Some teams go into the MLB All-Star Break in need of a few days off to get themselves healthy and ready for the final 75 or so games of the season. For other teams, they would rather just keep playing through the break because they’ve been going so well as of late and don’t want to lose precious momentum. The San Francisco Giants definitely fall into the latter category.
The Giants continued their post-All-Star Game slide last night with a 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. With last night’s loss, San Francisco has now lost 10 of its last 12 games since the All-Star break. The Giants are really struggling, though: seven of those ten losses came to the Yankees, Padres, and Reds, three teams who are currently not in the playoffs of their respective leagues. For a team that held the best record in baseball heading into the break, the fast and precipitous decline of the Giants has been nothing short of shocking. But how can it be explained and is the team is serious trouble after its recent heel turn?
As for the first question, injuries have worked in the Giants’ favor until quite recently, when the team began experiencing a rash of injuries to key players. The team got to where it is because most of its players were healthy for basically all of the season. That has changed recently, though, with injuries to Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy, and Joe Panik. The good news for the Giants is that Panik returned last night after suffering a concussion and missing exactly one month of baseball. Duffy is slated to start his rehab assignment this weekend and his return from his Achilles injury is not too far off, either. Pence should be able to return from a hamstring injury within the next week. Some would say that getting these three players back is just as good as making a trade; some would even say that their return is better than a trade because the Giants don’t have to give up anything to get them back.
And the thing is, it’s not like the Giants aren’t making moves outside of the organization to improve their roster.
Last night, it was announced that the Twins had traded all-star shortstop and .300 hitter Eduardo Nunez to San Francisco. Twins reporter Daniel Morse had the details first:
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) July 29, 2016
Mejia is one of the Giants’ best prospects and a four-pitch pitcher who has struggled at AAA Sacramento this season. It’s safe to say that the Giants paid the price to get Nunez in giving up Mejia. However, Nunez is a proven hitter who can play shortstop and third base, the latter of which is a true position of need for the Giants. The acquisition of Nunez, along with the returns of Pence, Duffy, and Panik should help a Giants lineup that has scored just 3.3 runs per game since returning from the All-Star break.
But until all of these things happen, the team that once held the best record in baseball is in serious trouble and must do everything in its power to stay above water in the NL West.
For example, look at the team’s struggling lineup. While it’s one of the more well-rounded lineups in baseball, virtually every player in it has struggled since the All-Star break. Ironically, the Giants’ two best hitters since the break have been Conor Gillaspie and Mac Williamson, two players who will receive limited playing time with the added presence of Nunez and the return of the aforementioned players from the disabled list. Manager Bruce Bochy was so desperate for offense that he slotted Williamson, who has hit six career home runs in 129 at-bats, into the three-hole for two games against the hapless Reds earlier this week.
And then there’s the matter of Buster Posey. Posey, a four-time all-star and three-time world champion, would be the last person to be a question mark in the Giants’ lineup. I mean, he’s done all these great things, he’s only 29, and he’s even tried to deliver babies because he wears gloves and delivers in the clutch. Well, maybe that didn’t go so well, but Posey is one of the best hitters in the game. And he isn’t a question mark at all; in fact, he’s been one of the few constants in a Giants lineup that has had many moving parts as of late. The only question for Bochy is what to do if and when Posey needs a day off; Bochy has recently combatted this issue by putting him at first base every once in a while. That move, though, takes Brandon Belt, another very solid hitter, out of the lineup. It’s basically pick-your-poison for San Francisco, but it isn’t one of their more pressing issues right now.
What is a pressing issue for the Giants, and one they can do nothing about, is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even with Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, indefinitely out of commission with back problems, the Dodgers find themselves just two games back of San Francisco. The only reason the Dodgers are in this position in the first place is because of the Giants’ losing ways, but even with San Fran having dominated the division race all season long, the Dodgers are a very dangerous team with a deep lineup and solid, albeit fractured, starting pitching. The NL West race is far from over, and the Giants have themselves to blame for this. They’re clearly the better team and yet they now have a fight on their hands just to win their own division.
This weekend presents a big series for the Giants as they play the NL East-leading Washington Nationals. The Nats took the first game of the series last night and the two teams will play three more games this weekend. If the Giants can use their new acquisitions (both inside and outside of the organization) to their advantage, they could be able to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in the second half of July. After all, the team has one of the best starting rotations in baseball and is one or two injury returns away from having one of the best lineups in the game, too. These returns and acquisitions should go a long way in helping the Giants win the NL West.
But so will the next couple of weeks in deciding how serious the division race will get.