, by any means. Some guys will spend their career trying to put together a season like that. But I need more offense from my everyday corner outfielder, regardless of how good his defense is.

But Blanco hits pretty well against righty’s, you say. Give the kid Perez a chance to platoon with him, you plead. I know for a fact there are people out there who would be satisfied by a Perez/Blanco platoon. Not me. Not on a team that wants to contend. Both of those guys can be valuable bench players. Both can be game-saving defensive replacements in the late innings. Maybe Perez has more in the bat? Maybe Peguero and Kieschnick can put it all together? That would certainly be great, but the Giants don’t have time to find out right now. Entering the year with one or a combination of these in-house guys as the starter is the most conservative approach the Giants can take, and in my opinion the worst. So… what next?

Free agents: If you haven’t seen the free agent list, you check it out here. There’s not much depth, but we already knew that. As outfielders go, Ellsbury and Choo are the obvious prizes. I would love either of them in San Francisco. Ain’t happenin’. Granderson, Beltran? Probably not. But we need a starter, and he needs to come from outside the organization. So who’s it going to be? The Giants aren’t going to find a long-term solution to LF within this group. So I’m looking for my new Pat Burrell… and I’ve got some guys in mind: Mike Morse, Delmon Young, Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart.

Maybe these aren’t the sexy names on the market. Maybe some of them have injury concerns or defensive issues. Maybe they’re prone to strikeouts. But they all have one thing in common: power potential baby. Pat the Bat wasn’t a gifted defender, remember? Pat the Bat didn’t make a lot of contact. But Patty had confidence, and he could unload the long ball from time to time. Any one of these guys can, too. If you’re trying to hold a late lead, enter Blanco or Perez. If you need to lift this guy for a pinch runner, you can do that too. But each of these four guys has the ability to make an impact with his bat when he’s on the field, and that’s what I want to see out of my starting LF. If Sabean decides to kick the tires on one of them to the tune of a one or two-year deal, I’ll have no beef, as long as it’s within reason.

It might cost a little more to pry Hart away from Milwaukee, but I think it’s worth it if the guy can prove he’s healthy. Could be a nice comeback story. Morse’s wrist surgery makes his case a little complicated, but he’s another guy who could provide a nice power piece in the lineup if he’s healthy. With Byrd, you’re banking on one more productive season, as he’s older at 36. Stopgap option. Young could be a classic Burrell story. Former top prospect, castoff, playoff vet with pop. He’s an unknown at this point, but might be worth a flier along the lines of the deal Philly gave him last winter. Tampa gave him a shot down the stretch. Will the Giants?

Trades: If Sabean doesn’t find the free agent class enticing (which is completely understandable), maybe he looks to the trade market to find his nightly “postgame leap” buddy for Pagan and Pence. Sabean rebuilt his outfield through trades prior to 2012, so maybe he sneaks in another one this offseason. This is tough business though. Who does he offer… and who does he even go after? Peter Gammons recently suggested Pablo as a potential trade candidate this winter. Maybe Sabes dangles the Panda in front of the Yankees’ noses. Would they be willing to part ways with Tyler Austin? In the unlikely event, Austin would probably start the season in AA anyway, so that wouldn’t fill the LF void next season. Who else is out there that may be expendable? Colby Rasmus? In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine. Sabean hasn’t been afraid to make trades in the past, but this offseason doesn’t seem like it’ll boast a very favorable market.

If not a Blanco or Perez, a Morse or Byrd, or a [insert trade candidate here], where else could the Giants possibly look to patch their LF hole? There’s one more scenario, and I saved it for last not because I think it’s the most likely to happen, but because it just may be the best option the organization has at this point.

Brandon Belt: The idea of Belt moving to LF isn’t anything new. If you recall, Belty played a handful of games out there as a rookie, when Huff was still on the team – 31 starts to be exact. How was Belt as an outfielder? Hell if I remember. But I imagine he could settle nicely into the position if they committed to him being out there. He’s an athletic guy, tall, with a very strong left arm. I don’t think it’s too far off to say he could eventually be an asset in LF. Maybe it wouldn’t be the easiest transition in the world, but he could certainly do it.

If you’ve been watching the Giants the past couple of years, I think you can understand how getting Belt some time in LF would be in the team’s best interest. For two seasons, Buster Posey has been sliding over to play 1B on days when he wasn’t behind the dish. Posey’s bat is too valuable to keep out of the lineup, but he’s not going to play all 162 with the gear on. That’s perfectly understandable, but something happened this season that should change the way the Giants view this Belt/Posey situation: Belt became one of the team’s best hitters down the stretch. If he can carry his second-half momentum into next spring, the Giants really need to consider whether they can afford keeping Belt out of the lineup on days when Posey isn’t catching. What then? Does Posey play some 3B? We’ve all been suggesting it, but the Giants haven’t made any indication that they’re willing to try it. Just like they haven’t been very receptive to the idea of Belt playing LF. Maybe Posey just gets a complete day off? Either way, the writing is on the wall… this team needs more positional flexibility. They’ve got a young, budding talent in Belt, and there’s absolutely no excuse for not getting him some more experience in the outfield.

