Aug. 8, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Giants prepare to spin forward with a three-game series against the reeling Pirates, let's take a moment to peel back and take a quick look at what just happened during the four-game series against the Phillies. No time to belabor the obvious: Philly's better right now -- emphasis on right now. Why? They hit.So it's on the mound where the Giants need to be significantly better than the Phillies to compete, and right now you can't say the Giants are significantly better on the mound. Again, why? Another two-word answer: fifth starter.Lost in the excitement and aftermath of Friday's fisticuffs was that Jonathan Sanchez wasn't very good. At all. And he's the fifth starter right now.It's crazy in a way because on most teams, the No. 5 starter is nothing close to a make-or-break deal. You get a decent start here and there, a .500 record or maybe even a little worse, and you're OK with that.Not so on these Giants. Not now. Not during the regular season. Not with the Diamondbacks' breath waaaaay too hot for comfort. Not with the offense stinking worse than that hot D-Backs breath.RELATED: Giants slugger Beltran to get MRI for sore wrist
Hey, get to the playoffs and it's all good. Throw Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner -- yes, he's the playoff No. 3 because he's been to and thrived in the playoffs -- and Ryan Vogelsong out there and feel swell. You like your chances there.But first you have to get to the playoffs, and to get to the playoffs, these Giants don't need four starters upon whom they can rely. They need five.They can't afford the No. 5 guy to be an acceptable loss, because they have too many days like Saturday, when Cain carved -- one earned run -- and lost. They need a No. 5 who pitches like a No 3.Is Sanchez that guy? Barry Zito? Wow, can you find two more polar opposites?Sanchez was dynamite early on Friday. He's often dynamite early in games. It's that fourth-fifth-sixth inning stretch that often kills him. He gets squirrely.Zito? He's squirrelly in the early going. Thereafter, he typically steadies and eats a few innings, but by then the game's often over because the offense isn't built for comebacks. And eating innings isn't enough for these Giants. Not with this offense. And Zito's likely gone until September, by hook or by crook.The Giants can't afford mid-game meltdowns, either, which is what Sanchez represents right now. Might it be unfair to judge Sanchez based on one start back in the rotation? Of course it's unfair. But who said baseball's fair? There's no such thing as fair when urgency is attached, and it's attached to the Giants right now in a massive way. The Diamondbacks are a half-game back as the week enters Monday evening.There's no solution here. It's Sanchez's job for now. Zito is nobody's idea of a knight on a white horse in case Sanchez doesn't improve in a hurry. There is nothing in the way of prospects at Triple-A that inspires any confidence for the time being; the best system arms are in Richmond, Va., wearing hats with a flying quarrel on 'em. Help us all. The point here isn't to offer a solution. The point is to make a point: We learned one thing over the weekend, and it had nothing to do with Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, Ramon Ramirez, Lincecum, Cain or Tony Bruno. It's this: If the Giants don't get quality from their No. 5 guy, routinely, from here on out, the Diamondbacks are eventually going to take advantage -- they haven't thus far -- and make life miserable at McCovey Cove.