San Francisco’s emotional and statistical leader is sidelined till August. But will he be the same when he gets back in the lineup?
Unless they can steal one on Sunday Night Baseball, the Giants are in danger of finishing a six-game East Coast swing winless; losing three close games in Miami before wilting in the crushing humidity of the nation’s capital and dropping a pair to the first-place Nationals.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner didn’t pack his cape in the carry-on and spotted the Nats a three-run lead after throwing only five pitches during an early Independence Day (11 a.m. EST) start—including the biggest explosion of the day: a 420-foot mistake to Bryce Harper for the sluggers’ 25th home run.
Bumgarner went on to allow six runs in five innings, his worst start since, well, the Fourth of July 2012 —where he allowed seven.
On this trip, particularly during the two games in Washington, the Giants’ pitching isn’t the only thing that’s off.
A series of mental errors have supplanted the mistakes over the plate. Friday, Angel Pagan thought he was out at second not knowing the second-baseman didn’t field the ball cleanly. Pagan started jogging back to the dugout, only to be tagged out.
Saturday, Brandon Belt was picked off at first by the Nats’ backstop Wilson Ramos. On defense, Belt left the bag on a ground ball that glanced off third baseman Matt Duffy’s knee but was fielded cleanly by Brandon Crawford—who found his target across the diamond empty.
Down seven, the Giants’ glimmer of a comeback died in the 8th. Gregor Blanco found himself between third and home as Nats’ shortstop Ian Desmond faked a throw to first after fielding a grounder and ran over to Blanco and tagged him out en route to the dugout.
…On March 5th, the Giants’ fortunes seemed to change overnight: from World Champs who got all the breaks to a team receiving news of the worst possible kind. Right fielder Hunter Pence’s left arm was fractured after being hit by a pitch from Cubs prospect Corey Black.
To that point, Pence had played in 383 straight games—the longest active streak in MLB. Since the Giants traded for Pence in July 2012, The Preacher has hit .277 and collected 408 hits, 225 runs, raked 54 bombs and driven in 218—leading the team in all as well as willing the underdog squad to a pair of World Series titles.
Pence did make it back into the lineup for an 18-game stretch in late-May/early June, giving the streaking Giants a morale boost and helping to bring them within a game of the first-place Dodgers, (the Giants went 18-18 in the absence of the three-time All-Star to start the season).
The wild-eyed outfielder hit .282 during his time back until tendonitis in the left arm flared. He was re-placed on the 15-day disabled list June 12 and doesn’t look to return until month’s end.
“He’s doing well, but he is just hitting off a tee now,” manager Bruce Bochy said last week. “We’re going to slow-play this. He’ll probably need a couple of (minor-league rehab) games. More than likely he’ll be back after the All-Star break.”
Historically, the forearm fracture is a tough one to come back from in-season. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson suffered a similar break in 2013 during Spring Training and ended up playing only 61 games and hitting .229 that season.
While it remains to be seen how Pence’s numbers bear out, that 60-game mark may be tougher to attain than baseball’s current Iron Man originally thought. The forearm fracture is one of those sneaky, quirky injuries that informs every at-bat and every trot out to the field.
The tendonitis flare-up was a result of an early June diving play in right against the Pirates. Since then, Pence’s mastery of the wind-whipped carom-and-clang of AT&T’s arrogant right field, has been missed
Off-season acquisition Nori Aoki was doing a serviceable job in the home park’s most dangerous corner and was destroying NL pitching, hitting .317 before getting plucked in the leg on June 20 against the Dodgers and fracturing his fibula. Aoki’s return is also in doubt until mid-August.
The Giants are known winners and the reigning World Series champions. This season, plagued with injuries, streaky pitching and more substitutions in the outfield than during an ECHL game, seems to be following the book-those-fishing-charters-in-September narrative of the team’s recent odd-numbered years.
The chances of hanging a pennant in 2015 are long against San Francisco (10-1 at last count), but then again, it’s never been—especially in Pence’s case—about paying attention to the odds.