Of course, if the Giants are as interested in making a run for Cuban free agent Jose Abreu as they lead on, Belt may be heading to left whether he wants to or not. Any team who signs Abreu is banking on his bat, not his glove. And they sure as heck aren’t signing him to play the outfield. To me, there are numerous reasons to give Belt a chance in left, and many of them are starting to present themselves. Here’s a scenario for you: Sabean/Bochy sit Belt down, tell him he’s switching positions. Not only that, but they’re locking him up for his arbitration years. Essentially, you’re telling the kid that you’re committing to him as your everyday LF going forward. In my opinion, that’s ultimate job security…not a demotion or rejection. I’m sure not everyone looks at it that way. Yes, you’d be losing Belt’s above average defense at first. But I’d rather hide a poor defender at first than I would in left, especially if it’s an Abreu or a Morse-type player. Could allow Sabean to be a little more creative this offseason as well. Just a thought.

Ok, I think I’ve exhausted almost every possible scenario for addressing LF this winter here. That being said, I’m sure the Giants will pull something completely unexpected out of their hats and shock us all. Choo for $100 million? Naaaah. This is by far the longest post in this Giants 2014 series so far, and for good reason. The LF situation could literally go in a dozen different directions. I’ll try to keep the next few a bit shorter, and save some breath for the starting rotation. Thanks for reading, and it should be very interesting to see how Sabean goes forward with the position.

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Giants 2014: Center FIeld

This is post #2 in a series looking at the state of the Giants going forward, one position at a time. We started with right field and Mr. Pence, the $90 million man. Now we’re on to the ever valuable center field. Much like right field, the center field spot for the Giants is one with little debate these days, as Angel Pagan is heading into year 2 of 4 in a $45 million contract. Pagan is one of the most valuable players on the team, and like Pence, he plays the game all-out, all the time.

May 25th, he crushes one into triple’s alley in the 10th inning of a tie game against Colorado, proceeds to bust it around 3rd, and keeps-on-a-goin’. He slides in safe for the winning run, a walk-off inside the park homer. Hands down, that’s the sweetest play of the year. Dust flying, Pagan’s helmet down over his face, Flannery running around high-fiving like a lunatic… utter chaos, and one of the most amazing AT&T Park scenes I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve the postseason or a Bonds home run.

That play was the essence of Pagan. It was the last time he’d take the field until August 30th. That walk-off made the Giants 27-22. When he came back, they’d been out of contention for two months. There were so many things that went wrong this year, but you could make a pretty strong argument that Pagan’s absence was the one that sunk the ship. Sure, Torres and Blanco held their own as the CF/leadoff hitter for a little while after Pagan went down. They were exposed eventually, though. Especially Torres… he fell apart, both at the plate and in the field. It’s pretty simple: when Pagan plays, the Giants are a much better team.

So Pagan is the undoubted center fielder and leadoff hitter going forward, as long as he can stay healthy. There’s no doubt about that, as he is being paid handsomely to be that guy. Pagan is an asset on this team, a player who kind of drives the bus in a sense. But, the center field position hasn’t always been a known commodity or strength for the Giants. Like right field, center had been pretty unstable before Pagan entered the picture.

Where it’s been: Remember Aaron Rowand? If there’s any question about Brian Sabean’s preference to lock up players who’ve already contributed at AT&T Park (especially hitters), you can look no further than the Rowand contract to find answers. One year after the Zito deal, Rowand got 5 years and $60 million… I don’t have to remind you that he didn’t make it through 4 full seasons as a Giant. But Rowand was the primary CF for a few years until Andres Torres came out of nowhere in 2010. 2011 was a mix and match farewell tour for Rowand (cut in September), Torres (traded) and Cody Ross (left for free agency). That’s a four-year overview of center field before the Giants acquired Pagan for Torres prior to 2012. Nothing special. But there were trophies and rings earned during that period… just goes to show what can happen when a team gets hot.

Where it’s headed: Pagan is signed through 2016, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the everyday center fielder for the length of his contract. He’s 32, heading into his 9th year in the bigs, and has only played 150+ games in a season twice in his career. He’s also not the greatest defensive center fielder in the world, and many think he’ll eventually be pushed to left. When he’s healthy, he’s a .280 hitter with extra base power and some serious speed. Health is the big wildcard… he’s starting to seem like one of those guys that can’t avoid a trip to the DL every year. You just hope you don’t end up getting into a Freddy Sanchez situation with Pagan, because he’s owed a lot of money. Next season will go a long way in telling how much value the Giants will get out of the deal.

