It's do or be done for Giants

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It's do or be done for Giants

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- For all the energy devoted to the back end of the Giants' starting rotation in the National League Division Series, it turns out that the front end was the problem after all.

And for all the fretting about the front end of the rotation, it turns out that the real problem was the hitting after all.

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It's a hellish Moebius strip of paralysis for the locals, who flee for Cincinnati after a defeat and a sound throttling at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. They have nothing to use as a springboard, no optimism from recent events to use as a guide for the flop, the turn and the river of this series. The Reds hold king-king, the Giants have a seven-deuce unsuited, and the easy part of the series is done.

Sunday's 9-0 muzzling seems so much worse than it actually is, and it was the worst shutout loss in franchise history, because the Giants did nothing whatsoever to provide any hope. Sure, Tim Lincecum made the transformation from Roy Halladay to Joba Chamberlain with surprising ease, but the bigger picture prevents that development from being other than a catchy little sideshow.

Madison Bumgarner didn't last as long as Matt Cain did the night before, the long end of the bullpen essentially cratered, and the hitters, who had scuffled against Cincinnati's makeshift pitching staff in Game 1, did nearly nothing against the more traditional Bronson Arroyo. It looked, when you put the 18 innings together, like the Giants are simply and thoroughly overmatched.

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And maybe they are. Series are over when they are over, and this one isn't over. But it has the overwhelming feel of over-ish, so much so that there is no second-guessing to be done, no what-ifs, no wasted opportunities. The best moment the Giants have had was Johnny Cueto's eighth pitch Saturday night. After that, they have looked baffled, and buffaloed. Even Giants manager Bruce Bochy was more platitudinous than usual, which is how he typically is when the team gives him nothing to talk about.

"We know where we're at right now and our backs are to the wall," he said, his voice more graverl-based than usual. "We have to come out and be ready to play once we get to Cincinnati. It's been done before and we have to keep fightin'. There is no choice in this. We have to keep our heads up and be ready to go come Tuesday."

So this series is no longer a matter of macro-decisions like the starting pitchers, or who catches whom. The what-to-do-with-Lincecum issue is now played out, and the identity of the Game Four starter is even less meaningful than ever. Even the sniveling about the fans being too quiet to inspire the boys is not only out of place but out of time as well. This is now about little moments, single at-bats, fly ball outs in San Francisco that won't be in Cincinnati. This is about finding at-bats that work, and the best Ryan Vogelsong Ryan Vogelsong has ever been. Just to give them a chance.

The Giants have been in this situation before, most recently in 2003, when they were flap-slapped in four games by the Florida Marlins, but nobody in uniform save pitching coach Dave Righetti was there to draw from it. History doesn't help you when you're face down in a puddle. So it is that their only salvation is incremental improvement in the following areas:

Places 1 through 3 in the order, where Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval are 3 for 26.

Places 5 and 6, where Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are 1 for 13.

Places 8 and 9, where Brandon Crawford and an amalgam of pitchers and pinch-hitters are 1 for 11.

That's 5 for 50, and there isn't enough Buster Posey and Gregor Blanco and the ghost of Melky Cabrera to tidy that up.

And the pitching? Well, the next time we see Cain would be in an as-yet-still-hypothetical Game 5, and everyone else is available for whatever scut work is there to perfrom. Lincecum acceded to Bochy's desires and went to the bullpen without protest, and his reward is that he and George Kontos are suddenly the staff aces.

But all this is small sample size stuff, and so is the Giants' task -- to make the monumental into a series of small and potentially digestible chunks, if they can. They have no choice, as Bochy said forlornly. It is do, or be done.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Giants ready to give young players a shot in left field

Giants ready to give young players a shot in left field

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Bobby Evans kicked some big tires before giving a record deal to Mark Melancon, and he didn’t limit himself to the robust closer market. The Giants checked in on Yoenis Cespedes and they talked to the Pirates when it became clear that Andrew McCutchen was available. 

“You check in on everything,” Evans said. “You have to.”

Cespedes got $110 million to stay in New York and the Giants are no longer in any sort of mix for McCutchen, who comes with an overwhelming asking price. There are other big outfield names out there, but the Giants don’t expect to make a splash. The Melancon deal put the organization over the competitive balance tax, but even before that, the intention was to give Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker a shot to win the left field job next spring. 

“They’re not getting any younger and they deserve an opportunity,” Evans said. “But we also are not going to give them the jobs. They have to come out there and earn them and there will be competition and other options. There may be trade scenarios or other scenarios that allow us to bring in a guy that’s going to be hard to beat, but right now we just have to give them the opportunity if nothing develops. That's really how I look at it. 

