<
>

These aren't the 2010 Giants

Sure, there'll be a ghost or two running around. As the San Francisco Giants take the field against the Marlins on Friday night, it would be impossible for them not to flash on the haunted memory of May 25, Collision Day, when Florida's Scott Cousins rendered moot all rosy forecasts of Buster Posey's 2011 baseball season at home plate in AT&T Park.

But in almost every respect other than the wreck, that memory now feels false. Those Giants aren't these Giants. Posey certainly isn't the only once-formidable presence that has since gone missing, or absent altogether, from San Francisco's lineup.

What you've got now is Carlos Beltran receiving a cortisone shot for his gimpy wrist, and Jeff Keppinger finding his way at second base, and people clamoring for a rookie named Brandon Belt to get another shot either in the outfield or at first base, and 36-year-old Orlando Cabrera making the throw from the hole at shortstop.

What you've got is an identity issue. Because these Giants aren't the Giants people think they're rooting for.

Those Giants, the World Series champions of 2010 about whom Showtime commissioned a reality series this summer, rode to glory on the arms of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson, all of whom still dot the San Francisco roster. It's a fine memory, but a deceptive one; looking out there now, you still see Lincecum and Cain and the rest of the S.F. rotation, and it's so familiar that it engenders pennant-winning expectation.

But does anyone even remember the key hitters down the stretch of that improbable run, apart from Posey?

Let's see: There was Aubrey Huff coming up huge, and Cody Ross went off for what felt like weeks at a time. Pat Burrell got hot. Juan Uribe was a force. And, eventually and emphatically, Edgar Renteria's bat showed up.

That Giants team collected hits in weird spurts, won in such breathtaking fashion that the operative phrase was "Torture!" and used Wilson all the time because every game felt like it would be decided by half a run or less. That team got hitters hot at exactly the right time. It was a team that won the NL West on the final day of the regular season.

This team, the one Beltran cannot lead because he can't stay on the field, is none of those things. This Giants team is averaging almost a full run less than its 2010 forebears, its 407 run total through Thursday far and away the smallest in the NL. And the loss of Posey is merely the lip of the volcano.

Uribe and Renteria? Long gone. Burrell is on the DL. Ross has struggled horribly, and Huff's travails have all but been put into the lyrics of a ballad. Freddy Sanchez, thought to be a guy who might ride to the rescue, instead plunged into season-ending surgery, prompting the Keppinger pickup from Houston.

On their recent homestand, the Giants went 3-7, batted .159 with runners in scoring position and surrendered first place in the NL West to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who came in to AT&T Park and won two of three games. San Francisco is down to relying on the consistency of Pablo Sandoval for its offense, which tells you quite a bit about what you need to know. And Sandoval has been mostly terrific; he just isn't enough.

Exhausting. But the strangest part? The one thing the 2011 Giants might ultimately share with the ghost of 2010 is the postseason.

Thank (or blame, depending upon your perspective) the schedule-maker. Beginning with Friday's contest against the Marlins, San Francisco will play 34 of its final 44 games against teams with sub-.500 records. Its biggest test, in fact, is likely to come next week in Atlanta, where the Braves currently hold a fat lead in the wild-card standings over the Giants orD-backs, whomever fails to capture the West.

The other six plus-.500 games on the Giants' schedule come against Arizona, and they'll heavily influence the division title and the playoff berth. Beyond that, it'd probably help San Francisco's cause if Beltran could do what he was acquired to do: anchor an offense that has looked adrift since the minute Posey collapsed in a heap on May 25.

Since arriving from New York, Beltran has built a reputation as a great teammate, a dedicated mentor to struggling outfielder Andres Torres and a cipher on the field. His .244 batting average belies the gap power he has displayed; on the other hand, Beltran hasn't played in nearly a week, and likely won't see the field against the Marlins after his cortisone injection on Thursday to relieve a sore right wrist.

In Beltran's absence, the cleanup spot in the batting order goes basically unfilled, which is how it has mostly felt since Posey went down. In the end, the Giants may still win the NL West. It is not at all the same as saying it feels like 2010 all over again.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. His next book, "The Voodoo Wave," will be released in August by W.W. Norton. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

MORE COMMENTARY ยป