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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Changes on horrizon after rough June?

One Month ago today, pretty much everything was going in the Giants favor. They were the ones getting the big hit late in games and getting the excellent starting pitching which led to the best record in baseball and a comfortable led in the West.

Fast forward four weeks, however, and all of the sudden they're neck and neck with the Dodgers for a stranglehold on the division with the All-Star break quickly approaching.

It hasn't just been one area of the team that caused the 10-16 June and a 1-6 stretch over their last 7 games. The lineup has been struggling majorly as they try and endure some missing components and I'm not going to rip them too much in this one. The starting five is fully in tact and apparently healthy and need to be setting the tone for this team right now. The rotation has had each guy (sans Tim Lincecum) has been hit hard in recent outings. Even Tim Hudson, who's essentially been "Mr. Perfect" since dawning the orange and black, had a losing month and has been shelled in two of his last three outings. The real concern in the starting rotation though has to lie with Matt Cain, dreadful start to 2014 (now 1-6 with a 4.38 ERA through June) may be on the way towards getting branded the rotation's new whipping boy. Especially if "The Freak" keeps throwing the way he has been. Opposite to Cain's struggles, Timmy's been peaking lately, following up his no-hit effort vs. San Diego last week with 8 shutout innings against a much more challenging St. Louis club on Tuesday. Lincecum struck out 6 and allowed just 4 hits and 2 walks. His stuff has been live and most importantly, he's been in command of it. He was throwing crisp breaking balls in the 8th inning of Tuesday's game, and I saw him hit 93 on the radar gun a few different times, which is another good sign. His ERA has dropped to 4.06 and WHIP to 1.29 with his solid showing over the last few weeks (4 out of 5 quality starts) and he's carrying a winning record at 7-5. It's the first time he's had a winning record this deep into a season since 2011. Not to say the 2009 "Franchise" Lincecum is back, but he's showing he's still got the ability to be a good, even dominant at times, starting pitcher in this league and it'll be huge if he can sustain it.

Getting back to Matt Cain though real quickly, he did have a nice start his last time out vs. Cincinnati and didn't get any run support, but the Giants have to be somewhat concerned about him after going this long into the season without finding a groove yet. Especially when you factor in last season's mediocre end results. Unfortunately for the Giants over the last several seasons, their most expensive pitcher has been turning out to be their weakest link. I know that has mostly been because of Barry Zito, let's just hope Cainer doesn't fall into a similar rut now that he's $20 million man on the staff for the next half decade.

Now, although the starting pitching get's most of the the noise and attention, the bullpen hasn't fully been pulling it's weight and has done their part in contributing to the team's rough play, in large part due to Sergio Romo's struggles. The right-hander has given up 15 runs in his last 15 innings of work with his latest blown save coming Saturday vs. Cincinnati and has simply become way too inconsistent to be used in save situations. As good as he was down the stretch in 2012 and for most of 2013, I've always had the feeling that Romo wasn't the long-term answer at closer. I feel he's at his best being used more as a set-up guy and someone who can come on to get those tough right-handers out, almost like a right-handed version of Javy Lopez but more versatile. I like the idea of my closer being able to throw one by a hitter when they have to, and Romo just didn't have that kind of fastball. Eventually, guys are going to see the slider enough that they're going to figure it out. Now, Boch has made the decision to go with more of a two-headed closer with Casilla and Affeldt for the time being. They aren't ruling out the possibility of Romo returning to that role, but if he has success back in the set-up role and the Giants start winning again, I don't think they'll move him.

That leaves the question as to what to do down the stretch with the closer's role as we rarely see any team succeed into October with the closer-by-committee approach. It's possible one of the two guys takes the job and runs with it, but both have had their shot numerous times in the past and have never been able to fully seize the job. As we inch closer to the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Giants pressing needs are appearing much more clearly. Obviously, they're going to be keeping their eyes and ears open on the possibilities at second base, and they now should also be very much in the market for a closer or someone with ample closing experience. There certainly should be no shortage of potential options. Huston Street is one guy that immediately comes to mind, although significant inner-division deals can be tricky to get done sometimes. Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Joakim Soria in addition to Street are guys who may be available if their respective teams drift further out of the race by the end of the month. Papelbon may be the most attainable, and may not be a bad choice for the Giants either. He's under contract for next year and wouldn't just be a rental. Plus he's having one of the better seasons of his career right now with a 1.39 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 18 saves at the mid-way point. He could provide a Hunter Pence-like lift for the bullpen and solidify it as one of the premiere units in all of baseball.

As far as who their number one priority will be come deadline is still to be determined. If Angel Pagan's bulging disk decides not to go away and he has to get surgery (very much a possibility), then finding a leadoff hitter would probably immediately take priority over the other two. We'll just have to wait and see, hopefully Pagan's back and proving strong and dependable before the All-Star break and make it a non-issue. We all know how much better that offense goes when Pagan's out there and it's no big surprise this offense endured Brandon Belt's absence almost seamlessly, but really hit a wall when Pagan departed a few weeks back.

Medical Watch: Speaking of hurting Giants, we talked a bit about Pagan, who's been shelved since June 15th with a bad back, and now has been diagnosed with a bulging disc in his lower back, pushing back his expected return date of July 1st at least a few days, possibly even a week or more. At the moment, Pagan expects to be able to heal on his own with some more time, but no concrete timetable has been given yet... Brandon Belt, out since early May with a fractured left thumb, has been tearing it up to the tune of a 10-17 line with 3 big flies in his rehab assignment in Fresno. He's still at least a few days off though as well, as he's working out some soreness with the thumb. He could be back as early as Friday, or as late as Tuesday next week, depending on when Boch feels he's ready. Once these two return (hopefully within a few days of each other), the offense should get a major boost and hopefully start putting up runs like they were back in April.
The Giants Baseball Blog


  • At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sucks about Pagan. Just when your about to get Belt back this happens. Pagan seems to be getting fragile and he's not even that old. Still under contract for a couple of seasons so that guy has to stretch more or do something different. Jeez, it always bugs me when players miss the majority of one year, then come back and start missing time the next year with different stuff. That's how you get the tag injury prone.

  • At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If Pagan is gone for the season is Gary Brown gonna get called up or will we make a trade. Is there even any CF's we could trade for???


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