Total Pageviews

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bochy's stubborn reliance on veterans bites him one last time

All you need to know about Giants Manager Bruce Bochy came moments before his team's final collapse.

The Giants were still clinging to the narrowest of playoff hopes by a razor-thin margin, a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh. If they could hold on to defeat the Diamondbacks, they could have taken two of three, crawled back to within five games, and sent Arizona out of San Francisco with just a slight bit of insecurity gnawing at their throat.

The Giants needed an extra run, though, to widen starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong's margin of error, and it was out there on second base with one out. It would have been a nice psychological lift, to be able to go out to the eighth with a bit more breathing room.

Brandon Belt had just failed to move pinch runner Andres Torres from second when he popped out. You could see Bochy fuming after the missed opportunity. But Bochy still had two shots to get that run in, though the Giants were at the bottom of the order.

Instead of going for broke, however, instead of dipping into the dugout for a little magic -- why did the Giants call up all those youngsters if not to give him a choice in these spots? -- Bochy flinched. He tried to draw water out of a dry well. He stuck with aging and useless veteran Orlando Cabrera and the utterly overmatched Eli Whiteside, they failed to deliver, and the Giants went on to lose, 4-1, ruining their last, best chance at staying in the playoff chase.

Cabrera had been brought over to provide an offensive upgrade over the rookie, Brandon Crawford, but his .222 batting average over more than a month as the Giants' regular shortstop was proof that the move had backfired. Yet, there he was, yet again, in the starting lineup, and there he was in a critical spot.

Sure, he drove one to the edge of the warning track, momentarily jolting the fans out of their seats. But who are we kidding? A warning-track drive was as good as he had. It was a bit pathetic to see Cabrera curse himself after seeing that his drive was nothing more than an easy catch.

Was Cabrera the best Bochy had? Of course not. Bochy could have gone with any number of choices -- from Mark DeRosa, who has been hitting the ball as good as anybody in recent days, to Brett Pill, who'd arrived in S.F. with the most RBI in the Pacific Coast League, so knew something about clutch hits.

And, they had Crawford ready to plug in as a superior defensive replacement.

After Cabrera flied out, Bochy again had the chance to go the bench, and had a compelling reason to do so. Whiteside has been an outright failure at the plate. Overall, he's hitting .205, but since July 16, he has hit at a .152 clip (11-for-72). Poor Eli has been a big zero at the plate, as easy an out as any of the pitchers.

But Bochy stayed with Whiteside.

His explanation was that he didn't want to take out Whiteside in the middle of a great performance by Vogelsong. It was the same faulty logic, borne from Bochy's stubborn catcher's mentality, that had prevented the Giants from pursuing a catcher after Buster Posey went down with his injury: they didn't want to break up the comfort level that the pitchers had built up with Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Last year, Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean had balked at bringing up Posey on the same premise, only to find that the staff of aces adjusted just fine when Posey was finally brought up to replace Benji Molina.

Bochy's decision was also premised on the notion that he was going to send Vogelsong out for the eighth inning, come hell or high water. It was almost as if he was choosing to reward Vogelsong with loyalty over a cold, calculated move to try for one more run.

By basically conceding the rare scoring opportunity, Bochy, however, left Vogelsong with the unenviable task of throwing one more shutdown inning with no room for margin.

It was a blaring example of Bochy's inability to project, his total reliance on those he knows, as bad as they might be, over those he doesn't know, as good as they could be. It exemplified the lack of creativity that has paralyzed him all season as he held steady with a roster of declining veterans.

Even with two outs and Whiteside due up, Bochy had a few options. He could have put up a pinch hitter and sent Vogelsong into the on-deck circle, forcing Arizona manager Kirk Gibson to choose between walking the pinch hitter to get to Vogelsong or going after the pinch hitter.

Maybe Bochy could have gone with the kids who were so hot in the minors, and who were brought up to inject some life into the moribund offense.

