1. The rotation;
2. The relief corp/closer;
3. Alfonzo, Cruz, Grissom, and/or Snow; or
4. The bench (Neifi, Feliz, Benard and Rivera previously).
Maybe that is the lot we Giants fans are prone to after all these years but let me give you the low down: the Giant's are still in first place.
Would You Believe…
What do you think we would all be thinking about the Giants playoff chances right now had you known the following after the last game of the pre-season:
I think most of us would believe that the Giants are in last place, 20+ games behind the D-Backs or De Bums de Los Angeles.
But the Giants are not, they are battling for first place supremacy with De Bums. The amazing thing is that for every player struggling, there is an equal number of players playing over their head. Neifi/Grissom/Snow is balanced by Alfonzo/Aurilia, for example. And the pitchers have done well enough when needed, except for Worrell and Schmidt, who have both pitched exceptionally well most of the season thus far, under great pressure than usual.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, have relied on extraordinary pitching to be in first place. Their team ERA is under 3.00 (for perspective, the low team ERA over the past three seasons were, 4.06 (4.10 2nd) in 2000, 3.59 (3.88 2nd) in 2001, and 3.12 (3.54 2nd) in 2002 and that 3.12 was Atlanta). Most of their pitchers are pitching way beyond what their previous performances would have indicated. I think all their relievers have ERA's under 4.00. Odds are that they will not be able to keep this up all season long.
Giants Moves Unlikely Right Now
Are the Giants perfect? No. Beyond improvement. No. The main thing is the Giants are severely limited right now in what they can do. They are over budget for their normal mid-season cheap pickup unless the ownership group agrees to it. And any trades proposed probably involve their young starters, Foppert and Williams.
Their most valuable trading pieces are Foppert and Williams but the Giants need them right now and especially in the future, when we need cheap arms to go with the players with long-term contracts that the Giants have signed over the past two couple of seasons. Teams are aware the Giants are looking for starters and relievers right now so they are probably asking for too much, plus most teams are still in contention, within 10 games of the playoffs and are unwilling to concede yet and therefore asking for a lot.
In addition, I wonder if the Giants really want to give up either one. Given the flux the rotation has been in and the lack of another pitcher looking like they'll be ready for the majors in 2004, it seems rather doubtful the Giants would want to trade either of them. Trading a potential cheap starter would require receiving a relatively young (prime age) starting pitcher that the Giants would be interested in signing to a long-term deal.
This is because, during the Sabean era, I cannot recall any long-term contract given to a free agent pitcher, starter or reliever, other than Steve Reed, who we had previously. All of the pitchers that the Giants gave long term contracts to were acquired via trade or draft and subsequently deemed worthy of a long-term contract (though some would argue about their skill in doing this, naming Estes and Livan). If Foppert or Wiliams is traded and we don't get a future starter, we have no one else who look ready in the farm system and would be at risk of seeing Jensen or Brower as the fifth starter in 2004. Do you really want to see that?
For now I'm keeping my fingers crossed since the Giants appear to be doing it with mirrors. Alou has outdone Baker, in my opinion, given the problems he has faced so far and yet here we are, in first place. It has been a good ride so far and I'm grateful for the position the Giants are in. I think its going to be a close race all year because, while the Dodgers are pitching in another solar system, that doesn't mean that they won't continue to do it all year, even though the odds are against it. Plus Shawn Green may all of a sudden start hitting again, like last year, making up for any drop-off in pitching.
In addition, the D-Backs are still within striking distance, especially with their extended win streak since the trade for Hilldebrand, and Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling will be coming off the DL soon. The D-Backs have been able to do it the last couple of years with their two headed monster of Johnson and Schilling and not much else in the rotation. But this year Dessens appears to be the real deal and has been a key performer while the two of them have been injured. Also, they now have a legitimate third baseman (with apologies to Matty), so their offense may perk up now.
Trading Deadline Scenario
The Giants, as long as Sabean has been GM, have usually done something to bolster the team when they need a player to make the playoffs. I think the ownership group will acquiesce to picking up a player or two for $1-2M for the rest of the season if Sabean wants to pull the trigger. This in spite of all the talk about being over budget.
However, I think that Sabean will not be making any moves as long as the Giants stay within 5 games of the playoffs via the wildcard, unless it is near the trading deadline and he can improve a position cheaply (in terms of salary and prospects). By then, most teams by then will better know their chances for the players. Either they will be battling for something and therefore unwilling to give up much or resigned to not making the playoffs and therefore be willing to move players and their salary, perhaps even picking up some themselves, instead of demanding all of our top prospects in trade.
End of Season Scenario
Despite all the problems the Giants have, I think that they will stay in contention to the end, barring any Barry Bonds injury requiring the DL. I have drunk the Kool-Aid and believe in Alou's and Sabean's magic. First it was Snow miraculously driving in runs and Santiago outhomering Bonds, then it was Neifi and Grissom miraculously hitting, and now it is Feliz miraculously hitting. Plus you got to admit, our young pitching has done pretty well for little to no major league experience, though their youthful inconsistency is aggravating. I just have the feeling that the Giants will somehow overcome whatever adversities they might run into and keep the winning vibe going all season long.
I am appreciative for this feeling because I have always tried to be a realist on the Giants chances, even when I first starting following them in 1971. Going through the 70's and 80's miseries, my fellow East Bay outcasts who dared to follow the Giants in A's country would start each season believing that the Giants were going to be in the hunt. And I would tell them matter of factly that the Giants were bottom dwellers that year destined more to battle to avoid last place.
Well, I'm happy to report that I do believe the Giants should continue to battle for the playoffs this year, if not win the division, without making a move and I believe that our young pitching corp can be a strength during the playoffs because of their unusual maturity at their young age. As Felipe Alou might say, "it's going to be beautiful."
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He has been a Giants fanatic since 1971 when he got his first glove from his dad (a catchers mitt that his dad immediately had to return for an outfielders mitt). He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. He is GoGiants on the Giants discussion board. His e-mail is GoGiants_25@yahoo.com if you would like to reach him.
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