By Michelle Dingley
The Giants set a home run record on Friday, but it wasn’t anything to be proud of. Pablo Sandoval hit a solo shot in the first inning, which marked the 20th consecutive solo jack for the team. They haven’t hit a multi-run homer since Nate Schierholtz’s two-run blast on July 6. The previous record was 19 straight solo home runs, set by the 1914 Philadelphia Phillies. That team ended the year 74-80, ranked sixth of eight teams in the NL. Over the 31 games since July 6, the Giants have gone 15-16. That includes Friday’s game, in which Panda’s big fly was the only run the Giants could muster.
The Giants have so many solo home runs because they have such a hard time getting runners on base. When they do get a duck on the pond, they have trouble moving him over. When they actually have a runner in scoring position, it is difficult to bring him in. Our offensive problems are nothing new. We had trouble scoring runs last year, but our pitching allowed us to win games and become World Champions. This season, scoring runs has been even more difficult. The loss of two of our biggest, most consistent hitters, Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, is a big factor in our anemic offense. We have spent the bulk of the season trying to find a way to replace those bats in the lineup.
The lack of key players doesn’t fully explain our struggles. The guys who came through so often last year are in extended slumps and have scuffled all year long. We have been waiting all season for them to break through and contribute in a meaningful way for more than one game here and there. Baseball comes down to statistics. You can have one terrible month, but at the end of the season, it will balance out. The Giants have had four and a half weak months at the plate. Is there any way that the Giants’ most important hitters can balance out their production with just one and a half months to go?
Andres Torres had an amazing, breakout season last year after spending the bulk of his career stuck in the minors. The speedy leadoff batter and center fielder was our spark plug, contributing with both his glove and his bat. With all the trouble we are having with getting men on base this year, we need that leadoff spot to do more. As of Friday, he is batting .228 (66-for-289). A supposed switch-hitter, he is being dominated by southpaws, batting a mere .139 from the right side, compared to .244 against righty pitchers. As a result, he has been starting only against righties. Before the All-Star break, he was batting .242. After, he’s hitting .235. In August, his average is .185, and in the last 10 games it’s .182. Torres is capable of improving these numbers, but can he approach his spectacular performance from last year?
In 2010, Andres hit .268, a decent average, and along with that came 43 doubles, 8 triples and 16 homers. The Giants have 43 games left this season. Say Torres will have 100 more at-bats this year, which is probably generous. To boost his average to 2010 levels, he needs 38 more hits, so he’d have to hit at a .380 clip for the rest of the season. If he were to match his extra-base hits from last season, he’d need 21 doubles, 7 three-baggers, and 13 long flies over the next 43 games. That’s 41 hits right there. It’s rather unlikely Andres will be able to match his offensive performance from last season.
Cody Ross started the 2010 season with the Florida Marlins, joining the Giants in August. He is known as a streaky hitter, but he can carry a team when he is hot, as he did down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. This season, Cody has not quite been “Ross the Boss.” He is hitting .246 (71-for-289), and, like Torres, seems to be going downhill. Before the All-Star break, he was batting .275; after, .141. In August he’s at .194, and in the last ten games he’s mustered just .182. One notable problem is the number of strike outs. Cody has 79 this year, averaging one per every 3.66 at-bats. That’s up from last year, when he struck out once every 4.34 ABs. Cody has to start turning the whiffs into hits if he is to help the team through the end of the season.
Ross had a very good 2010, hitting .269 with 28 doubles, 3 triples and 14 homers. Say that Cody gets 100 more ABs this year. He would need 34 more hits to end the season batting .269, hitting .340 between now and the end of the season. To match his 2010 extra-base hits, he would need 10 doubles, 3 triples and 6 jacks, making 19 of those 34 hits (56%) for extra bags. It’s a long shot, but if he can get hot and stay hot, Cody could at least approach these numbers. Hopefully the warm weather during this southern road trip will help.
Aubrey Huff has been another source of consternation regarding the struggling offense. Bruce Bochy has continually said he expects Huff to break out of his funk. Aubrey has good games, then he struggles. He shows signs of life, then he goes hitless for long periods. Huff is currently hitting .249 (104-for-417), but his average is creeping up. Other than Panda, Aubrey is one of the few Giants who has been swinging the bat better as of late. Before the All-Star break, his average was at .236. After, it’s .302. In August, he’s hitting .342, and over the last ten games, he’s at .355. Keep in mind how horrible we’ve looked as a team over those 10 games, and that’s even more impressive.
Aubrey is definitely on an upswing, but can he finish as strongly as last season? In 2010, Huff was our offensive leader and hit .290. He is our only everyday player not to be injured this year (knock on wood), and he will probably play in nearly every game the rest of the way. Let’s say Huff finishes 2011 with 540 ABs, which is average for him. In 123 more ABs, he must earn 53 hits to reach .290. That’s a .431 average over the next month and a half. He would also need 15 doubles, 4 triples and 15 homers to match what he did last year. That adds up to 34 extra-base hits, 64% of the hits he needs to meet last season’s average. Even though Huff is going good right now, that seems a bit out of reach.
Even players who had an extremely slow start to the season can make an offensive difference down the stretch. Dan Uggla has been on a tear after a very disappointing first half. On July 4, he was hitting only .173. through Friday, he owns an Atlanta Braves-high 32-game hitting streak. He has raised his average 56 points up to .229. In July, he hit .293, and this month he’s batting .442. Likewise, Hideki Matsui of the A’s is having an excellent second half after an underwhelming first half. Before the All-Star break, he hit .209. Since then, he’s raised his average 58 points up to .267. He hit .369 in July and .359 in August. The struggling Giants – and Giants fans, for that matter – should remind themselves that the past is the past. They can’t do anything about their performance earlier in the year. They might not get their stats where they want them, but they can improve and help their team win down the stretch.
No one expects a player to perform at the same level year in and year out. We would, nonetheless, like their performance to be close to what we know they are capable of. We know Cody Ross is not a .246 hitter. We know Aubrey Huff is not a .249 hitter. We hope Andres Torres is not a .228 hitter. What is disheartening is that it’s not just these players who have been slumping; it’s been the whole team for the whole season. The only offensive bright spots have been Nate Schierholtz’s tremendous first half and the resurgence of the Kung-Fu Panda. It’s encouraging to see Huff starting to carry his weight. A few bats, however, are still not enough to carry the team. We need contributions from every spot in the lineup. We need to get runners on base, and we need to bring them home. Bottom line: we need to hit. Pitching can only take us so far.