“We’ve got to keep our doors open but an opportunity where they’re competing in the spring is a win for us. But ultimately they have to go out and prove it. Part of our organization being strong is giving young players a chance, and again when they get to be past 25 and 26 they’re not as young anymore, and these guys are getting older and they need that opportunity.”

In the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort here outside of Washington D.C., there is often skepticism that the Giants are being truthful. National reporters want to shoehorn them in as a fit for any slugger on the market. When Evans was at the GM Meetings in November, he was surrounded by New York reporters who thought the Giants represented the greatest outside threat for Cespedes. But executives from other teams have conceded that Evans and the rest of the front office have not been aggressively asking about outfielders. 

“You can’t lose sight that your (minor league) system is there for a reason,” Evans said.

Both young outfielders have shown flashes of what might be lurking. Parker hit .347 and slugged .755 in a September cameo in 2015 that included a memorable three-homer, seven-RBI game in Oakland. He had an uneven sophomore year, but still hit five homers in 127 at-bats, showing the front office that he could be a 20-homer guy if given a full-time shot. Williamson has batted just .222 while being pulled back and forth from Triple-A to the Majors, but he was highly thought of as a prospect and scouts marvel at his raw power. During a 26-game stretch before the trade deadline last year, Williamson posted a .277/.382/.538 slash line and hit five homers. 

Evans said others will be in the mix next spring, including Gorkys Hernandez (a likely replacement for speed/defense reserve Gregor Blanco), prospect Austin Slater, and Wynton Bernard, a 26-year-old career minor-leaguer who signed last month and is known for his speed. The Giants also are curious to see what they have in Chris Marrerro, a 28-year-old former top prospect who signed in November. He hit 23 homers last season in Triple-A. 

The Giants are open minded about adding as the market shapes out, and they can be patient now that the heavy lifting in the bullpen is done. There's a chance a power bat is still sitting there in late January, although those players traditionally have not chosen AT&T Park as a place to rebuild value. The price could dramatically drop for a player like Detroit's J.D. Martinez. 

The likelihood right now, though, is that Williamson or Parker starts in left field on opening day. If either sticks, it would be a huge boost for a front office that is trying to control costs in certain spots.

The Melancon deal, with an average annual value of $15.5 million, put the Giants into the tax for the third consecutive season. The penalty for that is a 50 percent tax for every dollar spent over the $195 million limit. The Giants have committed $313 million to free agents the past two offseasons, but that plan isn’t sustainable without the support of pre-arbitration players who are contributing at or just above the MLB minimum of $535,000. Buster Posey won an MVP award in 2012 while making $615,000. Joe Panik made $545,000 last year as a Gold Glove second baseman, and he'll continue to be a bargain this season. Until a pair of extensions, the Giants had Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford in the lineup for about the cost of a middle reliever. 

“When you’re invested (heavily) in the ‘pen, rotation, first base, shortstop, catcher, right field, center field — at some point, you’re going to need your farm system to rise up,” Evans said. 

The Giants hope Williamson and Parker can do that.

“The final stage of development comes at the big leagues,” Evans said. “Until they get those at-bats, you’ll always wonder.”
 

Otani to MLB after 2017 season? 'We discussed the possibility'

Otani to MLB after 2017 season? 'We discussed the possibility'

TOKYO -- Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani says he could move to the major leagues after the 2017 season.

The 22-year-old right-hander, who has also put up big numbers at the plate, signed a $2.37 million contract for next season with the Nippon Ham Fighters on Monday.

Otani will not become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season and will need the Fighters' approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system before that time.

He says "we discussed the possibility of me going. ... The club will respect my wishes whenever I decide I want to go."

Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher and batted .322 with a career-high 22 home runs this season for the Fighters.

New rules in MLB's collective bargaining agreement make it more difficult for players like Otani to get paid big bucks right away. But there is a definite curiosity about his abilities, even from those who haven't seen him play much.

"I don't know which side you're worried about more: his ability to pitch or hit," former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Hopefully he stays healthy because he's an addition whatever league he winds up with, whether he stays in Japan or comes to the U.S. he's certainly going to be an exciting player for people to look forward to watching."

Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was reluctant to talk about Otani because he's under contract in Japan. But he's intrigued about Otani's ability to pitch and hit.

"We have reports on him," Dombrowski said. "Do I think a player could be a two-way player? Yeah, it could happen. It is very difficult? Yes. But I'm not saying that there's not a player out there that can't do that because some of them are rare, rare guys. Babe Ruth could do it. He was pretty good. So it can be done."