The Giants will likely fill in behind Pagan with Blanco or Juan Perez next year. In reality, both are stronger defenders than Pagan, but neither have his impact bat. Neither will spend much time in center next year, either. Pagan was given big money to be the center fielder, and you can bet that’s where he’ll be when he’s on the field. Whoever gets the 4th OF job will probably spend most of their time as a late inning replacement in left, as there won’t be many innings to go around in right field either… Mr. Pence has those taken care of.

I’m not sure if the Giants will go with two outfielders on the bench next year. Blanco and Perez are both above average defenders, but I don’t think you need both of them on the 25-man unless there’s an injury. Perez has an elite arm, but Blanco has the better bat. I think Blanco’s bat will win out and Perez will start the year in Fresno. If he can develop a little plate discipline, I can definitely see Perez getting himself some more playing time in the future. He’s just too good of an athlete.

Where does Gary Brown fit into all of this? As recently as a year ago, Brown was the top prospect in the organization and the CF/leadoff hitter of the future. Now that future’s in big trouble. The 2010 1st round pick has seen his average drop from .336 in San Jose, to .279 in Richmond, to .231 this year in Fresno. His stolen bases have also dropped each year, from 53 to 33 to 17. Brown is a tremendous athlete in center with one of the best outfield arms in the organization. The Giants definitely have some superb defensive CF’s in their system, but Brown, like so many others, is seeing his bat fall off as he advances through the minors. Coming in, his contact and speed tools were supposed to be elite to go along with the advanced defense. So how does he strikeout 135 times in Fresno after striking out only 164 times combined over the two previous seasons? What the hell’s going on with him these days?

One thing is for certain with Brown. Whether he can rebound to his future MLB-regular status or not, he’s going to get his opportunities. You don’t give up on top prospects, and while many in the national media will write him off after this year, he still has every chance to get the bat going and move Pagan to left field by 2015. Brown’s a stubborn kid with a great story. I think he’s got a ton of untapped potential left, the coaching staff just needs to help him find it… and he needs to be willing to make changes.

The only other real CF prospects of note in the system are Gustavo Cabrera, Jesus Galindo, and Joneshwy Fargas, all of whom are at least a few years off (if they ever make it). Galindo has plus speed and was a Future’s Game participant this year. Don’t know if he’ll ever hit enough. Fargas is a recent draft pick from Puerto Rico with some athleticism and speed tools. He had a nice summer with the bat in the AZL, and will be a sleeper guy to keep an eye on. Very young. Cabrera is the big ticket, the million-dollar baby, the potential 5-tool stud. But he’s yet to play a professional game in America. He’s a top-10 prospect in the system to me, but no way is he even sniffing San Francisco for another 4 or more years.

I think that’s a pretty fair look at CF in the organization. If I’m missing something, please feel free to let me know. The first two installments of this series were pretty easy, but we’ll get into some of Brian Sabean’s heavy lifting with the next one when we tackle left field. As we all know, the position could go one of about a thousand ways this offseason, and I don’t have any better of a clue than anyone else out there not working within the organization. But I’ll sure take my best stab at it! 

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Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.

Bad Pennies

Damn you, Denard.

The Giants are beyond saving this season. We knew that nearly a month ago. Deep down we probably knew it in June. In the words of Brian Sabean, 2013 has been a “bad penny” year for the orange and black. I’ll argue that poor play on the part of the 25 men who put on the uniform every night is more to blame for this season’s struggles than bad luck. Sure, there have been injuries and some bad breaks, but mostly this team’s undoing can be traced back to its own performance on the field.

Yes, this season is over in the figurative sense. But it’s never too early to play for next season. In baseball, much as in other sports, a little momentum can go a long way. This group of guys we call the Giants aren’t this bad of a baseball team. They know it, we know it, and the rest of the league knows it. They’ve got the rings, and we’ve got the commemorative DVD’s to prove it. Right now, however, the Giants are a team in need of a lucky break. Not to save the season, but to save face.  

Last night, the proverbial bad penny waited until there were two outs in the top of the 9th before it reared its ugly head. For once, the Giants were rallying. After falling into a 6-1 hole to the Nationals in the 4th inning, Brandon Belt sparked some life back into the club with a towering home run in the 8th. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence followed with singles, and Pablo Sandoval doubled them home. The Giants’ 3-4-5-6 hitters – the source of so many offensive problems lately – combined for 9 hits, and 4 (yes, 4) RBI’s last night. In the 9th, the Giants rallied again. Hector Sanchez singled, pinch runner Andres Torres took second, advanced to third on a ground out, and Belt knocked him in. Posey kept the 2-out rally going with a base hit.

