7:34 PM CST, February 4, 2012
No. 13 Giants: 18th in a series counting down to spring training. Next: Reds.
When it comes to winning games, Bruce Bochy does more with less. He wouldn't mind a little more relaxation.
With the dominant pitching staff built around Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson and a lineup that is so weak you wonder why Barry Bonds hasn't come out of retirement, every game's a nail-biter at AT&T Park, baseball's most beautiful ballpark.
The Giants were 34-25 in one-run games en route to the 2010 World Series championship, including six of their 11 postseason victories. They cobbled together an 86-victory season a year ago by going 33-22 in one-run games, with Bochy's managing earning them six extra victories according to the Pythagorean standings.
That's 67-47 in the close games — a .588 winning percentage, the equivalent of 95-67 over 162 games. If that particular worm ever turns, there will be no way the Giants can compete, even with such a powerful pitching staff.
Bochy knows that. So does Brian Sabean, who enters his 15th season as general manager, the longest run among current executives. They have their fingers crossed that they won't need to be quite as efficient to overtake the Diamondbacks in the National League West.
With 2010 savior Buster Posey being lost for the season after a collision at home plate May 25, the Giants dropped from ninth in the NL in scoring to last, 697 to 570. But that was then, this is now.
Here are six simple ways to produce 700-plus runs in 2012:
1. Posey must return with his rebuilt left ankle to play at the level he did when he ascended to the majors in 2010. If he could play 140 games and recreate his .862 OPS from his rookie season, he would generate about 55 extra-base hits, 20-something home runs and maybe 90 RBIs, depending on how the guys in front of him — probably Angel Pagan, Freddy Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval — hit.
2. Sandoval's improved conditioning and performance in 2011 earned him a three-year contract. He needs to stay healthy enough to play 153 games as he did in his first full season with the Giants (2009). If he raises his game just a tick, taking his .909 OPS from last season and going beyond the .943 OPS he had in '09, he and Posey could be dynamic hitting back-to-back.
3. Brandon Belt must hit like he should. A natural hitter who has flashed the Will Clark gene in his brief minor-league career, he stumbled to a .225 average in 63 games last season, in part because he was used out of position in left field. He should be more comfortable as the regular first baseman and could elevate the Giants' production at the position into the middle of the pack. They ranked at the bottom a year ago, along with the Dodgers, Pirates, Padres and A's.
4. Melky Cabrera, acquired from the Royals for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, must retain his 2011 form to ensure there's no dropoff in right field. The stretch-run trade for Carlos Beltran helped the Giants finish 13th in the majors with an .801 OPS in right (where Nate Schierholz and Cody Ross had disappointed). Cabrera never had produced at that level until last season.
5. The Giants need to win the Pagan-for-Andres Torres trade. They swapped late-blooming center fielders with the Mets once they established Torres' 16-homer 2010 was an outlier, not an indication of things to come. Pagan had a pedestrian .694 OPS a year ago but stole 32 bases while having only 18 more strikeouts than walks (62-44).
6. Speedy outfielder Gary Brown, ranked as the team's best prospect by Baseball America, must contribute in the second half. The Cal State Fullerton product has Tony Campana speed and projects as a high-average hitter with average power. He will be the long-term center fielder, and at age 23 could be advanced quickly, a la Posey.
•Bochy is one of the best managers in baseball. In four post-Barry Bonds seasons, he has compiled a plus-10 reading in the Pythagorean standings, including plus-6 last season, when he turned an 80-82 season into 86-76.
•Consistent lack of run support is why Cain, who will be pursued widely next winter if he's not signed to a contract extension, has a 69-73 career record.
•It's going to be difficult to hang onto both Cain and Lincecum, who can be a free agent in two years. They would earn at least $40 million combined annually under long-term contracts, probably $45 million.
•Ramon Ramirez, who has made 66 to 71 appearances in each of the last four seasons, went from the Giants to the Mets as a key piece of the Pagan-Torres trade.
•The garlic fries at AT&T Park are not overrated. Ditto the Cha-Cha bowl, sold in left field.
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