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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giants recent skid: a blip or sign of serious disarray?

It may be a slight blip, or the Giants' recent skid may be a sign of serious disarray that could send the world champions off the rails.

Three losses in four games in itself is no reason to panic. But the underlying issue that led to the losses -- offensive turpitude -- could be a long-term weakness that could upend any post-season thoughts. The Giants have, for too long, relied on their pitching to pull them through, and continued failure at the plate is starting to create a psychic drag.

The Giants' offense, depressingly inept with a .239 batting average and meager .304 on base percentage, has forced the boys on the hump to pitch with little margin for error, magnifying every errant throw, every missed target, every hanging curve.

When they got their 3-1 lead Tuesday against the Rockies, it was almost as if the Giants' offense believed its job was done. It's as if they believe that a two-run lead in the late innings should by all rights be enough.

Perhaps Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, et al, have spoiled Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, et al, and given them a false sense of security by being so damned good for so damn long. Maybe they'll continue to shut down opposing teams at such brilliant rates. But the rare occasion that they falter shouldn't always mean total disaster.

Once in a while, a team's offense should come to the rescue of a pitching staff that falters.

Bottom line: The Giants do not have the look of a championship team. Yes, they've been extraordinary at pulling out the close games, having won 12 of 15 one-run games, one index of a winning team. But the consistent drabness of the Giants' lineup, the lack of vibrancy game after game, may be the more substantive indicator of where they're going.

Either way, we're hearing about a major shakeup on the horizon. Short of acquiring Jose Reyes, however, I'm not sure what the Giants can do in-house that would constitute a breakthrough move. With Freddie Sanchez' knee ailing, they're talking about calling up Manny Burriss to shore up the bench. They would send down Darren Ford, who's been a luxury for the Giants and provided rare electricity on the basepaths but hasn't had enough opportunities to provide the impact that the Giants were hoping from him.

Maybe Brandon Belt is the answer. He's heated it up in Triple A, and might be able to bring a live bat into the funereal proceedings. Then again, he brought a hot bat out of spring training and immediately was overwhelmed by big league pitching, hitting .192 in his first go. If he and Burriss come up, who else goes down? Would they release Mark DeRosa, or ask him to go down to Fresno to find his swing?

They could send him to the bereavement list, a la Melvin Mora (who was put on the list to make room today for the once and future big leaguer Sean Burroughs), to grieve over his lost swing.

Would they dare say Bye-Bye to Tejada and the $6.5 million they're paying him? Now, that would be a shakeup, though I'm not sure it would be a good move. He appears to be getting his swing in order (ok, 3-for-8 with 1 RBI in the last two games is not much to hang your hat on, but ...) , and believe it or not, he's their best shortstop defensively.


Here's how the Giants offense looks compared to the rest of the Major Leagues and National League as they they head into the second quarter of the season with tonight's series-opener with the Los Angeles Dodgers:

.239 BA: 24th in ML; 12th in NL
.304 OBP: 27th in ML; 15th in NL, just ahead of Washington
.369 Slugging: 23rd in ML; 12th in NL
.672 OPS (On Base Plus Slugging): 23rd in ML; 12th in NL
142 runs: 29th in ML; 16th -- dead last! -- in NL
327 Hits: 25th in ML; 13th in NL
505 Total Bases: 25th in ML; 13th in NL
32 HRs: 22nd in ML; 11th in NL
70 2Bs: 14th in ML; 6th in NL
6 3Bs; t-17th in ML; 11th in NL

308 Strikeouts: 9th in ML; 8th in NL
116 Walks: 28th in ML; 14th in NL
23 SBs: 21st in ML; 12th in NL
14 Caught stealin: t-5th in ML; 2nd in NL
62% SBs: 26th in ML; 13th in NL
13 SHs: 18th in ML; 15th in NL (only Philadelphia has fewer)

So, the Giants aren't getting on base by way of the hit or walk, they're not bunting players over, stealing bases, hitting for power: hence, they're not scoring,. They do strike out and get caught stealing.

A favorite target of fan anger has been Miguel Tejada, who has hovered around .200 all year with no power. But the list of ugly seasons is as long as the lineup.

Aubrey Huff: 4 HR 20 RBI .229 AVG .292 OBP
Miguel Tejada: 1 HR 11 RBI .206 AVG .235 OBP
Aaron Rowand: 1 HR 9 RBI .250 AVG .303 OBP
Pat Burrell: 5 HR 11 RBI .240 AVG .352 OBP
Cody Ross: 2 HR 7 RBI .246 AVG .316 OBP
Buster Posey: 4 HR 20 RBI .271 AVG .355 OBP
Freddie Sanchez: 2 HR 11 RBI .272 AVG .318 OBP

A special mention for DeRosa: he's hitting .167 in 36 at bats, and has been atrocious since he returned from the disabled list. He's gone 0-for-18 since his return, and dating back to before his DL stint, is 0-for-his-last-22. The Giants made the mistake once with Cody Ross in rushing a player back from injury, and it appears like they should have kept DeRosa down longer, at least to get his timing back.

At least Andres Torres has played inspired baseball since his return from the disabled list, hitting .308 with a .379 OBP in 52 ABs. Nate Schierholz has also shown signs of the stardom many have anticipated, hitting .286 with 3 HR, 11 RBI in 70 AB.

Posey has begun to string some hits together, but as I noted in an earlier blog that suggested he's not fit for cleanup (though who is among the Giants, I wouldn't be able to say), he's not driving in runs and his power has abandoned him. He's had only one RBI on a base hit in the last 18 games, and he hasn't had an extra base hit since April 30.

One example of why they miss Pablo Sandoval: He's been out 16 games and still is tied for the team lead in HRs with five.

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