When your favorite team does despicable things, sometimes it’s easier to be disgusted by them than it is to be happy when they play well. That’s the conundrum I’ve found myself in with the San Francisco Giants. I’m bothered more when they do poorly than I am joyful when they do well. I call it the expectation factor. Before 2010, my hope was that they’d play competitively, maybe make it to the playoffs, and who knows what would happen. But when they won the World Series in 2010, my expectations were heightened. So you mean the Giants could win the World Series if they played well enough? You mean we weren’t cursed? We don’t always have to lose in crunch time?

But it’s also hurts my enjoyment of their games. I watch them expecting things to go wrong this season because they are an imperfect bunch with a manager who looks annoyed because there aren’t 25 10-year vets on this team. I can see Bochy in the dugout screaming that there are too many Brandons, secretly wondering where Pat, Cody, and Omar are. Okay, maybe not Omar. For Boch, he doesn’t know any better. He’d just rather manage players who have performed for him in the past who he can trust than players who can’t drink beer without crying.

It’s annoying and not as fun, but it’s because of my expectation factor. We aren’t cursed anymore. Winning can happen.

During this season, I’m doing monthly check-ins about the Giants, sending questions to some of my favorite Giants fan friends who together are a well-rounded bunch. Butch is sarcastic, Darrin won’t swing at the first pitch, Mary is logical (though she hates Handsome Brandon Belt with a passion), while Stephen wants to be Keith Law’s best friend. Together, we’re Giant. Ahahahahahaha. Okay, enough joking around. Let’s get to the third edition of the SF Giants Heat Check.

1. The Giants have already had to shuffle the lineup a lot because of injuries (including losing their closer Brian Wilson) and just overall bad play. They’ve had to deal with a personal issue of one of their most popular teammates, Aubrey Huff. Freddy Sanchez isn’t yet ready and might not be ready anytime soon. The season is just over 20% done and the Giants are in second place in the NL West behind the team with the best record in the big leagues, the LA Dodgers. With everything that’s happened so far, give the Giants an early season grade and explain your grade.

@ButchHusky (http://www.butchhusky.com): Grade: B-

For all the reasons you state above, the Giants have been playing under less than ideal conditions from the season’s first pitch. This is not to mention the demoralizing loss of a key cog in a thin lineup and a two-time Cy Young Award winner struggling to find his command. The other four starters have been holding this team together with paper clips and rubber bands, and without the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, they would really be scuffling to score runs. Both the starters and the new guys are compliments of Brian Sabean and his direction of the roster. For all the hand-wringing done by the Lunatic Fringe, the dude has put together a team that’s over .500 despite being near the bottom of the league in fielding and clutch hitting. Attention must be paid. Kudos are also due to Bochy, but we’ll address him below.

That being said, the lack of a bona fide contingency plan for Freddy Sanchez is reprehensible at best. I was all fine and dandy with Crawford inheriting short, and I still believe he’ll be there in September no matter how bad he’s looked on occasion. But neither Burriss, nor Fontenot, nor #Therible were going to replace the production of one of the best No. 2 hitters in the game. Another move needed to be made. I wish I could say where, but that’s why they pay these guys the big bucks. I couldn’t care less about the debate over Belt v. Pill v. Huff. Second base is the problem child of the 2012 Giants, and it needs to be addressed pronto. I’d lay into the bullpen, but they’re still finding their roles with Wilson out of the picture. Loving Casilla as the closer. Romo’s a beast in the setup spot. They haven’t lost yet when leading after 8 (knock on wood). Gotta like the chances of Bochy making lemons out of the shit-hand he was dealt. But could we please encase Jeremy Affeldt in bubble wrap? Please?

@DRey2531: Grade: D

Right now they are a .500 ball club and lead the league in errors. If they could make the routine plays, they could easily be a .700 ball club but they haven’t done that.

@themarywalton: Grade: D+

The plus (in the D+) is for the bright spots on the team which are *gasp* Barry Zito, Cain, Arias, Melky, and Blanco. The D is for the total lack of production with RISP, the everyday errors, and Bochy’s incessant over-managing.

