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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feeble and broken down Giants can't take upcoming no-name pitchers for granted

As feeble and broken down as Giants hitters are right now, they can't take the upcoming pair of Astros' no-name starters for granted this weekend as they wrap up their long, nightmarish road trip.

Twenty-year old Jordan Lyles and 26-year old former Giant farmhand Henry Sosa may as well be Mike Scott and Vern Ruhle, if the Giants continue their listless approach at the plate.

On the face of it the young starters look like easy marks for the Giants, potential relief from the maddening spiral of defeatism that is strangling their offense.

Lyles carries a 1-7 record with a 5.32 ERA (and an 8.83 ERA in August). But, overall, he's turned in eight solid outings in 14 starts, holding such powerhouse teams such as Milwaukee, Cincinnati and the Boston Red Sox to a combined five earned runs in 18 innings (2.50 ERA), so there is little reason to take him lightly.

Sosa has had a pair of starts for the Astros since being coming over in the trade that sent Jeff Keppinger to the Giants. He's given up eight earned runs in 12 innings (6.00 ERA). But that was against more accomplished offenses of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs than the Giants can claim to be.

Sosa had done so poorly for the Giants at AAA Fresno (17 games, all in relief, with a 10.41 ERA, 39 hits in 23 1/3 innings) that he'd been demoted to AA Richmond, where he seemed to get his act together before being dealt over to the Astros.

But we know how poorly Giants hitters adjust to pitchers they've never seen. It typically takes them two or three times through the lineup to finally figure them out. It's because there are no hitters in the Giants' lineup who have the skill or patience to force pitchers into deep counts.

How often have pitchers with control problems against the rest of the league find their command against the Giants?

With the Giants' tendency to bring out the best in marginal pitchers, perhaps the only hope the Giants have of surviving this last weekend of the road trip is that the Atlanta Braves continue to keep the first-place D-Backs at bay.

The Giants wasted two chances to gain on the losing Snakes in the last two games -- but have to feel fortunate they didn't fall further back in the standings after getting shut out twice in a row, wasting more top-notch pitching.


The Giants seemed to lose heart Friday night. After falling behind, 2-0 in the third inning on rookie center fielder J.B. Shuck's (who?!) first RBI hit of his career, a two-run double, the Giants simply gave up.

It showed in their swings -- they acted as if they were required to flail wildly at Wandy Rodriguez' offerings, no matter how far outside the strike zone his curve, as electric as one might say it was.

And the lack of heart showed in their defense. Mark DeRosa's error in the sixth might be explained by a rusty glove -- he hadn't started in a big league game since May. But, no major leaguer who is equipped to be on the field should be excused. The soft line drive had some English on it, but DeRosa flinched, as if he expected it to come up on him. It stayed down, bounced off his glove, and opened the floodgates.

It didn't have to be, even after Ryan Vogelsong hit the next hitter, Clint Barmes. Vogelsong got ahead of the No. 8 hitter, Carlos Corporan, 0-and-2, and after failing to put him away, gave up a hard-hit one hopper to first base. It was a play that Aubrey Huff has made many times, but he responded slowly to it, and it bounced off his arm into right field for an RBI single that should have been ruled an error.

Of course, the next hitter, pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, exploited the situation with a two-run double to cap off a three-run rally, all after two outs, foreclosing any thought of a comeback slim as it may have been, even at a 2-0 deficit.

Perhaps Huff was plain tired, and shouldn't have been on the field. Perhaps, he's lost his drive and intensity, given the repeated failure he has had to live through this year. But it was the play of a ballplayer whose edge has abandoned him, one who seems to have accepted his fate.


The same resignation can be seen in the swings of Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Miguel Tejada (though he got one single up the middle), Orlando Cabrera (whose groin strain kept him out of the lineup). Even Nate Schierholtz caught the malady, striking out three times in an 0-for-4 night.

If any one of these veterans were performing at an accepted level, Brandon Belt's return to the bench may have been somewhat understandable.

Boss Bochy was trying to spare Belt the awkward task of trying to figure out a pair of tough left-handers, and also remains convinced that Rowand can help against left-handers. But Belt's absence in the lineup over the last two games has caused a near revolt among Giants fans, recriminations rampant, calls for Bochy's resignation even beginning to resonate.

Rowand was hitting .297 against lefties heading into the game (now .286), but he hasn't had a hit against a lefty since Aug. 4. He's gone 0-for-12 against left handers in that time, and overall, he's hitting .167 (7-for-42) in August with an on base percentage of .167 (which means he has drawn not a single walk in August). He's taken a base on balls all of 10 times in 332 plate appearances. He hasn't scored a run or driven in a run all month. He's been a big zero.

Suffice it to say Rowand should never see the top of the lineup again, and would do best to return to the role they had him in toward the end of the year last year, which was to remain scarce. His numbers this year (.236/.278) in 332 plate appearances are remarkably similar to last year (.230/.281 in 347 plate appearances).

The difference is that Rowand had, by this time last year, fallen out of favor with Bochy, and was relegated to days on end on the bench last year. This year, injuries have forced Rowand into a more prominent role far too late in a season on a team in need of an offensive spark. Bochy should understand that Rowand will not provide that spark.

Belt has had his own rough patch: he went 0-for-9 in the Braves series. But he's got a .300 average against left-handers (6-for-20), and who can forget the home run he hit against tough left-hander Mike Dunn in Florida?

