Grindin’ With The Champs: Giants making some changes

The San Francisco Giants took two of three in Philadelphia and will host the NL East leaders four times this weekend, giving fans a treat with a potential NLCS re-match. After getting swept in Cincinnati, the champs staggered home to face a surging Arizona club who promptly took the first game behind a great start from Ian Kennedy. The Diamondbacks aren’t interested in hearing about NLCS re-matches and are determined to make the NL West a real race.

The Giants, mindful of their woeful offense, pulled off a deal for Carlos Beltran that sent minor-league pitcher Zack Wheeler to the Mets. Many San Francisco fans were upset at the high price paid for two months of Beltran’s bat as Wheeler was the organization’s number one prospect. The need for an impact hitter in the middle of the lineup was glaringly obvious to Brian Sabean, and at least as many fans were happy to pay the price for a player of Beltran’s caliber. It remains to be seen who got the better end of the deal, but if the Giants can continue to pitch well and keep games close, the new right fielder could certainly provide some big hits to help the team win.

With the season-ending injury to Freddy Sanchez, the Giants needed middle infield help and picked up veteran Jeff Keppinger from Houston to play second base. Miguel Tejada‘s lack of production and stint on the disabled list prompted a trade with Cleveland for Orlando Cabrera who becomes the starting shortstop. Rookie Brandon Crawford has dazzled fans with his range, soft hands, and strong arm but has struggled with the bat. He’ll likely be sent down to the minors to play every day and will get the call-up when the rosters expand in September. Most hope he can hit enough to be the primary backup and late inning defensive replacement down the stretch. Crawford is the shortstop of the future but the brain trust thinks he need a little more seasoning. Bruce Bochy likes his veterans and a player with more than 2000 hits and a World Series ring (with Boston in 2004) fits the bill perfectly, even if he is a downgrade defensively from Crawford.

The Giants don’t score a lot of runs (384, last in the NL) and rely on superior run-prevention to win. The pitching staff is second only to Philadelphia in runs allowed (also 384) and excellent outfield defense has been a big part of that. All five players—Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand, and Carlos Beltran—can play all three spots. Beltran moves Schierholtz to left, Ross to center, and Torres to the bench. The 2010 leadoff hitter has really struggled and Bochy will have to find some creative solutions to the problem of who hits first. Like always, the Giants will live and die with pitching. The return of lefty Jonathan Sanchez should keep the rotation strong in the final third of the season. The bullpen is the best in the league and a huge reason why the team is 28-14 in one-run games. Some interesting decisions will have to be made with Tejada and rookie Brandon Belt. With Cabrera now in the fold and lefty utility man Mike Fontenot as a serviceable backup (not to mention rookie Crawford), Tejada looks increasingly redundant. Rookie first baseman (and occasional left fielder) Brandon Belt is one of the team’s best hitting prospects but has had a tough time cracking the lineup despite Aubrey Huff‘s poor season. He would be the odd man out if they re-activate Tejada (who might be more useful backing up at third and second). Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will try to fend off the challengers in the final two games of the series with Arizona. The Diamondbacks are only one game behind—the two teams will play six more times (three home and three away) in September.


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