San Francisco Giants' Biggest Question Marks Heading Forward

By Nick Trenchard

The San Francisco Giants have certainly hit their stride in the last few weeks leading up to the 2012 MLB playoffs.  They currently sit comfortably atop the NL-West standings with a 7.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 12-6 in the last 15 games and only dropping one series during that span.  However, the Giants might have to retool their roster in wake of some pivotal late-season slumps as they continue their quest for a second World Series title in three years.

When thinking about the Giants during their march to the 2010 World Series, the team was a defensive juggernaut.  Touting veterans like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and some young pitching, the only major concern was that of the warped arm of Barry Zito.  But recently, the Giants have concerned themselves with two rotation staples: Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner.

Recently, the Giants don’t know what to expect out of their two middle-of-the-rotation guys on a day-to-day basis.  Vogelsong, the former NL ERA leader, has been out of whack and can’t seem to right the ship.  Over the last four weeks, the 35-year-old right-hander has earned a gaudy 9.57 ERA, allowing 43 hits, 28, runs and six homers in 26.1 innings.  In his last outing, he allowed six earned runs and five hits in a 10-2 loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.  His fall from a NL-best 2.27 ERA in his first 21 outings to a now 3.65 ERA has plenty of people talking, including Vogelsong himself.

“I feel healthy; I feel strong; my stuff’s there.  I’m just not getting results,” said Vogelsong.  “That’s why this is getting perplexing, because my stuff’s there.  This doesn’t make much sense to me right now.”

Meanwhile, Bumgarner hasn’t done much better.  He’s allotted 31 hits and 18 runs on 21 innings pitched, which works itself out to a miserable 7.29 ERA.  He hasn’t recorded a win in his last four outings, giving up more than four runs in each of those past four starts.  Not numbers you typically hear from one of your top three pitchers.

Some onlookers might blame his statistical tail spin on fatigue.  Others might blame it on some unlucky bounces (namely, the two ground balls that skipped off third base in his most recent outing).  But, Bumgarner didn’t blame anyone else but himself.

“The ball (has been) up a lot,” Bumgarner said.  “That didn’t work out too good.  I didn’t have very good command of really any pitch away.  I pitch in a lot, but you got to be able to throw away, too, and I wasn’t able to do that.  It seemed like they were just sitting on one spot.”

The 23-year-old southpaw will hope to rebound against the Colorado Rockies on Monday night, marking a Sept. 12 rematch against opposing pitcher Jhoulys Chacin.

One of the biggest and most perplexing holes in the Giants offensive lineup has been that of Pablo Sandoval.  His offensive woes continue to be a factor in legitimizing his case for a spot on the postseason lineup.  Especially after weighing the ability of utility man Joaquin Arias and his offensive surge this season.

But let’s get back to brass tax.  In the past two months, the congenially named “Big Panda” has garnered a .211/.265/.263 in August and .241/.293/.278 in September.  Manager Bruce Bochy sidelined the 26-year-old switch hitter on Sept. 12 in order for him to regain his focus and recharge his batteries.  To put it simply, it didn’t work.

“He’s (still) out of balance and over-swinging and a bit too aggressive at times,” hitting coach Hensley Meulens said.  “You try to keep him under control up there (at the plate).  We’ll tweak a couple of things in his approach.”

Muelens and Bochy sat down with Sandoval to watch tape of his swing this past week.  When asked about the film meeting, Bochy said the problem was mostly in his head.

“If you watch him take batting practice, it’s obvious (the strengh) is there,” Bochy said.  “He just gets a little big with his swing sometimes and you’ve got to calm him down.  He’s got to shorten everything up.”

His hitting has even taken its toll on the defensive side of the ball.  In last Monday game against the Rockies, he committed a two-run error which became the deciding factor in the 6-5 loss.  It was the 13th of the year, which ties his career high, dropping his fielding percentage to a career-low .947.  Luckily, the issue still seems to be in his head, and not a factor of lingering injuries.

The Giants have turned skeptics into believers over the course of the second-half of the season.  They have largely extended their division lead over their L.A. rivals, while gaining some much-needed momentum in the most crucial part of the season.  But now, the Giants face some questions regarding their post-season roster, and making legitimate cases for their struggling mainstays: Vogelsong, Bumgarner and Sandoval.  If any one of them continues to falter in the last stretch of the season, the Giants might be in for a rude awakening and a quick post-season exit.

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