The 2012 champs are the 2013 chumps. What's happened to the Giants? Here's my take:
• They don't have Melky Cabrera. Giants fans and media have pretended that Cabrera never existed, but this is a hard fact: Without Cabrera for the 113 games he played before being suspended, the Giants wouldn't have been in position to make their late season run last year.
In those 113 games, Cabrera hit a league-leading .346 with 11 home runs, 60 RBIs and 84 runs scored, while playing an excellent defensive left field. So far this year, left field has been a black hole. Before Angel Pagan was injured and Gregor Blanco shifted to center, Blanco played a good defensive game, though never has been the hitter Cabrera is. Blanco's replacements in left field have seldom either hit or fielded well.
• The pressure of the postseason games has take a toll on the pitching staff. Only Madison Bumgarner is pitching as well as he did last year.
Tony La Russa once told me that it wasn't the number of pitches that was most important, but the number of times a pitcher had to pitch under the pressure of preventing base runners from scoring. When you add in the postseason factor, especially the type of run the Giants had last season when they were often one bad pitch away from elimination, the pressure is multiplied many times.
As the staff leader, Matt Cain has been the one who has had the most problems, culminating with not being able to get out of the first inning against the Mets on Wednesday. Tim Lincecum has hardly looked like the pitcher he once was. Ryan Vogelsong was inconsistent before he was put out when he was hit by a pitch while batting. Barry Zito has reverted to the mediocrity he's been for most of his Giants career.
With an offseason to rest physically and mentally, I think Cain will be fine next season, but the Giants will have to radically rebuild their pitching staff. I think they should work hard with Michael Kickham, who has the potential to be a good starter, though not on the Cain or Bumgarner level. Otherwise, they're going to have to restructure their starting group. Lincecum is almost certainly gone. Zito should retire. Vogelsong was a great human interest story last year, but there's not much air left in the tires. Chad Gaudin is a possibility, if he can shake his current legal problems.
• They simply don't have enough power. Don't blame the park. Earlier Giants teams had no problems hitting home runs at AT&T, and opposing teams don't complain about the park, either. The Mets hit two homers in Wednesday's game, both no-doubters.
The fact is, the Giants haven't been drafting players with good power potential. Pablo Sandoval was a pleasant surprise but he's eating himself out of baseball. Buster Posey is a good hitter but only a mid-20s homer guy. A power hitter is one who hits at least 30 home runs in a season. Seven hitters on other clubs already have more than 20 home runs. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles has 33.
Until the Giants get power hitters like this, they won't be contenders again.