September 2011

Giants: What a difference a year makes

PHOENIX — Giants fans may feel like they’re in free fall after watching the club deteriorate from World Series champions to National League West runner ups in less than a year.

But the stark truth is that aside from an 18-10 September 2010 and an 11-4 postseason run, this team is playing much as it did for the first five months last season.  The Giants had trouble scoring runs then when they clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season and are in the same situation now.

But there are six primary reasons why the Giants  are such a sizable distance behind the D-backs with about three weeks to go:

1) Last year, Buster Posey was brought up to the Majors in late May and went on to have a Rookie of the Year season. This season turned for the worst on May 25 when the catcher was seriously injured in a collision at home plate. The Giants have played without Posey ever since and general manager Brian Sabean hasn’t been able to replace him with at least a viable front-line catcher.

2) Last year, after Madison Bumgarner was elevated to the Majors near the end of June, the five pitchers in the rotation made all of their starts for the remainder of the regular season or until Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy decided to drop Barry Zito from the postseason roster. This year, injuries to Zito and Jonathan Sanchez have placed an undo burden on Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain even though the 34-year-old Ryan Vogelsong emerged to have such a dramatic and surprising All-Star season.

3) Last year, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were all taken off the scrap heap and contributed greatly to the cause. This year, Huff has reverted to previous form — regression to the mean it’s now called — Burrell has been injured, and Ross is only now generating some offense after opening the season on the disabled list with a calf injury. It’s no wonder that before Sabean signed them, Huff was left to languish as a free agent, Burrell was released by the Rays, and Ross was waived by the Marlins.

4) Last year, Brian Wilson was stellar when his 48 saves led the league. His strikes outs ended the NL Division Series, NL Championship Series and World Series. This year, the Beard  has been beset by injuries. It’s tough to do a Mariano Rivera year-in and year-out. Perhaps, like Rivera and the now retired Trevor Hoffman (more than 1,200 saves between them), Wilson should shave off the beard and take a more humble, low-key approach.

5)  Last year, second baseman Freddy Sanchez came off the disabled list in May, months after surgery on his left shoulder, and was a solid contributor even playing through the postseason with an injury to his other shoulder. This year, he damaged the right shoulder diving defensively and hasn’t played since June. The Giants are still trying to fill the void.

6) Last year, no one can minimize the contributions made by veterans Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria. Renteira, who was injured throughout the regular season, won Game 5 at Texas with a homer and was named World Series MVP.  Both left as free agents.This year, Sabean signed and subsequently released Miguel Tejada, and made a July trade for the over-the-hill Orlando Cabrera.

On all of this, Sabean didn’t catch lightening in a bottle twice.  Neither, unfortunately, did the Giants and their fans. That is why it’s so hard and frustrating to repeat.