The fact San Francisco’s advanced into the NLCS against Philadelphia is a tribute to general manager Brian Sabean to remake the team’s offense on the run — and manager Bruce Bochy’s ability to mix-and-match the pieces Sabean accumulated to provide just enough offense to complement a strong-armed pitching staff.
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Now, however, the marathon of a baseball season has turned into a dash to the finish line.
And the Giants are still looking for an offensive spark.
They did finish off Atlanta in four games in the best-of-five NL Division Series, and they’ve split the first two games with the Phillies in the best-of-seven NLCS.
But they can’t ignore the fact they’ve hit only .206 in six postseason games, have received four of their five postseason home runs from No. 8 hitter Cody Ross and have scored a total of 16 runs in six October games.
Oh, what Bochy would give to stumble across a Pablo Sandoval, circa 2008 or 2009, not the Edsel-like version of 2010.
The human bowling ball who hit .345 in his 41-game big-league audition in 2008, followed that up by hitting .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI in 2009, but has been in a five-month funk for the Giants, which has knocked him onto the bench in the postseason.
That could change in Game 3 at AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon, but it’ll be out of necessity, not desire.
It’s a no brainer for Bochy to slip Aaron Rowand into center field in place of struggling Andres Torres, who’s struck out 12 times in 25 postseason at-bats.
Shaking up the third base spot, however, isn’t so easy. With lefty Cole Hamels starting for Philadelphia, it’s a given that Mike Fotenot, who started at third the first two games of the NLCS, won’t be introduced in the starting lineup.
Juan Uribe would be the likely choice, but he injured his left wrist, and possibly his left shoulder, in a slide during Game 1 of the NLCS. He didn’t play in Game 2 on Sunday and is doubtful for Game 3.
Uribe underwent an MRI on Monday, but Bochy said results weren’t back yet, and there was talk among Giants personnel that Uribe’s been reluctant to receive a pain-killer injection that could lessen the pain. That issue will be revisited Tuesday morning.
If Uribe can’t play, it would leave Bochy with one option: Sandoval.
And that would leave Bochy with his fingers crossed, hoping Sandoval can somehow rediscover his offensive magic.
"This kid’s been working hard, and you’re probably going to see him in the lineup," Bochy said. "He’s a guy that we need, gives us another threat in there. You are hoping that a couple of days off have settled him down, and working on some things in batting practice can get him back going."
The Giants have been able to do the patchwork to hide the void created by Sandoval thanks to the career year of Aubrey Huff, the remergence of Pat Burrell and the arrival of rookie Buster Posey.
Those three, however, are supposed to be the complementary pieces in a lineup built around Sandoval, not the replacements for Sandoval, who was the Giants’ primary No. 3 hitter a year ago and opened this season in that same spot. However, he wound up starting games in every spot in the lineup except the leadoff and No. 9 holes.
"When you look at what Pablo was last year and what we expected from him (this year), of course it affected our lineup," Bochy said. "We had to adjust. We moved him around a little bit trying to find a comfortable spot for him."
This postseason, his primary spot’s been on the bench. After starting 149 of the 162 regular season games, Sandoval started the first two of the NL Division Series against Atlanta, but hasn’t started any of the four postseason games since. He was out of the lineup for as many as three games in a row only twice during the regular season — July 25-27 and Sept. 15-17.
The Giants have spent the last five months hoping something could get Sandoval going. After hitting .368 in April, he hit .250 the rest of the season. He’s not the type of defensive player whose glove will keep him in the lineup when his bat goes sour.
There’s been speculation that the rotund Sandoval, the 5-foot-11 infielder whose listed weight of 245 pounds is probably 40 pounds light at the minimum, has been slowed by his girth, but it’s not like he suddenly bulked up. He’s looked like a sportswriter in training since his the day he got to the big leagues.
Scouts for rival teams say the problem for Sandoval is that he remains a free-swinger, and pitchers finally figured it out.
"The first time around … everybody marveled about him being a bad-ball hitter," one scout said. "Then, by the end of last year, the reality hit. He is a good-ball hitter, too.
"This isn’t rocket science," the scout continued. "Pitchers finally woke up. They expanded their zone for him on the outside. They are just throwing the ball way outside, and he’s still swinging, only now he’s missing.’’
The Giants, meanwhile, have been missing the impact of his bat.