Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Freddy Sanchez is going to be the spark that gets the Giants into the postseason

Say what you want about the Freddy Sanchez-for-Tim Alderson trade that happened shortly before the trade deadline: A classic example of Brian Sabean mortgaging the future on one player at the deadline, a grade-A exhibition of a GM overvaluing veteran over young talent, whatever.

At the end of the day though, getting Sanchez will be worth it to Giants fans.

Never mind he's 31-years-old, or has suspect knees. Sanchez is going to be a key cog in the Giants' playoff push these next couple of months.

I understand it is still early. Sanchez has only played in four games, hardly a big enough sample to make a realistic assumption of how Sanchez is going to affect this team during these last couple of months.

That being said, I don't need any more confirmation after today's 10-6 win against Houston. What Sanchez has shown these past four games is a prime illustration of why Sanchez is the missing link this team has missed all season. He is a spark at the plate (exhibited by his seven hits, three RBI and home run in his first four games as a Giant), and he is a dependable anchor at the second base position that has seen more suitors than Madonna in her heyday.

And if that is not good enough, Sanchez has made his Giants teammates better. Pablo Sandoval has been on a tear since Sanchez's acquisition. Is it a coincidence? Perhaps, but I also feel that the "Panda" is more confident at the plate, because he knows he has a solid guy hitting in front of him a the two-spot.

It is obvious that he feels more comfortable in a spot where he can help continue big-hitting innings rather than start them. Just look at what Sandoval has done statistically with Sanchez batting ahead of him: eight hits, two doubles, four RBI and a home run.

There's a reason why Jeff Kent was such a great hitter when he was in San Francisco: he had an excellent hitter in front of him in Barry Bonds. Thus, it isn't a shock to see Sandoval excelling with a great hitter like Sanchez hitting in front of him rather than an average one like Randy Winn or Edgar Renteria.

Now, I know a lot of pundits will point to last season's drop-off and Sanchez's poor July at the plate during his waning days as a Pirate. Yet I believe a variety of factors affected him in Pittsburgh that resulted in his sub-par July.

For starters, the Pirates were losers, plain and simple. GM Neal Huntington was getting rid of everybody, and basically packed in the season by the end of June. Sanchez, like any other baseball player, is a competitor, and knowing that he is playing for a losing cause I'm sure took its toll on him at the plate.

In addition, Sanchez had been in the middle of trade rumors since the beginning of July (along with longtime teammate Jack Wilson, who ended up getting shipped to Seattle). Add that with contract negotiations that fell through shortly after the All-Star break, and I'm sure Sanchez was feeling the heat and pressure of not knowing his place on the Pirates team, or where his future was heading.

A lot of fans don't think those factors matter, but they do. Look at Jason Bay this season. After a hot couple of months to start the season for the Red Sox, his season stats took a dip when reports came out that his agent brought up the idea of asking for "Mark Teixiera Money" (e.g. an insane, unthinkable amount of cash) when he became a free agent at the end of the season. Thus, it isn't impossible to think that Bay felt the pressure from those high standards, and it took a toll on his play.

Now that he is officially a Giant though, Sanchez doesn't have to deal with anymore drama in Pittsburgh. He's free of all the trade rumors, andhe knows his place in San Francisco: as the starting second baseman.

You can see the rejuvenation out there when Sanchez takes the field or digs into the batter's box. Sure, his bum knee shows now and then when he is running, but the guy not only grits it out, but he excels despite this nagging presence in his body. He hasn't had a bad at-bat in a Giants uniform so, and you can feel that him just being out there gives everyone on this Giants team confidence.

The hitters feel confident with Sanchez in the lineup. The pitchers feel confident with Sanchez in the field. Manager Bruce Bochy is more at ease knowing that he doesn't have to got through the Ferris wheel-lineup of Juan Uribe, Matt Downs and Kevin Frandsen anymore.

When a team has that kind of force on a team, it bodes good things. The Giants offense hasn't really broken out for good this season. They have showed flashes, but even as you watched them play, you just had a feeling they were just that: only flashes, nothing concrete.

This recent stretch with Sanchez is far from that. You don't feel it's just a flash, but rather a sign of what this team is going to be, not only for the rest of the regular season, but perhaps even in the postseason and next year.

Postseason? Should I be so bold to say that?

I will make that prediction though, because I am confident that's what Sanchez can help the Giants do if he continues to be healthy and in the lineup. He changes this team from "fringe" playoff team to "legitimate" playoff team. The Giants have the pitching, both starting and relief, and the right guys that can get hot at the plate at the right time (just watch out for Aaron Rowand, he'll prove a lot of his doubters wrong sooner than you think).

Maybe we will regret losing Tim Alderson. Maybe we will regret losing out on that dream rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Alderson and the other Sanchez, Jonathan.

That being said, I have a feeling we won't regret getting Freddy Sanchez.

Believe me, you will have the same inkling I do when we're starting postseason play in October.

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