After losing to the Dodgers on June 26, the team is two games below .500.
As the Giants approach the halfway point of the season, they look like anything but a defending World Series champion. One reason for their struggles can summed up in a word: injuries.
First, a clarification: Injuries are a reason. They are not an excuse. Subtle but important difference there. Making out under the bleachers may have been your reason for showing up late to chemistry class, but it doesn't excuse your tardiness. Your student body meeting with the principal running over time--that's an excuse. All excuses are reasons; not all reasons are excuses.
Buster Posey missed most of the 2011 season due to an acute ankle explosion. That one was so devastating, that it--maybe--could be used as an excuse for the failure that was the rest of that season. This year, the Giants seem to be going down as a result of a thousand different paper cuts. Injuries to seemingly replaceable role players have ended up exposing a lack of depth while at the same time bringing into focus just how fortunately healthy the team was last year.
No area of the team has been immune. A fair portion of the lineup (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, and Brandon Crawford) has seen its share of forced bench-warming. The starting rotation took a hit (literally) when Ryan Vogelsong went down with a broken hand. Perhaps, most glaringly, the bullpen has not been the same when core members (Chad Gaudin, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla) have been out. Even the bench got in on the action when Joaquin Arias strained his hamstring on June 25.
All of these incidents have left the defending champs looking--and playing--like a minor league team at times. And by the way, to the Giants' training staff and their messenger, Bruce Bochy: It doesn't help when you sugar coat the damage. It only makes it more frustrating when players don't come back as soon as originally promised.
I've trained myself to calibrate statements made by the Giants into far more accurate prognoses on injured players. "He'll be out a couple (or a few) days" means he'll be out at least a week. "A week" means he'll be headed to the DL. Pagan just had surgery and will need 10-12 weeks? Go ahead and count him out for the rest of the year.
On the surface, losing Pagan isn't so bad. His .688 OPS is below league average, and the outfield defense improves when he's off the field. But it puts more pressure on Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco, who now have to play full time as opposed to taking advantage of their platoon splits.
Vogelsong was one of the league's worst pitchers when he went down. But again, it's the ripple effect of the injury that hurts. Gaudin was able to slide into that fifth rotation spot pretty seamlessly, but that opened up a hole in the bullpen. Combine that with the loss of Casilla, and the shortcomings of the right-handed bullpen become painfully obvious.
They've had to use various call-ups who have been less than stellar. The most egregious offender in the bullpen? George Kontos. What happened to that guy? Had a great year last year, was an underrated postseason hero, and now is sporting a 5.52 ERA. He's only up in the bigs now because Jean Machi (another throw-him-out-there-and-hope-he-works guy) hasn't held it together.
And then ,of course, Gaudin gets hit with a liner up the middle, and he heads to the DL (we were, of course, initially assured that he would make his next start). That's how you end up with Triple-A emergency call-up Mike Kickham starting against your division rival. He didn't pitch bad against L.A., but still ended up with five earned runs on his record after leaving with one out in the sixth. The star-studded and stellar pitching of seasons past is a distant memory at this point.
But that doesn't mean it can't be found. After a horrific May, the starting rotation has had its best month in June. If it can continue to improve while the rest of the team nurses itself back to health, the Giants will contend. The NL West remains up for grabs, and all they have to do is hang around before making a push to close it out.
It seems like whenever the Giants plug up one of their leaks this year, a different one springs open. The injuries don't help, but the great teams are built to sustain bumps and bruises over the year. And (aside from Sandoval), at least it's not their stars getting hurt. Big names like Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley, and Carlos Quentin have all missed time for their respective NL West teams.
The Giants have reason for concern. But no excuses.
Michael Meade lives in San Francisco, and has followed the Bay Area sports teams for 20+ years. Things have been good lately. He's contributed pieces on the Giants to various sports blogs.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @mmeade06.
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