COMMENTARY | There's no way to sugarcoat it: The San Francisco Giants had a terrible first half of the season. They've looked nothing like defending world champions; instead, they've looked like a team destined to lose 90-plus games.
The Giants did take a series from the Padres before the break, giving some hope that they might be able to get their collective acts together and turn their season around. They'll need a lot of things to break their way, but it's certainly possible.
With that in mind, and with the second half of the season fast approaching, here's a look at five key questions facing the Giants from now until September:
Are they buyers or sellers?
The Giants have usually been active at the trade deadline, adding key pieces like Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran in recent years to try and increase their playoff chances.
This year, they're faced with a different scenario: Do they try to add players and take a run at a still winnable division, or do they throw the towel in on 2013 and listen to offers for players like Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez? There's no easy answer, since the front office is likely loath to give up when the team is still within striking distance of the division leader while still realizing this season may just not be their year. If the Giants are within five games by the end of July, they'll probably look to buy. Anything more than that and they may be forced to sell.
What's wrong with Matt Cain?
Cain has struggled this year, at times looking flat-out awful. His last outing before the All-Star break was the worst of his career, lasting only two-thirds of an inning, and he gave up eight earned runs in the start before that one. The Giants insist Cain is healthy, but there's no denying something is wrong with him.
Whether it's an injury that hasn't been discovered yet, or whether Cain is tipping his pitches, the Giants have to hope Cain fixes his issues in the second half. They owe Cain $80 million over the next four seasons and are relying on him to be an anchor in the pitching staff. If Cain continues to self-destruct, don't be surprised if the Giants shut him down for a period of time to try and determine exactly what's going on.
Will Pablo Sandoval shape up?
The reigning World Series MVP has been a huge disappointment in 2013, battling both injuries and his weight en route to what's looking like a repeat of his nightmare 2010 season. The Giants have been trying for years to get Sandoval to take his fitness seriously, and it's possible the team is at the end of its rope with the third baseman.
If the team has any hope of getting back into the race, Sandoval needs to be the force he's capable of being in the middle of the order. But if his batting average continues to drop while his weight seems to increase, don't be surprised if the Giants explore trading Sandoval in the offseason. He's due for a new contract after 2014, and the Giants won't commit themselves long-term to a player who can't (or won't) stay committed to being in the best playing shape. The second half of '13 will go a long way in determining Sandoval's future with the Giants.
How will Ryan Vogelsong perform?
The Giants hold a $6.5 million option on Vogelsong for '14, which is a very reasonable price for a starter of his caliber. But Vogelsong is coming back from a broken finger, and his stats prior to the injury weren't very pretty. He showed signs of rounding into form the night he broke his finger, so there's hope that he may have figured out whatever issues were plaguing him.
The Giants will need to see results, though, before deciding on whether or not to pick up his option. If he's back to his All-Star form, that's one less rotation question the Giants will have to answer this coming offseason. If he continues to struggle, the team might be better served spending that $6.5 million elsewhere.
Are they really this bad?
If it weren't for the patch on their sleeves, people would have a hard time believing these Giants are the defending World Series champions. They've looked nothing like contenders lately and have earned every bit of their 43-51 record. They have 68 games left; for the Giants to win 88 games this season (and with the way the division has looked, that might be enough to win it), they'll have to go 45-23 in the second half. Are they capable of putting together that kind of run? Or will they sink even further and finish with the team's first losing record since 2008?
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay-Area based writer. His work has appeared on numerous sports websites, including Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew. Follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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