So, why not put up Hector Sanchez as the pinch hitter for Whiteside and Brett Pill in the on-deck circle. That would give Gibson something to think about. Maybe they go right after Sanchez.

I believe Gibson would have walked the pinch hitter, whoever it was, to force Bochy's hand to get Vogelsong out of the game.  Vogelsong, after all, had shown no signs of weakening and would enter the eighth relatively fresh (he'd thrown only 87 pitches at that point).

At that point, Bochy could have reached into his dugout for one last magical stroke -- perhaps DeRosa, who has had some great at bats (and in fact had been promised more playing time only to mysteriously disappear while Bochy stayed with his old reliable, Aubrey Huff).

Even if Gibson had decided to go after the pinch hitter -- say, it was Sanchez -- it would have been an eminently better choice than Whiteside, whose career is surely in jeopardy, especially after his incredible stretch of weak at bats over the past month and a half.

But Bochy made the decision easy. Given the choice of Whiteside and an unknown pinch hitter, Gibson decided to go for the easy out and took his chances against Vogelsong.

Vogelsong finally broke in the eighth, leaving that one pitch out over the plate that Ryan Roberts, the 7th place hitter with 17 home runs, could deposit into the left field bleachers, the fatal stab to the Giants' hopes.

I understand it's all moot, and who knows how much a difference it might have made over the long haul. Even if the Giants won, they'd still be five games back of the torrid Diamondbacks. But, hey, you do what you can to stay in the race for as long as possible. And if the Giants had defeated the Diamondbacks to take two out of three, who knows how rattled the Snakes might have gotten heading into Colorado?


  1. Could Boch be just playing front office money? They gave Skuff $22 mil. He played Rowand and Tijada enough to get them fired. Cabrera is one of the big three acquisitions. But there is no explaining Whiteside, which put Vogie in position to have be perfect another inning. I thought Boch managed his butt off last year, sitting Rowand and Zito for the playoffs, even Sandoval at the end, and got her done. He's got a bad hand this year. But he is clearly playing the geezers.

  2. Seconded. Funny how Bruce B. stuck to the vets regardless of performance. I mean it's not like he only stuck with Aubrey Huff for just 35 games. My theory about Huff: he did little over the off-season to stay sharp. He coasted as he has done every other year in the past. He's out of shape, really. Pro baseball players should not need oxygen after rounding the bases.

    Cabrera is on Sabean as much as he's on Bochy. An unrealistic expectation maybe born out of last year's bonus from Ross & Burrell. Whatever.

    The bottom line: Money talks. If you don't pay the vets stupid money, the pressure is lower to play them.
    Ah well. Someone learned a lesson. Too bad it had to be at the expense of a stellar pitching staff.

  3. Well we've talked (written about) about Bochy before. The Giants were given permission to talk to him even though he was still under contract with the Pads.

    Towers, in spite of his friendship with Bochy, and Alderson wanted him gone for being obsessed with playing the old guys that ran his clubhouse. Vinny Castilla was the culprit in San Diego. I suspect Huff is the culprit here.

    Castilla cost Bochy his job when Alderson came in. It is unlikely that Bochy will depart unless Neukom acknowledges the obvious - that Sabean is a disaster when it comes to acquiring position player; an absolute embarrassment that no big market team comes even close to replicating.

    On a related note, knowing that the season is over and that the 2010 World Series Championship is 100 percent vested, I took a more "reflective retrospective" after today's embarrassment. Bochy and Sabean will both be gone at some point to be replaced with bold forward thinking 21st century baseball types, not warmed over mush from the 1800s.

    And of course, there always is next year. The 2012 college teams are already into their second week of Fall ball. So maybe some things can last forever. I hope so.

  4. and will somebody ANYBODY please confront Bochy in one of his pressers about his vet attachment and refusal to play his youth...I accept it is over but what I cannot accept is this unwillingness to even ask the hard questions - to hold the skipper accountable for his decisions and to explain it to the rest of us...ok - I've had my say for the season...peace out