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Giants Wallow In Own Filth

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I rarely do this, but... Booooo, Giants. Tonight's loss to the Brewers was unfit for human consumption. The hitters couldn't make a peep of noise against a thoroughly tomato-can pitcher, then a wretched defensive spell in the eighth ruined Madison Bumgarner's outing, then Barry Zito, mopping up in the ninth, used rancid schmaltz in his bucket instead of lemony-scented Pledge.

Hey Joe Maddon, you want to re-think your words of encouragement from the past weekend? Maddon told the Giants to keep their daubers in the up position, but we're not fooling ourselves. The team is tired. The just-enough-offense strategy has fizzled into Buster Posey and the Seven Dwarves. It's all about 2014 right now, and the fall from World Series grace has come so swiftly, perhaps we should be thinking about how the Giants can avoid the multi-year spiral of ugly that can suck in teams and their fans with little warning. A couple key injuries, a couple bad free-agent decisions, a few years of farm-system neglect, and, pow, sucka, you've got two decades of Kansas City or Pittsburgh all up in your grill.

Brian Sabean has professed his love for the upcoming free agents, Messrs Pence, Lincecum and Lopez, by way of saying that keeping them at the deadline gave the Giants a better chance of resigning them for 2014 -- the team's intention all along. As if that were a big part of spinning this year's sty full of dirty straw into gold again next year. (Funny Sabean didn't say anything about upcoming free agent Chad Gaudin, who gins up quite a bit of "Whither in 2014" talk whenever he throws six-plus innings with just a run or two allowed.)

As you might have noticed, I was out of blogging range the past few weeks -- pine, granite, azure mountain waters and wicked small children can quickly re-set a man's priorities -- but upon return this week, one thing that occurred to me while back-reading recent coverage was Sabean's history of saying things that later get turned on their heads. (Bengie Molina's ship sailed, then didn't, for example.) A few weeks ago he told us Roger(s) Kieschnick wasn't ready to face major league pitching. Now, apparently, he is. So don't assume the team will make a big push to re-sign Lincecum, Pence, and Lopez. Qualifying offers to Lincecum and Pence, yes, but I'm not penciling either onto the 25-man roster to start 2014. And I'm still not sure that's a good thing or bad thing, to be honest. Hunter Pence is like slop-hacking democracy: the worst available right-field option except for all the other options available unless you spend $100 million on Shin-Soo Choo. I believe Vladimir's brother Winston Churchill Guerrero said that.

Speaking of options, how is Kieschnick actually doing? In all of 25 at-bats so far, the numbers mean nothing, and I've only seen a few of his Web video highlights, so I have nothing intelligent to say about his swing, his approach, or his famous name (famous to baseball arcanists, at least). But it behooves the Giants to evaluate him as much as possible the next couple months, which means starts against lefties, too; which means Jeff Francoeur should be pinch-hitting once every couple of games but nothing more.

If Angel Pagan is actually on track to return in early September, more evaluation is in order: Can he be the starting center fielder next year, or will the Giants have to add that to their laundry list of off-season needs? Gregor Blanco could still be in the mix next year despite his horrific slump (14 for 91 with only three extra base hits and 13 walks since July 1), but back safely in a 4th or 5th outfielder position, and probably not leading off for long stretches.

The most important task of the next 60 games, however, is to keep Cain and Bumgarner healthy. Back them off, slow them down, shut them down if necessary. If the Giants don't have both of them at full steam next year, the spiral of ugly looms closer, because after those guys, the margins will no doubt remain thin. (Task 1-A is to ease up on Buster Posey and Marco Scutaro. The fewer dings and sproings and bruises between now and Oct. 1, the better. Their performance next year is too important. Because, duh, Buster Posey, and because behind Scutaro looms a Nick Noonan-Joaquin Arias platoon.)

The greatest question is how much of 2013 has been aberration, andhow much is entropic chaotic decline. I wrote a month ago that the young up-the-middle core of the team is a solid foundation. I also praised about a year ago the team's ability to evaluate its own homegrown talent more astutely than any of its division rivals. I'm not feeling so confident now, but I'll feel a lot better going into the off-season if Ryan Vogelsong comes back in decent form, if Angel Pagan gets his feet wet in September, and if the top of the rotation doesn't burn out down the stretch. I'm also fairly convinced that, unlike the transition from 2012 to 2013, a few familiar faces will not be around next year.

Whatever changes ensue, the Giants will almost certainly remain a team that has little margin for error. Not much organizational depth to come help at the big league level, not much slack for the pitchers, not much forgiveness for a sloppy inning in the field. They've managed to win big two of the past four years with that formula, and in a way, it's kind of refreshing. Live on the edge. Do everything fairly well, play clean, stay smart, and be confident. Leave the brute-force world domination to the usual suspects, and laugh when they roar helplessly in the mud, shocked at their own failure. Well, not this year; the Dodgers are running away from the West, grunting and drooling and pounding their collective chests. Barf.

That's not a bad word to end tonight's post with. Barf.

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