Saturday, May 30, 2009

What the Giants need to do to make a run (please read this Brian Sabean!)

Dan Uggla would bring much needed power and RBI support to a Giants team that hasn't had those two things since Bonds' absence.

I'm running high right now. The Giants have just won four straight as they swept the Atlanta Braves and took the first game against the St. Louis Cardinals, their last home series before they hit the road for an NL East swing against Washington and Florida. If the Giants can take two out of three at the very least against the Cardinals this will be big momentum before they hit their interleague series against the hated Oakland A's (yes they are rivals. They swept us in the 1989 Earthquake Series and I have declared Holy War on them since). The Nationals and Marlins are reeling and there is no reason to think why we can't take five out of six or even sweep both series. Well...that might be asking a lot, but we should take four out of six against the Nats and Marlins at the very least. Furthermore, we follow up against the D'Backs after the Marlins series and with the way that team is reeling (with the exception of Justin Upton), the opportunity is there for the Giants to make a big run to pass up the hot Padres and gain some ground on the scorching Dodgers.

The thing is though, our hitting is still lousy. The bats are starting to improve after that lousy 2-9 stretch in Mid-May, but in the long-haul, there really just isn't enough hitting in the lineup for the Giants to make a serious run. Bengie Molina is mired in an awful slump that exhibits why he shouldn't be the Giants cleanup hitter and Pablo Sandoval, our best hitter of the year so far, simply doesn't have the kind of power that can make the team contenders. He's a great contact guy, don't get me wrong. He puts the ball in play and the ball finds holes, but you can't count on him for that big home run or that big double. That just isn't his game nor his style of hitting. He's less reminiscent to a power hitter like Pujols or Bonds and more akin to a slow-slap hitter like Billy Butler. Great contact hitter, puts the ball in play, but you're pretty much getting singles out of the guy and that's it.

The only thing worthwhile is that the Giants pitching, especially starting pitching has been phenomenal. Tim Lincecum, whom I ripped in an earlier post after Opening Week, has looked like his old self. Matt Cain is finally getting some run support and looking like the ace we always knew he would be. Jonathan Sanchez is looking like he always is (great on some days, bad on days when his control is not on) but that is not a bad thing, because when he rides a hot streak, he can be one of the best pitchers on the staff. Even Barry Zito, the 100 plus million dollar man, isn't looking bad. He has been putting out alright outings, but unfortunately, a combination of poor defense and lousy hitting has been his Achilles heel so far that has produced his third straight poor win-loss record out of the gate.

The relief pitching really is the only thing holding the pitching back, mainly because Brian Wilson is a shell of his former self and the set up guys have been inconsistent. Bobby Howry is a perfect example. Totally shuts down the meat of the order against St. Louis last night, but he had nights before when he just gets rocked. If Howry can get some consistency, there is no reason our bullpen can't close the door on the close games. That used to be their MO last year: bullpen closing the door on tight games. And that was with less run support and worse hitting.

So what do the Giants do in order to get in the mix in this NL West Race which looks like Dodgers and everyone else? Well...first they need to solve the Padres. The Giants are a woeful 0-6 at Petco Park this year. While they did sweep a two game series from the Padres in April, that was at a time when the Padres were reeling as well. The Giants have played well against the Dodgers since getting massacred during the opening week. But the Padres have been a different story and the Giants need to get those woeful performances solved. If it's a three-team race between the Padres, Giants and Dodgers, things won't look so good. But if it's narrowed down to a two-team race between the Giants and Dodgers, the odds look a lot better.

Another thing the Giants need to do is get a legitimate power hitter. It's been the priority the fans have been clamoring for even though Sabean is a knucklehead and continues to think guys like Travis Ishikawa and Jesus Guzman are the answers to get it done. Look, I know the Giants are a different team from the Bonds days and I like it. I like that they're more about speed and stretching hits out. I really have come around on Emmanuel Burriss, who is starting to show people why he should be the everyday second baseman. Juan Uribe has been a nice little pickup who's given the lineup some much needed spark (and I think for the time being, we should start Uribe at third and put Sandoval at first. Uribe's a better hitter than Ishikawa and I think Sandoval is more suited for first base anyways). And Aaron Rowand leading off strangely enough has given the Giants lineup the perk that they needed after that woeful mid-May stretch.

