Tim Lincecum’s outing started in typically rough fashion today, as the Nationals tagged him for two runs in the first inning, and worked up his pitch count to 38. He was actually pretty sharp at times in today’s start, but by the end of the fourth inning, he was in the midst of his third go-round at the Nationals’ lineup and already up near 100 pitches. So that would do it for him.
There’s no question that today was all about Melky. But had Lincecum pitched well, and the Giants won this game (and the series), it would have been a heck of a lot easier to forget about Melky, even if only for a while. Today’s game was especially painful because five of Lincecum’s six second-half starts had been good — one more start like the one he had on July 14th, and I probably would have been ready to toss aside any concerns about Lincecum. Should we be as concerned about Lincecum as before?
In the later innings of this one, it looked like the Giants might be able to put together a comeback. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth, but only managed to score one run. And in the ninth, when Pablo Sandoval appeared to have popped out to end the game, the ball dropped and Hector Sanchez came around to score. Suddenly, the Giants had Buster Posey up at the plate, representing the tying run.
And he struck out. And they lost. And that’s just how it goes sometimes.
There are a few silver linings though (not that they outweigh today’s unfortunate news). Among them:
- The Giants scored four runs on a day that Stephen Strasburg started against them.
- Brandon Crawford reached base a couple of times, and has now hit safely in eight consecutive games.
- Gregor Blanco, taking over in left field for Melky, had a multi-hit game. He had gone 21 at-bats without a hit before his single in the sixth inning.
- Pablo Sandoval went two for four with a walk.
Tomorrow’s a new day. A day off, in fact. Much needed.
I’m shocked. I’ve just been sitting here, staring at a blank computer screen for the last five minutes. Just as the Giants’ offense was starting to look really good, there’s no more Melky for the rest of the regular season. Wow.
Not even a week ago, I wrote about Melky Cabrera’s historic hit pace. Not only did he look like a lock for 200 hits, but he also appeared to have a solid shot at breaking the San Francisco Giants’ single-season hit record.
All of that is gone. Melky is gone, at least for the remainder of the regular season. Instead, we’re talking about PEDs. I hate talking about PEDs. Instead of appreciating Melky’s contributions, we’re now speculating on how much they were impacted by his use of testosterone. I don’t want to speculate on that.
The Giants are tied for first place in the NL West. With fewer than 50 games remaining, they have just lost a major piece of the puzzle, and will now have even less room for error in what will likely prove to be a tight race.
It’s all too easy to react as though the Giants are doomed; that’s not the case. For one, the Giants likely lost 2011 Melky, not 2012 Melky — which is to say, he probably wouldn’t have kept playing at this level down the stretch. Secondly, the Giants aren’t exactly replacing him with garbage. I guess the assumption is that Gregor Blanco will take over most of Melky’s playing time; that’s certainly discouraging — it’s hard to feel confident in any corner outfielder that can’t muster a .350 slugging percentage, but realistically, the difference between Blanco and Melky over what amounts to roughly 40 games is, what, half a win?
The Giants took a major hit, no doubt. But they’re still in this.
On another note, I can’t help but wonder what the future now holds for Melky. I’d have to imagine he just saw tens of millions of dollars flushed down the drain. What a mess all of this is.
Every spring, the Giants go out and sign a bunch of players to minor-league deals. It’s baseball’s bargain bin, and history would suggest the Giants are particularly adept at this dumpster diving. Most teams are happy to come across the occasional Joaquin Arias, a useful yet seriously flawed player that is capable of serving a functional purpose at the major-league level. In past years though, the Giants have struck gold: last year, it was Ryan Vogelsong, who now has a 2.50 ERA in 309.1 innings with San Francisco. In 2010, it was Santiago Casilla, who has pitched to a 160 ERA+ in 145.2 innings here. A couple years before, it was Andres Torres, who ended up playing an integral role in bringing the Giants their championship in 2010. This year’s hidden gem: Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has appeared in 91 games with the Giants, providing value in just about every possible way: at the plate, in the outfield, and on the basepaths. His season line currently stands at .238/.333/.352 (98 wRC+), and his defense has unquestionably saved many runs. Just the other day, he had another one of those otherworldly diving catches to rob Jordany Valdespin of an extra-base hit.
With Hunter Pence now donning the orange and black, the other outfielders — specifically Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco — will likely see their roles diminished. My initial guess was that Pagan would remain the regular centerfielder, given that he’s the established major-leaguer. But Pagan has been struggling for months now, and he’s really burned through his leash. Yesterday, after another couple poor at-bats from Pagan in the six-spot of the batting order, Bochy subbed in Gregor Blanco in the fifth inning. Blanco himself hasn’t exactly been hitting well since his blistering hot May, but he’s still surpassed Pagan in terms of overall hitting production, and his defense has been much better.
As Pagan continues to get mowed down at the plate, Blanco becomes more important — and not just for the stretch run. I’m talking 2013 as well. Back when Pagan was raking and Gary Brown had hit a roadblock in his development, there was discussion of Pagan’s future role with the team. He’s precisely the kind of player that could sign a relatively cheap one-year committment in the offseason, and then make way for Brown when the time came. But in the wake of his extended struggles, this would no longer appear to be a desirable route.
Enter Gregor Blanco, who could very well seize the everyday job from Pagan in center. Blanco enters his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, and given that it’s his first go-around, he’ll come pretty cheap. Gary Brown has finally hit his stride in Richmond, and he’s boosted his numbers from “disappointing” to “respectable.” But it’s still highly possible — probable, even — that the Giants won’t feel he’s developmentally ready by the start of 2013. In this case, why not rely on Blanco to start in centerfield, then eventually hand the job to Brown and put Blanco back in the roaming fourth outfielder role? Given that the Giants will already be focused on investing in the corner outfield (welcome back, Melky?) and middle infield markets this offseason, it would make a lot of sense for them to go with Blanco as the short-term solution in center — assuming, of course, that he continues to perform well over the rest of the season — and just worry about the other stuff.