Deja Vu All Over Again

What will Bochy do next?

It has been far too long since last I updated this little blog of mine and for those of you who had been following me for the last few months, I apologize for my absence. I wish I could say I was returning in happier times for our beloved Giants, but alas my first post in over a month resides beneath the shadow of an 0-2 hole in the NLDS.

I don’t need to remind anyone of how they got here, nor do I need to (over) analyze the reasons why. If you don’t pitch and you don’t hit, you don’t win, simple as that. That said, the current predicament that the Orange and Black find themselves in reminds me very much of another notable playoff collapse. I speak of course of the year that was 2003. We remember it well, don’t we?

The parallels cannot be overlooked. Recent World Series participants and NL West champions by a wide margin, led by an MVP-candidate and one of the best players in the game, against a team hungry to prove that their regular season success was no fluke. Back then it was the Florida Marlins, led by a group of 20-somethings and one grizzled veteran in the form of Pudge Rodriguez, who proved to be too much for the decorated Giants.

This time around it’s the Cincinnati Reds, who trot out a slightly older everyday lineup than those Marlins, but who have a similarly youthful and impressive stable of pitchers on their side that through two games have thoroughly dominated what was thought to be a much improved Giants lineup.

Vogey or bust

The series of course is not over, and should Ryan Vogelsong deliver one of his signature bulldog performances on Tuesday, hope will be restored among the faithful that the Giants can become only the fifth team in LDS history to overcome an 0-2 deficit in a five game series.

But that is not why I’m writing this particular piece. Instead, as usual, I have chosen to look ahead at what lies in the future of the franchise and to offer once again a warning to those who have their heart set on a World Series or bust approach for this team.

We can all agree that 2010 was a magical time and that we would all like to see the Giants hoist that big trophy again as soon as possible. That is of course easier said than done and I fear that the seemingly inevitable failure of the 2012 Giants to get the ultimate job done may lead them down a path I do not want to see them take ever again.

With big contracts coming off the books next year (Huff, Rowand, Freddy Sanchez) and more notably the year after (Zito, Lincecum), you can certainly see the Giants becoming players in the free agent market. In and of itself that is not a bad thing, but time and time again Brian Sabean and the brain trust of the Giants have shown a propensity for over-extending themselves for players that either could have been had for less or for players that were never going to deliver the value necessary to justify their contract.

This troubling trend cannot continue if the Giants want to sustain the kind of success that we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years. As much as I love them, the practice of handing out nearly $10 million in extensions to middle relievers like Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez has got to stop or this team runs the risk of slipping back into the vicious cycle of the post-2003 NLDS teams. Those teams relied too heavily on overpriced veterans who not only cost the team more than they should have, but also served to block the progress of younger, higher-ceiling talent.

The last thing I want to see is another “generation” of promising Giants farm hands reduced to mid-20’s non-prospects before they ever get a chance to show what they can do. More and more teams around the league are showing that an over-reliance on high-priced talent is a recipe for disaster, and that taking the long term approach of building from within and spending smarter allows for greater opportunity for success.

This is not rocket science, but as I wrote several years ago on another of my blogging adventures, the power of expectation can be a difficult thing for teams and fans alike to deal with in the proper way. If/when this team gets eliminated from the playoffs it will be a bitter disappointment, but it will be an even bigger disappointment if Sabean and company hold true to form and overreact to the small sample size of a playoff series rather than sensibly building off the success this team has enjoyed.

Brandon Belt, Quality Baseball Player 
You didn’t think I was going to post for the first time in over a month and not mention the exploits of this lowly blog’s namesake, did you?

I think it goes without saying at this point that limiting Brandon Belt to 472 plate appearances in the regular reason was a massive mistake by Bruce Bochy. That’s not to say it cost the Giants more than a win or two over the course of the season, but when the team leader in BB% and the fourth best hitter on the roster if you go by wOBA and wRC+ receives fewer PA’s than your light-hitting shortstop (sorry other-Brandon), it’s never a good thing.

Belt has been one of the few bright spots in the NLDS

When he has played, Belt has shown all the makings of what those of us in the #freeBelt camp expected to see all along. Plate discipline, which has been overwhelmingly evident in his first two playoff appearances, high-quality defense and emerging pop. Yes, he still has a ways to go before he can be considered among the better first basemen in the league, but the signs are all there.

Sadly it appears Bochy is not totally sold and I believe it is time for Sabean to step in and put his foot down one way or another. If Belt is to become the player we all want him to be, the everyday first base job must be his, no questions asked. That means 600+ PA’s over the course of a season and no more playing three days a week because the MVP isn’t allowed to catch two of the five starting pitchers.

There are adjustments that still need to be made by Belt, but he has shown an ability to make those adjustments at every step of his professional career. I truly hope we can retire the #freeBelt once and for all, but like most things with the Giants, I have my doubts.

Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and especially to those of you who have reached out to me to let me know how much you enjoy it. It means a lot and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and opinions for a long time to come. Until next time…

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