Giants moving on quickly, winning
Outside the Polo Grounds Pub and Grill, in the shadow of AT&T Park, the sign reads, “No More Melk, but Plenty of Beer.”
Inside the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse, the mood isn’t quite that frivolous. But what did you expect the Giants to do after losing Melky Cabrera to a 50-game suspension, quit?
The Giants don’t operate like that. Baseball doesn’t work like that. Yes, San Francisco badly needs a left fielder to replace Cabrera, and the waiver wire has yet to prove as obliging as the proprietors of local establishments. But as the Giants continue their four-game series against Atlanta this weekend (Saturday, 4:15 p.m. ET, MLB on FOX), their resilience is again on display.
Catcher Buster Posey didn’t play after May 25 last season, and the Giants still won 86 games, fifth most in the National League. If they make the playoffs this season, it will be an even more impressive feat.
• Closer Brian Wilson pitched only twice before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
• Second baseman Freddy Sanchez will miss the entire season after undergoing surgeries on his shoulder and back.
• Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has appeared in only 72 of 125 games due to a broken left hamate bone and strained left hamstring.
• Cabrera, batting .346, will miss the final 45 games.
Not to worry – the Giants are 6-2 without Cabrera, defeating the Braves, 5-2 on Thursday night and increasing their lead in the NL West to three games. Earlier this week, they swept the Dodgers in Los Angeles, scoring in the first inning of all three games and never trailing in the series.
It helps that the Giants’ vaunted rotation is intact: Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain combined to allow two runs in 20 2/3 innings against the Dodgers, and those three plus Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito have accounted for all but one start this season.
The Giants won the 2010 World Series with terrific starting pitching, a fabulous bullpen and an offense so feeble that broadcaster Duane Kuiper likened it to “torture.”
This is a different kind of grind.
“It’s easy sometimes to say, ‘Woe is me. We got a bad break,’” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday. “They haven’t done that all year. Even when Posey went down last year, we kept going.
“This club, like most clubs, has had to deal with it. You don’t have a choice in this game. There’s no use talking about it, no point in it. The only choice you have is to push forward, focus forward.”
The St. Louis Cardinals did it last season, winning the World Series after losing ace right-hander Adam Wainwright to season-ending elbow surgery in spring training.
This season, as in most seasons, injuries again have afflicted every top contender, from the New York Yankees to the Texas Rangers to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Giants to the Cincinnati Reds to the Washington Nationals.
The suspension of Cabrera is the equivalent of a season-ending injury (he would be eligible to play again the sixth game of the postseason, but is unlikely to return). There’s no other way to look at his absence, discouraging as it might be.
Bochy met with his players on Aug. 15, the day that baseball announced Cabrera’s penalty. The Giants lost the Nationals that night, then had a day off. They then went on the road to San Diego and Los Angeles, and proceeded to go 5-1.
“We kind of had something to prove,” reliever Clay Hensley said. “Even before the whole Melky thing happened, (the Dodgers) came in here and kicked our rears (outscoring the Giants, 19-3, in a three-game sweep July 27 to 29).
“When they did that, we all kind of had a little bit of a gut check. They came in with all of their best pitchers and beat us at home. We were all talking about it collectively: ‘We need to pound San Diego and then go into LA and sweep that series.’ That was a goal. Obviously you want to win the series. But the goal was to go in there and sweep.
“When the Melky stuff happened, that kind of took the wind out of our sails. But that lasted for one day. Then we kind of all talked about it as a group: ‘We have to move on. We still have a season to play. We’re still in the middle of this.’”
Not that this is a perfect team.
Bochy is going with a closer-by-committee, though Santiago Casilla may be ready to reclaim his role after pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers. The offense hits on the road, averaging 5.14 runs per game, second best in the majors, but falters at home, averaging 3.47 runs per game, the third worst.
Cabrera, of course, will be missed. His primary replacement, Gregor Blanco, has batted .187 with a .512 OPS since June 9. Outfielder Justin Christian, promoted to take Cabrera’s roster spot, went on the disabled list Thursday with a sprained left wrist. The Giants then summoned Francisco Peguero, who has yet to play in the majors.
A number of players have yet to pass through waivers, according to rival executives, creating the possibility that the Giants could find a more suitable left fielder. But teams that trail the Giants in the standings – most notably the Arizona Diamondbacks – almost certainly will block any cost-efficient options. Someone like the Royals’ Jeff Francoeur, who is signed for $6.75 million next season and almost certain to clear waivers, would be more realistic. But Francoeur is batting only .240 with a .659 OPS.
General manager Brian Sabean already has made three midseason acquisitions, trading for right fielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro and claiming reliever Jose Mijares off waivers. Scutaro, infielder Joaquin Arias and especially center fielder Angel Pagan all have made major contributions since the loss of Cabrera.
The players, if not quite defiant, remain confident that they will find a way to the postseason, regardless of what happens.
Reliever Javier Lopez. “We’ve had to move on kind of quickly. We don’t have time to worry about the Melky situation.”
Sandoval: “We lost one guy. We’ve got nine more in the lineup, 25 on the roster.”
Scutaro: “The battle continues. We’ve got to turn the page.”
It may sound trite. But that’s what good teams do.