Is Bruce Bochy perfect? No.He was damn close to it last fall, though, wasn't he? Every button he pushed, every lever he pulled, every hunch he played, every move he made -- they all worked out as though he'd somehow banked a lifetime of good karma and cashed it all in over the course of one magical month.Cashing out means the account is empty, however, and while the Giants got off to a great start this season thanks to many memorable close, late and thrilling wins at perpetually sold-out AT&T, Bochy's star, which was as high and bright as its ever been in the wake of the World Series win, slowly and inexorably dimmed as the season wore on.He couldn't control the injuries -- 25 disabled-list trips among 21 players, many of them easily classified as "key" -- or the underachievement of 2010 stars such as Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff and Jonathan Sanchez, but the one consistent criticism of Bochy since he's been at the helm on the shores of McCovey Cove again came to the fore as the Giants slipped from the fore of the National League West.You know the knock. Bochy gives the veterans too much rope, and the veterans often hang themselves with it.It seemed a concept of the past last season, when highly paid but ineffective Aaron Rowand was planted on the bench in favor of Torres, and higher-paid Barry Zito was left off the playoff roster for all three rounds. But it reared its ugly head again this season in the form of Bochy's borderline obsessive compulsion with assuming Huff would wake from his season-long slumber with the lumber.So Bochy, particularly of late, has come under fire from the same fans who sang his praises to high heaven less than a year ago, and that should strike any right-minded fan as somewhat unfair.As stated above, Bochy isn't perfect. No manager is. They all have tendencies that will occasionally or eventually bite them in the butt. They also, because their baseball acumen has led to their hiring as a big-league manager, make a ton of brilliant decisions on a daily basis, many of which most observers are unaware.It might be a quick chat at a struggling young player's locker. It might be a pitching change in the sixth inning of a mid-May afternoon game. It might be dropping someone from second to seventh in the batting order, just because. Heck, It might be something as subtle as a look .Whatever they are, Bochy makes them work more often than not, which is why any criticism leveled at him as the season winds down is unfounded and unfair.Yeah, he probably stuck with Huff a little too long, but if you're going to focus on that as the reason for the Giants' failure to make the playoffs, you're ignoring about a thousand other reasons.In some ways, Bochy has had as good a year in 2011 as he did in 2010. The results have been dissimilar, but not as dissimilar as the circumstances. The man's had to come up with nearly as many lineups as the number of games his oft-fractured team has played, and consistency is a cornerstone of success in the bigs. Yet the lineups with which Bochy came up, came through more often than not, and as such a team that was flawed in many ways still managed to play meaningful baseball into the last week of the season.Perfect? No. Bochy is, though, damn near perfect for the Giants, and to a man they'll tell you that.And isn't that good enough?
CHICAGO -- Joe Panik's leadoff homer in the series opener was a jolt, but the Giants are a much more dangerous offense when Denard Span is clicking atop the lineup, a spot ahead of Panik, and they hope to have that duo going Wednesday. Span got treatment all day Tuesday and said he could return to the lineup against Kyle Hendricks.
"The swelling has gone down," Span said of his sprained left thumb. "The thing to do is to come in tomorrow, test it out, and if it feels good, you strap it on."
Span said an X-ray came back clean, but he didn't grab a bat Tuesday to test the thumb, focusing instead on treatment. He is batting .326 in nine games since coming off the DL. His replacement in center this week, Gorkys Hernandez, was 0-for-3 against Jon Lester, lowering his average to .160.
--- The main story from the second game of this series: Johnny Cueto is now dealing with a second blister, and you can see the lack of movement on his pitches. The Cubs took advantage. Lester didn't need much help while throwing a 99-pitch complete game in two hours and five minutes.
"He threw a lot more changeups than we've seen in the past," Buster Posey said. "He's shown it in the past but tonight he had good command of it. It wasn't just a show-me pitch. He used it a lot and threw it to lefties as well.
Posey twice grounded short rollers in front of the plate.
--- Posey's throw to nab Javy Baez on Monday was one of the best of the year, and on Tuesday afternoon, Bruce Bochy said, "If he's given a chance, I don't think there's anyone better in the game." That might be true, but Willson Contreras is threatening to get into the conversation. He threw an 85 mph rocket to second in the fifth to nab Eduardo Nuñez. If you're wondering how Lester -- who flat-out has the yips about throwing to first base and doesn't do it -- has allowed just six stolen bases this season, look no further than his young catcher. Long-term, Contreras is the guy I would expect to compete with Posey for Gold Gloves.
"Nuney, with his speed, can go," Bochy said. "Their catcher made a great throw. Put it right on the money."
--- From before Tuesday's game, what do the relievers think of the new hidden bullpen at Wrigley? And if you missed the Power Rankings the other day, the records are outdated, but there are updates in here on old friends Matt Duffy, Chris Heston, Tommy Joseph, Adalberto Mejia, Yusmeiro Petit and others. Petit in particular is incredible ... just keeps doing his thing.
--- This play was made by the shortstop. That's good for the old UZR.
CHICAGO — Even after losses, Johnny Cueto tends to find a way to flash a smile or two in post-game interviews. He is as competitive as it gets between the lines, but off the field he embraces a relaxed attitude.
There was none of that Tuesday night at Wrigley. Cueto wore a dour look while describing a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, perhaps because he is a man searching for answers. Cueto was already pitching with a blister for the first time in his career. On Tuesday, he admitted he’s now trying to make the ball dance while dealing with a second blister.
The first, on his middle finger, popped up at the end of the spring and has bothered Cueto off and on. The second, on his index finger, formed in St. Louis last week.
“It’s not an excuse,” Cueto said several times. “I was getting hit.”
The Cubs crushed three homers, including a 470-foot bomb from Kyle Schwarber. All three pitches leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Cueto admitted that he can't get that final twist on the ball as he normally does. A tad of his movement is missing, and hitters are taking advantage.
“It’s just those pitches I left hanging,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When you leave pitches hanging or put them right in the middle of the plate, you’re going to pay the price.”
The homers — by Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo — represented 60 percent of the hits Cueto gave up. He struck out eight in six innings.
“It’s a little unlike Johnny to make mistakes like that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You like to think you could make a mistake and get away with it, but he didn’t tonight. A couple of fastballs he pulled over the heart of the plate and then one cutter.”
Catcher Buster Posey said the Cubs were on Cueto’s heater, so the duo tried to adjust. You can’t pitch without your fastball, though, and Cueto’s isn’t quite as explosive as it was in his first year with the Giants. The velocity is down a couple of ticks, but it’s unclear if that too is related to the blisters.
What is clear is that Cueto is a different pitcher in his second season in San Francisco. He has a 4.64 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .253 with 11 homers. Through 10 starts last year, Cueto had a 2.83 ERA and was holding hitters to a .229 average. He had allowed just two homers.
“Gosh, it’s just probably a few more mistakes than he made last year,” Bochy said. “He’s still competing so well and he gives you a chance to win every game.”
Cueto made it through six despite the long-ball issues, but that wasn’t enough against Jon Lester, who would have faced Cueto in Game 5 last October. Lester needed just 99 pitches to carve up the Giants for a complete game. He threw 70 strikes.
That’s the type of efficient performance the Giants came to expect from Cueto last year. Cueto still expects it from himself, but his fingers aren’t cooperating. Asked if he would take a short stint on the DL to get right, Cueto said he can’t. He needs to keep pitching and have callouses form. Plus, any break without throwing would be a significant blow to a team trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of a playoff spot.
“Basically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” to take a break, Cueto said.