San Francisco Giants Springing Leaks

WikipediaThe San Francisco Giants, having won two out of the last three World Series titles, are ultimately going to be measured against that high standard this season. To win another championship, they’ll first have to be good enough to get back into the postseason.

They failed to make the playoffs in 2011 after winning the title in 2010. The conventional wisdom is that the loss of Buster Posey to a violent season-ending injury was too much to overcome that year.The mid-season acquisition of Carlos Beltran didn’t do enough to replicate Posey’s presence in the middle of the lineup.

It didn’t help that Beltran was immediately injured upon arrival.

It wasn’t just the gruesome injury suffered by Posey that set the team back in 2011. Beltran hit the disabled list with a wrist injury, Pablo Sandoval battled a shoulder injury down the stretch after breaking his hamate bone earlier in the year, Freddy Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, his replacement—Jeff Keppinger—also got hurt, and Brian Wilson hardly pitched over the final two months while battling an elbow injury.

It was a season of injury and under-performance. Andres Torres went from playing like an All-Star in 2010 back to the journeyman outfielder that he was in 2011. Cody Ross went from postseason hero to regular season mediocrity. Aubrey Huff went from MVP candidate to a replacement level drag on the offense. Top prospect Brandon Belt failed to seize the first base job from Huff. Jonathan Sanchez turned from a solid mid-rotation starter into a frustrating enigma. Barry Zito‘s career looked finished.

Given the problems on the rest of the roster, even if Posey had stayed healthy, the Giants would have fallen short. They finished eight games behind the Diamondbacks, and I doubt a healthy Posey could have made up eight wins over just four months.

The narrative that a healthy Posey is why the Giants won it all in 2010 and 2012 but failed to win it in 2011 is simple, but false. They wouldn’t have won two titles without him in all likelihood, but they also wouldn’t have won it in 2011 with him. The rest of the roster wasn’t healthy enough or good enough to be carried to the promised land by anyone, not even Posey.

That brings us to 2013. Posey is still healthy and raking, yet the rest of the roster is springing leaks. The light-hitting left field platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres has combined for a .326 slugging percentage and just one home run. Belt is hitting just .222 thus far. Can a team getting so little production out of two power positions get to the postseason?

One built on pitching and defense certainly can, but there again, the team is coming up short. The Giants are just 21st in defense and the rotation’s 4.56 ERA is 23rd in the game right now. Only three rotations have allowed more home runs to this point in the season.

35-year-old journeyman Ryan Vogelsong returned to the organization that originally drafted him prior to 2011 after a stint in Japan and two failed trips to Triple-A. He promptly delivered two outstanding seasons for the Giants and was the team’s best pitcher last postseason. He suddenly looks finished in the early-going this year. He’s allowed 53 hits, nine home runs and 34 earned runs over seven starts for a league-worst 7.78 ERA.

Tim Lincecum was once the best pitcher on the planet. Over the last year-plus, he’s suddenly become one of the worst. He’s 12-17 with a 5.10 ERA over his last 40 starts since the beginning of last year. Over his last 227.2 innings, he’s struck out 235 hitters, but he’s also walked 110. On a pitch-to-pitch basis, he seems to have no idea where the ball is going to to.

Matt Cain takes the ball on Friday night coming off his best start of the year. However, his 5.57 ERA and the nine home runs he’s allowed in seven starts remain a cause for concern.

Madison Bumgarner (2.31 ERA) has been the staff ace and Barry Zito has a 0.55 ERA in five home starts. Unfortunately, he’s allowed 15 runs in just 6.1 innings on the road this year.

If Vogelsong, Lincecum and Cain can’t get their ERA’s under 4.00, and if Zito can’t get anyone out on the road, it’s hard to imagine the Giants offense being good enough to carry the squad back to the playoffs. The team’s .706 OPS is just 20th. They’re averaging a respectable 4.3 runs per game in large part because they’re hitting .277 with runners in scoring position. If that clutch hitting keeps up, perhaps the Giants can hold onto first place in the NL West despite the struggles of the rotation.

Yet right now, when I read the box scores and look at the other teams in the National League, I can’t help but think that the Giants lack talent. They need more production from the rotation, first base, left field, and center field—where Angel Pagan is hitting just .262/.317/.349 while playing questionable-looking defense for a speed-and-defense player. Right now, that doesn’t look like $40 million well-spent for the Giants.

Even though Brian Sabean‘s troops were in first place at the 2011 trading deadline, he needed a middle-of-the-order bat, a center fielder, a second baseman, a shortstop, and a catcher. He got Beltran and Keppinger, but couldn’t get the shortstop, center fielder, and catcher he needed, because no general manager can do that much at one trading deadline. If a team has sprung that many leaks, no amount of wheeling and dealing is going to do the trick.

If the trade deadline were tomorrow, Sabean would need help in the rotation, in left field, and at first base if Belt isn’t going to start hitting. Things are not nearly as dire as they were in retrospect two years ago, but there’s no question that the Giants have holes on this roster.

Sabean preached patience with Belt, Vogelsong, and the rotation on his KNBR radio show this past week. The season is only 35 games old, and Sabean has every right to call for patience as the game’s longest tenured GM and the architect for two championship teams.

The Braves came to town and pounded Vogelsong and the Giants on Thursday night. If the Giants continue to flunk this weekend’s report card series against Atlanta, perhaps Sabean will suddenly find himself feeling less patient.

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