This has not been a good week for the San Francisco Giants. Not only did the team lose Hunter Pence for two months, but it has also seen back-to-back starts by Jeff Samardzija, alarmingly featuring the pitcher we saw last season, instead of this season’s savage Shark.
Though still in first place by four-and-a-half games, the Giants did drop one full game with Saturday night’s loss to St. Louis, coupled with LA’s win over Atlanta. Hey, no big deal, right?
Fans with not-so-long memories might think back to only last season, when Preacher Pence’s absence arguably cost them a playoff berth, and disagree. With the hustling right fielder in the lineup, San Francisco posted a 34-17 record; without him, they went 50-61.
It is quite difficult to argue with this logic.
The Giants have replaced Pence for the moment with Jarrett Parker (13 G, .191, 7H, 1 HR) and have recalled Mac Williamson. Fortunately, Gregor Blanco is the consummate fourth outfielder, and has been filling in for both Angel Pagan, due back in just over a week, and now Pence.
Ultimately, as the Giants get closer to the trade deadline, Bobby Evans will have to evaluate Pence’s progress, with how well the team is performing, and make a decision. If the team is struggling, particularly with the bats, then Giants management will be looking at possible fits with such players as Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Jay Bruce.
My take is that Pence’s absence, despite being a direct hit, will not sink the ship. The primary reason for this is the Giants’ strong pitching. Last season it was MadBum and Heston, and hope for the best, um. This season, assuming that the Shark is just going through some temporary rough waters, Giants pitching is the team’s strongest suit.
The Giants’ big three of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Samardzija, not to mention the surging Jake Peavy, will all help to overcome feelings of apprehension as the ensuing eight weeks proceed.
When he went down Tuesday night in Atlanta, Preacher Pence was leading the team with 36 RBIs and seven home runs. Since then, Buster Posey has hit three big flies, no coincidence I suspect, and has taken over the team-lead with eight. Brandon Crawford is second on the club in RBIs with 30.
The Giants have not been flashy on offense. MLB averages 60 home runs per team; going into the series in St. Louis, the Giants had slugged 48. On the other hand, MLB averages 468 hits; the Giants have an even 500. MLB averages 238 runs scored; the Giants have scored 253. MLB averages 228 RBIs; the Giants have 242. MLB averages ten triples; the Giants have hit nineteen.
They are getting it done on a more even basis, with all team members contributing, not just a few hot players. That is one reason the club will not suffer inordinately from the absence of Pence. On top of that, much of what he contributes comes in the form of his support from the bench, and he will be able to continue to provide that support.
Defensively, San Francisco has committed 25 errors, compared to MLB’s 31 average. That’s a .989 fielding percentage. Pence has yet to commit an error this season, but the Giants rank fifth in MLB in this stat, so it is an overall strength that will help them cope with life without Pence-for at least two months anyway.
I am not trying to downplay Pence’s importance to the team; even as we speak, Bobby Evans and the Giants braintrust, are scouring the ranks MLB for available options to replace Pence during this time. Evans has made it clear that he will not go overboard on spending, for a short-time fix.
The Cubs are not unfamiliar with this situation. The loss of Kyle Schwarber so early forced the Cubs to insert Matt Szczur, who has responded by batting .348 in thirty games. Let’s compare that .348 average with Jarrett Parker’s .191. Oops.
Moving right along, one other reason for thinking the Giants will survive the absence of Pence, besides strong pitching and a more-balanced offense, is the fact that Los Angeles has not been applying any pressure on San Francisco, currently sitting at three games above .500.
That could change, of course, just as any of the above scenarios could change. But at least the Giants are in a better position this season to deal with adverse conditions than they were last season.
Great pitching will do that for a team.