The baseball world in general and the National League playoff race in particular was rocked yesterday by the news San Francisco Giants’ left fielder Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for using a banned performance-enhancing drug. With Frisco at 64-54, one game back of Los Angeles in the NL West and a ½ game back of Pittsburgh & St. Louis for the last wild-card spot, the suspension will cover the balance of the season and at least through the first playoff round if San Fran was to get there. But do they have the bats to get to October with the All-Star Game MVP now sidelined? TheSportsNotebook takes a look at the rest of the San Francisco Giants’ offense…
We’ll break the Giants’ lineup down into three component parts—the core players that must produce, the bottom-feeders of whom it would be a miracle to get anything from, and the middle class, of whom San Fran’s chances likely depend.
As good a year as Cabrera was having—and he was still swinging a hot bat coming into yesterday—the Giants actually have good upper-tier talent in their lineup. Buster Posey is having a great comeback year, with a .407/.544 stat line for his on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and Posey’s been red-hot of late, having already hit six home runs in August. Even allowing for his inevitable cooling-off, the Giants can realistically count on Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence to pick up the slack. Both are in slumps right now, particularly Pence, who’s hitting just a buck-72 since coming over from Philadelphia at the trade deadline. But with 6 ½ weeks left in the regular season, there’s plenty of time for each player to have a scorching hot streak of their own.
When you consider the National League has no DH, when you further consider that the San Fran offense only needs to be middle-of-the-pack to give their pitching a chance to compete, having three players capable of playing at All-Star levels is still a good core to work with.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are shortstop Brandon Crawford and utility man Ryan Theriot. Crawford has never been a good hitter, and Theriot’s days as a productive offensive player on the Cubs’ good teams in 2007-08 are well behind him. He’s hitting .264, but a lack of power and complete inability to draw walks give him an inept .312/.314 stat line. The good news he’s not an everyday player and it’s unlikely he’d be in the lineup for a truly big game.
Now we came to the four players whose fate likely decide that of this offense, and that’s Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco, the latter being the one who takes Cabrera’s job. There isn’t any power in this group, but there’s potential to get on base consistently and ensure the Posey/Sandoval/Pence trio has a chance to do damage.
Pagan’s on-base percentage is a pedestrian .328, but he’s hot in August at .385 and all it takes is six good weeks operating around the .350 level. Scutaro wasn’t playing well in Colorado, but when he was traded to the Bay Area at the trade deadline he picked up the pace and has a .361 OBP in 75 at-bats. The batting average is .320 and that will cool down, but when it does, Scutaro has shown good patience at the plate over the years and may be able to compensate with increased walk totals. Belt, the highly regarded first base prospect seems to get getting his sea legs in his second year at the major league level. He’s got a .362 OBP for the year, including a sizzling .500 number in August and is the one player in this foursome who could surprise with a power surge. Blanco may be only batting .236, but his patience drives the OBP up to .331, into the realm of respectability. This is another case where if he can lift his game by twenty points or so in the OPB category for just six-plus weeks, it gives San Francisco what they need.
No one would suggest the loss of Cabrera isn’t substantial, but if we refocus the question to whether San Francisco can win with what’s left, I believe the answer is yes. I don’t say it as confidently as I would have 24 hours ago, and if they do win the NL West, the suspension certainly hurts their chances against a Washington or Cincinnati in the Division Series. But if the Giants get the starting pitching they are accustomed to, there’ s enough offense here to edge out the Dodgers and win the West. So in that light, perhaps the more alarming news for Frisco yesterday was that Tim Lincecum again got rocked, getting chased in a start against Washington. The need for all hands to be on deck in the Bay Area have to start with the two-time Cy Young Award winner and extend to the role players in the offense.