Monday, August 1, 2011

A Fear of Heights

The Giants have contracted a debilitating case of one-bad-inning. A nervous tightrope walker, the Wold Champion team has in the last few days tended to be unable to resist looking down and losing its tenuous balance. What is most troublesome is the fact that this condition is primarily affecting the Giants’ starting pitchers.

Perhaps it is the shock of taking Philadelphia in two of the three games that has made the Giants pitchers more aware of their position as leaders in the NL West, so far ahead of themselves compared to last year. The impossible reality of this seems to have wrought a strange effect on the starting rotation. The magic that has been at their backs in 2011 seems to have evaporated once spotted, and our pitchers are finding themselves hitting a stumble once in each game that is making even .250 hitters look like heroes.

One-bad-inning took a hold this week on starting pitchers Vogelsong, Bumgarner and Cain. Each of their most recent outings has seen one inning bring about an aberration in their numbers compared to the rest of the game. For Vogelsong and Bumgarner, their leadoff innings stood as blights on otherwise strong performances. For Cain, a string of mistakes in a five run fifth sunk a powerful outing in the leadoff game in the series with Arizona. While in most of these games our own hits have come thicker than they often have throughout 2011, the holes dug by a single disastrous defensive inability to pitch for three outs has done a great deal to knock the wind out of a newly optimistic offense.

That these troubles come in the wake of some last minute trades that have added some might to the unimposing Giants offense (theoretically the lacking side of the team’s armaments) may be a clue. This boost to the first place team may just have knocked them off track, as it has forced them to re-evaluate exactly what position they occupy in the Major Leagues.

For one thing, the Giants were never supposed to beat the Phillies - not in the NLCS and not in their recent visit to the notoriously tough on visiting teams city of brotherly love. The Giants are used to being underestimated and outgunned. This latest impossibility in the prolonged departure from their characteristically torturous play, coupled with the promising addition of the surprisingly consistent Keppinger and the extra-base-threat Beltran, has let this team catch their breath and take a look around at just how high they’ve managed to make it - and everyone knows we’ve made it this far on the backs of our starting pitchers.

But this isn’t a team that’s used to cruising. This isn’t a team that’s used to bringing the big bad reputation to a game. It’s not easy realizing you’re no longer the upstart; that you are - in fact - the favorite. Our pitching has done the impossible up to this point, it has delivered wins without bats. Now that the bats may have turned up at last, there is an expected stumble associated with the realization that you are now expected to succeed.

This is no longer an underdog team - it is a team that can no longer avoid, shrug away or modestly downplay its own playoff potential. As of now, we are not handling this idea very well. It’s possible that the Giants will be more comfortable should they fall out of the top spot for a series or two, but I’d rather not have to find out. Let’s hope that our hiccups, our epidemic of one-bad-inning, passes quickly.

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