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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Some thoughts on the Giants' disappointing end

And, so the final chapter of 2011 is done. The disappointments were deep, the sense of letdown immense, given the expectations for the returning world champions.

Though the Giants' failure to reach the playoffs was understandable given their devastating injuries, there still is a sense that the Giants could have been among the elite teams represented in the fall. Just look at the Braves' collapse in the wild card race. There are a couple dozen games that the Giants could have won, but for a a missed scoring opportunity here or there. If the Giants had just pulled out four games that they should have won, they could have been in the post-season mix.

Still, despite all the troubles for the Giants, it took them until game 158 to be eliminated, a reflection on the residual 2010 World Series magic that hung around the team until the fateful late July series with the Cincinnati Reds.

Whether that is a point to be celebrated or lamented could depend on the hour of the day, how many drinks are under your belt, whether it's a sunny day or not. I fear that in the gloom of winter, when the skies are grey and the basketball season refuses to die, the Giants' 2011 season will be looked upon with sadness and disillusionment.

It didn't have to end this way. But at least the Giants collapsed in the quiet of August, rather than the dusk of fall, when history could have handed down the same harsh judgment that the Red Sox and Braves must now suffer for eternity.


Over the next few days, I'll be sharing some thoughts on the Giants, looking back and ahead.


Nice closing moments

  • Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner codifying their fruitful and eye-opening seasons with unassailable performances in games 160 and 161:

Vogelsong's beautiful sequence against Mark Ellis captured his style: jamming him with three straight fastballs on his hands, then throwing a dart on the outside corner, knee high, to freeze Ellis on a called strike.

All you have to do is to look at the numbers Vogelsong put up prior to 2011, follow his career itinerary, to understand the heights he reached this year. His story was a testament to desire, determination and an ability to harness all that he'd learned through a tortuous journey. Every pitch he threw had the focus of a man who'd faced baseball mortality.

He's heard the whispers that his season was a fluke, a one-shot wonder, so he will have more to prove next year. The question, though, is whether he can retain his edge even as he's established himself as a starter.

Bumgarner's lasting image in his final game: burying 93 MPH fastballs on the hands of Rockies' hitters, then putting them away with snappy backfoot sliders. His season was defined by mental and physical toughness, most memorably exemplified in his rebound after giving up eight runs and nine hits in one third of an inning to the Minnesota Twins, with a seven-inning 11-strikeout performance against the Cleveland Indians. Tuesday he showed that toughness in the second inning when he struck out the side to escape a first-and-third jam with no outs.

There was some poetic justice that Bumgarner got the win to be able to finish the season at .500, tying Tim Lincecum for the team lead in wins at 13, a reward for sticking to it. Bumgarner proved beyond a doubt that he has the mental makeup to go along with the physical to have a long, illustrious career.
  • The kids, playing with abandon in the final days, as Boss Bochy finally unleashes them:
Conor Gillaspie with his wonderful round trip (in the literal sense) Tuesday for his first big league home run, an inside-the-park job that included a wipeout as he rounded third base, ending with a head first slide at the plate, a look of pure exhaustion and maybe a little perplexion (like, how did I get here?).

Even though it was his first big league home run (ruled so because he'd already rounded third when the relay got muffed), Gillaspie didn't crack a smile, and only slightly so, until after Brett Pill ribbed him a bit in the dugout; a rookie has to keep his cool in front of veterans eager to playfully embarrass the youngsters. Still, Gillaspie has that unflappable look of a player who is not easily impressed. He showed it with his sweet swing that has impressed even Bochy, who'd relegated him mostly to watching duties since his Sept. 1 recall.

There were the two Brandons giving a glimpse of what Giants fans can hope for next year: a majestic home run into the Bay by Belt, and Crawford's scorching line drive off the right field wall for a triple.

The threesome were 7-for-10 with five runs scored and five RBI, drawing two walks (that's 9-for-12, a .667 OBP). Add in Brett Pill's 1-for-2, and they were 8-for-12 (.667 avg.).

The day before, Pill once again showed why he needs to be seriously considered as a starter next year with a 2-for-3 day topped off by a sacrifice fly ball to drive in a nice insurance run in the Giants' 3-1 win behind Vogelsong.

Pill ended at a nice, cool .300, driving in nine runs in 50 at bats. That's a 100-RBI pace over a full season, which is what he's done for the last two years at AAA Fresno. He's got nothing more to prove in the minors, and could be a big, energetic bat to put in the middle of the lineup next year.

