At the MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline, things seemed to go from abysmal to DEFCON 1 for the San Francisco Giants, at least according to the Twitter-verse. Going into July 31st the team was in shambles, missing their first baseman, center fielder, second baseman, their star pitcher and sporting a 16-29 since they were a season high 21 games over .500 in early June.
The Giants did acquire pitcher Jake Peavy to bolster their rotation a few days prior to July 31st, but how did they respond on deadline day? Apparently they sought guidance from the Magic Conch Shell, because they did absolutely nothing.
All Hell seemed to break loose after that. “They should have traded Pablo Sandoval!” says one of the lunatic fringe on the radio. “They should have fired Brian Sabean a long time ago!” says your friend on Facebook. It seemed that, despite just sitting three and a half games out of first place in the National League West, the Giants playoff hopes had vanished, at least according to the fans.
Not to fret Giants fans. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, with a center fielder waiting to salute you there.
After the deadline, Sabean admitted, “I don’t know how good we are” in part because he was awaiting the return of Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan “to see how we flip the switch” according to Andrew Baggarly. It’s time to turn the switch on now, as Belt has returned from his second DL stint of the season and Pagan is expected to rejoin the team in Milwaukee.
Belt seems to have gotten the memo, as he’s already gone 3-for-8 with a home run and a walk since his return last Saturday against the New York Mets. The first baseman was part of a home run renaissance for the Giants in the early part of the season, slugging seven homers in the month of April. After Belt went down with a broken thumb, he seemed to take the team’s power with him.
Since June 6th, the team’s home run leader, Mike Morse, has just two home runs and the team, as a whole, has seen a huge power outage. With Belt now firmly back in the lineup, the Giants now have a legitimate power threat that can ease some of the pressure that was mounting on Morse’s shoulders and provide some much needed protection in the lineup to Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Sandoval.
But the big story is Pagan, whose impact on the Giants (36-21 when Pagan starts, 22-29 when he does not) has been widely publicized. Even when looking at all of the numbers, it is still shocking just how much of an impact Pagan has had on the team’s success.
In 2011, this team was still able to fight for a playoff spot into the final weeks without the help of reigning Rookie of the Year Posey, yet the team was out of the race by July in 2013 without the help of their leadoff hitter. It shouldn’t be so surprising though when looking at the Giants 2010 and 2012 championship runs that their offenses greatly benefitted from two solid leadoff hitters in Andres Torres and Pagan respectively.
It could be the energy that Pagan provides not just in the lineup, but also in the clubhouse and on the field that gives the Giants that extra spark. Maybe it’s just having a traditional leadoff hitter in the leadoff spot. Or maybe it’s the sight of those flowing locks and the twinkle in his smile that…uh…where was I?
Anyway, the point is when Pagan is in the lineup, something clicks with the entire team. That became all too evident when Pagan returned to the DL last September, helping the team to a strong 16-11 finish. The Giants will need that kind of impact and then some from Pagan this time around, which is certainly no guarantee.
Defensively, Pagan seemed to be a bit off his game much of the season thanks to nagging injuries from 2013 and the injury that eventually sidelined him this year. With the lumbering Morse covering left field, that could present itself as a problem for the remainder of the season.
Whether he has lost a step defensively or not, the Giants will still be thrilled to have Pagan back in the leadoff spot where he belongs and to move Pence back down in the lineup where his power will play better.
Going into a big series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the team will finally have the lineup that Sabean mostly intended at the beginning of the season at just the right time. From all indications, the addition of Pagan and Belt back into the starting nine should have a tremendous impact on an offense that has only averaged around three runs per game since mid-June.
There are no excuses for failure now, and it will take more than just the team’s two returning stars for the Giants to earn a playoff berth. Morse, Posey and Sandoval must begin to produce at the plate at a much more consistent rate.
If they do, the Giants should have no problem finding their way into the postseason, maybe even as division champions. If not, those fans that criticized Sabean at the deadline will have every right to complain about no October baseball in San Francisco.