@RealStephenMar: Grade: B-

I won’t give an incomplete grade because I believe that is a cop out. Offense has improved although their RISP is near the bottom of the league. The pitching has been what I anticipated sans Lincecum (will get to that later). Blanco, in his short playing time, has been doing well and seems likely to end Schierholtz’s tenure with SF. If the Giants are still in contention for the division come late June, I hope they address the middle infield given how thin it is.

GG: Grade: B-

It’s kind of amazing to me that as of this writing, the Giants are 20-19 and second to only the Dodgers who got off to an unsustainably hot start. I think that’s a testament to the pitching of course, but also to the atmosphere they’ve created, which is that they expect to win, even when they’re not playing well. Bochy is a major part of that, even though I swear he wants to handicap himself by rolling out a different lineup every day. The problem I have with the team is that we still have so many question marks because Bochy would rather juggle players and make everyone happy rather than play someone for two weeks straight and bench people. I’d love to say that we have a great read on Handsome Brandon Belt, but we don’t. He plays every other day and sits against lefties, even though he hits them better than he does righties.

2. Bruce Bochy might be the most polarizing figure on the entire team. How do you think he’s handled the club so far this season?

@ButchHusky: “Bochy! Bochy! Bochy!” (said in Jan Brady voice) This is all I hear/see on the Twitter thing. You can refer to my last blog for deeper thoughts, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes: There are very few players on this 25-man roster who deserve to start every day based on performance and necessity. Here are their names: Cabrera, Posey, Pagan, and Sandoval. Could you make a case for others? Sure. But you could also make a case that Coke Zero tastes like real Coke. Doesn’t make it true. What really galls me is that when a Bochy move works out, the fringers are up in arms because it means another tiny death for their egos. I have to wonder if these folks really care about the team, or if they just need something to complain about.

Fact is, we can bitch and moan all we like about Bochy playing the matchups, but it’s not like this is anything new, and it’s not like he wasn’t pulling the same tricks back in 2010. He’s a hands-on manager, and IMHO it’s a damn fun time trying to predict what lineup his lucky cap will produce next. So I say to Boch: Ride the hot hand! Tip your cap! Go with your gut! If nothing else, at least you’ll make @GiantsNirvana cry.

@DRey2531: Most people didn’t like the fact that Huff had to play 2nd base (in a late inning loss to the Mets) but since that game, Bochy’s moves have shown me that he wants the team to win in the 9th inning and he’ll figure things out if they have to go to the 10th. He’s trying to put what he feels is the best team out there but he needs to let things mesh. Changing the lineup everyday does not help anyone on the team; even the veterans.

@themarywalton: As the season has unfolded, my view on the skipper has changed considerably. Bochy’s managing style no longer suits this ball club. His menagerie of veterans and young established players (Panda, Posey) enabled him to throw together strange, yet workable lineups in 2010 and the idea of match-ups made more sense. He gets a free pass for 2011 after using the DL 25 times and keeping them near the top for most of the season. But now, with a team composed of guys with few AB against big league pitching and switch-hitting vets, match-ups seem ridiculous. It is evident that he has way too many guys playing out of position. My question is, after last season’s injury parade, why were the Giants not better prepared for a similar situation?

@RealStephenMar: I seriously think Bochy is afraid of losing his job hence trying to go the archaic route of having lefty/righty match-ups instead of playing his best players. Plus, outside of Casilla, Bochy mismanages the bullpen. Sergio Romo hardly pitches unless the Giants are leading, heading into the 8th. Romo should be in during high stress/leverage situations, but instead Bochy puts in Affeldt or Hensley instead (simply because of what inning it is). I feel if the Giants don’t make the postseason, Bochy will be fired.

GG: His lineup juggling kills me, as I stated in my last answer. I really wish he’d stick with a guy for a few weeks. Like Mary, I think this club is too different for him. She said the team’s outgrown him, but I think it’s the other way around. I really wish we would look at Tampa as a franchise that inspires what we could become. But instead, we bring three first basemen to the big league club, play Posey at first, and have Hector Sanchez also take balls at first base. Is it Bochy’s fault that he’s trying to make sense out of a non-sensical roster? Well, partly since he’s part of the decision making behind the roster.

