Five good reasons San Francisco Giants can win without Melky Cabrera: No. 3, a revitalize Gregor Blanco
OK, so the schedule should help the Giants succeed without Melky Cabrera. And having Pablo Sandoval back should help, too.
What else? How about a new-and-improved Gregor Blanco? More accurately, the Blanco from the first part of the season.
Having been unable to make anything happen on the trade front, the Giants said that Blanco will be their man to replace Cabrera in left field.
So if Blanco is going to play, if he can mirror his production from early in the season — and not recent play that dropped his average to .236 — that would be big lift in lineup.
Blanco was the star of spring training for the Giants, earning a spot on the roster as a reserve outfielder.
His strong play eventually forced his way into the lineup, displacing Nate Schierholtz in right field.
He hit .315 in May (29 for 92).
But he dropped to .218 in June (24 for 110). He was better in the first half of the month (.255) than he was in the second half (.182).
He slipped even further in July, .197 (12 for 61), eventually losing starts first to Schierholtz then to Hunter Pence.
Is there an explanation for Blanco’s drop-off?
We’ll offer one: Fatigue.
Injuries limited Blanco to 74 games in the minors in 2011.
But he played about 80 games in the Venezuelan Winter League from October to January, being named the league MVP.
He then played 27 games during spring training as he battled for a job with the club.
Add in the 100 games he’s played with the Giants, and that’s more than 200 games over the past 10 months. That’s a lot of games for a journeyman player who spent much of the past few years between being at Triple-A player and a reserve big leaguer who saw limited action.
It could explain Blanco’s drop-off.
But prior to Wednesday, Blanco started just four of the Giants’ previous 22 games. That respite may be just what Blanco needed to revitalize his body and clear his mind.
After making his first start Wednesday since Aug. 1, Blanco ended 0-for-21 stretch by going 2 for 4 against the Nationals. On Friday in San Diego, he followed that up with another 2-for-4 game.
Prior to the past two games, Blanco hadn’t had a mult-hit game since July 7.
If Blanco can be more productive, limit his strikeouts and use his speed, it could help soften the loss of Cabrera.
If the Giants are going to have success in the post-Melky era, Friday’s game at San Diego is the model for how they should go about doing it.
The Giants got outstanding pitching from Matt Cain and offensive contributions from up and down the lineup to pound the Padres in the opener of their three-game series.
For the ninth time in their past 14 road games, the Giants scored six runs or more. Not surprising, the Giants are 9-0 in those game. They are 1-4 in the other five games in that stretch. They have six of their past eight road games.
The win, coupled with the Braves’ extra-inning win over the Dodgers, pushed the Giants back into first place in the NL West by a half-game.
Every starter in the Giants’ lineup — including pitcher Matt Cain — collected at least one hit. Five Giants had multi-hit games:
- Angel Pagan was 3 for 5 with a triple
- Marco Scutaro was 2 for 5 with a home run
- Hunter Pence was 2 for 4 with a double
- Gregor Blanco was 2 for 4
- Brandon Crawford was 2 for 5 with a double, extending his current hitting streak to nine games.
Matt Cain, who watched his ERA climb in each of his four starts from July 21 to Aug. 6, put together his second consecutive quality start, holding the Padres hitless until the fifth inning and finishing with one earned run on four hits, no walks in eight innings of work. He struck out six.
Two days before losing Cabrera for the rest of the season, the Giants got Pablo Sandoval off the disabled list.
The Giants won’t have Cabrera for the last 45 games of the regular season. They’ve already played 53 games with Sandoval on the DL and survived just fine, going 29-24 over those 53 games.
But the Giants are a stronger team in August than they were in May, when Sandoval started his 35-game stint on the DL with a broken hammate bone.
Another way to think of it: the Giants have six contant players in their lineups in May as they do now: Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Ryan Theriot and Buster Posey.
So which lineup is stronger: One that includes Melky Cabrera and Joaquin Arias, or one that includes Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence?
Now some sabermetrics would still argue for the former. But there are other factors at play.
Buster Posey is red hot now. Brandon Belt is producing more like the Giants hoped he would. Brandon Crawford is hitting better. And the Giants have Marco Scutaro as a second base alternative to Theriot.
So having Sandoval back with a better-producing lineup around him should help soften the loss of Cabrera and keep the Giants competitive.
The reaction to Melky Cabrera’s drug suspension has ranged from “the San Francisco Giants are finished” to “we can overcome this and keep going.”
MoreSplashHits understands the frustration, but not the despair.
Things are not as terrible as they first seem, so MoreSplashHits will offer five good reasons why Giants fans should not lose heart after having to endure the rest of the season with Cabrera.
