The Brandon Belt Chronicles: Did the Giants Wait too Long?

brandonbelt-3Give the Giants front office credit for not totally giving up on Brandon Belt this year. Especially since Brian Sabean was fighting against two very difficult factors in deciding whether to bring Belt back up: 1) Belt’s initial difficulties at the plate earlier this year; and, 2) the General Manager‘s stubborn propensity to rely on veteran players in times of stress (i.e., anytime between April and October of each year).

This weekend Andres Torres hit the 15 day DL with a “shin bruise” and somewhere up in heaven and down in hell, respectively, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb were spinning like wind turbines on Mount Whitney. Nevertheless, the Giants immediately brought Brandon Belt up from Fresno and he homered twice in his first game back, against the Florida Marlins.

After a dismal month of losing mostly low scoring games, Belt and starter Ryan Vogelsong (10-2, 1.25WHIP) made sure the current road trip started well, taking two of three at Florida. In Sunday’s game 3 the Giants hit four home runs (Belt 2, Cody Ross 1, Nate Schierholtz 1) for the first time since their June 2, 2011 game with St. Louis (in which Aubrey Huff alone contributed three long balls).

Brandon Belt’s roller coaster 2011 rookie season could have disoriented a less focused player. He made the team out of Spring Training then got sent to Fresno after hitting .192 in 17 games. Brought back up on May 26th after Buster Posey’s season-ending injury, Belt’s left wrist was fractured on June 4th. After recovering, he was brought back up to the big team on July 19th when Jeff Keppinger was picked up from the Houston Astros, but was hardly played. And Belt was finally sent down yet again after the Giants added shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

Now Brandon Belt is back up to stay with the Giants and he will be a critical factor in the upcoming seven week campaign to retake the National League West title. Just why Belt was sitting on the bench or in Triple-A while the Giants were butt-booted out of first place and their run production continued to imitate the stock market is a question that may haunt everyone at the end of the 2011 season.

This has the look of a critical tippng point in San Francisco’s post-Championship year as the Giants front office mostly stood frozen in the headlights of the Arizona Diamondback express as it rolled over them.  

The team’s approach was at times indecisive. Afraid not to play the fading Andres Torres (.228/78 SOs/3 HR), playing Carlos Beltran too much at the beginning hoping he would catch fire, weakening the infield defense behind their starting pitchers by trading for Orlando Cabrera (hitting .226 with a .236 OBP as a Giant) and sending defensive phenom Brandon Crawford down, not having a credible plan C in place as Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito didn’t get it done as the 5th starter.

Luckily in baseball seven weeks is an eternity. It may not quite feel like an eternity, but actually it is.

With Barry Zito injured again and likely done for the season this is truly Jonathan Sanchez’s time to step up and take his place in the starting rotation. If Sanchez blows his third consecutive start the team has to consider grabbing lefty power pitcher Dan Runzler from Triple-A Fresno or pulling up another minor leaguer like Double-A Richmond starter Eric Surkamp (8-4/2.03ERA/1.11WHIP, 156 SOs in 128.1 IP).

Are there any more “ifs” in this scenario? Indeed there are. If Carlos Beltran’s does not go on the 15 day DL with his sprained wrist, if the Giants play Brandon Belt every day, and if Cody Ross can do a better job at lead-off than Andres Torres– then the run production should bump up and the pressure eases on the starters.

In the sage words of Steve McQueen from “The Magnificent Seven”–  “If, brother…   if.”

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