Monday, August 16, 2010

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Hear that noise coming from AT&T Park? Me neither. That. my friends, is the sound of silence. And right now,  nothing is more silent that the Giants offense.

After Sunday's disappointing setback against San Diego I turned the page on 2010. As was noted in my first thome on this page, some 70 posts ago, I know a season-ending loss when I see one. Dropping two of three to San Diego and going a paltry 6-7 over the past two weeks, it's not hard to envision Giants slowly fading into the proverbial sunset.

At 67-52 the season is hardly a failure, but the sad fact is that the Giants have 43 games remaining to make up a four-game deficit. San Diego is 70-47, playing at a .600 pace. If that continues, the Pads finish the campaign at 97-65. Just to tie, the Giants would have to go 30-13 the rest of the way. If San Diego just plays .500 ball it means a 93-win season for the Friars and the Giants needing to win 26 of 43 to make up the ground.

In short, the Giants have to get hot AND count on San Diego folding like a cheap lawn chair. Anyone this side of Pete Rose wanna take bets on that happening?

So with the division effectively gone, you start looking at the Wild Card. It ain't pretty. The rules say they can't face San Diego in the Division Series, not that it matters much. Atlanta leads the East and we just saw how well the Giants fared against the Braves. Should they survive that match-up, and the likelyhood of that is about the same as me hooking up with Stacy Keibler tonight, the Padres could await.

I'm brimming with excitement. I think I'll wet my pants.

So this is the point in the season where there's still a glimmer of hope somewhere deep in my reptilian brain, but logically I know the wait for a ring is going to go on for at least another year -- now at 56 years and counting. I'll also lament the season that might have been.

What if Brian Sabean had acquired a couple of legitimate bats? What if Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner had been with the team since Day One, meaning no time or cash wasted on Bengie Molina or Todd Wellemeyer? What if Pablo Sandoval had shown up in shape (a circle is not a shape, Panda)? What if time and money hadn't been wasted on Mark DeRosa or Edgar Renteria?

Sadly, every season under Brian Sabean's, uh, leadership is filled with these "what if" questions. The Giants always seem to be at least a couple of  fries short of a Happy Meal, and I blame the cook.

Being a baseball general manager isn't rocket science. To be sure, there's a skill involved in contract negotitions, but Sabean presides over an entire cadre of professionals who handle the grunt work. His job is to be the overseer, the guy keeping his eye on the big picture. He has failed miserably. Any general manager who goes into two consecutive seasons with Bengie Molina as the clean-up hitter doesn't have all of his oars in the water to begin with, and expecting Mark DeRosa or Jose Guillen to be the cure only gives further proof of the level of his disconnect from reality.

Strict adherence to a pitching-and-defense mentality quit paying dividends in the 1960s. You have to be a complete team. To see what I'm talking about, you need look back no farther than last weekend. Both the Giants and Padres can pitch. San Diego played better defense but the Giants only sucked with the gloves when Sandoval was involved. The Padres, howevwer,  have some semblance of an offense. It's not a great one, but it's better than San Francisco's.

Aye, there's the rub. The Giants are built to beat teams that rely solely on offense. Shut them down, and they can take advantage of average pitchers enough to squeak out a few wins. But when they go up against a team that can match them on the mound, offensively they've brought a knife to a gun fight.

At least it's good for Bay Area retailers specializing in Pepto Bismol and Alka Seltzer sales.

Sabean's "fixes" aren't fixes at all. Renteria, DeRosa, F. Sanchez, Jose Guillen -- who is he kidding? These are the guys expected to carry a team? It's not that his acquisitions don't produce, it's that no one in his right mind would ever look at any of these players as the missing ingredient to a championship team. These are the guys you bring on to add depth to a roster, not to power it. Sabean's modus operandi has been to blow all his jack on nice rims for his ride but fail to tune the engine.

The unspoken truth in Sabeanland is that pitching, like any other part of the game, is subject to slumps. There are times when even the best just can't get guys out -- ask Tim Lincecum. Command is off, dunkers fall in, your third baseman takes a bite out of the ball (and swallows). A balanced team can steal some of those games back with the bats. A team that doesn't even attempt to field a competitive offense is essentially forfeiting those games.

The Giants have lost 18 games by one run -- five of them to San Diego. Think another bat or two wouldn't have made a difference in the standings? Heck, if they'd won HALF of those the division race would be a cakewalk.

And here's what really scares me. Pitching doesn't last. Really, how many pitchers do you know that remain at the top of their game for extended periods? If you get 4-5 years from an ace, you should consider yourself blessed. The Greg Maddux / Roger Clemens types don't come along very long. When you get that kind of pitching, screw the future because the odds are it won't last. The odds of multiple guys being that good that long? Even worse. You break the bank and go for it, knowing you might not get another chance.

Not the Giants. It's pitching, pitching, pitching. We'll worry about the offense next year. "Next Year" never comes. Ask Pittsburgh, which tried the same tactic and hasn't been relevant in two decades. In the meantime the Giants have wasted TWO Cy Young campaigns from Lincecum and are blowing through the best years of Matt Cain's career.
The Giants can make all the claims they want about bolstering in the off-season or building from within. The fact remains that they had one of the best 1-2s in baseball but didn't get anything to go with it, and they have no guarantee that the pitching will show up next year. Lincecum's recent struggles alone show how fleeting mound mastery can be.

Of course, there's also no guarantee the Giants will ever try to upgrade their offense. That claim has rung hollow for years. They had opportunities this year but balked because they don't want to give up pitching. Someone needs to explain to Sabean that you must surrender value to get value. Otherwise all you can do what Sabean does -- take out someone else's trash. Ricky Ledee anyone?

Such is the life of a Giants fan, summed up into two words: "What If?"

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