http://www.digitaljournal.com/sports/op-ed-sf-giants-playoff-aspirations-face-big-challenges/article/391441

Op-Ed: SF Giants playoff aspirations face big challenges

Posted Jul 22, 2014 by Mike Rossi
Yes, I know Tim Lincecum is on the up-and-up. Yes, I realize that the Giants are currently tied for first place in the NL West. And, yes, I am painfully aware that we just signed three-time All-Star Dan Uggla to a minor league deal.
Untitled
Harshlight
Unfortunately, none of these things dramatically improves the outlook for the San Francisco Giants 2014 post-season hopes.
Bad fan? — Debatable.
Pessimist? — Probably.
Wrong? — Not a chance.
The success of the 2010 and 2012 teams — both of which captured World Series titles — has left Giants fans, myself included, with a diluted sense of reality.
The championship runs of those two seasons were unforgettable to say the least but — objectively speaking — the Giants caught lightning in a bottle...twice.
Candidly looking at the 2010 regular season, here's what stands out:
1) This team could not hit.
No, really. Other than rookie Buster Posey who slugged it out at a paltry .305, not one other player had a batting average over .300. OK, technically Emmanuel Burriss batted .400, but bear in mind he stepped up to the plate a whopping five (yes, FIVE) times that season.
2) The power came from baseball's senior citizens.
The "pop" in this line-up originated from a magically resurgent Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe and Aubrey Huff, who managed to slap 18, 24 and 26 home runs respectively. The stars aligned in 2010 — no one in baseball would have bet a dollar on these veterans combining for 68 HRs at the start of the season.
3) The starting pitching was, in a word, spectacular.
Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner combined for 849 K's against 343 BB (a 2.5:1 K/BB ratio) and a collective 3.36 ERA. During 939 innings pitched they surrendered just 92 home runs, one for every 10 innings pitched.
4) The bullpen in 2010 was great too.
Wilson, Romo, Casilla, Lopez, Ramirez...anyone could jump in at the drop of a hat to get the team out of a jam. The pen posted 57 saves, 460 K's against 212 BB's (2.2:1 K to BB ratio) and a 3.76 ERA. However, if one disregards the four (4) total innings pitched by Waldis Joaquín, that ERA drops to 3.23.
5) Speaking of pitching...
The collective staff had a 1.78 ERA for the month of September that year, highlighted by an 18-game streak of giving up 3 runs or less.
6) Topping it all off, the Giants won 28 games by one, single run.
If they win 26 instead of 28, they don't even make the playoffs. Lest anyone forget, the Orange and Black had to win their last game of the season against the San Diego Padres to even make the post-season.
From Game 162 onwards, the Giants continued to ride a combination of formidable pitching and incalculable luck to capture the championship title. The city of San Francisco rejoiced as its 50+ year wait for a World Series trophy finally came to an end.
Skipping the disaster that was 2011, the Giants entered 2012 with aspirations of recapturing recent championship glory.
Though the they managed to string together an undoubtedly better season than 2010, 2012 was quite honestly not that good.
Disagree? — Look at the numbers:
1) Once again, no offense.
Though Posey (.336 avg) and Scutaro (.362 avg) — a July 27th acquisition — managed to hit the ball well, the rest of the team failed to eclipse the .300 mark. Granted this discounts the numbers put up by Melky Cabrera (.346), but he wound up suspended for 50 games after testing positive for PEDs, so he's tainted to say the least. The rest of the team? — A .233 average with 48 home runs in 3,130 at-bats. Woof.
2) The starting pitching was still very good...
But not as lights-out as it was in 2010. Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong and Zito combined for a 3.77 ERA and 846 Ks against 322 BBs (a 2.6:1 K to BB ratio). Over 987.1 innings pitched they surrendered 104 dingers, about one every nine innings.
3) The bullpen still got the job done.
Counting only those who threw at least 10 innings in the season, the 'pen posted a 3.23 ERA—identical to 2010—but only tallied 52 saves. They did, however, improve in the strikeout to walk department (2.44:1), possibly due to the loss of blood-pressure-raising closer, Brian Wilson.
4) San Francisco, once again, enjoyed a red-hot September.
The G-men went 20-10 during the final 30 games of the season. In fact, going back to August 1st, the Giants managed to go 38-21 in the final two full months of regular season play.
5) The Giants won 30 games by one, single run, eclipsing 2010's number by two.
Of those 30 wins, a PED-powered Melky Cabrera participated in 21, going 32 for 88 (.364 avg) with 15 runs, 10 RBIs, nine walks and three home runs.
Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera
X Wad
The 2012 Giants only finished eight games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West. If Melky gets caught cheating earlier in the season, the Giants almost assuredly lose at least a handful of those 21 games, completely changing the dynamic of the race for the division title.
6) If you STILL don't believe the Giants were Touched by an Angel in 2012, look past the regular season and into the post-season.
Down 0-2 to the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five NLDS, the Orange and Black rallied to win three games in a row, all in the hostile environment of the Great American Ball Park. They then went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-seven NLCS, despite facing elimination three games in a row.
Need I also mention that it was the much maligned Barry Zito who threw nearly eight innings of shutout baseball to save the season in Game 5?
Or how about the insane fortune of even facing the Cardinals?
San Francisco was one strike away from playing the Washington Nationals — who had beaten the Giants in 5 of 6 games that season — in the NLCS, but the 'Nats managed to blow a 6-0 margin in Game 5 of the NLDS against St. Louis, including a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning.
Baseball fans know the rest of the story — the 2012 San Francisco Giants went on to capture their second World Series title in just three years, riding strong arms, timely bats and a boatload of luck.
Once again, skip the subsequent season — an atrocious 2013 — to find the 2014 Giants floating in familiar territory.
1) Flat-out, this team cannot hit.
This is as bad as it's been.
Even the beautiful Buster Posey can't make consistent contact, hitting a frustrating .281.
The only active player hitting over .300 is centerfielder Angel Pagan (.307) and he's not even playing right now due to injury.
Madison Bumgarner — arguably the Giants best pitcher — has a .256 average, with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs. A pitcher has more home runs than six position players and has the sixth best batting average on the entire team. Oh yeah, at .512 he has the highest slugging percentage on the team too.
The Giants might as well move him to first base and bat him fifth in the lineup on his off-days — it couldn't hurt.
2) The starting pitching remains very effective.
Even though Matt Cain is having a down year, the rest of the staff has been solid and Tim Lincecum slowly looks like he could regain the Cy Young form of years gone by.
Two-thirds of the way through the season and this group has a 3.57 ERA paired with a 3:1 K to BB ratio.
Keep in mind, there are over 60 games left to play in the season. This kind of production will be tough to maintain during the dog-days of August and September.
Matt Cain pitching at Miller Park 2011
Matt Cain pitching at Miller Park 2011
Steve Paluch
3) The bullpen has punch.
Although the 'pen lacks a definitive closer due to the struggles of Sergio Romo, its production looks as good as it's ever been. Posting a 2.72 ERA and 3.4:1 K to BB ratio, this bullpen has the makings of a group that could — potentially — carry a tired starting rotation in the later months of the season.
4) No new faces.
Unlike 2010 (Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey) and 2012 (Marco Scutaro) this team has no one to call up and no one to trade for to provide a late-season shot in the arm. Unless of course you count Dan Uggla...(You should not count Dan Uggla).
Yes, GM Brian Sabean could pull a rabbit out of the hat before the July 31st trade-deadline but as of now it seems unlikely.
5) The Giants have hit a skid of epic proportions.
Since starting the 2014 season a red-hot 42-21 the team has gone 12-23 since June 9th, leaving them tied atop the NL West with the much-hated Los Angeles Dodgers.
6) Speaking of LA...
Those same LA Dodgers have only improved since the start of the season.
On Sunday, June 8th the Dodgers were 9.5 games out of first place in the NL West. They've gone 21-14 since then and have, as previously stated, climbed right back into contention for the playoffs. Worse still, LA's starting rotation (2.96 ERA) and offense (.260 Avg, 412 runs scored) are both better than San Francisco's (.357 ERA, .239 Avg, 389 runs scored).
But the biggest threat to San Francisco isn't their lack of offense or the charging Dodgers, it's the intangible, immeasurable force of Lady Luck.
From sandwiches to batting practice, the Giants can't catch a break on the health front.
Starting first-baseman Brandon Belt and pitcher Matt Cain find themselves on the disabled list for the second time this season. There they join starting center-fielder Angel Pagan who's been on the DL since June 14th with a back injury.
The Giants haven't see the ball bounce their way in one-run decisions either.
So far, they're 13-14 in games decided by a single run — a far cry from the 30-20 record of the 2012 team and not that close to the 28-24 mark set by the 2010 squad.
Yet even with fate against them, the Giants are by no means out of playoff contention.
As every baseball fan knows, it's great pitching that wins big games and the Giants have arms in spades. Their pitchers are not only elite, but seasoned, knowing what it takes to win under pressure.
If the team can create a little more offense during the final two months of the season, San Francisco could find itself playing in October for the third time in five years...
...I just wouldn't bet on it.