Top-5 San Francisco Giants September Storylines
What Should the San Francisco Giants Focus On in September?
It's safe to say that no one was expecting the San Francisco Giants to be in this position as September approached. After getting off to a hot start over the season's first two months, the 2012 World Series champions now sit in last place in the NL West, 19 games out of the division lead. Even though they've had to deal with injuries to Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Santiago Casilla, it's still rather inexcusable that this group of players is having trouble moving past the San Diego Padres to stay out of the division cellar.
Though the starting pitching has been inconsistent all season, the failure of this team parallels the downfall of Buster Posey and Marco Scutaro. Posey, who looked to be returning to MVP form at the All-Star break after getting off to a mediocre start, has tanked in the second half. He's hitting just .242 with four doubles and a home run since the break, perhaps showing signs of fatigue after the team relied so heavily on him in the first half. More recently, the reigning MVP has had a solid chunk of his playing time taken by 23-year-old backup Hector Sanchez.
Scutaro has never really recovered from the hand injury he sustained in Pittsburgh on June 11. He put off surgery to try to help the Giants salvage their season, which meant that his finger would be permanently bent. The 37-year-old came into that game with a .332 average, but since then has dropped to a .297 mark, which includes a .228 average during August. With Scutaro's advanced age, along with his lack of any significant power, speed or defensive skill, it's reasonable to wonder whether the Giants will be able to trust him with a full-time starting role next season.
Though the Giants are so far out of contention, it should be interesting to watch them in September, if only just to see what the future holds as young players come up. Here are the five biggest Giants storylines to pay attention to in September.
5. How Will Marco Scutaro Fare?
Scutaro has seriously struggled since his finger injury back on June 11. Though the Giants owe him $6.67 million every year until 2015, it's not a stretch to think that they could go out and find him a competitor for the second-base job next year if he doesn't prove himself to be competent at the plate over the season's final month. Scutaro has spent almost his entire career as a utilityman who's been just OK at the plate, and if he shows any signs of a return to that form, the Giants likely will be looking for some insurance for him.
4. Will Anyone Take Hold of the Left Field Job?
Depending on the call-ups they make once rosters expand, the Giants could have as many as six players splitting time in left field during September. The most intriguing players seem to be Francisco Peguero, who has consistently hit well in the minors, but has struggled in limited big-league opportunities, and Roger Kieschnick, who got off to a good start after being called up, but has been awful at the plate over the past few weeks and seen his average drop to .222. Brett Pill and Gregor Blanco will likely be sprinkled into the mix as well, and Juan Perez and Kensuke Tanaka, who contributed earlier in the year, could rejoin the roster.
The Giants likely will be hoping for a few of these players to put up good numbers and form a right-handed/left-handed-hitting platoon for 2014. Otherwise, they may be forced to go out and sign or trade for a veteran outfielder, because the offense they have gotten from the position this year simply is not good enough for a contending team.
3. Can Angel Pagan Regain His Pre-Injury Form?
Angel Pagan was one of the most important components of last year's World Series team. This year, however, he got off to a slow start, hitting just .262 with six steals, and having some serious struggles on defense. He injured his knee in late May, which was a huge part in the Giants falling out of contention. He has now returned, and it will be important to see if he can settle back into a groove, both offensively and defensively.
2. How Will the Bullpen be Utilized?
It's pretty clear at this point that the Giants do not have their best seven relievers in their big-league bullpen. Pitchers such as Barry Zito, Guillermo Moscoso and Mike Kickham have been utilized in recent weeks to soak up innings, but each of them has been consistently knocked around and has a 4.00-plus ERA to show for it.
Once the minor league seasons end, the Giants will be able to recall Jake Dunning, who was one of the team's best relievers this year, putting up a 2.84 ERA and a .209 batters average against before being rather peculiarly sent down at the end of July. In addition, they are expected to add George Kontos and Heath Hembree, who have different things to prove over the season's final month. Kontos needs to show the fantastic form he displayed last year, while Hembree, once an extremely highly-regarded prospect, needs to show he has what it takes to succeed in the bigs. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Bochy distributes the bullpen innings in September.
1. Can the Offense Recover?
There's no other way to say it; the Giants' offense has been awful since the All-Star break. They're hitting .244 in that span, with a .309 OBP and a league-worst 16 home runs. The team has really been hurt by prolonged periods of struggle from Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Marco Scutaro, but the biggest problems have been the complete lack of offense from the left and center field positions. The Giants have used 10 different left/center field combinations since the All-Star break, and no player in either of those spots has been able to consistently deliver. The team also has been hurt by Hunter Pence's huge drop-off in power during the second half.
It's unbelievably important that this group turns it around during September. If they don't show that they can hit, general manager Brian Sabean will need to explore some serious upgrades for next season.