I thought some of the criticism of Pill -- SF Chron's Ron Kroichick describing his power numbers as "not overwhelming" -- was off base. So, he hit only two home runs in 50 at bats. That translates to 20 over 500, which is nothing to sneeze at, especially in light of the puny production of the 2011 Giants. The key is that he appears to be the real thing in RBI situations, and if he does it with a base hit to left or sacrifice fly, that's good enough for me.


Interesting that Aubrey Huff played the standup guy after the final game, saying a lot of the team's failure was on him. If he'd been half as good as he was last year, the team would  still be playing, he said. Well, Huff has always been forthright and his own best critic. He's a good guy who can recognize his own faults.

Whether that drives him to reassess his approach and turn in a productive winter remains to be seen. A professional would be embarrassed by such a dismal performance as his (12 HR, 59 RBI, .246 average, .307 on base, .370 slugging in 568 plate appearances), and I think Huff does have a professional's pride. But he's guaranteed $11 million next year, so who knows how motivated he is?

One thing I hope is clear in Bochy's mind: he can't give Huff the same length of rope next year. Huff can't be given assurances that it's his job to lose. It must be an open competition, with Pill, Brandon Belt and Huff starting at an even plane.

Depending on how the competition fares, the outfield is an option for one of the three. And, if Huff continues to show signs that he's on the downward spiral, the Giants need to sever ties immediately. They saw how counterproductive it was -- in so many ways -- to keep Aaron Rowand around.


I will be surprised to see Andres Torres, Cody Ross and Pat Burrell back. Of the three, a Ross departure would be the most disappointing. He's still in his most productive years, and could have a takeoff year in 2012.

Ross put too much pressure on himself to duplicate the magic of 2010. He bought into the self-created notion that he's a power hitter; after his home run binge in the post-season, it's not hard to understand. In the past, when he hit 22 and 24 home runs for the Florida Marlins, I would venture to bet he didn't have the same approach he had this year: he went up looking to hit the ball out, rather than letting his stroke do the thinking for him. Perhaps the vast confines of AT&T got to Ross, who became pull happy.

He will have just turned 31 next year, the age when you start figuring it all out. If he understands that AT&T can embrace a gap-to-gap hitter, Ross could be a dynamo. And after Ross sees the market isn't all that keen to reward a guy who hit 14 HRs, .240 with 96 strikeouts in 405 at bats, the Giants might get him to re-up for another year at the discounted rate of, say, $4 million, down from $6.3 million. Ross could prove to be a sleeper roster move.


Torres and Burrell, two fan favorites who will be welcomed back wholeheartedly to player reunion events for years to come, appear done.

Burrell's swing, even before his foot injury, had shown signs of slowing down. And Torres (.221 batting average, .312 on base) proved to be the one-year wonder, a beautiful story of perseverence and pluck that simply petered out. Torres could never master his vulnerabilities this year -- the curve down and in and the fastball up. He appeared overwhelmed in a way that suggests there's little to tap as he heads into his 34th year.


I will have more thoughts on the Giants in coming days.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is my Early post-mortem . I pretty disappointed that what is so apparent to many of us, is not addressed by the powers that be. No explanation. Just more and never-ending status quo.

    I'm becoming more and more convinced that Sabean's failings can be traced back to the departure of Baker. Its like any other job that is relationship based or in your case, source based. You can be the world's best investigative journalist, yet if your sources fade away over time and are not replenished or replaced or updated, you won't be uncovering much skulduggery I would suspect.

    Look at Sabean's impact signings pre-Alou/Bochy and look at the signings after 2002. Night and Day. Burkes, Sanders, Jason Schmidt, Jeff Kent. Baker was part of the enticement along with Bobby as coach to get Barry here. Benito Santiago, Rob Nen, J.T. Snow. All these guys showed up during Bakes tour.

    After Bake was gone. Sabean was reduced to signing A.J. Pierzynski, Matt Morris, Edgardo Alfonso, Ray Durhan (good for half his time here) Bengie Molina, Marquis Grissom, Brett Tomko, Mike Matheny, Dave Roberts, Ryan Klesko, Barry Zito, Armanso Benitez and on and on into the purgatory of mediocrity and worse.

    Sabean really needs to be retired or replaced or promoted. He's single-handedly killing the Giants at this stage of his career. 15 years is an incredible amount of time. He had his time and it was a long time. Just like Woodrow Call in the Larry McMurtry's Streets of Laredo.

    Its time

  3. Sorry for the typos, Steve, but I am busting knuckles to get stuff ready for our company and I wanted this to not get too stale.

    Great recap on your part. I'm jealous :D. Or jaded. Yup. Jaded sounds about right. Grumpy about squandered opportunities. Oh well. LOL