San Francisco Giants: 2010 is not coming back

Tito Fuentes

Infielder Tito Fuentes was born in Cuba, at home in San Francisco, where the fans loved how he played. named Fuentes the second baseman for the Giants' all-time hot dog team. "Fuentes . . . was fun to watch the moment he stepped into the batters box. The first thing he did was hold the barrel of the bat and bounce the bat handle on the plate. The handle would flip up and Tito would catch it in his hands and now, holding the bat from the proper end, he was ready to hit.'' Fuentes was a Giant for nearly a decade, from 1965-74. Retired with a .268 career average and 1,491 hits. His best season was his last full one, when he hit .309 for Detroit in 1977. Also starred in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem: Baseball Canto (excerpt below)
"And Tito Fuentes comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleachers go mad with Chicanos and blacks
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
"Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!"
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket
and smacks one that don't come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he's escaping from the United Fruit Company.
As the gringo dollar beats out the pound.
And sweet Tito beats it out like he's beating out usury,
not to mention fascism and anti-semitism.''

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Giants’ top prospects are almost all hitters (including the forebodingly named infielder Joe Panik), which is good because that’s where they can most use the help. The exception is 23-year-old reliever Heath Hembree, who reached Class AA in his first full summer with the organization. Hembree saved 38 games in 54 appearances and fanned 78 in 54.1 innings last year; he’s fanned 100 in the 64.1 minor-league innings he’s pitched. In six spring training innings, he’s fanned seven, walked one and allowed just two hits. The only drawback? He’s apparently clean-shaven.

 What is this man doing here?  We know the Giants need help in center field, but Gregor Blanco? Things can’t be that bad. Blanco is 28 and coming off a minor-league season in which he hit. 201 in two AAA stops, which is even worse than his .258 career major-league average, which doesn’t do justice to his .324 career slugging percentage. Blanco can walk, which is great if pitchers don’t throw strikes; if they do, he’s got no backup plan.

What he said: Giants manager Bruce Bochy on troubled starter Barry Zito: “Just give us a chance to win.” What he meant: “Don’t give up five runs in the first, and keep it close until we can get you out of there, even if we have to carry eight relievers all year.”

Outlook:  The Giants won only six fewer games in 2011 than their world championship 2010, but it felt like more. It should have been: their run differential was 122 runs worse, from a plus-114 in 2010 to a minus-eight in 2011.

No other team with a winning record had a minus run differential, not even the hated Dodgers, who were four games worse but 40 runs better. The Giants were lucky their collapse wasn’t even starker.

Most of it was due to diminished offense — they scored 127 fewer runs in 2011, and that’s not all because of Buster Posey. The Giants’ mediocre offense in 2010 (17th in runs scored) was awful in 2011 (29th); they were the Mariners with better pitching.

The Giants will be better in 2012, but still offensively challenged. They upgraded in center field, if barely; Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand (and his $60 million contract) are gone,  Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are in. Between them, Cabrera and Pagan have two seasons in which their OPS has surpassed .800 (Torres and Rowand had three).

Aubrey Huff is 35 and played like 45 last summer; it’s time for Brandon Belt to get his at-bats. And the middle infield is still a collection of players whose value is in their .280 averages.

But the bigger issue is the back end of the starting rotation, where Ryan Vogelsong is hurt and Barry Zito, with two years to go on a $126 million contract, isn’t. In his first five years as a Giant, Zito is 43-61 with a 4.56 ERA — compared to that, A.J. Burnett was a bargain — and he’s been even worse this spring (6.61 ERA).

The Giants would be better if Eric Surkamp was their fifth starter, but there are about 18 million reasons why he won’t be and they all suggest the Giants won in 2010 not because of GM Brian Sabean, but in spite of. That’s the biggest reason to suspect the 2012 Giants won’t reassert themselves: every move, every signing, every little deal helped in 2010.

Nothing much has since.

Team songTrain: Save Me San Francisco

suggested lyric: Won’t you save me from Barry Zito?

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