Sitting only one game out of last place in the NL West with a disappointing record of 40-47, the San Francisco Giants have done a good job of digging themselves into a hole only one story above the San Diego Padres.
For the reigning World Series Champions, the season thus far has been nothing but underwhelming; the pitching is just not what it used to be. The offense has fallen flat since Ryan Vogelsong and Angel Pagan both went down towards the end of May. Injuries keep on rearing their ugly head.
And it’s a bit concerning, because every time the team seemingly takes a step forward, they end up taking a rather bigger step back; if its not the pitching, the bats aren’t alive. If its not the hitting, the bullpen blows it, or players suddenly develop holes in their gloves. Basically, if its not one thing, its another.
And that very rhythm couldn’t have been evidenced more than by this past weekend’s series loss at home, in which the Giants took only one game from the rival L.A. Dodgers. After suffering a humbling 10-2 loss in the series opener, the club’s undisputed ace Madison Bumgarner served up one of his most impressive outings of the season, pitching (and hitting) his team to a dominating 4-2 victory to halt a four-game losing streak.
Chad Gaudin – in his first game since returning from the 15-day disabled list – was equally impressive during Sunday’s rubber-match. But, as mentioned before, just when things looked as though they might be turning around, the team finds a way to give it up at the most inopportune time. Granted, the game would have gone into extra innings had Sergio Romo retired A. J. Ellis. But it was particularly infuriating for fans, because just the day prior, Romo had been so crisp in earning his 20th save of the season. And we haven’t seen him for a week.
What is it going to take to get this team to perform well on a consistent basis? Will they ever start firing on all cylinders?
Well, for a few reasons, I do believe they can. And, despite the second consecutive series loss against L.A., there were some things to be very pleased with over this past weekend. First and foremost:
Excellent Starting Pitching – Other than Matt Cain, this weekend’s starters in Bumgarner and Gaudin were virtually untouchable. The pair gave up a total of three earned runs through 14 combined innings of work, each racking up nine strikeouts, and giving out only one free ride. All against an L.A. team that has been surging to the top of the NL West standings.
While Cain was roughed up indeed, Friday night’s sub-standard outing marked the first time he’s given up more than three earned runs since June 1st. But overall, the pitching looked really good over the weekend. If Bumgarner keeps up his All-Star season, Gaudin continues to relish in a starting capacity, and Cain can find a way to return to June form, the team’s pitching woes could really start to turn around.
We’ll have to see how Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito fare in the coming series against the New York Mets, but hopefully, something good has rubbed off on them.
Defense Coming Together – It would seem odd to mention an improving defense after the way the Dodgers got the best of Andres Torres on Sunday. But in reality, the defense really took a collective step forward over the weekend; Pablo Sandoval made several impressive plays, as did Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, and even Torres.
Saturday’s Win Very Encouraging – The club may have lost the series, but they should not feel demoralized in the least. Sure, they lost to Clayton Kershaw, but who doesn’t? He’s been one of the most consistently dominating starters over the past three seasons, and recently converted relief pitcher Chad Gaudin comes in and gives the Dodgers a walloping. In fact, Gaudin out-matched Kershaw through the first seven innings, punching out six more batters than his counterpart. It was Romo who couldn’t finish it out, and threw away Gaudin’s spectacular outing.
So they lost. But the defense stepped up overall. The pitching for the most part was excellent. And the team generally exhibited signs that they might be coming out of the funk. I mean, for the first time in a while, they really looked like the reigning champs, and Saturday encompassed that energy and style 100%. If they can figure out how to play with that kind of energy, the war for the west is far from over.
But what else can the club do to get things going again? They’re not out of contention by a longshot, but now is the time to act. Here are some things the Giants MUST do in order to compete with the rest of the west:
Pablo Sandoval / Hunter Pence Must Step Up – Since returning from the disabled list on June 24th (against L.A. no less), the always animated Giants third baseman has done absolutely nothing to help his team.Batting a poor .111 in 12 games since returning to action, the Kung-Fu Panda has just five hits with one double, and no RBI to show for it. He really needs to pick up the pace, and get back to where he was before landing on the disabled list.
All-Star hopeful Hunter Pence is also on thin ice, as he is hitless in his last 22 at-bats. His consistent outfield prowess merits noting, but historically, this is the month he usually slumps. That must not continue to happen. Needless to say, these are two guys in the middle of the order whose performances are invaluable to the club, and can make or break a game with just one crack of the bat.
Buster Posey Keeps On Slugging / Stays Away From First Base – So far July hasn’t been kind to the reigning NL MVP, as the young catcher has collected only two hits in 18 at-bats. On top of that, he’s made a few costly errors while on first base duty. But we know what kind of talent this kid possesses. Its only a matter of time before he breaks his own personal slump, and continues his bid for a second consecutive MVP title. But it’s important he does that soon, as Posey has really been San Francisco’s offense for the last month or so — obviously not during the past week.
Ryan Vogelsong Needs To Pick Up Where He Left Off – The soon-to-be 36-year-old righty endured one of the worst setbacks possible on May 20th after suffering a broken pitching hand during an at-bat against the Washington Nationals. And it was tough to watch, because the veteran had just pitched his best game of the season by far, when all of a sudden he’s shelved for over two months.Originally given an eight to ten week recovery period, Vogelsong is progressing steadily, and will most likely be back to make his first start in August. Even if he’s ahead of schedule, there’s no point in rushing him back just to make one extra start. The team will definitely need him down the stretch.
Make A Trade Or Two – Now this is where it gets tough: do the Giants wait and see how Vogelsong fairs upon returning from the disabled list? Chad Gaudin has filled in supremely well, and has given the Giants something to be happy about. Can they, or should they, run the risk of waiting to see what he’s like after recovery? As there is no way of knowing for sure, the unfortunately fragile situation might inevitably facilitate a move for a starting pitcher. Now, whether it’s a middle of the order or back end type of starter remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Sabean didn’t take any chances in this already tight divisional race.
Better Managing – You may not believe it, but some fans are very upset with how Bruce Bochy has been managing the team; whether its letting a batter hit out of order, or not having Andres Torres bunt in a clear bunt situation, speculation is that the team’s generally spot-on manager has been making some wrong calls as of late. If this is indeed the case, Bochy will have to acknowledge it himself, as only he has the final say.
The Team Must Continue To Improve In Every Aspect – San Francisco showed a lot of life this past Saturday and Sunday, despite the series loss; the defense was solid, and the bats could have broken out if they hadn’t had to face Kershaw. We know how good the starting pitching was, but the bullpen will need to get in shape.
George Kontos and Jeremy Affeldt have been particularly suspect, whereas Javier Lopez and Jake Dunning have been getting the job done rather well. They played like a team, and almost won as a team twice. If they can take the energy they had from this past series into the break, it might keep the momentum going upon returning to baseball activities on the 18th of this month.
With Angel Pagan most likely out the rest of the season, the Giants must be ready to play without him. They’ll need to determine whether or not they plan to make a move in the outfield, so for Blanco and Torres, now is the time to really show they want to play.
For this team to turn their season around, many things must happen. The All-Star break is coming up, which gives the club a chance to regroup, and come back for a monster second half.
With 75 more games to go, San Francisco must take advantage of the weaker match-ups they have remaining on their schedule, and New York looks like just the team to do so against.