Nothing says over-reaction like a baseball fan in April. I heard it on the radio hosting the Friday night Giants post-game show on Sportsphone 680, and read it in the comments section of local articles about the Giants.
A summary: Bruce Bochy is mishandling the pitching staff by skipping Barry Zito’s turn in the rotation, the bullpen is overrated, Madison Bumgarner is getting exposed, they should have traded Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff while their value was high, the front office didn’t do enough in the offseason, Miguel Tejada is a fraud, Cody Ross is killing them, and the World Series championship was “fool’s gold.”
I wonder how many of these people were on the parade route last November ?
These kinds of responses are exactly why I did a show in March asking how long the honeymoon would last. People who called Sportsphone 680 at the time insisted that it would last all year because they were just so darn giddy about the championship. More earthbound callers said it would last at least a couple of months. Some of these people were lying.
In fairness, some fans are not panicking, because they actually have calendars, which tell them it is only April. The Giants got swept at home by a good team and they’re 10-11, but they’re just four games back of the Rockies. While they are embarking on a 10-game road trip, they’re facing three mediocre-to-bad clubs.
It’s also true that the calendar tells us it’s 2011, not 2010. The ring ceremonies are over, the flag ceremony is done, and it’s a new season. Each year takes on its own personality, and history has shown it’s very difficult to repeat as National League champions, much less World Series champs.
Baseball is a year-to-year proposition, especially for relief pitchers. Very few relievers are consistently great, outside of Mariano Rivera ( and even he has blown a couple of saves lately ). Sunday, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt gave up gopher balls and Brian Wilson gave up three runs in the 10th to watch his ERA balloon over 9.00. A bullpen that was so solid in 2010 looks weak so far in 2011.
In fact pitching, a supposed strength, was a liability all weekend. The Giants gave up 18 runs, fueled by 16 walks, over the three games. On top of that, Madison Bumgarner didn’t make it out of the 3rd inning, Tim Lincecum was shaky, and Jonathan Sanchez battled through the flu.
The recent pitching woes provide a reason for concern, not panic. Yet, what is the most common response among fans today ? Shear the Beard, not Fear the Beard. Yeah, that’ll help.
Brian Wilson’s beard might need fumigating, or a more drastic measure: according to some fans, it might need to meet Edward Scissorhands. The black shoe-polish House of David facial growth doesn’t look as threatening when the ERA is threatening double figures.
I was sitting with family and friends watching the game Sunday when Wilson entered in the 9th inning, and a wave of snickering could be heard in the room. The beard looked comical. And that was before he blew up in the 10th. At that point I could swear I heard the beard saying “put me out of my misery.”
Frankly I don’t care what Wilson does with his beard, or his mull-hawk, or his orange shoes, or his tattoos. He can do what he wants with his body. But I also know that baseball is a game of superstition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson puts the beard out to Follicle Pasture.
Aubrey Huff shed the thong because it was so 2010, Pablo Sandoval shed some pounds … will Wilson shed the fuzz ? Players have been known to make changes simply to fool themselves into thinking they’re making a fresh start. Perhaps if Wilson decides to scale back, he can donate the beard to charity and do Norelco commercials.
Whatever he does, there is a more important fact: Wilson was able to do very little work in Arizona due to injuries. April is his spring training.
I’m pretty sure that Wilson will straighten things out, whether he cleans up or not. I think Bumgarner, with a little work on his arm slot and his mental approach, will become effective again. I’m less certain about other aspects of this team — keeping in mind that my calendar also tells me it’s only April.
Miguel Tejada has looked very old. I don’t know if he can finish the year as the Giants’ shortstop, at least not playing every day at that position. It’s clear the Giants will need to make a deal to get some help, because the farm system won’t offer immediate fixes.
Right-handed power hitters love to see Sergio Romo hang a slider, and Jeremy Affeldt has struggled since the start of 2010 — with the exception of a couple of epic postseason appearances, for which Giants fans will forever appreciate him.
( By the way, Jason Heyward did to him what he’s going to do to many pitchers in the next decade — hit 420-foot bombs. )
The Giants’ setup pitchers are hurting them right now, and given the nature of relievers, there’s reason for concern. But not a reason to jump out a window.
The offense will miss its leadoff hitter, Andres Torres, for the first month of the season. While Aaron Rowand has done a good job taking his place, getting some key hits early, I have a feeling water will seek its own level. His 14-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio tells me so.
Last year, the Giants scuffled into mid-summer and had some obvious weaknesses. They made some moves to shore up some of those problems, but even then, got into the postseason by a razor-thin margin and got some breaks in the postseason. To their credit they took advantage of those breaks and were the best team in baseball at the end of the season.
But that was then, and this is now. The bottom line — no time to panic, but don’t expect everything to go exactly as it did last year. Baseball isn’t like that.
The Giants still have enough talent to win the NL West. They’re not playing anything like World Series champions now but if a couple of key players get healthy, a couple of more key players step up their game, and a couple of key moves are made, they will make a run at the division title. Just like last year.