Here’s the first.
The schedule favors the Giants
Down the stretch, the Giants won’t face the Nationals anymore. They won’t face the Reds, Pirates or Cardinals, either.
They have one series left against a non-divisional foe, and that comes next week when the Braves come to AT&T for a four-game set.
But after the Giants return home on Labor Day from a six-game road trip to Houston and Chicago, they won’t play another game outside the division for the rest of the season.
If you took the current winning percentage of the teams left on a team’s schedule and multiplied it by the number of games played against each team. Then added those numbers together and divided it by the number of total games a team has left to play this season, you’ll come up with an average winning percentage of teams left on each teams’ schedule.
The Giants’ opponents winning percentage (we’ll call it OWP) is .467.
In the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who currently trail the Giants by five games, also have an OWP of .467. After this weekend’s series in Houston, Arizona will not play another non-NL West opponent on the road this season. If there’s one difference between the Snakes’ and Giants’ schedule, it’s that of the nine meetings left between the two teams, six will be played at AT&T Park.
Now, the Dodgers’ OWP is .505, which is the highest of any NL team currently with a .500 record or better.
You remember when the Dodgers got fat on a soft schedule in April? This is the payback.
Down the stretch, the Dodgers must face every NL team with a .500 record or better. To make matters worse, they have nine games left on the road against the Braves, Nationals and Reds.
The Giants are currently one game out in the race for the final wild-card berth. All of the other teams the Giants are battling for those wild-card spots have higher OWPs than the Giants.
The Pirates, who have really been struggling late, have the next closest OWP at .469. Next come the Braves with a OWP of .490, and then the Cardinals at .492.
The Giants have a record of 33-18 this season against all the teams left on their schedule.
Of the teams left on the Giants’ schedule, they only have losing records against two this season: The Dodgers (4-5) and Diamondbacks (4-5).
But they have a combined record of 25-8 against the rest of teams: Braves (2-1), Cubs (4-0), Astros (5-1), Rockies (8-3) and Padres (6-3).
WASHINGTON NATIONALS 6, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 4: BOX SCORE
In need of a prayer, the San Francisco Giants added a Christian.
As expected, the Giants recalled Justin Christian from Triple-A Fresno to fill the roster spot created by outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for the rest of the regular season.
It won’t excite any Giants fans, but GM Brian Sabean said available options through trade were “not too compelling or interesting.”
So it looks like Gregor Blanco will be the Giants’ starting left fielder for the immediate future, with Christian providing an option against left-handed pitchers.
Christian has hit .348 at Triple-A Fresno this season. But in his brief stint with the Giants, he’s produced a batting average that would only be impressive to Aubrey Huff. He hit .158 in 41 plate appearances before being sent down on Aug. 1.
When Dan Otero was also headed to Fresno, MoreSplashHits thought that perhaps the Giants would have enough good sense to call up another position player, returning to the 13 player/12 pitcher roster. Instead, they called up Eric Hacker from Fresno to serve as the long man in the bullpen, until either Brad Penny comes off the DL or Guillermo Mota returns from his suspension.
Manager Bruce Bochy went to a 13-pitcher roster a couple of weeks ago to lessen the strain on a bullpen that had begun to show signs of weakness, particularly in a 20-game-in-20-day stretch.
But now with the day off Thursday and another on Aug. 27 before rosters expand on Sept. 1, that seems to be less of an issue.
Also, with a lineup that included Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, Bochy said he wouldn’t be doing much pinch-hitting or double switches.
Take Cabrera out of that mix and insert Blanco, and Bochy may want to have more flexibility in his lineup.
One potential option the Giants should consider to fill the Cabrera void is a lineup in which Posey plays first base, Hector Sanchez catches and Brandon Belt plays left field.
Posey played quite a few games at first this season as the Giants looked to keep his bat in the lineup and give him a bit of a break from catching.
But with Belt swinging a hot bat of late, would it not make sense to keep both Posey’s and Belt’s bat in the lineup?
Plus there would be less of a drop-off in offensive production from Cabrera’s .346 average with Sanchez’s .279 average than than Blanco’s .236.
But that’s not the only advantage. It keeps Posey in the lineup more, and keeps him fresh as the season grinds into its dog days.
While it’s true that Belt has not played a game in the outfield since spring training this season, he did play 31 games in left field last season and handled himself well enough.
The Giants could make this work by sending Hacker back to Fresno and calling on Eli Whiteside to serve as the No. 3 catcher.
It’s been a great season to be blogging about the San Francisco Giants, as they have provided a wealth of material this season, both good and bad.
