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The First Two Months

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Oh, yeah. COL 2, SF 1 (11 innings). Love that formula: Make opponent's struggling starting pitcher look like Tom Glavine, waste fine work from own starter, race through own plate appearances as if the waiting post-game spread were composed of naked ladies and gold-wrapped chocolate, pause for not one but two near-coronary events courtesy of closer, then watch opposing team work count, force relievers to make bad pitches, and deliver key two-out hits. I will speak of this no more.  

I prefer to write about the bigger picture tonight. The old general manager's axiom -- "the first two months you see what you have, the next two months you go get what you need, and the last two months you put the pedal to the metal" -- only makes sense if your team is in contention at the end of May.

And despite all our grousing the past month about the sharp abdominal pain we feel every time Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina, or -- let's face it -- Pablo Sandoval have come to bat, the fact is the Giants are in contention. Should they be even more in contention? More contentious, perhaps? No one would argue they should be running away with the division, but how about a show of hands that they should be better than they are (27-24, 3.5 games back of San Diego)?

I'm not going break down the team's actual production compared to what the projection systems expected going into the year, but I will point out there are as many nice surprises (Torres, Huff, Zito, Sanchez, Mota, Uribe again) as there are disappointments (Sandoval, Lincecum, Affeldt, DeRosa, Rowand).

I'm not sure any of these things are fixable by man, God, or front office, but here are the obvious problems that are holding the Giants back:

- Too many walks/Not enough walks. The Giants are second to last in the league in drawing walks. The early season optimism we had about Bam-Bam instilling some plate discipline, or vets DeRosa and Huff rubbing a mysterious salve of manly-scented patience in their teammates' jockey shorts, has shriveled on the late-spring vine. Meanwhile, Giant pitchers have surrended the fourth-most walks in the league, which hasn't become more of a problem because they are also striking out a lot of batters and keeping the ball in the park. Come hotter weather, tired arms and road trips to places like Colorado, Philly, Arizona, and Wrigley, and it might get ugly.

- The worrisome twosome. Veterans with injury histories getting...injured?!? Shocking! Rowand and Molina hoisted by their own hacktastic petards? Who woulda thunk? No, friends, the real surprise -- and not the good kind -- is the month of misery Sandoval and Lincecum have endured. If these guys can't turn it around, well, there's a word for it: Uh-oh. I'm optimistic that Lincecum's problems are mechanical. And I'm optimistic he can fix them. My main worry is that using bad mechanics for too long will lead to injury. There's another consequence to his recent struggles; the front office will be less willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez for a much-needed bat. Done correctly, trading Sanchez could be just what the Giants need. Then again, Ryan Garko is still out there. OK, that's a cheap shot. Sanchez's trade value is ascendant with every 1-0 loss he suffers. Not all GMs think a pitcher on the wrong side of a 1-0 game is a pitcher who hasn't learned how to win. I'd like to think Sabes & Co. could extract someone of a talent level far north of say, Jeff Francoeur, for the Ol' Dirty Dirty.  

As for Panda, he's got the hand-eye skills to be a pretty good hitter in his sleep (despite a month of sheer torture, he's still a decent .294 / .347 / .447, or if you prefer a more boiled-down perspective, still worth 1.2 runs above replacement -- last year's WAR total was 5.3). But the power is off, and opposing teams have discovered big holes in his swing, such as the fastball above the hands. This might be a season of adjustment for Pablo, which wouldn't be unusual for a young, extremely talented, but flawed hitter. Problem is, the Giants can't afford him to have prolonged growing pains if they're going to remain in contention. The problem isn't so much that Sandoval is about 60% of the hitter he was last year, it's that the team isn't built to pick up the slack elsewhere.

- Veteran lust: Again, no surprise. Bruce Bochy was allegedly fired in San Diego for playing his vets until they spat their dentures. Is that a convenient myth that helps explain our frustration at watching Rowand spend the past six weeks perfecting his script for a new TV show called Lost: My Time At the Plate? Unfortunately, no. Even Hank Schulman, ever solicitous of the Giants' old-school ways, remarked on KNBR yesterday that the franchise has a stubborn (my word, not his) love of veterans. 

If there were no defensive or offensive alternative, I'd say keep throwing Rowand out there. But a defensive outfield with Torres in center and Nate Schierholtz in right is hard to argue with, and Nate's lack of power so far is at least partly compensated by an improving eye at the plate. Boch's thinking on the topic goes like this, I suspect: Rowand is streaky enough to snap out of the funk and go wild for a week or two, perhaps carry the team. Besides, a month-long funk (less, actually, as Rowand was hitting .321 / .354 / .564 after his game-winning home run against the Mets in New York on May 9) is nothing new in baseball. Many a player has gone ice cold for a month in the midst of a perfectly decent year. But (back to my thinking, not Boch's) it's hard to imagine him going from completely lost to perfectly decent, especially when he hasn't yet reached that mark over a full season in San Francisco. He needs to sit, at least against tough right handers.  

- Pat Burrell??? As with any potential Jonathan Sanchez trade, I'd like to think the Giant brass knows exactly what they're getting into. Burrell is insurance, nothing more. He needs to hit in AAA and keep hitting. Mark DeRosa needs to opt for season-ending wrist surgery. Buster Posey needs to be given every chance to prove he deserves to stay before Burrell becomes Plan B. Or C. Then and only then will Pat Burrell become a pinch-hitting, non-fielding Giant.   


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