For the last several years, I’ve taken my kids on a bit of a baseball vacation. We head out to San Francisco, CA from our dwellings in the South Bay and take in a few games in a row. Ever since the Giants won the World Series in 2010, that trip has doubled in price because of secondary market ticket costs. Our little fun Giants vacation is now a very expensive 3-day vacation.

In addition to spending three days at the park with my kids (and later my dad who joined us last Sunday), I was able to get what I believe to be a pretty good feel on the Giants as they enter the second half. They aren’t killers. They aren’t assassins. They’re a savvy baseball team who expects to win, even if they are still under most everyone’s radar because of their inability to hit for any sort of power whatsoever. There’s a move to make that could put them over the hump. If they made the same Carlos Beltran move this year rather than last year, they’d probably be the top contender in the National League.

The first place Giants sit at 51-41, 2.5 games ahead of the LA Dodgers in the NL West standings. They have the worst run differential of any first place team in the MLB with a plus 11. They’ve also scored the least amount of runs of any division leader.

With my ear to the street, I sent out three questions to my SF Giants Heat Check crew to get their feel for what I believe are vital questions as we get close to the dog days of summer.

Timmy

1. As of this writing, Tim Lincecum sits at 3-10 with a 5.93 ERA, a far cry from his Cy Young winning days. How long of a rope do you give him in the second half? And if he reaches the end of that rope, what do you do with him?

@ButchHusky (http://www.butchhusky.com): In a word? Enough.

When Lincecum came out of Saturday’s game after 8 shutout innings against the Astros, my season ticket partner texted, “TIMMY!” I reminded him about the opposition and said I needed to see how he does in Philly. Well, I may as well have spit on Christy Mathewson’s grave… “How dare you give up on Timmy?! Don’t you know what he’s done for us?! World championship! 2 Cy Youngs!”

For the record, I have nothing but love for Tim and all the reasons he’s given Giants fans to rejoice. But he entered the All-Star break with the worst ERA among qualified starters in MLB. Bochy, the brain trust, and the fan base have given him three and a half months to show signs of life. His only quality starts came against the Dodgers, A’s, and Padres – not exactly Murderers’ Row. On top of that, he just looks beat, and he’s nowhere near finding his form. (If you watched closely on Saturday, he was still having issues with location. The Astros lineup is just plain bad.)

Even with reduced velocity, I think Tim can be an elite pitcher. And like everyone else, I’m frustrated that the transition from flamethrowing kid to crafty veteran is taking the long and winding a road. But this is a mental thing, not a physical one. (I wrote about this on my blog.) If he doesn’t snap out of it through the natural order of things, he needs to be snapped out of it by force.

So yes, put him in the bullpen, let Penny take his turn in the rotation, and not just for one start. Do it for a month. I’m sure Bochy wouldn’t mind having another arm to play with in the late innings, especially one as feared and funky as Tim. And maybe it’s just the wake-up call he needs. Like Crash Davis would say, “He’s a kid. Scare him.”

@DRey2531: For the season, I say you have to keep putting him out there every 5th day. Nothing was done for Zito, so nothing should be done for Timmy. If you’re asking about how much rope should be given per start, I say the same thing I’ve always said; the situation dictates the length of rope.

@themarywalton: The Giants have no depth as far as starting pitching is concerned. The bullpen has its own puzzle to solve in regards to long relief and the closer position. It’s the time of year when everyone in the pen needs to know their role and throwing Lincecum in the mix will solve nothing. Lack of depth also rules out sending him down to Fresno. Skipping a start is the only real viable option if his struggles continue and I would only do that if his scheduled start falls after a day off. Pitching any of our guys on short rest during the 2nd half of the season has the potential to be dangerous as we need them to be healthy and as rested as possible going down the stretch. Lincecum has to be able to work this out on the hill.

That being said, I would give him a retractable leash. When he’s pitching well, give him slack. When he is struggling, limit the damage and reel him in. Setting pitch counts or inning limits will only add to the pressure at this point. He needs to take it one hitter at a time and so does management.

@RealStephenMar: Play out the rest of the season. I still never understand why fans have such a short leash for Timmy but a long leash for Zito especially when there is no clear cut replacement to take his spot in the rotation. He’s a 1 WAR pitcher, peripheral numbers are better than Zito’s right now, and people are making him out to be Jonathan Sanchez.

Fans tend to overreact on small sample sizes and that’s common nature with humans but at least give Timmy 1 full season to work this out since fans gave Zito 4+ years to be competent. When Timmy reaches the end of the rope, why not throw him in the bullpen as a Romo type reliever or even closer? He would pitch less innings and theoretically increase velocity in his fastball. He has the strikeout stuff if you look at his K/9IP it’s still excellent.

GG: This is such a tough question to answer. In football or basketball, the question would be much easier. Because of the shorter season, you have the shorter leash. I don’t think the leash should be short, but I get worried that the team takes a defeatist attitude on the field once Timmy starts to struggle. There’s the old, “Here we go again …” that happens with fans and I’m certain that no matter how much they will say it doesn’t happen on the field, it has to happen to an extent.

