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Silver Linings From A Hellacious Tailspin

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Is it over yet? Can we come out now?

Heading into Wrigleyville, the Giants actually gained two games on the Dodgers over the weekend. Angel Pagan is back. Michael Morse is hot. Joe Panik is giving the team stability at second base (pending his ouchy finger status).

Then again, two of the recent homestand wins came against the Phillies, and another came courtesy of an awkward gift. No please, we really couldn't accept... no, really... you're too kind, please no, we... all right, if you insist.

How nice. Here's how to order: 

blancoflowers.JPGEven with the extended review, it's same day delivery.

So, Giants. Anything can happen, and I constantly remind myself that the 2010 Giants were 6.5 games behind the Padres on August 25 after a particularly brutal extra-inning loss to Cincinnati. The Giants are 3.5 behind a banged-up Dodgers team, with six more games head to head.

Whatever happens the rest of the year, the two-month plummet -- 15 games in the standings, just like poof! -- taught us some valuable things, and actually made me feel better about the team's longer term outlook.

Most importantly, Brian Sabean didn't panic. (He didn't adrianza, either.) He could have cashed in the farm system for the lukewarm likes of Emilio Bonifacio and Gerardo Parra, but he restrained himself. Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree for Jake Peavy was his only move, which stayed within the realm of the sensible. It was either trade for a middling starter, or go with Yusmeiro Petit, or call up Escobar, who's been pummeled all year at Triple A Fresno. That was basically it.

Peavy's no David Price, of course, but he's been about as good as the Giants could hope for: two grinding but useful starts, one no-hitter-in-progress until the wheels fell off, Morse-style, and one very nice start. (Updates on the ex-Giants? Escobar is thriving so far at Triple Pawtucket, and Hembree threw 62 pitches in his Red Sox debut, apparently as last man standing in a long extra-inning game.)

It could end badly for the Giants, but as I've often written, the team brass is very good at knowing which pitching prospects to keep, and which to trade. (Speaking of former prospects.)

The trade also allows the Giants to have a longer look at Peavy, who probably would've been griddling on the hot stove this winter as a possible Giant, what with his ties to Bruce Bochy and likely reasonable price tag.

Why bother at all with a guy who turns 34 next May with declining stuff? Peavy had a 2.4 WAR last year in less than a full year, and in 2012 a 4.4 WAR. If he can stay healthy, good chance he'll be a two-win pitcher next year. Meanwhile, not a single high-minors pitcher this year seems ready to compete for a rotation slot in 2015; Ryan Vogelsong is a free agent; Matt Cain just had elbow surgery; and have you seen Tim Lincecum lately? 

Moving on: I'm proud that the team has not thrown Sergio Romo under a bus. He was awful for a while (although two of the blown saves early in the team's tailspin were not his fault); and his awfulness helped make the team awful. But Bochy et al have eased him back into the mix, and he's not allowed more than one base runner in any outing this month, with a K/BB ratio of 10/0.

As with Peavy, we've gotten injury-hastened looks at Joe Panik and Andrew Susac, who wouldn't be on the big squad if Marco Scutaro and Hector Sanchez hadn't been hurt (and hurt, and hurt, and hurt) and if Brandon Hicks hadn't fallen into an ice crevasse. (Are there any other kinds of crevasses?)

Whatever the reason, they've gotten their chances. Panik's been hitting line drives all over the place, and Susac hasn't embarrassed himself while only getting six starts in nearly a month. The farm system is still a worrisome thing, but Panik and Susac seem to promise some kind of usefulness into 2015

Panik is at least a good choice to platoon at second if Scutaro, still under contract, can return from limbo. Susac makes an intriguing platoon partner with Sanchez if Posey starts to play more first base, where, as others have noted, he's crushing the ball this year (.961 OPS, 181 wRC+) compared to when he catches, where he's merely a pretty good hitter (.726 OPS, 108 wRC+).

Oh, and the same disparity occurred last year with Posey, too. It's a troubling sign, and it points to him playing more and more first base in the near future. Not moving permanently, but...

OK, so what about Brandon Belt? The concussion is flat-out scary. Justin Morneau was having his best year in 2010 when his skull collided with an infielder's knee; four years later he's finally having an above-average year as a platoon guy with Colorado. No silver lining there. If Belt doesn't come back this year, the Giants head into 2015 with yet another big  question mark. (And it would add more momentum to construct a roster that allows Posey or someone else -- Michael Morse on a similar contract to this year? -- to play a lot of first base.)

Speaking of Morse, the Giants' tailspin can be pinned in part on his June swoon. He was terrible. If he's not hitting for power, he costs his team wins because his base running and fielding are so bad, especially when he's playing left field. The Giants knew that going in -- heck, even I knew that going in -- and they've seen both sides: 11 home runs, 16 doubles through May, five homers and 12 doubles since. If his new hot streak carries on and his season ends up like a U-shaped curve, I'd be curious to see what tempts him to return for another year. Because, again, there's no one in the high minors ready to step into a corner outfield spot next year.

That's the last silver lining of the last two months: No illusions about Morse. We've seen the good, we've seen the bad. There will be no two-year, $26 million extension. Whew. But with a better bench, there's still a scenario in which he makes sense next year.

You know what else makes sense next year? A Matt Cain who can bend his elbow like a normal person. Because Giants baseball without Matt Cain doesn't quite add up. If they somehow win it all this year, it'll be more like winning the World Series of Bowling. It's not the same game. 

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