The answer to the first question is not a short one, as many factors have contributed to the Giants' slide down the standings. The 13-run scoring differential indicates the team is not getting blown out by any means, and in fact, has been close to winning many of the games that have ended up in the loss column. That's not to make excuses, as eight of the nine losses have come against last place teams (Washington and Pittsburgh). A simply inexcusable stretch for a team with playoff hopes.
The bullpen has been a major factor in the losing streak. Armando Benitez has blown his last three save opportunities after converting his previous seven chances. Those three outings have raised his ERA from 1.75 all the way up to 2.86. While a change in the closer's role has been discussed, no other options stand out. The Giants view Brian Wilson as their closer of the future, but he currently can't be counted on, evident by Monday's outing when he gave up three runs while getting just one out. His ERA is up to 6.41 on the year.
Barry Bonds' bat has been as silent as ever. In July, he has hit a paltry .222 and has exactly one multi-hit game for the entire month. His .425 OBP for the month is still rather valuable, but that .413 slugging percentage certainly isn't. Bonds needs to at least resemble the hitter he once was if the Giants plan on contending.
Defense has been another problem area for San Francisco. Since leading the league in fielding on June 17, the Giants have committed 27 errors over their last 28 games.
The real question involving the Giants' future is whether they even have one at all. The trade deadline came and went, and the Giants neither got younger nor any immediate help. It's hard to figure this one out, as there's no problem with keeping Jason Schmidt, but not improving the bullpen either could easily result in a season without the playoffs as well as a poor future.
If the Pirates really were asking for both Travis Ishikawa and Single-A outfielder Ben Copeland for either Salomon Torres or Roberto Hernandez, then Brian Sabean can't be faulted there. The Shairon Martis for 39-year-old Mike Stanton swap can be, however. While Martis isn't considered an elite prospect, he certainly possesses some upside. Stanton, on the other hand, is unlikely to be a difference maker. The move gave them three lefthanders in the pen, so the domino effect meant a Jonathan Sanchez demotion.
Sanchez had a 1.37 ERA in 22 games and held opponents to a .200 average, so it seems their bullpen got worse in the process. While this also means Sanchez is returning to his preferred role as a starter, the question remains if he can build enough arm strength to help out this year. Sanchez would be more valuable in the rotation opposed to the pen, but if the organization viewed him as a starter all along, then why convert him into a relief role in May? If he had remained a starter in the minors, he would be a perfect candidate to replace the struggling Jamey Wright as the Giants' No. 5 starter. As is, he might not be ready to contribute until it's too late. I guess we should just be happy Sabean didn't give him away for an aging reliever.
"His name has been mentioned as much as any of our young pitching (by opposing GMs)," Sabean said. "He's obviously a commodity to us and most of the outside world, so we've got to be careful with him."
With this realistically being the last year of playoff contention for quite some time, the Giants better stop this losing streak soon. Bonds is deteriorating, and even if he did return on an incentive-laden deal, the last time the Giants were a contender without a healthy Bonds was 1989. Most of the rest of the roster will be eligible for free agency, with only two healthy everyday players signed through 2007 (Randy Winn and Omar Vizquel).
Jason Schmidt is still a Giant. Barry Bonds has something to prove. Ray Durham is playing the best baseball of his life. Moises Alou is not on the disabled list. With no future, a sense of urgency is needed. The time is now Giants.
Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any complaints, questions or preferably, compliments.
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