That the San Francisco Giants 2014 season has taken a major nosedive isn’t surprising. When we look back on this season, the surprising thing is that this team went 36-20 in March/April/May, and specifically had a remarkable 19-9 May.
One of the strangest things we see when an MLB team over-performs in the first two months of the season is that when they finally begin performing at their expected level people are, for some reason, stunned.
If the Washington Nationals, the LA Dodgers, or the St. Louis Cardinals had completely tanked– then it’s time to be stunned. If the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, or New York Mets were ten games above .500 at the All Star break, that would be the time to grab the defibrillator paddles and call 911.
The tired cliche we hear in the sports media whenever an over-performing team starts losing goes something like, “Hey, they weren’t as good as they played the first two months, but they’re not as bad as they’ve played the past month.” Which in the Giants case isn’t true on several levels.
When San Francisco was winning all those early season games against teams like the Mets, Arizona, the Padres, and Minnesota (against whom they went a combined 16-9), no one was saying the Giants weren’t as good as their record in April/May.
Well, shucks, almost no one.
Turns out that cliche is only used after the fact, after a team starts the losing jag that brings them back to their expected performance level. And I think the Giants, who went 10-16 in June, haven’t reached their expected performance level quite yet– which is a very odd thing to be saying about a 47-38 second place team.
In March I predicted San Francisco would finish in 3rd place behind the Dodgers and Arizona. LA took their time to play at their expected level this season, and thanks to a half dozen key injuries and incompetent front office management, the Arizona Diamondbacks are 36-51.
With the Dodgers finally getting their act together that means the Giants will likely finish second in the NL West with an outside shot at a Wild Card slot. But even that looks daunting when you Texas Instruments the math.
The NL East has two powerhouse teams, the Nats and Atlanta, with Miami’s young stars only 5 1/2 games out of first place. In the NL Central Milwaukee is hanging on with two outstanding teams, St. Louis and Cincinnati, hot on their trail.
As I see it, we have two Division winners and potentially four exceptional teams looking to grab the two Wild Card spots. Even before the Giants try to muscle their way to the table.
So, do the Giants have any chance to make the 2014 playoffs via the NL Wild Card? Yes, if two things happen.
1. Giants’ General Manager Brian Sabean and Assistant GM Bobby Evans retool this team around their core of exceptional players. That means we’re not just talking about trading for another starting pitcher or second baseman.
This team’s bench needs to be upgraded and pronto. Successful teams have non-starting professional pinch hitters on the bench who, a) can turn a losing game around in the late innings; and, b) can be quality replacements for five, ten games at a stretch when (as happens to every team throughout the season) starters get injured.
With center fielder Angel Pagan out, first baseman Brandon Belt just coming off the DL, and catcher Buster Posey needing time off and time at first base, the five or six guys on the Giants’ bench have performed terribly at the plate and on the field. So when a Giants’ starting offensive player is slumping or injured, there are no effective hitters stepping up off the bench.
And what about defense? It’s great when a good hitting bench player also has a great glove, but the job qualifications for a professional back-up player are to deliver at the plate, and then make the routine plays in the field. This season the Giants bench hasn’t shown either of those qualifications.
2. Make a clear determination what the Giants need most– either a another quality starter, a quality second baseman, and/or a quality center fielder to replace Pagan if he’s out long-term.
Rookie Joe Panik has demonstrated he is for real and Panik will eventually be this team’s starting second baseman. The question is, will Joe Panik reach his offensive potential over the next three months in time to help this team win? That’s unlikely which means the Giants need to get an offense-capable second baseman at the non-waiver trade deadline.
The Pagan situation is very troubling. If the front office determines he’s going to have ongoing back issues they have to seriously consider picking up an offensive center fielder– an unexpected addition to the needs list.
That makes getting a quality starter the extra frosting on this mid-term cake. If the team goes that way, Ryan Vogelsong could either go to the bullpen or be a trade chit with a package of prospects to get that starting pitcher.
But I just don’t see the Giants getting a starter at the non-waiver trade deadline because if the bench and second base are upgraded I don’t think they necessarily need to get a starting pitcher. And I’m saying that despite being critical of the Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum signings, and the ongoing surprise at Matt Cain’s inconsistency.
If Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Tim Hudson, and Madison Bumgarner start to get at least MLB-average run support (which right now is 4.11 runs per game) they just could get this team to an October Wild Card game date.
During San Francisco’s current 5-18 run since June 9th they’re scoring 2.95 runs per game, and in 12 of those games the team has scored 2 or less runs. So there is much to be done.