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Saturday, August 6, 2011

It's a cold fact: Giants have been flat since Beltran deal

There's no getting away from it: Since Carlos Beltran has joined the Giants, the team has been disjointed, flat, dispirited, cold, bewildered -- however you want to describe it.

And since Hunter Pence joined the Phillies, well, they have been unstoppable. They've got the swagger of a champion, while the Giants appear aimless and ineffectual.

The Giants have lost eight of 10 games since Beltran arrived.

The Phillies have won all eight games since Pence moved over to Philadelphia, and nine straight overall.

Since joining the Phillies, Pence has gone 11-for-30 (.367) with two home runs, seven RBI and five runs scored.

Since joining the Giants, Beltran has gone 10-for-41 (.244) with no home runs, one double and two triples and two RBI.

In the first three games of this series, Pence has crushed the Giants, going 7-for-13 (a .538 average) with two home runs and four RBI.

Beltran has been barely an afterthought in the series, now 2-for-11 with a double, no runs and no RBI.

It is as stark a contrast between the trade deadline fortunes of the reigning National League Championship Series foes as you can get. It begs the question of whether team chemistry was spoiled for the Giants, who though clamoring for that big bat in the middle of the lineup, were doing just fine before he came.

For the Phillies, team chemistry was less of an issue since their lineup was already pretty solid (the Phils are sixth in runs scored; the Giants 16th in the N.L.), and Pence's addition was less critical to them than Beltran's was to the Giants.

But, given that the Giants were bound and determined to add a bat, the next question is: Could the Giants have obtained Pence? Who did General Manager Brian Sabean pursue the most aggressively between the two? Did Sabean not see the appeal of a younger (by six years), yet established star under team control for another two years?

Did Sabean recognize that the right handed Pence might be a much better fit in AT&T, where the left field wall is much more inviting to right handers than vast reaches that lefties must contend with? Did he see that Beltran, in 138 at bats, has zero home runs at AT&T?

The Phillies gave up two top prospects, 19-year old first baseman, Jonathan Singleton (hitting .282 in Single A) and one of their top pitching prospects, 21-year old Jarred Cosart, along with a throwaway minor league pitcher and a player to be named later.

Could the Giants have offered Zack Wheeler, who is rated higher than Cosart by Baseball America, and someone deep in their minor league system? Maybe the Astros wouldn't have jumped at Tom Neal, but maybe the Giants wouldn't have had to part with Gary Brown either. The question is: did Sabean even make a push, or was he so set on getting a rental player whose cost would be subsidized by the Mets?

Or was Sabean given orders to stay away from Pence because of the potential pay day that he will likely get in arbitration over the next two years? 

Of course, we'll never know if Pence would have injected the same kind of energy in the Giants if he'd come to San Francisco. He's surrounded by so much muscle in the Phillies lineup that the only task for him was to complement the big boys, add a bit of spice to the already boiling pot, provide protection for Ryan Howard.

If Pence had come over to the Giants, expectations would have been off the charts -- as they have been for Beltran -- for him to take charge of revitalizing a moribund offense. Who knows how he would have responded? Beltran has provided a few big hits, but overall, he appears to be suffocating in the stifling conditions of the Giants offense.


Saturday offered a microcosm of the divergent paths the two players -- and teams -- have gone:

In the first inning, Pence came to bat with runners at first and second with two outs, Matt Cain having just struck out Howard on an explosive shoulder high fastball. Pence didn't wait around, swatting Cain's first pitch into right field to drive home Jimmy Rollins and sending Chase Utley to third, where he would score from on a passed ball.

That was all the offense the Phillies got and all that they needed.

Beltran, who went 0-for-4 against Cole Hamels, had one big chance to get the Giants back in the game. He came up with two runners on and no outs in the bottom of the fourth. Aaron Rowand had singled sharply to left, and Jeff Keppinger hit a hard ground ball through the middle for another base hit.

The moment was begging for drama. The Giants, in such dire need of a lift, had rarely set the table so ideally for Beltran. This was the spot he'd been acquired for: in a tight game, where one big hit would evoke the sense of destiny that championship teams ride. But Beltran was gone on three pitches, all slow breaking stuff that Beltran could not measure or time.

Beltran's strikeout took a lot of air out of the park, and it only seemed inevitable when Pablo Sandoval hit weakly into a double play, swinging at Hamels' first pitch, a floppy changeup below his knees on the outside corner of the plate.


Sandoval wound up with two hits, a line drive single up the middle on a high changeup, and a solo home in the ninth to break up Hamels' shutout.

Both hits came with two outs, after Beltran had made out. And it solidified my view that the order should be flipped, and for good: Pablo should hit third and Beltran cleanup. If Pablo hits third, it gives the Giants three chances to get base runners on base ahead of Beltran. Pablo is a .300 hitter; Beltran is more of an RBI guy (though he hasn't shown it yet as a Giant).

Though the Giants did get two runners on ahead of Beltran in the fourth, it seems unlikely that Beltran will get many opportunities with multiple runners on base much if he continues to hit third. The top of the order just hasn't produced consistently enough to think that will change.

