Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August Agony

Longtime San Francisco Giants fans may recall the phrase "June Swoon". Tradition had it that the Giants would get off to a decent start in April and May, and then cash it all in with a miserable month of June.

Like many legends, the June Swoon was embellished a bit, but there were enough awful Junes to give the theory some credence.

But the 2011 Giants are creating something new: August Agony. The team has gone 10-18 this month and finds itself 6 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. It's entirely possible, as I write, that the Giants could be 10 games out of first by Labor Day.

With one game left in August, the Giants are 10-18 for the month. They haven't won more than 2 games in a row in August (and they've only done that twice). They've managed to lose series to some of baseball's saddest sacks: the Cubs and Astros. It's been a horrible month by any measure.

Optimists are heartened by memories of 2010, when the team erased a similar deficit in September to clinch the pennant on the last day of the season. Hey, it could happen again; the one sure thing about dire predictions is that many of them are bound to be wrong.

But the facts are hard to ignore. The 2011 Giants are epically inept with the bat. They are last in the National League in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage (that .300 OBP is almost comical). Conversely, the pitching is still among the best in baseball: a 3.14 team ERA that trails only the Phillies among MLB staffs, and Giants pitchers have held opposing hitters to a .230 batting average, the best in the sport (although not a whole lot better than the Giants' own .237 BA).

Who to blame? It's easy to point fingers but harder to understand what the heck could have turned a career .280 hitter like Aubrey Huff into the 2011 version, hitting a soft .243. Theories abound, but injuries surely are a big part of all this. There's not enough space here to list them all, but consider this fact: of the team's 4 highest-ranking players in the "Runs Above Replacement" stat, which assesses a player's offensive value relative to others at his position, three are currently on the DL (Schierholtz, Posey, and Freddy Sanchez), and the one standout (Sandoval at +37) is playing hurt.

August began with hope that newly-acquired veteran star Carlos Beltran would buoy the Giants' offense. Instead, Beltran has been hurt and/or ineffective. With the Mets, he was among the league leaders in doubles, hitting a two-bagger every 14 plate appearances. As a Giant, he's doubled once every 36 plate appearances. Homers? Beltran's ratio was 1 per 28 PA in New York; it's 1 per 72 PA in San Francisco. His arrival heralded hope; by the end of August, he's hearing boos at AT&T Park.

Who knows what September will bring? For the Giants and their fans, it would be hard for the season's final month to be worse than the agony of August.

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