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Giants must make tough decisions
Giants general manager Brian Sabean used the right phrase: “Work in progress.” That’s what the Giants were last season. That’s what they will need to be this season, too.
“The wheels are not on right now,” Sabean said Wednesday night after the Giants’ 2-0 victory over the Mets. “We’ve got (Andres) Torres out. We’ve got (Pablo) Sandoval out. We’re too right-handed against right-handed pitching.”
As if losing two switch-hitters is not bad enough — Torres is close to returning, but Sandoval will be out four to six weeks — the defending World Series champions have played a major league-high 21 road games and only nine at home.
Manager Bruce Bochy conceded Wednesday that the schedule “has had an effect.” Everyone associated with the team, however, knows that the excuse goes only so far.
“The only thing I’ll say, as bad as we’ve played — not just offensively, but we’ve fouled up some innings defensively and some of our starts haven’t been great — we’re .500,” Sabean said of the Giants, who are 15-15.
“We consider ourselves lucky. It’s just going to be a work in progress. We’re trying to tread water, trying to come out of this as we get people back.”
For the Giants, this is not exactly unfamiliar ground. Truth be told, they were the same type of club last season, especially in the first half, when they were only 41-40.
Bochy and Sabean helped secure the franchise’s first World Series title since 1954 by never settling for mediocrity, never allowing for a status quo. They will need to be just as fearless — and just as callous, if necessary — to get the team back to the postseason.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Sabean must acquire Mets shortstop Jose Reyes; every one of the GM’s moves last season was a marginal upgrade, not a major splash. Besides, Sabean probably does not have the prospects to get Reyes, and wouldn’t want to trade them even if he did.
The point is this: The Giants can’t forget who they are.
They got hot at the right time last season, going 20-10 down the stretch and 11-4 in the playoffs. They mostly got hot because of their stellar pitching, which is good enough to keep them in contention again; Tim Lincecum struck out 12 on Wednesday, setting a club record with his 29th career double-digit strikeout game, passing, ahem, Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.
For any World Series champion, The Year After is a tricky proposition. The Giants do not want to be disrespectful to players who helped them win a title. But if tough decisions are required, so be it. The idea is to win games, not stage nightly re-reruns of the World Series parade.
The first major decision, marginalizing free-agent bust Miguel Tejada, would not be difficult; Tejada joined the club only last winter, albeit for $6.5 million for one year. Squeezing Triple-A outfielder Brandon Belt back into the lineup would be more challenging; one or more veterans would lose playing time.
However, Bochy already is showing signs that he is not beholden to last October’s heroes. He benched right fielder Cody Ross on Wednesday night, opting instead for Nate Schierholtz, a left-handed hitter, against Mets left-hander Chris Capuano.
True, Schierholtz has hit lefties better than righties in his career. But it’s unthinkable that Bochy would have pulled such a move last October, when Ross took Phillies righty Roy Halladay deep twice in one game.
Of course, it’s also unthinkable that Bochy would have batted the left-handed-hitting Mike Fontenot third against a left-hander in the postseason, as he did Wednesday. Fontenot did not even start after Game 2 of the NLCS, and prior to Tuesday night, his only three appearances in the No. 3 spot had been with the Cubs in 2007.
However, the injuries are forcing Bochy to scramble.
Once Torres returns to center, Bochy can move Aaron Rowand to one of the outfield corners if Ross and/or Pat Burrell fail to get hot. Once super-utility man Mark DeRosa returns, possibly by Tuesday, Bochy can bench Tejada entirely or keep Fontenot at short and play Tejada at third.
Belt, a left-handed hitter, represents the best short-term solution to balance the lineup. The Giants are converting Belt to the outfield at Triple A now that Aubrey Huff is back at first. They need not rush the rookie, who produced a ridiculous 1.342 OPS in his first 11 games after getting demoted. But their veteran outfielders are on notice.
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It’s funny: One fear with the Giants was that some of their starting pitchers would suffer from post-World Series syndrome, the innings from last October taking their toll. That issue, for now, has been avoided; even lefty Madison Bumgarner has rebounded from a poor start.
The greater effect, some with the team believe, actually has been on the hitters; World Series heroes such as Ross and Huff still think it’s the 2010 postseason, when they hit rockets on seemingly every swing.
Some of this will correct itself in time; Huff, in particular, has looked much better the past two nights. But keep in mind, the Giants never were a great team last year. They were a good team that followed the proper blueprint for winning the Series, playing fantastic baseball in the final two months. They also were a team that stayed largely intact last winter.
The Giants’ 15-15 record, then, is hardly an embarrassment, considering their road-heavy schedule and NL-worst .298 on-base percentage. However, Bochy and Sabean cannot be content. Their team is a work in progress, all right. Just as it was in 2010.