Matt Cain’s new contract, Madison Bumgarner’s new contract, Buster Posey’s shingles, Brian Wilson’s elbow, Tim Lincecum’s struggles, All-Star voting, four All-Star starters, Melky Cabrera as All-Star MVP, trading for Hunter Pence. This list goes on and one.
Then came news Wednesday that we didn’t want to blog about.
The San Francisco Giants suffered a huge loss Wedneday, and they hadn’t even made a single pitch.
Major League Baseball announced that outfielder Melky Cabrera will be serving a 50-game suspension for testosterone immediately, taking him out of the remaining 45 games of the 2012 season and the first five games of the postseason, if the Giants are so fortunate to get that far.
And if you were hoping for a Ryan Braun-like appeal victory, forget about it.
Melky admitted his guilt.
“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Progam and will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”
Truly disappointing news. But now the major question is: Now what?
Tuesday’s game was the first time the Giants had a lineup that included Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence at the same time. It will be the last time we’ll see that lineup in the 2012 regular season.
In the short term, Gregor Blanco will fill Cabrera’s spot in the lineup, only because the Giants have no other outfielder on the 25-man roster. That’s part of Giants’ decision to go with 13-pitcher roster.
Blanco started off very well for the Giants, moving into the leadoff spot and dropping Pagan to the No. 5 spot.
But Blanco has struggled in recent weeks. He was hitting .291 with a .387 OBP on June 9. Since then, he’s seen his average plummet to .232 with a .329 OBP.
He’s been struggling so much, the Giants placed him seventh in the order, just ahead of Brandon Crawford in the Giants’ batting order Wednesday vs. the Nationals. And you would have to argue why Blanco isn’t hitting in the No. 8 spot, given how Crawford has been swinging the bat lately.
Here’s today’s lineup:
- CF Angel Pagan
- 2B Ryan Theriot
- 3B Pablo Sandoval
- C Buster Posey
- RF Hunter Pence
- 1B Brandon Belt
- LF Gregor Blanco
- SS Brandon Crawford
TRIPLE-A: Outfielders in Fresno include Justin Christian, Todd Linden, Ryan Lollis, Xavier Nady and Francisco Peguero. Christian has hit .348 at Triple-A, but in 22 games with the Giants this season, he’s hitting a whopping .158.
In fact, none of the players the Giants called up from Fresno this season have hit at the big-league level. Those kind of takes any luster off averages put up by Lollis (.319), Linden (.280) and Peguero (.274).
Nady was signed late last month as roster depth at first base. But he has played the outfield. However, he’s hitting .138 in 29 at-bats in Fresno, with 2 HRs and 7 RBI.
Peguero is one of the Giants’ better outfield prospects who got off to a slow start at Triple-A this season. But he has hit better in recent months. He’s hitting .409 in his past 10 games.
Lollis, 25, was promoted from Class A San Jose recently. He has hit .327 in 30 games at Fresno.
But again, Fresno averages have not converted well into big-league averages this season.
AUBREY HUFF: Yeah, I know, that one excites you. There has been talk that Huff was about ready to give another shot at coming off the DL with his bad knee. He tried it once and didn’t last long. But this has been a lost season for Huff, who has hit .148 in 34 games.
BRETT PILL: Pill has hit .222 in 99 ABs this season for the Giants. He performed OK in his most recent stint from July 31 to Aug. 11, when he was 5 for 20 (.250) with one home run in seven games. He started seven games in left field earlier this season. However, having just been sent down to Fresno, so he can’t be recalled for another week.
GARY BROWN: The Giants’ top prospect is hitting .280 at Double-A Richmond. But he took so long to find his hitting stroke at Double-A, it’s doubtful the Giants will look to ask him to adjust to the big leagues in a pennant chase.
WAIVER WIRE? By now, the options have to limited. Alfonso Soriano? Are the Giants ready to take on the remaining $40 million on his contract for the next two-plus years? Doubtful.
Seattle’s Chone Figgins is due $8 million next year. But back-to-back years of hitting .188 is hardly attractive.
Jason Bay is due $16 million next year.
Juan Pierre is making $800,000 for the Phillies this season. What would it take for the Giants to deal for him?
David DeJesus will make $4.25 million for the Cubs next season. Are the Cubs ready to go in another direction?
Basically, if a player is good, he’s going to cost prospects. But then again, if he’s good, he wouldn’t have passed through waivers. If he’s cheap, there’s no reason for another team to trade him. So the Giants are going to need to take a chance on a reclaim project or someone with a hefty contract chained to them.
Somebody call Aaron Rowand and see what he’s doing.
