As has been pointed out several times already, sometimes cruelly, it isn’t as though the San Francisco Giants have been strangers to the tentacles of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances even if you don’t mention the name of Bonds. Or even Jose Guillen. And with Melky Cabrera suspended, at a time when he was the Giants’ no questions asked best option in left field, we’re going to see what this year’s Giants are made of.
You can just about bet the ballpark that Cabrera never once pondered that while running his Web of deceit. It’s getting worse enough for Cabrera: one of his closest associated, Juan Nunez, has been barred from all major league clubhouses following the revelation that he, Nunez, helped set up a fake Website, promoting a fake supplement, in a bid to help explain Cabrera’s positive test for synthetic testosterone. And, Cabrera could stand to lose when he hits the free agency market this winter; his price could be lower by as much as $75 million thanks to his chicanery.
Well, the Giants are 3-2 without Cabrera. Assuming that’s their pace to come, it may not be enough to get them the National League West crown. It may not even be enough to secure them the second NL wild card. At this writing they share a 67-55 record with the Pittsburgh Pirates; the NL Central race at this writing seems to be making a case that at least one wild card comes from that division. Among the NL West teams it could be win the division or wait ’till next year. The Giants can’t afford to play at merely a game above .500 for the rest of the season.
Madison Bumgarner did his best Monday night to keep his Giants able to look forward to somewhat better. He squared off against Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ best, with the Dodgers entering a half game up on the Giants in the West. The Dodgers finished the game half a game behind the Giants, who had Bumgarner’s eight scoreless innings, including ten punchouts, to thank for being in any position to win, which they did, 2-1. This against Kershaw, a pitcher against whom prying even one run can be a chore comparable to driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco aboard a lawn mower when you have a mere six hours to get there.
But they shouldn’t have had to be that throttled even to try. The Giants overall were about a league-average offence before Cabrera got bagged. Without him, they might have become even more so and perhaps a dip or two below. Between them, Bumgarner and Kershaw combined for twenty punchouts on the night, while not a Giant or a Dodger reached base on ball four. Bumgarner may have been lucky that two runs was all he needed to work with.
Old-timers must have been mildly amused to watch the Giants scratching for runs like alley cats scratching for scraps or the 1960s Dodgers mounting—so the legends remain—a game-breaking threat just by having their leadoff hitter hit by a pitch. I’m not terribly convinced the Giants were laughing all that much Monday night. Their straits, so they felt, with their best hitter on the year going down over an act of abject stupidity, were dire enough that they took a page out of the 1960s Dodger legend.
Angel Pagan opened the game with a double into left center field. On-deck hitter Marco Scutaro plotted his course practically at the moment just before the ball hit the grass. “You have pitching like tonight, I don’t care if it’s the first inning. You have to score a run for our guy,” Scutaro told reporters after the game, mindful that it was easier to burgle the White House than to pry a run out of Kershaw. “It’s hard to predict in baseball. Some people don’t like to bunt early. But maybe that could be the difference. In the beginning, you never know.”
Especially when manager Bruce Bochy, thanks to Cabrera, found himself with two choices to play in left field: Gregor Blanco, in the throes of a .154 batting average for his previous month’s play; or, Justin Christian, who had all of 132 major league at-bats entering Monday night’s contest. “It’s a tough call between the two,” the manager said, and he wasn’t exactly trying to be a wise guy. “Decided to throw Blanco out there to see if we can get him going.”
Pablo Sandoval brought Pagan home with a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Kung Fu Panda brought Pagan home with a clean single, though Pagan had to beat a tag by Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis to do it. The lone Dodger run came in the ninth, when Hanley Ramirez hit one out against San Francisco reliever Sergio Romo, compelling Bochy to bring in Javier Lopez to nail down the win post haste.
The last time the Giants faced losing a player thanks to actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances was two years ago. Jose Guillen, outfielder and human time bomb, was all but ordered by baseball government to be kept off the Giants’ postseason roster, while said government looked into what turned out to be a federal interception of fifty human growth hormone syringes to Guillen’s home.
That was then: The Giants went on to win the World Series, but then Guillen wasn’t exactly one of their bigger guns. It’s very even money as to whether he would have helped or hindered the Giants’ cause in the end. (It wasn’t the second time Guillen’s foolishness kept him out of a postseason; his ridiculous screamfest when Mike Scioscia tried to lift him for a faster pinch runner down the 2004 stretch—in a tight race that had two weeks of regular season to go—got him suspended for the rest of the season, then run out of Anaheim in a deal with the Washington Nationals.)
This is now: The Giants could make the postseason at minimum, but Cabrera was one of their bigger guns until he got bagged. They have forty more games to play before getting there, if they do; with the second wild card-inspired win-or-be-gone game factored in, in theory the Giants could be looking at Cabrera returning some time during the National League Championship Series. Assuming they don’t just keep him off the roster, as further payback for helping to turn their season into a bigger battle than it should have been.
That was then: The 2010 Giants reveled in their self-image as morons. (“I’m just trying to fit in with these morons. I have go a little over the top just to try to fit in. I’m probably very tame compared to this group.”—Aubrey Huff, infielder/outfielder and red thong wearer beneath his uniform.)
This is now: The 2012 Giants aren’t exactly reveling in any image, self or otherwise, of having harboured a moron.