Giants lineup as vexing as a Sudoku puzzle

Steve Henson
Yahoo! Sports
Giants lineup as vexing as a Sudoku puzzle
Freddy Sanchez and the Giants' offense often find ways to get the job done

PHILADELPHIA – One win from their fourth World Series since moving to San Francisco 52 years ago, the Giants went with a lineup of team and city icons for pregame positive vibes before Game 5. Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda threw out ceremonial first pitches. Graying Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead sung the national anthem. Journey singer Steve Perry still hasn't stopped believing. All that was missing was Wavy Gravy dragging the infield between innings.

None of it mattered. The Philadelphia Phillies won, and if the Giants are to advance, they'll have to do so in a city where cultural icons tend toward Rocky Balboa and Cheez Whiz. Of course, far more important from a cause-and-effect standpoint is the hitting lineup, which for Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been as free-flowing as a Jerry Garcia guitar solo, but not nearly as proficient.

Only No. 2 hitter Freddy Sanchez(notes) has batted in the same spot the entire nine-game postseason. The Giants don't have a true leadoff threat, or a legitimate No. 3 masher, or a typical power hitter in the cleanup spot. Truth be told, they have a slew of guys who ought to be batting seventh or eighth for a team on the verge of reaching the World Series.

"If you look at their tools, they may not grade out all that well," Bochy said. "But they find a way to win."

The Giants are batting .218 in the playoffs. Their on-base percentage is a parched .285, their slugging percentage barely a tick over .300. They lived on power all season but have hit only five home runs in the postseason, including four by Cody Ross(notes), who was batting No. 8 until he bashed his way to the No. 6 hole. They would seem to have little chance at generating much offense against Roy Oswalt(notes) in Game 6, or Cole Hamels(notes) for a second time if a Game 7 is necessary.

Salvation has come from the Giants' pitchers, who have held opponents to a .197 average. Oh, and the fact that the normally potent Phillies are hitting slightly worse than the Giants.

Yet Phillies manager Charlie Manuel holds a reasonable expectation that his lineup will produce in Game 6 against Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez(notes), who can be wild but does his best pitching with runners on base. According to the stat analysts at Inside Edge, opposing batters are 0-for-27 against him with runners on in his last four starts, and 2-for-62 with runners on since Aug. 30.

So Manuel needs production in the clutch. The only substantive change he's made is flipping the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, moving Chase Utley(notes) up and Placido Polanco(notes) down. Why Jayson Werth(notes), whose impressive numbers are expected to land him a free-agent deal worth more than $100 million, isn't considered a better No. 3 candidate than the slap-hitting Polanco is a legitimate question. But overall, the lineup stability is a plus and the mark of an experienced team.

"I like the way Utley looks in the 2-hole," Manuel said. "I think we'll stick with it."

Meanwhile, Bochy's lineup is as vexing of a 1-9 quandary as an expert-level Sudoku puzzle. Especially considering the Phillies starter will be Oswalt, who beat the Giants with a dominant performance in Game 2, then lost Game 4 in a ninth-inning relief appearance.

Start with the leadoff spot. Andres Torres(notes) has struck out 12 times in the postseason, including four times in Game 2 against Oswalt, seeing only 16 pitches. According to Inside Edge, Oswalt fed Torres 13 fastballs, mostly high and outside, and Torres couldn't touch them. Edgar Renteria(notes), who has batted leadoff when Torres hasn't, is .281 lifetime against Oswalt.

No-brainer, right? Write Renteria's name in the lineup as leadoff man? Not so fast. Most of his hits against Oswalt came in 2002 and 2003 – he's only 1-for-9 against him the last two years. Furthermore, Torres – the Giants' only stolen-base threat – had two hits and reached base four times in Game 5. Maybe he's getting hot.

Aubrey Huff(notes) has been batting third most of the time, but Bochy has to be considering moving the perpetually blistering Ross up to the spot that rightfully belongs to a team's best hitter. Right now that's Ross. After a wobbly start to the postseason, Buster Posey(notes) is entrenched as the cleanup hitter after his four-hit performance in Game 4. The left-handed hitting Huff would bat fifth and Pat Burrell(notes) would move from fifth to sixth.

Makes sense, but Bochy could maintain his fleeting status quo by staying with Huff third, Burrell fifth and Ross sixth. The bottom of the order has been problematic. Besides Ross, those batting sixth through eighth are a combined 9-for-63. Pablo Sandoval(notes) has shown signs of life the last two games and probably will bat seventh and play third base.

That leaves Juan Uribe(notes) to bat eighth, a concession to his sore left wrist and .083 postseason batting average. Yes, his ninth-inning sacrifice fly against Oswalt gave the Giants their Game 4 win. Yes, he is 4-for-9 against Oswalt this season and, according to Inside Edge, has hits against his fastball, slider and changeup. But maybe Bochy doesn't think Uribe will end his postseason struggles until his wrist heals. Renteria could get the call at shortstop and bat eighth.

"We've got a lot of options, a lot of moving parts," Bochy said. "I like our bench and our versatility. It's doing what's right and putting guys out there you think are going to help win that game."

Sometimes it seems Bochy could pull names out of his cap. There's no Mays. There's no Bonds. If the Giants win, it'll be with the guys Bochy affectionately calls "misfits and castoffs." And it would be against an opponent that has won 15 of its last 19 postseason home games.

Get to the World Series, and the names in the Giants lineup will immediately go from suspect to historic.