Bochy has never fully bought into Belt, even when Belt has appeared on the verge of breaking through. Bochy still seems ruled by his level of disappointment in Belt's early season struggles. Instead, he held fast to the notion that Huff would re-emerge as the team leader well past his expiration date.

And, after injuries opened up a spot in the outfield for Belt, Bochy said he'd give him consistent playing time. But after Belt's three rough games in Atlanta, Bochy once again turned to a veteran, Rowand, over Belt.

Now, Bochy is vowing playing time for Belt in the final two games of the Houston series, but it has the look of a mini-audition as the Giants prepare for the return of Carlos Beltran Tuesday when they return to San Francisco.

Once Beltran returns, the Giants will probably go with an outfield of Beltran in right field, Cody Ross in center field and Schierholtz in left. So, Belt will have to battle Schierholtz, and to a lesser degree, Huff, for playing time.

Unless Bochy gets the nerve to send Beltran to center field, keep Schierholtz in right field, and either platoon Ross with Belt in left field or rotate Belt with Ross, Huff and Schierholtz, depending on who's doing well.

At least with Keppinger apparently ready to return to the bench, the Giants can be spared of having Tejada and Cabrera in the lineup at the same time.

And perhaps newly recalled catcher Hector Sanchez can provide a lift in his week's assignment as Eli Whiteside shakes off the effects of his face plant. Who knows? If Sanchez comes up with some big hits, maybe Bochy will rethink his stubborn resistance against bringing fresh blood up from the farm.


  1. SH + posters...why do you think bochy is so uncomfortable around rookies and young players? doesn't he want to mentor and influence the next generation of players in a game he so clearly loves? with this pitchin' staff the Gs should have just a couple vets for stability and baseball traditions and then everybody else = a young, diverse, developing talented squad mixed with the new gifted players [posey, sandoval, belt]. a team leader will emerge and fans will get our "magic" back. I'm sorry the 2011 Gs weren't the '76 Reds - I so wanted them to be but there was no rose, bench, perez, morgan, conception, etc, etc, etc. So bring up some more kids from Fresno - play Belt - pitchers need to have it out with the hitters and the team leaders need to have a meeting with bochy ASAP before the fans trade in beards for pitchforks!

  2. The Giants have acquired through trade or free-agency around two dozen or so veteran position players to be starters in the last 6 seasons.

    And they have ranked at or near the bottom every season since, except for last year where they ranked 17th out of 30; hardly something to feel proud about considering the millions spent.

    Their pitching staffs started off this period in the top 1/3 and for the last 3 years have been ranked 1st or 2nd in runs allowed, earned run average, and OPS against.

    The pitchers are mostly young, talented and dominant. And the position players acquired during this period are mostly old, mediocre, and unfocused.

    This has been a maddening pattern of Sabean's since Dusty Baker left, the last period of noteworthy Giants hitting. While Bake had a reputation for burning up pitching staffs, he had guys who could hit, as he has demonstrated in Chicago and Cincinnati for the most part. That all started to go away within a couple of years, and by 2005, two seasons after his departure, the Giants offense went into the tank and is still there.

    As I recall Bake had a lot of input into who and who not to sign or trade for and that was a source of contention in the front office I believe at the end of his tenure.

    The bottom line is this. This is the worst collection of position players collected in one place in Giants uniforms I have seen since Stoneham started unloading his payroll in the 70s.

    Prior to free-agency, teams were hard pressed to turn things around. Now it is possible to do so in one to two seasons.

    There really is little excuse for the plethora of grumpy old men on the Giants' roster.

    The list is over here

  3. Good solid commentary, gentlemen. I too remain baffled by this situation. There's still a lot of hope for the season though and I think the team can show its resilience once again. I'm not going to sit here and impetuously demand this or that from management, as if I'm in charge. Or should be. Nor does this mean I blindly assume that all is right behind the clubhouse doors. I've said before that I appreciate the rational content of this forum and will continue to take these thoughts in as the season unfolds. Thanks for offering things to consider, so that my opinions can be better informed.

  4. Jstreet: I like your perspective. Speaking for myself, my statements are more of the observational nature rather then a threat to hold my breath 'til things are done the way I want them. Thats childish of course.

    For me I experience frustration, regardless of the endeavor, when things don't appear to be as they should be or could be. The frustration comes from one of two things with the Giants.

    A failure to communicate exactly what and why things are as they are that makes some sense.


    Admission of mistakes and demonstrating a course of correction.

    These are reasonable expectations I believe. I believe they're reasonable considering that fans invest a great deal of emotion and thought, and intellect into the Giants over the years. Its part of our culture so to speak. We want things to work, and if they are not, why not? And if the explanations don't make sense, then we just keep asking questions, and seeking answers.

    At least thats what I do. I'm the same way in my work a day environment and other pursuits. Always trying to figure out a way to build or observe a better mousetrap.

    I am continually fascinated by the occupations and hobbies of others who are excellent in their pursuits. I can watch a skilled laborer run D-6 Caterpiller and grade a foundation pad with almost as much interest as I can watch Greg Maddux go through a sequence of pitches to Barry Bonds.

  5. Your post was prescient, I'm sorry to say. I don't recall the last time I was apprehensive finding out the outcome of a Giant game. (I worked today.)The gloom and doom attitude pervading the team almost has a grip on me.

    It's looking grim. As if it's almost too late for the San Francisco Boys of Summer to pull a victorious season out of the hat. It's unbelievable seeing the Giants lose to the Astros. There are the 49er Faithful. I'm committed to being a Giant Faithful to the very end of this season.

    Go Giants!