Programming note: Giants-Brewers coverage starts Thursday at 10:30 a.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
The last official word from Bruce Bochy was that Angel Pagan would be active, in center field and back atop the lineup Thursday afternoon in Milwaukee.
We’ll find out soon enough if that’s still the case. Bad backs and airplane seats make for strange bedfellows, and even first class can’t be too cushy on that Fresno-to-Milwaukee milk run.
But no question, the Giants are a better team with Pagan in the lineup. Over the past two years, they are 77-58 in games when he appears. They are 61-80 when he doesn’t play.
Pagan helps the Giants score first, and as you might have heard, they are 46-12 when they do that. They are 16-40 when they do not. They used a three-run first inning – and Ryan Vogelsong pitched well to atone for his baserunning blunder that cut short that rally – to take a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Wednesday.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sandoval, Morse lead Giants past Brewers]
Pagan should be back to help them try to win the rubber match.
Let’s not assume he’s here for good, though. This is not last year, when he had a hamstring issue, had surgery to fix it, spent months rehabbing it and returned good as new. Backs are temperamental, and Pagan doesn't play when he's not 100 percent. So the key isn’t just returning Pagan to the fold. It’s keeping him in between the fence posts.
Remember, Pagan has exceeded 125 games in a season just twice in his career, and the Giants are not in a position to replace him. Their system is devoid of outfield prospects, they have too much money committed to next year’s payroll and too many other needs to fill with their available funds.
That’s why the Giants have to be encouraged by what Joe Panik is doing. He had three hits on Wednesday, giving him eight over his last three games. Suddenly, his average shot up from .203 to .261. He’s playing a solid second base as well.
It’ll be interesting to see if Panik continues to get starts even against left-handed pitching, and the Giants will face two of them this weekend in Kansas City. Bochy might want to give Matt Duffy a chance, too – unless he’s the guy sent back to the minors to create roster space for Pagan.
Panik’s solid play has been particularly important, and not just because of their season-long search for a productive second baseman. It’s also significant because second base is one of the five areas – along with a starting pitcher, a closer, a third baseman and a left fielder – that the Giants must address this winter either by bringing back current players or finding new ones.
If they can plug one of those holes with an inexpensive, young player, it would give them greater flexibility to re-sign Pablo Sandoval and still find improvements without shopping at the bottom of the free-agent food chain. They really do want to bring back Sandoval, and it looks like his price is going up. Collecting 10 RBIs just six games into a road trip will do that for you. (They're also among the finalists to sign Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, which would address their lack of depth at the position.)
Believe me, the front office is thinking ahead to those challenges. You never stop trying to build a roster, and with players hitting the waiver wire, that process continues.
For now, the Giants are in the thick of two playoff races. So for the players between the lines, the focus remains there. And Pagan, finally, will be back between the lines with the rest of them.