Maybe the Giants should have just phoned in a forfeit Sunday against the Reds. It would have been the same result (9-0) , and they could have gotten home earlier to decompress from a draining, fruitless weekend in Cincinnati.
You hate to think that the clubhouse chemistry has gone out of whack, but the immediate effects of the Giants' big acquisition, Carlos Beltran, certainly coincided with a disjointed performance against a Reds team that was on its back after a four-game sweep at the hands of the middling New York Mets.
Of course, even a Ruthian or Bondsian weekend from Beltran may not have been enough for the Giants, at least in the final two games of the series, when they were outscored 16-2.
Beltran had several opportunities to put the Giants on top in Friday night's 13-inning 4-3 loss; Saturday, a big hit could have drawn the Giants closer at several points in their 7-2 loss, but by the end of Sunday's 9-0 loss, his seventh-inning single to right was consequential only in the fact that he would not be coming home in an 0-for-12 slide.
As it is, Beltran will return to San Francisco as a Giant for the first time Monday in a 2-for-17 funk since his trade. Before he was brought over from New York, Beltran had already been mired in a 4-for-18 slide, so he may be in the midst of a verifiable slump (6-for-35 in his last 10 games, dropping from .293 to .278).
He seemed pretty vulnerable to slow stuff away and curves down and in, and come to think of it, he never quite got around on the rare fastball they threw him. And, the Reds' Dusty Baker had a particularly sadistic habit of bringing in tough lefties to turn him over to his weaker right side whenever he needed a big out.
Don't worry, though! The Giants brought in reinforcements! Orlando Cabrera! Who is having exactly the same kind of offensive season as their other aging, declining shortstop. And meanwhile, the Giants let center fielder Michael Bourn (.303, a major league leading 39 stolen bases) get away to the Braves.
And the Arizona Diamondbacks dealt for Jason Marquis, who just kills the Giants, in time for a head-to-head three-game series just as they drew to within two. Marquis, who is slated to start against the Giants on Wednesday, threw a five-hit shutout against the Giants in April. Recently, he's stunk up the joint (26 1/3 IP, 32 H 16 ER 13 BB for a 5.46 ERA), but he has used AT&T, his favorite ballpark to pitch in, to get out of funks before.
This should be a time of fervent anticipation and high expectations as we head into the final third of the season.
Instead, the swirl of changes on the Giants and around the league has only brought about apprehension, confusion, and maybe a tinge of buyer's remorse. If the Giants could have chosen between the 34-year old Beltran, who is on his way out at the end of the season anyway, and the Astros' Hunter Pence -- younger by six years, hitting .306, and under contract for the next two years -- wouldn't the smart money have been on Pence?
The Phillies, who rebounded from their series loss to the Giants with a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, landed Pence for a pitching prospect who was lower on Baseball America's list of top prospects (by six slots). Could the Giants have nabbed Pence for Zack Wheeler? Did they blink first, relinquishing the best moves to the Phillies and Braves?
Bourn would have been a dynamic addition: he would have given the Giants a bona fide leadoff hitter, a game-changer both on offense and defense. The Braves gave up a middling outfielder, Jordan Schafer (.240, with 15 stolen bases) and three minor league pitchers, but none are off-the-chart prospects. In fact, they held onto their top four pitching prospects.
Could the Giants have offered center fielder Thomas Neal, hitting .295 at AAA Fresno, and maybe a pitcher or two from their system for Bourn -- even after they had landed Beltran? Did General Manager Brian Sabean work that angle hard enough?
I can't imagine he is satisfied with his current leadoff situation. They are left with the antithesis of a leadoff hitter in Aaron Rowand (.293 on base, two stolen bases) pairing with a confused and overwhelmed Andres Torres. Too often already, Beltran came up in the Reds series with two outs or leading off an inning -- because the bottom two or three slots in the lineup are combining with the leadoff slot to create a vast desert of opportunities.
Instead, they got Cabrera to add "stability" at shortstop and bring in post-season experience, though that's been worth only a .228 batting average (34-for-149). If you take what he's done since his first post-season performance in 2004, he's hit .188 (17-for-90) since.
And now that they've got their big "slugger" in the middle of the lineup -- remember, Beltran has only 15 home runs, and AT&T isn't going to exactly beef up his numbers -- the Giants will see whether high expectations for him will mess with their psyche.
Without Beltran, they had to find a way to win, often relying on the least expected ways to win, from the least expected sources: think Chris Stewart's squeeze bunt, or Nate Schierholtz' half-dozen two-strike, two-out game-changing base hits.
With Beltran, will they find themselves putting too many expectations on him to come through for them? And if he doesn't, how much air does that take out of the offense?
There should be little doubt that Zito has made his last start for the Giants, unless he's needed in an absolute emergency.
Whatever he did to turn himself around for those first three starts after his long rehab stint, Zito has returned to form: a fastball that hovers around 84 MPH, a changeup that may get up there six or eight miles slower (ideally, you want a difference of 10 MPH) and hangs out over the plate, and a curve that has been rendered moot by his inability to command the first two.
The only good thing you could say about his performance Sunday was that he didn't give up a three-run home run.
But now that he is presumably going to the bullpen, what role will he play? As KNBR's Marty Lurie asked during the 13-inning Friday night affair, who would we rather have go long in an extra inning game: Zito or Guillermo Mota, who has become quite effective in long roles? Could you imagine Zito holding the Reds down for two and two-thirds innings, as Mota did?
Perhaps they can just use him for mop up relief, to spare Mota, who has done that job, too. But, work would be rare indeed if you could just hold Zito out for mop up duties. Whatever role he plays, he's taking up a roster space that could otherwise be used for a utility guy off the bench.
It appears an unsolvable problem, given the magnitude of Zito's contract. No one will take him. The Giants will only use him in an emergency. And they're doomed to suffer the consequences of his batting practice sessions.
Here's hoping that the Giants employ the phantom injury again, send Zito back to the disabled list, and hope they can stretch it out until the September call-ups. Or maybe, in a daydream I had as I watched him struggle Sunday and as one of my readers, Ernie Nackord, suggested, Zito will finally come to his senses and understand that his career is kaput, that he is holding on too long, and call it quits.
He may feel that he is obligated to pitch out the remainder of his contract. The worst of it is that he may feel he needs to continue pitching so he can collect his paycheck. Could he work out a settlement? Too far fetched, I'm sure. It doesn't hurt to dream, and contemplate all options.