I like a combination of Mary’s and Butch’s takes. Take it pitch by pitch with Timmy. If he’s going well, give him more rope. If he’s struggling early, don’t be afraid to call it a day before it gets ugly. If he has many more bad starts in a row, throw him in the pen for a few weeks. You can bring up someone like Yusmeiro Petit from Fresno to start a few games if necessary. And like Stephen mentioned, in shorter stints, his velocity should be better.

2. He’s blown 5 out of his last 8 saves chances. Can Santiago Casilla be the closer for the San Francisco Giants in the playoffs (and why)?

@ButchHusky: Yes. For a very simple reason: Who else are they going to get/use? Right, Romo. Am I the only one who’s seen Serge serve up a flat slider that ends up in the bleachers? Or maybe I’m the only one of us without a selective memory. Soon as he blows one save against the Doyers, where will the Romo acolytes be?

I DO think we’ll see Bochy taking it easy on Casilla down the stretch to conserve his strength. In other words, a lot more games, where he calls on Lopez or Affeldt – or Romo – to get an out or two before bringing in Jairo to slam the door. Garrett likes to point out Casilla’s reduced velocity, but just like Timmy, it’s all location. If he cuts down on his mistakes and pitches like he did in their first series after the All-Star break, I’m not overly concerned. There are bigger problems on this club.

Romo

@DRey2531: I think that Casilla has the tools to be our guy this year but I don’t think he has the confidence in himself to be given the ball in a playoff game. Too many of his pitches leak across the plate when the target is away. I think it’s because he has a fear of walking the batter, but in some cases a walk isn’t a bad thing. He hasn’t learned that and that’s why I would choose Romo.

@themarywalton: Casilla is not closer material. While I think his overall performance has been pretty good, the stench of the past month cannot be overlooked. To put it bluntly, closing takes balls and the only ones Casilla seems to have are the ones that put men on base. He doesn’t seem to trust his stuff when it comes to getting the last out. The postseason is not a place for mistakes. Casilla belongs in the 8th. Hopefully we can trade for a closer.

@RealStephenMar: Yes and no. It depends on the context of the game. In a “traditional” save situation in the ninth, bring him in to close it out but as soon as it becomes a high leverage inning, replace him with Romo or even Affeldt.

And piggybacking off the first question, if the playoff rotation would be Cain/Bumgarner/Vogelsong, why not have Lincecum shut down the game if the Giants have no confidence with Casilla?

GG: No matter how bad Brian Wilson can be in some situations, at least he has confidence in himself and gives off the right demeanor. I’m not sure I see that with Casilla, even though I think he has better pure stuff than Wilson, so I’d say no. We’re really in a catch-22 with this role. I’d hate to see the Giants send any kind of prospect for a dime-a-dozen closer. I don’t know if going closer carousel is the right thing either, but I think based on the situation, Lopez, Casilla, and Romo can close out games. Bochy and Rags will just have to have the right feel with it. I prefer Casilla in the 7th or 8th personally.

3. The trade deadline isn’t all that far away. If you can upgrade at any position, what position would that be (and why?)

@ButchHusky: This is a rare topic where I agree with Marty Lurie (KNBR radio personality): I don’t think they’ll be able to compete on the trade market for an impact bat like Justin Upton. (But wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems?) We need to upgrade the bench. If Joaquin Arias and Nate Schierholtz are your fifth infielder and fourth outfielder, respectively, you are not a deep team. DFA (designate for assignment) Burriss, keep Huff on rehab, and get me a right-handed, gap-to-gap hitter who can play right field, first base, or – ideally – the middle infield. Oh, and don’t listen to Marty. It’s hazardous for your health.

@DRey2531: The upgrade that I want is an infielder who will play EVERY DAY and produce, no matter if there’s a lefty or a righty on the mound. Move Pablo to 1st if we get an EVERY DAY third baseman who will produce. Pablo will hit anywhere and just because he plays 3rd doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for a 3rd baseman.

@themarywalton: For now, it has to be closer. Knowing the closer can be handed the ball and deliver gives both the offense and defense confidence. Blown saves are bad for morale, especially for a team that is built on pitching. What good is the foundation they built without the roof there to protect it? While I think some offensive upgrades would be nice, it seems unlikely any significant trade will be made to do this. The best option is to shop for a closer.

@RealStephenMar: Definitely 2B. Theriot/Burriss is one of the worst platoons I’ve ever seen. I’d trade for Gordon Beckham because he’d be on the cheap and even his numbers are far superior to what the Giants have right now.

GG: I’d look for help in this order – SS/2B (either or because you can live with Crawford or Theriot, but not both in the same lineup), OF (move Pagan back to the leadoff spot if you can find pop like a Josh Willingham), and then finally, a late inning reliever and not necessarily a closer. The hard thing is having to part with any of their young players because they are few and far between. Parting with someone like Gary Brown will smart even worse after giving up Zack Wheeler last year. This is not the Giants way, but I’d also love it if they took a look at Roger Kieschnick. But with the way they’ve handled Brandon Belt so far, maybe it’s better off for Kieschnick to stay where he’s at.

If you want to check out other versions of the Heat Check, they are listed below:
Spring Training Edition
Opening Day Edition
Bochified Edition

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