Yeah, it’s that desperate.
Brandon Belt had a big night Tuesday against the Nationals.
A few more inches, and it could have been a huge night.
Belt finished the night with a three-hit, three-RBI night, providing Madison Bumgarner with enough offense to pitch the Giants to a big win over the Washington Nationals.
But for Belt, it could have been so much more.
In the second inning, after Hunter Pence led off with a single, Belt sent a long drive to left center fielder that appeared to hit about one foot from the top of the wall for an RBI double.
When Bryce Harper’s throw went home, Belt tried to take third, but was easily thrown out by catcher Jesus Flores.
In the sixth, Belt came up with runners on first and second and one out when he sent a high, deep drive to right field that hit just inches from the top of the wall, scoring Pablo Sandoval from second.
But Belt spent to much time admiring his drive and less time running hard. That allowed Jayson Werth to play the ball off the wall and throw Belt out trying to take second base.
“Players have hit a lot of balls over their lives and usually you know which ones are going and which one’s aren’t,” Belt said. “It was one of those things where I decided not to go, and I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. I’m not going to do that again.”
Well, if it makes Brandon feel any better, Giants announcer Dave Flemming thought it was gone, too.
Stil, it was two near home runs. Two outs on the basepaths. But two RBIs.
Belt got another chance in the eighth with runners on first and second and one out. This time, he smacked a single to right, scoring Buster Posey to score just ahead of Werth’s throw from right. That was part of an four-run eighth.
From there, Bumgarner did the rest, finishing the complete game on 108 pitches.
He could have had a shutout.
In the seventh, Werth sent a drive into Triples Alley that Hunter Pence was able to get to, but was unable to catch. It went for a leadoff triple and led to the Nationals’ lone run.
It was the lone bump on the night for Pence, who was 3 for 4 with two runs scored at the plate.
Combined, it was a 6-for-8 night with three RBI and three runs by two players who Belt described as “awkward.”
But they are both two key guys the Giants need to deliver down the stretch.
They give the Giants lineup a dangerous bat up and down the lineup.
For far too long, the Giants lineup got pretty lean in the No. 6-7-8 spots. Now with Pablo Sandoval off the DL, Pence and Belt make up the Nos. 6 and 7 spots. And even Brandon Crawford has been swinging the bat better in the No. 8 spot.
After a very slow start with the Giants, Pence is 5 for 16 (.313) with a home run, four runs, an four RBI in his last four games.
Belt is 17 for 36 (.472) in the month of August, with multi-hit game in five of his past nine games. It’s pushed his season average all the way to .267.
Crawford is riding a seven-game hitting streak in which he’s hit 10 for 23 (.435).
Hunter Pence has been looking to contribute since joining the Giants late last month.
He got one Saturday with an RBI double. He got an even bigger one Sunday.
Pence hammered a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth, sending the Giants to a 9-6 win over the Rockies.
“There’s definitely times that you’re down, but I understand that the next at-bat everything can change,” Pence said. “I try to think of it as ‘Let it go and go out there and try to do everything you can to win. Whether you’re getting hits or not, play defense, and you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity.’ ”
The opportunity Sunday came in the eighth inning.
Trailing 6-4, the Giants loaded the bases with no one out. But Marco Scutaro’s fly to left was not deep enough to advance any of the runners.
The Giants made it 6-5 on an infield single by Melky Cabrera. Then Buster Pence made Rockies’ closer Rafael Betancourt work before lofting a 3-2 pitch to left field for a sacrifice to tie the game.
But with two on and two out, the Rockies were looking to get out of the inning tied 6-6. Then Pence smacked an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a 9-6 lead.
It was the first home run by a Giants player other than Buster Posey at AT&T Park since June 29.
And that called for a curtain call, even if it was a bit forced.
“Melky pushed me out there,” Pence said. “I didn’t even realize … it was pretty exciting. Those things don’t happen very often and is just kid of humbling.”
It’s hard to call a game this early in August as a must-win. But these are games the Giants need to win. When you’re playing a team like the Rockies, those are series they need to win.
It’s especially true with the NL-leading Washington Nationals coming to town on Monday.
This won’t come as a surprise to any Giants fan, but when it comes to hitting, Buster Posey is unlike any other player on the San Francisco Giants.
Unlike his teammates, Buster Posey likes hitting at AT&T Park.
On a team that has scored about 100 fewer runs in games played at home than on the road, Buster Posey is hitting .351 at home this season, as opposed to .316 on the road.
Explain that one, Buster.
