“Minor” League

August 19

Atlanta Braves rookie starter Mike Minor is not chopped liver. He played college ball at Vanderbilt with David Price and Pedro Alvarez, and was on Team USA with Stephen Strasburg. The Braves chose him seventh overall in 2009.

Minor has a fastball with decent life and above-average slider. He is averaging a strikeout per inning in his brief career, and has struck out as many as a dozen in a game. He has not allowed a home run this year.

Mike Minor is not, to my knowledge, the next Randy Johnson. However, the lineup the Giants ran out Thursday night in Atlanta made him look that way. He made them look like “Minor” leaguers.

To be fair, expectations weren’t high when the Giants lineup was announced. Any lineup that has Miguel Tejada batting fifth is one that screams “bet the under.” Orlando Cabrera as a #2 hitter? Please. ( The Giants showed how they felt about Cabrera at shortstop, by moving him over to second base in favor of TEJADA. )

After Cody Ross hit a leadoff double Cabrera almost knocked him in with a line drive that went barely foul down. Cabrera eventually struck out. The Giants did not score.

Cabrera squared to bunt at one point, but in the end he failed to at least move Ross over to third. Baseball 101: FAIL.

Would a bunt have worked in that situation ? Well, Pablo Sandoval struck out and Aubrey Huff subsequently grounded out, so that’s hard to say. Generally, you don’t want to give up outs in the first inning, and just one run wasn’t going to help the Giants.

Assuming the Giants scored, it would have been a 1-1 game late, with the Giants’ depleted bullpen going up against a Braves ‘pen that might be the best in baseball right now. It will get better when Peter Moylan comes off the disabled list.

Whatever the strategy, we’re arguing over scraps. One run. The bigger problem is an offense that, due to injuries and ineptitude, is unable to put up crooked numbers against a rookie pitcher or most anyone else who puts on a major league uniform.

It leaves pitchers like Tim Lincecum on the losing end of 1-0 games, despite a brilliant effort. His egregious mistake: giving up a solo shot to future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Lincecum actually took some ownership for the loss, which he should never have to do.

Bochy was fuming at the poor offensive showing afterward. He should also look in the mirror. The Giants should never field a lineup that has Miguel Tejada batting fifth. Ever. Again. It was reminiscent of the Bad Old Days when Jose Castillo was an everyday player.

You’re telling me a lineup including Mike Fontenot ( 3 hits the night before, .800 OPS vs. lefties this year ) and Brandon Belt would have done worse ? The lack of patience and judgement exhibited by Giants hitters wasn’t even minor league-level. Try Little League.

Granted, if Jeff Keppinger was 100 percent both Tejada and Cabrera would not have been playing. Bochy has been a magician trying to juggle lineups and he favors veterans because he wants to keep the clubhouse happy. But is anyone happy after a 1-0 loss ?

Inserting the likes of Fontenot and Belt might not have made a difference, and Bochy and the Giants are left to search for answers in a season littered by injuries. A healthy Giants lineup was struggling to score runs anyway, but last night’s lineup was a message to Lincecum: “you’d better throw a shutout.”

He didn’t and he lost. Nine times this season, Lincecum has left a game with the Giants failing to score a run. Matt Cain’s lack of run support is legendary and has lasted even longer. An arm is a terrible thing to waste.

There has been much discussion about whether the two pillars of the Giants rotation will tire of the offensive impotence and eventually bolt for a team with some bats. Say, a team with pinstripes ?

For Lincecum, that won’t be an issue until the end of 2013, when he is no longer under the Giants’ control. Cain’s contract runs through 2012. One would assume the Giants’ lineup will look much better by that time, but much of that will be determined in this offseason.

Lincecum’s numbers this year are in line with his Cy Young years, but he is 11-10. If Felix Hernandez could get the Cy last year, it’s not a stretch to say Lincecum should get consideration in the National League this year. But with guys like Roy Halladay around, he’s a long shot.

Lincecum and Cain must wonder what life would be like on a team that actually scores at least four runs a game, or getting extremely greedy, five runs a game. They have already shown they can thrive on the big stage, so I don’t think New York ( or Boston ) would scare them. Whether it’s a cultural fit is another story.

For now, the Giants remain 2 1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West with the Giants heading to Houston and Arizona heading to Atlanta. The Giants have to face a pretty tough lefty in Wandy Rodriguez Friday, and ex-Giants farmhand Henry Sosa on Sunday. There are no guarantees, but there’s a chance the Giants could come home a game and a half back.

Then the schedule favors the Giants, who have 21 games at home and who don’t go east of Denver the rest of the way. The schedule is weak enough that you could even throw a healthy Jonathan Sanchez out there for a couple more starts. Plus, they have six games left with Arizona.

All this is assuming, of course, that the Ebola virus doesn’t strike the clubhouse.

Amid all the injuries, there is one that concerns the Giants the most right now. Not Carlos Beltran’s hand, although a healthy Beltran would be a shot in the arm. It’s Brian Wilson’s elbow. He’s being re-evaluated Friday, and without him the Giants will be in deep yogurt.

The Giants have been like cockroaches this season, surviving just about everything thrown their way, still in contention in a weak division. One big reason: a great bullpen. But injuries to Wilson and Sergio Romo could be the equivalent of D-Con.

If Wilson and Romo are healthy in September, and Beltran can return to form, the Giants still have a shot. Also, I think the expansion of the 40-man roster might benefit the Giants more than many other teams. Considering how many tight games they play, specialization is key, and Bochy will be licking his chops with a chance to use guys like Darren Ford.

One thing is for certain: the Giants will go into September in contention, and playing very meaningful games, even as punchless as they have been. I don’t think anyone foresaw that when Buster Posey went down.

Another thing is for certain: the Giants MUST address their offensive problems, and clear out the dead wood, in the offseason. Short-term, that will be costly, but failure to do so could be even more damaging long-term. It could cost them those two pillars in the starting rotation.

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