Fortunately, it’s only June.
Was it fools’ gold? All those K’s posted by the bullpen? All the home runs, the timely hits, the miracle plays in the field? Was Marx talking Giants baseball when he wrote “all that is solid melts into air?”
We knew the Giants were not that good. Now we’re hoping they’re not that bad.
How bad? Since June 8, they’ve lost 11 of 15 games. Worst record in the majors for the month.
Injuries, weak replacements and truckloads of bad luck figure into the slump in a major way. Worst of all, their timing, in a word, sucks. As a team, they seem disjointed, ill-at-ease, slow and at times, clumsy. They play with no rhythm. They don’t play. They “grind” (to use manager Bruce Bochy’s favorite all-purpose word).
And when I attended the game last Thursday against the Reds, I could feel what I couldn’t see on TV: the weird vibe at the ballpark. Watching them
play grind is like watching the drones going about their business in the Financial District.
To be fair, that night half the position players were rookies or replacements.
So what’s the problem? Who knows? In baseball, it’s always hard to distinguish between the metaphysical and the material.
1. Pitching. This is a team built on high-quality pitching. At the core of both World Series teams, was a dominant pitching staff: starters who could work deep into games, bullpen relievers who Bochy could mix and match as needed, and a lights-out closer.
That’s not the pitching staff that showed up in June. When the starters were not getting bombed, the bullpen found novel ways to blow the leads they inherited. Having no offense didn’t help, but most of the pitchers should be used to pressure off low run output. Why the bullpen has gone south with such force is a mystery. Except for closer Sergio Romo.
Last month, we noted that there were statistical clouds on Romo’s horizon. This month the deluge came. He blew three of his last five save opportunities. He is no longer The Closer. Who is?
Matt Cain, the putative ace of the staff has been having another rough spring. He showed signs of recovery in his last game. There is also talk of acquiring another top-shelf starter. Could happen.
Bochy Ball is a pitcher’s game. Even average won’t cut it. And last month, we would have been happy with average. The Giants posted the second worst Earned Run Average (ERA) in the National League (4.31, a shade better than the Rockies).
2. Back Problems. Am I dreaming, or have the Giants been suffering an unusually high rash of bad backs? Some of the best player,s including Buster Posey, Angel Pagan, Michael Mors, and Marco Scutaro have lost time to some sort of back problem. Maybe the team needs a new chiropractor.
3. Angel Pagan. As the centerfielder goes, so go the Giants. He’s been out during most of the slide with a bad back. Buster Posey, who was one of the highlights of the month, may be the team’s MVP, but Pagan, leading off the batting order, makes the offense go. He’s due to return shortly. If the Giants are going to have any hope of making the playoffs, they’ve got to find a way to keep Pagan healthy and playing.
4. Second Base. With starting second baseman Marco Scutaro out interminably with a bad back, second base has become, with apologies to Brandon Hicks and rookie Joe Panik, a black hole in the lineup. Hicks is a decent fielder, as is Panik, once he settles down, but both look pitifully lost at home plate. If Scutaro can’t come back to near his 2012 level, the Giants will need to find someone fast.
5. The Dodgers. The Giants are potentially a good team. The Dodgers are a potentially great team. After getting off to a rotten start, the Dodgers turned in an excellent June. They are now in a tie with the Giants for the lead of the National League West with hitters and pitchers healthy and in the groove. Their ace, Clayton Kershaw, has come back from an early-season injury in fine form, throwing a no-hitter the day before Lincecum’s. In June, the Dodger pitching staff had the best ERA in the National League at 2.63.
We always knew the fight with the Dodgers to win the NL West would be a tough one. June made it a lot tougher.
“Fortunately,” said Bruce Bochy, “it’s baseball.” Meaning it’s the most predictably unpredictable mass spectator sport today.
And there is a lot of baseball left to be played.