It has been a disastrous year for the San Francisco Giants. After winning their first World Series since trekking west in the 1950s, the Giants started off the 2011 campaign the way they ended 2010; by outpitching everyone and winning seemingly every game 1-0 or 2-1.
On July 28th, the Giants, behind another strong performance by Timmy! Lincecum, beat the Phillies in the finale of a three game set in Philadelphia and moved four games up on the surprising Diamondbacks for the NL West lead. At that time, the Giants were just four-and-a-half back of the Phillies for the best record in the NL. Things appeared to be going as planned.
The next day, the Giants acquired Carlos Beltran from the Mets for top prospect pitcher Zack Wheeler. The price was a steep one to pay for San Fran, but it was a deal they had to make. They knew they would have a tough time repeating as World Champs with a lineup that included OBP sinkholes like Aubrey Huff, Miguel Tejada and Eli Whiteside.
Unfortunately things have not worked out for everyone’s favourite band of misfits; from July 28th to September 1st, the Giants went 11-21 and lost ten total games to Arizona, falling six games behind them in the standings. They scored just over two-and-a-half runs per game in that stretch and designated both Tejada and Aaron Rowand for assignment. Not even a run of great play in September has managed to get them back in the race and last night’s 2-1 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers all but sealed their fate.
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy is often lauded as one of the best managers in baseball, but the truth is, he seems to make more questionable calls than most of his contemporaries. Case in point: his use of rookie Brandon Belt. Despite the terrible play of Aubrey Huff for most of the season, Belt has found himself on the starting lineup card only 43 times in 2011. He has struggled, but his 181 plate appearances makes for far too small of a sample size to make any definite conclusions about his play. Even with his struggles, his OPS has been better than Huff’s, despite the fact that Huff has had consistent at-bats all year long.
Last night, once again, Bochy failed to call upon Belt when his services were seemingly needed most. In the top of the ninth with one on and nobody out, down by a run against right-hander Javy Guerra, Bochy trotted out rookie Brett Pill (the newest player used to take at-bats away from Belt) despite the fact that the left-handed-hitting Belt was still on the bench. Pill promptly flew out to rightfield.
But all was not lost! Orlando Cabrera was on deck; yet another opportunity to use Belt to try and tie the game. Instead, Bochy went with Huff who took a two-one fastball down and in and grounded into a game-ending 3-6-3 double play.
I’m in no way trying to suggest that Bochy’s use of Belt is the reason the Giants’ season has gone so terribly (although it certainly hasn’t helped). There’s also his over-reliance on Tejada at short, his failure to use relief ace Sergio Romo in the right places, and GM Brian Sabean’s obsession with over-the-hill veterans such as Tejada, Huff, Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, and Mark DeRosa (who hit cleanup last night, by the way).
The Giants have wasted a year of the best pitching staff in baseball in the heart of its prime because of their flat-out inability to develop or acquire any kind of offensive fire-power. Even when they do happen to luck into developing a solid offensive weapon, they fail to use those weapons properly. Mismanagement has led to the Giants forgettable 2011 campaign and one can only hope they figure out what they have in young Belt before it contributes to another lost season.