Poor defense could wind up being Giants’ undoing 

click to enlarge San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy watches from the dugout during a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in San Francisco, Thursday, May 30, 2013. The Giants won 5-2. - ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Associated Press
  • San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy watches from the dugout during a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in San Francisco, Thursday, May 30, 2013. The Giants won 5-2.

The emphasis for the Giants this year has been the struggle by their starters, but the pitchers aren’t getting much help from their teammates, either in the field or at bat.

The fielding problems showed up in the first inning Wednesday night when second baseman Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence collided going after Josh Donaldson’s pop fly. It appeared either one could have caught it, but neither did and Scutaro was charged with the error. For the night, the Giants had three errors because of charitable scoring. The number could easily have been five. Even in Thursday’s 5-2 win against the A’s, Pablo Sandoval was charged with an error and Andres Torres let a routine ball get under his glove in the second inning.

At bat, there is a marked difference in approach between the two teams. The A’s hitters work the count while most of the Giants hitters are hackers.

Some baseball writers who have no idea of history think that the idea of working the count originated with the sabermetrics theories. In fact, as early as the ’30s, Branch Rickey was pushing the playground adage, “a walk is as good as a hit,” on his St. Louis Cardinals. Years ago, broadcaster Marty Lurie found a headline in a 1947 edition of The Sporting News which proclaimed, “Philadelphia A’s secret weapon: walks.” As Baltimore’s manager in the ’60s and ’70s, Earl Weaver preached the doctrine of the three-run homer, often preceded by two walks.

When Sandy Alderson became A’s general manager in the ’80s, he realized that, with the vast foul areas at the Oakland Coliseum, it would be difficult to have multi-run rallies with base hits, so his concentration was on walks and home runs.

Since Billy Beane has been general manager, the emphasis has been on hitters making sure they’re swinging at a good pitch to hit, until they get two strikes.

By contrast, the Giants are mostly hackers. There are exceptions. Scutaro, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt are disciplined hitters. Pablo Sandoval will swing at anything, of course, but he often hits pitches well outside the strike zone. Other Giants hitters help opposing pitchers by swinging early at marginal pitches and making outs.

The extreme example of this came in the first game of the Bay Bridge Series. The A’s hitters forced Madison Bumgarner to throw 115 pitches in 6²?³ innings, so he was replaced by George Kontos who, predictably, gave up a two-run double to Yoenis Cespedes. Meanwhile, A’s rookie Dan Straily threw just 78 pitches in six innings. The next night, rookie Mike Kickham threw 65 pitches in just 2¹?³ innings while A’s starter Jarrod Parker threw 94 in seven innings.

When starters have to come out early because they’re throwing so many pitches, it puts tremendous pressure on a bullpen which is already hurting with the loss of setup man Santiago Casilla. The Giants are keeping the Fresno shuttle busy, bringing up pitchers, sending others down, but there are no magic answers to this problem.

When a team is the reigning world champion, other teams watch closely, examining the Giants’ games and seeing exactly what it takes to beat them. It could be a long season.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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