Injuries Finally Find Giants (with an assist from Bochy)

In 2013 San Francisco Giants fans were happy to believe two big myths about Major League Baseball injuries.

First, that a contending baseball team needs to avoid injuries in order to succeed. That’s a myth because every team, every season has to deal with player injures. Talented players going on the Disabled List isn’t an anomaly, it’s a fact of each season and it’s why successful MLB teams and franchises are built with significant depth.

The second myth San Francisco fans were happy to gobble down like caramel corn last year was promoted heavily by the Giants’ front office and local sports media: that star player Angel Pagan‘s 2013  injury, limiting him to 71 games, was the main reason for the team’s 76-86 third place finish.

This was a myth for two reasons. First, Giant pitching tanked in 2013 (22nd in ERA in the Majors), which exposed both the team’s continued lack of offense and their chronically mediocre Major League bench. Second, losing a key player to the DL for an extended period of time is not a valid excuse for poor performance.

It is, in fact, a lame excuse.

After a good run, player injuries have finally found the 2014 San Francisco Giants. And if (or when) the Giants start sliding down the standings, no doubt the whining about injuries will start all over again. Because this is a team built on a foundation of wet cotton candy, and there’s nowhere to turn for help.

First baseman Brandon Belt went to the DL with a broken thumb on May 10th and on May 21st both starter Matt Cain and relief pitcher Santiago Casilla incurred hamstring injuries.

But the way Casilla received his  injury should absolutely haunt the San Francisco Giants.

casilla-santiago-hurtIn his previous five years as a Giant, Casilla had a total of 4 plate appearances in 252 games, but Manager Bruce Bochy decided to send Casilla to the plate to bat in the 9th inning of a game against the Rockies in which the Giants were leading 5-1.

The TV broadcasters were chuckling as Casilla walked to the plate, and cameras showed players in the dugout laughing it up. Hilarious– a middle reliever taking an at-bat in the 9th inning of a 5-1 game.

After hitting a ground ball, Santiago Casilla suffered a stage 2 hamstring injury running to first base. Almost immediately word was put out that the blame was Casilla’s– didn’t he know he wasn’t supposed to actually swing the bat and run up the line? You know, like all the other baseball players do?

So why was Casilla put in the position of having to swing a bat and run the bases?

It’s Manager Bruce Bochy’s policy to routinely not replace injured players on the 25 man roster unless they have a serious injury. So with some regularity over the past several years the Giants face opposing teams with 24 or 23, or even 22, players available.

It’s a game of chance that Bruce Bochy has often played with very mixed results. In the Colorado game in which Casilla went down, Buster Posey was on the bench because he was getting over back problems after missing two games earlier in the week.

To be clear, MLB teams do not want to routinely bring minor league players up and send them back down every time a regular stubs his toe or needs a couple of games off. That’s disruptive at both levels, and often unnecessary.

And it costs the team money. Every time you bring up a farm system player at any point in the season, from that point on they earn the Major League minimum of $500,000. And while few players are called up in April and stay all year, frequent call-up costs can mount up over a full season.

Having said that, any number of Major League teams don’t hesitate to call up a minor league replacement even if a player doesn’t go on the 15 day disabled list. The problem for the Giants, besides not wanting to spend the money, is they have few minor league players worth calling up.

There’s little reason to bring players up from Triple A Fresno if they don’t have the talent to play in the big leagues.

The third week of May 2014 has become a critical tipping point for the San Francisco Giants.

This team, picked by few analysts in April to make it into the October 2014 post season, has surpassed expectations.  They have an offensive that produces runs and hits home runs; they have one of the best bullpens in baseball; and the starting pitching is maybe one starter away from legitimate contention in the National League West.

As we approach the one third mark of the 2014 season, the questions for the San Francisco Giants and the NL West race are big.

Can the Giants survive any injuries on their 25-man roster? Is the front office capable of stepping up to make the trades and players moves necessary to stay in contention? And will the Los Angeles Dodgers ever wake up and begin their expected rampage through the National League?

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