Right time for a Giant checkup


It seems like a good time to check in with the defending champs. Other than our devotion to Tim Lincecum and our Opening Day ode to Brandon Belt and a mention or two about an infield that includes Miguel Tejada playing third and Mike Fontenot playing shortstop, we haven’t written much about the San Francisco Giants.

So, to please our West Coast readers, I put the remote on the Giants game and settled in with a glass of Napa Valley wine and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. Here are some random observations ...

1. The Giants kind of snuck up on us, didn’t they? They were 13-15 on May 2, five games out of first place, and everybody was yapping up the Colorado Rockies or Cleveland Indians. Since then, the Giants have gone 14-5 while the Rockies have gone 7-14.

2. Matt Cain didn’t have his best stuff Tuesday night. In the third inning, he just couldn’t put batters away. After giving up a leadoff single to Omar Infante, he got two outs and had an 0-2 count on Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez fouled off two fastballs but eventually drew a walk on a 3-2 curveball that was outside. He had two strikes on Logan Morrison, but the 2-2 fastball was just high (or not) and a 3-2 fastball was in off the plate. With the bases loaded against Gaby Sanchez, he was clearly laboring, taking off his hat a couple times, rubbing up the baseball. Cain got to a 2-2 count, but Sanchez fouled off a high fastball and then drilled a fastball that caught too much of the plate in front of the Pop-Secret sign in right-center for a bases-clearing double.

3. When you hear about baseball’s attendance "problems," strange that nobody mentions the Giants. They’ve sold out every home game this season and I wish I’d been at every one of them. Is there a more perfect place to watch a ballgame?

4. With offensive levels back to what we saw in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Giants remind me of the best teams of that era, using a mix-and-match lineup approach with platoons over multiple positions. The Pirates won three straight NL East titles doing this: Sid Bream and Gary Redus and then Orlando Merced and Redus platooned at first base; Jeff King and Wally Backman platooned one year at third base; King moved between first, second and third another year; Mike LaValliere and Don Slaught were an effective platoon at catcher. The early '90s Braves had the great pitching, but also had a Bream/Brian Hunter platoon at first, Deion Sanders sharing time as the fourth outfielder behind Ron Gant, David Justice and Otis Nixon, Rafael Belliard and Jeff Blauser sharing time at shortstop, and Jeff Treadway sharing time at second with Mark Lemke.

Anyway, most teams don’t do much of this anymore, because they can’t -- not when you carry 12 or 13 pitchers. Once you cover your backup catcher and backup infielder, there isn’t much room left on the bench. Bruce Bochy at least recognizes this isn’t a team where you can play the same eight guys every night.

That said ... it isn’t really working. The Giants entered the night 14th in the NL in runs scored per game, incrementally ahead of the Padres and Dodgers. What they lack, of course, is a big bopper: The Pirates had a bunch of platoons, but they also had Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla. The Braves had Gant, Justice and Terry Pendleton. Last year’s Giants had Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell all slugging over .500, plus Andres Torres slugging .479 and Juan Uribe hitting 24 home runs. The offense still wasn’t that great -- ninth in the NL in runs -- but it was much better than what we’re seeing this year.

5. As bad as the offense is, Ricky Nolasco was really good. His slider and slow curve kept the Giants off-balance and he didn’t go to a three-ball count until the seventh inning. But the Giants also helped him out by swinging early in the count. In the second inning, for example, Nolasco threw a first-pitch ball to all four hitters, but all four swung at the next pitch.

6. Tejada. What can I say that everybody else hasn’t already said? With Pablo Sandoval back in maybe two weeks, I’m guessing Tejada’s Giants career will end in two weeks.

7. Is it possible to have too many good relievers? Maybe so. The Giants have seven good ones (not including Santiago Casilla, currently on the DL), but Bochy can’t find enough spots to use them all. Sergio Romo is one of the best middle relievers in the game, but has pitched only 12 2/3 innings all season, leading him to complain the other day about not being used enough. I don’t blame him; he has a 20/1 SO/BB ratio and he’s pitched 3 2/3 innings in May. With offense on the decline, starters will be going deeper into games. Seven relievers is a luxury. The first team to figure this out -- and add an extra bench player -- will gain a small advantage.

8. Is Posey having a disappointing sophomore season? I don’t think so. Remember that he had one monster month last season -- he hit .417 in July. His power is down a bit, but he’s walking more. And with Huff not hitting, he’s not going to be seeing too many good pitches to hit. He’s seeing fewer first-pitch strikes than last season -- a pitch he obliterated, hitting .422 with four home runs in 45 at-bats.

9. Brian Wilson overkill?

10. Belt is hitting .351/.484/.553 at Triple-A. Just sayin’.

11. Barry Zito threw a simulated game Tuesday afternoon as he rehabs from a foot sprain. With Ryan Vogelsong pitching well as a starter, the Giants will have an extra arm for the rotation. Hmm.

12. Yes, I nearly made it through this post without mentioning Jose Reyes. Almost.

(For more on the Giants, check out out SweetSpot blog, Bay City Ball.)