Don't make Sandoval the scapegoat for Giants' team-wide funk

Don't make Sandoval the scapegoat for Giants' team-wide funk
April 19, 2014, 10:00 pm
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It’s early. It’s a small sample size and baseball is weird game.
Hunter Pence in Giants' hitting woes

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SAN DIEGO – So much has been said and written about Pablo Sandoval’s slow start. He was hitless again in a 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on Saturday, dropping his average to .171.

That is no way to begin a contract drive, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the time has come to give his All-Star third baseman a mental break as the Giants try to avoid getting swept here Sunday.

[RELATED: Instant Replay: Giants squander stellar outing by Hudson]

But anyone who thinks the Giants’ offensive woes begin and end with Sandoval just isn’t paying attention. You’d be overlooking Buster Posey’s 1-for-23 funk, for starters. And you’d be ignoring the fact that Hunter Pence has three RBIs – exactly half as many as Sandoval.

For some players, the pressure of a contract drive can turn into a negative. For others, the mental strain comes after the fact. Living up to a big deal can become a bigger deal.

Pence, who signed for five years and $90 million at the end of last season, acknowledged it’s a weight he feels.

“It’s definitely there,” said Pence, whose average fell to .188 after he was hitless in four at-bats. “But I don’t know if it has anything to do with what’s going on right now.”

That’s because Pence easily could’ve been 3 for 4 instead of 0 for 4. Center fielder Alexi Amarista sprawled in the grass to take away a bloop hit. Then came a hard grounder to shortstop, and a line drive to right field.

Pence is being paid handsomely to drive in runs. He has come to bat with 41 runners on base. He's plated two of them.

Pence chooses to look at the calendar and the vagaries of balls in play. To look any deeper would invite doubt, and that’s as counterproductive to hitting as a perfect backdoor slider.

“It’s part of April,” Pence said. “It’s early. It’s a small sample size and baseball is weird game. When it’s not going right, you hit a ball as hard as you can and they catch it. Or you bloop it and they lay out and catch it, like today. For me, I have to continue to focus on what I can control and that’s having good at-bats, and having a good swing.”

The Giants haven’t had many of them lately. They’ve scored two runs in two losses here, on solo homers by Brandon Belt and Michael Morse. That’s right: They haven’t driven in a baserunner all series. And they’re averaging 1.86 runs over the last seven games.

“We didn’t get many good swings off,” Bochy said. “That’s what disappointed me tonight. I don’t know if it was a little tough to see or if guys are pressing or didn’t like some calls. We’ve just got too many guys cold with the bat.

“And shoot, they were out early. They were out hitting. If anything, we might be swinging too much because they’re not getting the bat out there right now.”

There won’t be any hitting on the field Sunday morning, Bochy said. The indoor cage might be dark, too. Told that Bochy plans to cut back, Morse flinched a bit.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll have to lock that (cage) up for some of these guys,” said Morse, who won’t hit if that’s the order. “Whatever Bochy says. He knows best.”

As for Posey, who argued a called third strike Saturday, Bochy likes what he sees from him in batting practice and doesn’t believe this current funk will last much longer. Posey put in tons of work this winter and spring to avoid starting the way he finished, with a .244 average after the break. After all that, he’s currently at .237.

The Giants seem to go through at least a couple team-wide lulls every year. It was never worse than last July, when six guys were riding 1-for-25s or 2-for-40s. That’s when Homer Bailey no-hit them in Cincinnati. But the way they see it, they had Angel Pagan on the disabled list and little hope in the standings.

This is a different year, and a different group.

“We just hit a rough spot and this team is too good to be stuck in this much longer,” Morse said. “I think we’re about to get hot and turn it up.”

Said Bochy: “They’re too talented.” 

Said Pence: “We have some guys here who are proven hitters and we’ve just got to get everyone clicking. But for everyone to be pitching this good for us is a great sign. It’s a very big ingredient. And because the hits aren’t falling, you’ve got to continue to focus on the little things. Make sure you’re playing defense, make sure you’re running the bases right. Those are going to be keys too.

“The swings are part of baseball. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a season that isn’t up and down, up and down. It’s hard not to press a little bit.”

Back to Sandoval, then. Bochy can’t bench everyone. So for now, he’ll try to hit the reset button with his third baseman, who was “pressing more than any other game.”

“But it’s not just him,” Bochy said.

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