Can Angel Pagan boost Giants back to top?

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Angel Pagan
A fired up and healthy Angel Pagan is just what the Giants need. (Lance Iversen/USA TODAY Sports)

Early on this season, I thought the San Francisco Giants were going to run away and hide in the National League West. Even though the rival Los Angeles Dodgers probably had the best team on paper, the Bay Area boys weren’t impressed, and at one point led the division by 9 1/2 games.

Then a catastrophe occurred and San Francisco lost its best player. I’m not talking about Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval or Hunter Pence. This past June, Angel Pagan went on the shelf with a bulging disk in his back. The energetic center fielder would end up missing 44 games, and the Giants would fall apart like a cheap pinata.

Angel Pagan has been the Giants “Mr. Everything” since he was shipped to the west coast by the New York Mets during the winter of 2011. The lanky Puerto Rican sets the tempo as his team’s switch-hitting, lead-off man, and is always a threat to steal a base. He patrols the outfield with wizardry and commands respect with a strong work ethic. Pagan’s magic resulted in a World Championship for San Francisco in 2012, and he was eventually rewarded with a new three-year contract worth $40 million. Unfortunately, the deal would seem to be a bust thus far because the 33-year-old veteran can’t stay healthy.

Last year, Pagan succumbed to surgery on June 24 to repair a torn left hamstring, and would appear in only 77 games for the entire season. Then on June 12 of the current campaign, he became sidelined with the back issue and spent a short stint on the DL. That injury would linger, however, when he admittedly tried to return too soon. Damn that month of June.

“I wanted to get back because my teammates needed me,” recalled Pagan, who was off to an excellent start before the initial mishap.

A huge part of Pagan’s value is his hard-nosed style of play and ability to make things happen. Since being activated again on August 7, he has played through minor pain and has dealt with a nagging calf strain. But the Giants clearly scuffled with a 19-26 record without Pagan’s services. And even at slightly less than 100 percent, the Rio Piedras native with the patented on-base salute has batted .367 over his last seven games.

These are critical times for the Giants and Bruce Bochy, the club’s usually unflappable skipper. I don’t see this team catching the Dodgers, although the deficit has narrowed considerably. What’s more certain is a wild-card berth with the St. Louis Cardinals or the fading Milwaukee Brewers. That said, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves keep hanging around. A concern for San Francisco would have to be the pitching staff, which was once one of their strengths. Matt Cain is out for the season, Tim Lincecum has been erratic and the bullpen continues to be troubling.

Although I’ve been wrong before, I believe the player holding the keys to the Giants post season journey is Angel Pagan. He’s the guy who sets the table and the bartender who stirs the drinks. The fans who pack AT&T Park must pray for Pagan’s durability and hope for the best.

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