“I’m comfortable here,” Posey said. “I see the ball well. It’s a big ballpark, but the gaps are big, too, so you’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Posey kept up the hitting a home Saturday, going 2 for 4 including his 19th home run of the season, a two-run shot off Drew Pomeranz in the third inning.
TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the eight Giants who have homered at AT&T Park this season?
Posey’s recent hot streak has thrust himself into the discussion for NL MVP. While Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen remains the clear favorite, Posey, along with Melky Cabrera, deserve consideration.
Posey has 19 home runs, 75 RBI and is hitting .330. He’s got a slash-line of .330/.399/.538.
Cabrera has 11 home runs, 57 RBI and is hitting. 349. His slash line goes .349/.394/.524. He has scored a NL high 80 runs.
Posey alone cannot carry the Giants. Cabrera alone can’t carry the Giants. Put together in the 3-4 slot in the lineup, and they are a deadly combination.
In the third, Cabrera got the rally started with a bunt single. Then Posey launched a shot into the left-field bleachers.
Now, there’s one more piece to the puzzle. The No. 5 hitter behind Posey.
If Posey continues to rake like he has, opposing managers are going to find themselves doing what Jim Tracy did in the fifth inning. With a runner on second, Tracy walked Posey to get to Hunter Pence.
On Saturday, Pence delivered with a double off the right-field wall.
“With the way Buster’s hitting, that’s going to happen quite a bit,” Pence said. “You’ve got to do something about it. Since I’ve been here, Buster’s been incredible. Last year, when I got traded to the Phillies, the same thing happened to Ryan Howard. They walked him, and it’s going to come down to who’s behind him. It felt really good to partake in the fun today.”
In fact, every Giant got a chance to partake.
The Giants hitters swung the bats like they did on the recent road trip, slamming out 13 hits, including four extra-base hits (Posey’s homer, Pence’s double, and triples from Angel Pagan and Joaquin Arias).
Every Giants starter — including pitcher Matt Cain — collected a hit.
It was a good sign. Posey’s homer was his team-high fifth at home. The Giants have only hit 18 home runs at AT&T this season, and no Giants other than Posey has gone deep at home since Pablo Sandoval did it on June 29, 17 home games ago.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Here are the players who have belted the Giants’ 18 home runs at home this season.
- Buster Posey 5
- Brandon Belt 3
- Pablo Sandoval 3
- Melky Cabrera 2
- Gregor Blanco 2
- Angel Pagan 1
- Madison Bumgarner 1
- Aubrey Huff 1
Yeah, MadBum and Huff. If you got those two names, MoreSplashHits bow to your Giants fanitudeness.
But it’s why the Giants have to hit well as a team at home. It’s not going to come from one guy. It’s got to be a team effort.
Here at MoreSplashHits, we like to try to find a silver lining out of even the more troubling Giants’ losses.
This one will be a challenge.
How are we supposed to overcome …
- The Giants were shut out by a team that ranks 30th in major leagues in shutouts. It was the Rockies’ third shutout of the season.
- That for the first time all season Tim Lincecum went into a start having the lower ERA of the two starting pitchers (Colorado’s Tyler Chatwood came in with 6.61 ERA). But the time the game ended, Lincecum’s ERA was higher of the two (Chatwood left with 5.06 ERA).
- The Giants’ Nos. 1-5 hitters went 0 for 18.
- For the first time since July 13, the Giants aren’t alone in first place in the NL West. They are tied with the Dodgers at 61-52.
- The loss meant the Giants have dropped eight of their last nine games at AT&T Park.
- They got shutout by a team they piled 35 runs on last weekend.
- The Giants are on a streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings.
- The Giants haven’t had an extra base hit since Marco Scutaro’s grand slam on Wednesday.
It’s tough but here we go:
- For the fourth time in five starts, Tim Lincecum has posted a quality start. He dropped his ERA to a season-low 5.43.
Oh, man, I’ve got to do better that. The “season-low 5.43” is depressing.
- The Diamondbacks lost on Friday. They lost to the Nationals, who are riding a seven-game winning streak. The Nationals will be in San Francisco on Monday.
Yikes, that one started well enough but then …
- The Giants get Matt Cain on Saturday. The Giants celebrated Cain’s perfect game vs. the Astros on June 13. Since then, Cain has gone 2-3 with a 4.41 ERA. Since his perfecto, he’s given up earned runs totaling 3, 1, 5, 3, 1, 5, 3, 2, 5. So I guess he’s on track to give up three earned runs on Saturday? And in their last nine home games, the Giants have managed to score more than three runs just twice.
- Um, OK, how about the Giants bullpen extended its scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings with two more scoreless innings of work.
Sorry, it’s the best we can do.