Yet there still is that missing run producer that could take this Giants team from good to great. The good thing is, this problem is solvable. There are guys on the market that can come in and help the team immediately. The bad thing is, Sabean is the worst GM in the league and whether or not he has the smarts to make a moves is something to be determined. Here are a few guys I believe the Giants should make serious runs for.

Nick Johnson: I like getting Nick Johnson for various reasons, and reporters everywhere are sure that he's one of the first players to be moved this season. One, you can't overestimate the value of getting a guy that is in the same league. While we have seen exceptions to the rule before (Manny and C.C. last season) for the most part, there has always been a drop off when guys switched from one league to the other. Nomar had a drop off when he went to the Cubs down the stretch and the Cubs suffered for it. Renteria has struggled whenever he has gone to American League ballclubs. So getting a guy from the Nationals is a positive move, just because he is already used to the pitching in the National league. In addition, what makes this trade so tantalizing is Johnson is a northern California guy. He played at McClatchy High School in Sacramento, Calif. A guy familiar with the area can be a wonderful thing. He'll feel right at home and won't need much time to get used to the area. And lastly, and most importantly, the guy can hit. He's healthy for the first time in a while and he has been a catalyst for a rather meager Nationals ballclub. Currently, he's batting .335 with four home runs and 26 RBIs. In addition, he's always been a solid on base guy and can take advantage of the gaps, a quality that is beneficial in a spacious ballpark such as AT&T Park. If the Giants can land this guy for a few minor league arms, (which the Nationals need because there pitching is ridiculously poor), the Giants could make a tremendous leap in terms of improving their mediocre offensive numbers.

Dan Uggla: He's struggling actually right now (.207 average, 9 HRs, 34 RBIs) and the Marlins have always showed in the past that they always want to get younger. With a lot of young farm guys coming up and the Marlins looking as if they are going to be an afterthough in the competitive NL East, an expected fire-sale of big name guys could happen very soon, much sooner than usual. Uggla would bring much needed power to the Giants lineup and could be the kind of second baseman that might bring back for fans memories of Jeff Kent, one of the best second baseman the Giants have ever had. Like Kent, Uggla isn't much of a fielder, but they don't need him to be really. Kent was an average fielder as well, but he was able to take advantage of the Giants home ballpark and was a catalyst behind Bonds in the lineup. With Molina fading fast in the cleanup spot, Uggla coming to San Francisco could be the pop to help the Giants compete with the loaded Dodgers. Furthermore, this could be a win-win for both sides. For the Giants, they get a better hitter, and for Uggla, he gets a fresh start and gets to be "the man" something he really hasn't had in Florida with Hanley Ramirez the main headliner.

Carlos Lee: I've been reading up on this one on a couple of blogs and I'm not exactly convinced, but I'm not totally closed to this idea as well. There is a lot Lee can bring to the table for the Giants. He'll obviously be an immediate power threat not to mention a run-driving threat that Giants have lacked since Bonds was let go. Granted, for all of Lee's inadequacies (lousy fielder, shaky personality) the one thing he does have going for him is that he has always been a consistent hitter. In his tenure with the White Sox, Brewers and Astros his stats have always been around the same, and that is what the Giants have lacked in their lineup. Molina is up one month, down the other. Same thing with every guy in this Giants lineup 1-8. A force like Lee not only would give the Giants lineup a consistent threat, but could also add confidence in the hitters, who'll not feel the pressure like they usually do with runners on. Molina won't need to be the man, and can bat lower in the lineup which he is more suited for. The only roadblock in this is money. He costs a lot and his arrival undoubtedly would mean Fred Lewis or Randy Winn would be packing their bags (most likely Lewis, who I like a lot). But the Giants should definitely look into this, especially since a big-hitting veteran presence could do this young team some good.

So those are some of my thoughts about the Giants as of today. Hopefully they can take their fifth in a row but with Carpenter on the mound, I'm highly skeptical.