It seems that Bochy is hitting him third because that's Beltran's preference, just as it is his preference to play right field, pushing Nate Schierholtz into left field (possibly messing with his mind, being shoved aside so cavalierly after doing so well all season).

Now, I don't know if there's a correlation, but since Schierholtz was moved over to left field, he'd gone 3-for-24 (before his pinch hit single Saturday that kept an eighth-innng "rally" (two runners on, hoo-hoo!) alive but was killed a moment later when Rowand popped out meekly to second on a fastball on his hands).

Beltran, though, has acquitted himself nicely in right field, so there has been little reason to move him based on his defensive performance. He made a beautiful throw to third that should have nailed Chase Utley by10 feet for the third out, but Sandoval inexplicably dropped it. Utley's run -- on Eli Whiteside's passed ball -- proved decisive after Sandoval hit his ninth-inning, two-out home run.


All this is not to lay the blame of the Giants' troubles on Beltran's shoulders, nor is it to denounce the trade that brought him here.

Beltran could well come up big and ultimately provide that spark that leads them through the dog days of August and beyond.

But, it's obvious that the Giants have not responded to his acquisition -- yet. In their 8-1 win over the Diamondbacks Thursday, the Giants offense did appear to relax. Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff, hitting lower in the lineup, played good supportive roles, and fed off the middle of the order.

But overall, they've done worse (marginally and in a small sample, it should be said) with Beltran than they were without him:

Since Beltran arrived, the Giants are hitting .231 (81-for-351), scoring 23 runs (2.3 runs per game). That includes the one-game eight-run, 12-hit "outburst" to salvage the series finale with Arizona. Before his arrival, the Giants were hitting a lofty .241, scoring 372 runs (3.63 per game).


To salvage the final game of the series, the Giants need to get by Roy Oswalt, a tough customer at AT&T. In the last three years, he's 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA, allowing only a .175 batting average.

The Giants would do well to rest Aubrey Huff and give Mark DeRosa a start: DeRosa has the best numbers among Giants against Oswalt: He's 13-for-29 (.448) with five doubles and a home run in his career. Huff is only 3-for-12.

Beltran has a good history, too: 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles and a home run.

Not to look past the series finale, but the Giants have the Pittsburgh Pirates coming in at a vulnerable point: They've lost nine in a row, spoiling any thoughts of a Cinderella season, and their pitching has been at the center of their collapse.

They've been outscored 75-34 in that span. So, maybe the morose and listless Giants can get healthy off the Buccos.


It was gratifying to hear Jon Miller school KNBR radio fill-in Kevin Lynch the other day when he asked Miller, who'd just described Cliff Lee's shutout, "was that a complete-game shutout?"

Now, I have nothing against Lynch, and don't wish him ill and understand he's a mere football beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. But he raised a topic that has been irritating me for the last several years, and was happy to hear Miller correct him.

"Ah, well, a shutout is a complete game, so there's no need to say complete game if it's a shutout," Miller said. "I once said complete-game shutout, and got a call from Tom Seaver, who said, 'that's redundant!' Seven innings of shutout ball isn't a shutout, it's seven innings of shutout ball. But a shutout is by definition a complete game."

But then the esteemed and mellifluous Miller earned a big fat demerit when, only minutes later, he proceeded to talk on the pre-game show about a complete-game three-hitter. Again: that is redundant!

If you pitch a three-hitter, that is a complete game. If you don't go the distance, you are not credited with a three-hitter. Just think, are there any no-hitters that weren't complete games? No. I wonder how many pitchers have given up no hits but didn't last the full game? Whoever they are, they aren't in the record books as no-hit wonders.


  1. You're talking about a two week span here. Still two months of baseball left. You cannot suggest Beltran has brought down this team's performance or morale.

  2. Yes, you're right, From This I don't suggest that Beltran has brought down the team morale; I am suggesting that it's team's reaction to his presence. I can't get into their psyche and tell you why they've performed even worse with him in there, but the facts are clear: they have.

    Now, of course, it's a two-week sample, and things can get better, especially when they get away from the tough Philadelphia staff. And it's a long season.

    I remember the sense of dread panic during the Giants' August doldrums last year (especially with Lincecum's slump), so was pleasantly shocked that they came out of it.

    Problem is that the Giants' offense does not have the depth it had last year, and unless Huff and Ross get real hot over the last two months, it's going to be a struggle.

  3. Have to be brief here Steve: SSU lost 3 games in a day to Monterey, a horrible team with a little bit of hitting and zero, nein, no pitching. Three games in one day. They got blown out of the Conference Tourney by a combined score of about 384 - 4.

    Hitting is elusive. I wrote about it in March when nobody had any idea that taking down the top team in the country in the first round of the DII CWS was in their crystal ball.

    The piece is long and puffy. The meat is further down insofar as the Giants are concerned. Basically. One never knows what one doesn't know.

    Enjoy Elusiveness