3. Which player has been the biggest surprise and on the flip side, who has been the biggest disappointment?

@ButchHusky: Biggest surprise: This could go to a few dudes, but I don’t think anyone expected this start from Barry Zito. Sure, he had a similar breakout to begin 2010 before fading quickly into obscurity and eventually being left off the postseason roster. And I’m probably jinxing him with this pick. But leaping lizards, the guy has been freaking good, especially when you consider he was one bad inning in an extended spring training game from being released. Fight on, Barry. Fight on.

Biggest disappointment: I’m not gonna take Crawford because that would be too easy. Plus, the guy was in San José last year. He’s like the bizarro Belt: thrust into an everyday role before he was truly ready. In a way, we could be seeing what an extended Brandon Belt experiment might look like. Anyway, no, not Crawford. And I won’t take Timmy either. I had a feeling he was due for a down year. No, this honor has to go to Nate the Great. For the past 5 years, I’ve wanted nothing more than for the pride of San Ramon Valley to grab the right field job and never let go. Unfortunately, he’s about as streaky as a frat boy after a keg stand, and he’s probably on the trading block taboot. So long, Nate. We hardly knew ye…

@DRey2531: Biggest surprise: I think the biggest surprise to me was actually Pablo. When I saw what his numbers were last year in so few games I was looking forward to a good year from him. He was doing very well before the injury. Of course I would like his numbers to be higher than they were last year but if they mirror them in the same amount of games, I’ll be happy.

Biggest disappointment: Lincecum is the biggest disappointment.

@themarywalton: Biggest surprise: No brainer. Zito. Even though he had a strong start in 2010, 2011 was a huge disappointment. Most people thought Zito would pitch himself out of the rotation this year and the Giants would eventually eat his contract. After a dismal spring, he scrapped the weird crouch, started pitching backwards and has been a solid 5th starter.

Biggest disappointment: Lincecum is obviously the biggest disappointment. Although I saw a decline coming, I cant say I expected it to be this BAD.

@RealStephenMar: Biggest surprise: Zito. I’m the biggest opponent of Zito and so far he has not self-destructed expect for one game against the Dodgers where he walked 7 batters. It will be interesting to see how he does the entire season, but his peripherals suggest that he’s relying a lot on defense which may backfire down the stretch. Honorable mention: Blanco.

Biggest disappointment: Affeldt. Going into the offseason, I told several friends including Garrett that re-signing Affeldt when you already have Lopez will be a waste of money. As a result, he’s one of the worst relievers in baseball in terms of helping the team increase their chances of winning a game. Honorable mention: Huff, but that is too easy

GG: Biggest surprise: Ryan Vogelsong. I like what Zito’s doing, but I have my suspicion that this won’t last so I’m not falling for the banana in the tailpipe. I really underestimated Ryan Vogelsong though. While many of his important stats, including WHIP, K/9, and walk rate are slightly worse than they were last year, he hasn’t had that many starts yet and he can work on fixing those things. Plus, he’s been injured. But it’s much more than just his stats. He embattles a spirit that you wish some of the other guys on the team had, including Lincecum this year. We might have to call him Bulldog Ryan Vogelsong (sorry Orel). He’s going down swinging (fists, not bats).

Biggest disappointment: Connor Gillaspie. Just kidding. Actually, it’s hard to not say Lincecum, but I have a feeling he’ll bounce back. You want to shake Tim Lincecum and say, “Remember who you are! You’re Tim Lincecum! Now pitch like him!” I still see the stuff, but it has to be a learning curve for him to have to pitch without his fastball. I wrote a bunch about him the other day.

4. Do you think Tim Lincecum will fix himself and become the ace of the staff again, or is he simply not the same pitcher anymore?

@ButchHusky: Yes.

@DRey2531: I think that he is the type of person who can put the team on his shoulders. However, right now he doesn’t need to be that guy. That is why I think he isn’t doing that well. I think when the situation comes up where he needs carry the team, he will fix himself. I think a game where he faces another Cy Young winner could get him back to “normal” but a match-up like that doesn’t look like its coming anytime soon.

@themarywalton: I do not believe Lincecum will ever regain his spot as the ace. Cain has been the ace in the hole for a while now and I believe he is still getting better. Bumgarner is even making a case for himself and will no doubt be contending for that spot for years to come. Timmy simply isnt efficient anymore and is struggling to deliver quality starts. His delivery doesnt make it easy to modify his pitches or style. While I dont think he is “done”, I just dont see him being dominant like he was before.