That all led to Hunter Pence, who whacked a hanging slider from Rafael Soriano into left-center. For a couple seconds, the ball looked like it was going to split the outfielders. This was going to be the clutch hit that the Giants have been so desperately missing for the past two months. But Denard Span had other intentions, and it became apparent as the ball started coming down that he was going to make a fantastic play. He did, and from the mouth of Duane Kuiper, “that’s the ball game.” A team in need of sign of hope didn’t get it last night, and has now dropped two games in Washington while outhitting the Nat’s 23-17. Span’s game-saving catch was the third such play that has ended a game against the Giants this season. Maybe Sabean was onto something with those bad pennies after all.

Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.

Giants Drop Final Two in Tampa

The Giants lost by a run for the second day in a row in Tampa Bay this afternoon. The Rays took two of three from the Orange and Black, who probably feel like they should’ve had a road sweep against one of the top teams in baseball. If this were any year but 2013, the Giants probably would have swept the Rays. Guillermo Moscoso made his first start since coming over in a trade with the Cubs, and was decent for four innings. His control wasn’t great, he didn’t have amazing stuff, and he served up a monster home run to Wil Myers. But he gave the Giants a chance to win. Ultimately, he didn’t make it out of the 5th, but I’d say he was effective enough. This might have been his only start anyway, as Ryan Vogelsong cruised through another rehab outing in AA Richmond. I haven’t heard anything official yet, but I’d guess we’ll see Vogey back in SF some time next week.

Moscoso wasn’t the reason the Giants lost today. Nor has starting pitching been the reason the Giants have lost six of their last nine. Take a look at what the starting hurlers have done during that span, starting with the Cubs’ series: 

7/26 vs Chc: Cain 7 ip, 1 er, 7 k (ND)

7/27 vs Chc: Bumgarner 8 ip, 0 er, 7 k (ND)

7/28 vs Chc: Lincecum 7 ip, 2 er, 10 k (L)

7/30 at Phi: Zito 3.1 ip, 4 er, 2 k (L)

7/31 at Phi: Gaudin 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (W)

8/1 at Phi: Cain 8 ip, 1 er, 7 k (W)

8/2 at TB: Bumgarner 7 ip, 1 er, 11 k (W)

8/3 at TB: Lincecum 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (ND)

8/4 at TB: Moscoso 4.2 ip, 3 er, 3 k (ND)

Total: 9 gs, 59 ip, 14 er (2.13 era) 57 k (3-2)

That’s pretty impressive stuff. Take Zito and Moscoso’s starts out, and you get seven starts that rival even the greatest stretches from 2010 to 2012. The difference; the Giants are 3-6 during is stretch. So, no, starting pitching is not the problem right now. Actually, if Vogelsong can post even average numbers the rest of the way in the #5 spot, the Giants will have a very strong rotation. Essentially, guys like Vogey, Gaudin and Timmy are auditioning for spots on the team next season, so I’d expect them all to be competitive this month and next.

Honestly, the dominance of the Giants rotation right now makes those lousy two months of play sting even worse. Had the team been able to win a few more games against the Marlins, the Mets, the Cubs, or anyone else for that matter, we may be looking at a very exciting last couple months of the year. Instead, it’s 12 games below .500 and an offense that inspires little confidence these days. In a 162-game season, all you have to do is avoid the awful month, because you never know what might happen down the stretch. The Giants couldn’t do that this season.

I read a tweet from Baggs this afternoon that Giants’ leadoff hitters own a .150 average since the All-Star break. Can we please see someone besides Blanco or Torres out there? What’s Francisco Peguero doing these days? How about Juan Perez? If you don’t like those options, maybe you move Scutaro up. Wanna get crazy? How about Javier Herrera in AA? Either way, this offense needs someone to be a rally-starter at the top, and neither Blanco nor Torres is doing that anymore. I think we all understand why the Giants gave Angel Pagan $40 million this offseason. You have to have a good leadoff hitter, and Pagan is ours.

The Giants head back home for four with Milwaukee, which may be a great opportunity to get some momentum going into a tough stretch of games. With the offense still sputtering (aside from an upstart Brandon Crawford), here’s what I would like to see: address the leadoff position – try someone different! Also, no more platoons please. Play the hot hitter. Belt nearly hits for the cycle against Chris Archer, then sits the next day against David Price. Francoeur gets three knocks off of Cy Price, then he sits today. I don’t care if lefties aren’t supposed to hit lefties and righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. If a guy is swinging the bat well, let him hit against whoever is pitching.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for one day. The Giants are at least playing better ball lately, and hopefully they can defend AT&T with a little more authority this time around.

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