Walcoff: Giants still can’t shake hitting woes 

Coming out of spring training with booming bats and the best record in baseball, the Giants were buzzing with optimism about their improved lineup. But nearly a quarter of the way into the season and not only is the 2010 team hitting a whole lot like a year ago, San Francisco’s prized Panda looks surprisingly lost at the plate.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, Pablo Sandoval had grounded into a team-high nine double plays, was batting .211 on the road and only .156 in the month of May with just two RBIs in his last 18 games.

This from a switch-hitter who led the team with 25 homers, 90 RBIs and a .330 average a year ago. Wasn’t new hitting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens supposed to get his troops to be more selective at the plate, work deeper into counts and spray the ball to all fields? Yeah, right.

Once again, the Giants are scoring only four runs per game, lead the league in grounding into double plays and are on pace to match last year’s total of just 122 homers, which was the second fewest in the NL.

On the plus side, strikeouts per game are down slightly (7 to 6.5) and walks are up (2.5 to 3), but clutch hitting remains maddeningly inconsistent. Certainly injuries to Mark DeRosa, Freddy Sanchez and Edgar Renteria have hurt, but with Sandoval batting in the all-important three hole, it’s real simple. So goes the Panda, so go the Giants.

Also, slim pickings for Bruce Bochy in choosing a designated hitter for this weekend’s interleague games in Oakland, don’t you think?

No love for Oakland

Speaking of the A’s, it’s hard to believe that despite mounting injuries and dwindling Coliseum crowds through the first 40 games of the season, they led the majors with 15 home wins and just seven losses. Too bad the average attendance at an A’s game this year (15,847) is the second lowest in baseball, ahead of only the Cleveland Indians, who are drawing 14,660 per game.

Round in circles

While it’s great to see huge crowds at the Amgen Tour of California, fans deserve more than a fleeting look at their favorite cyclists speeding by. Why not make the last mile of each stage a mini-criterium so the race loops around the same road two or three times? The peloton could then roll to the finish line like marathoners running the final lap around a
stadium track.

Cheap shot

The most unsettling sight of the Sharks-Blackhawks series came late in Game 2, when, while lined up for a faceoff, Joe Thornton took a cheap shot slash to the forearm of center Dave Bolland. Chicago’s hard-checking center has obviously frustrated Jumbo Joe, who has been on the ice for four of the Blackhawks’ six goals.

Thornton did have a slick assist setting up Patty Marleau’s first goal on Tuesday, but the Sharks’ top line has been seriously outplayed by Chicago’s explosive young stars Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane.

The 22-year-old Toews is the NHL’s leading scorer in the playoffs with 23 points on seven goals and 16 assists. Kane, 21, is third in the league with 18 points on seven goals and 11 assists. Throw in massive right wing Dustin Byfuglien, who scored a goal in each of the first two games in San Jose, and it’s no wonder Chicago is well on the way to winning its first Stanley Cup since 1961.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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