@RealStephenMar: Lincecum’s narratives are what people are focusing on though his peripheral stats suggest he’s an unlucky pitcher and the defense isn’t helping him out. Having said that, watching him pitch on TV, you can still tell something isn’t right with him. Hopefully throwing more sliders will adjust his rhythm and confidence. My friend Phil said it best last season that he’s starting to turn into Hideo Nomo. If you remember, Nomo had electric stuff and same unorthodox delivery, but as years went on, his pitch selections and mechanics tapered off. Not suggesting Lincecum will crash and burn, but it’s a cause for concern at this point.

GG: I don’t think he’ll ever be the Lincecum of 2007 again. I don’t think he’ll ever be the Lincecum of 2008 again. He’ll have to turn into a different guy. His style of pitching worked because he always had the fastball in his back pocket to use when he needed. He doesn’t have that fastball to elevate anymore. But if he evolves into someone who can pound the corners, his stuff is still excellent enough to where he can be dominant. If he pitched like Matt Cain with his stuff, he’d still be nearly unhittable. But his control isn’t even close to where it needs to be with his loss in velocity. I still believe he can transform his game.

5. When Pablo Sandoval comes back, do the Giants have enough offense to compete for the division crown or will they have to eventually trade away another of their prospects for a bat?

@ButchHusky: I think this team can win as constituted provided: A. Panda and Posey are healthy; and B. Timmy finds his mojo. But as I said above, second base needs a fix. There’s a tiny part of me that wants Culberson to go into #beastmode and run with the gig, but reality is too obvious to ignore. I wonder if Youk can play second…?

@DRey2531: They need to make a trade for someone now. Hoping that Pill and Belt will do well playing every other day isn’t working now and I don’t think it’ll be any better in a pennant race. Now that the outfield is set with Blanco, Pagan and Cabrera, they need to lock down any position in the infield. I don’t think any player should be safe and every infield position should be looked at, even third base.

@themarywalton: I see a lot of potential in the Giants offense. Have all year. I predicted they would score at least 100 more runs than they did in 2011. Going into Thursday, the team was hitting .207 with RISP. The team looks overwhelmed and confused and the lack of discipline and enthusiasm at the plate leaves them starved for clutch hits. However, I look at them like kids being thrown into the water. Sink or swim. Right now they are gasping for air but I think eventually they will settle down, start hitting, and commit fewer errors… that is if Bochy can swallow his pride and stick to a more consistent lineup.

@RealStephenMar: I still think it’s the Giants division to take. I can’t take serious a team with a pitching staff of Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and a 56 year-old Ted Lilly, not to mention a shaky bullpen outside of Kenley Jansen. Giants are still a more balanced team than LA even though they have Kemp, Kershaw, and Ethier.

GG: The feather in the cap should be Freddy Sanchez who could solidify the second spot in the order as well as second base. But I don’t think Freddy is playing this year. If they look for a position, it’s going to be second base. I wonder if someone like Chone Figgins, who isn’t going to set the world on fire, but has some speed and can probably play second base at a decent level can be available for a small price? He may simply need a change of scenery, though, they’d have to give Seattle salary back since his contract goes through next year. I think guys are out there. Thus, I don’t think they’ll need to trade Gary Brown or Joe Panik. They might make a small deal, but after getting burned by the Carlos Beltran deal, I don’t think that’s happening again. This team is simply not going to be a home run hitting team. They’re going to have to use their speed by starting Blanco and Pagan in the same lineup. One thing that I think can work is to keep Cabrera in the third spot, even when Sandoval comes back, who can hit fourth. This way, Buster Posey who doesn’t have the power of a normal cleanup hitter, can stop worrying about providing all the power. Let him be a doubles hitter with a high average who hits well with guys on base and in pressure situations. That’s who he is. He hits for all of us.

Read more on the Giants:
http://popblerd.com/2012/03/09/sweet-chin-muzak-sf-giants-heat-check-spring-training-edition/
http://popblerd.com/2012/04/10/sweet-chin-muzak-sf-giants-heat-check-opening-day-edition/

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