Aaron Rowand

1990’s Braves? Giants are only halfway there

Since the ever-improving starting rotation is by far the most interesting thing about the San Francisco Giants since Barry Lamar Bonds was running roughshod over every pitcher in his path, I’ve become enamored with this idea of the Giants turning into the 1990’s Atlanta Braves.

The ages of the Braves’ vaunted foursome of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery in their heyday don’t really match those of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Randy Johnson now. However, the Giants’ top hurlers have a realistic chance of putting together a season that, production-wise, is comparable with an average mid-’90’s season for the Braves’ rotation.

(And for those worried about Jonathan Sanchez’s tendency to be completely undependable, especially on the road, the Braves of that era were dealing with the same issues from fifth starters like Pete Smith, Kent Mercker and a young Jason Schmidt.)

The ’90’s Braves got a bad rap for their postseason shortcomings, the dreadful (and completely unoriginal) Tomahawk Chop and an announcing crew that was the broadcast equivalent of Ambien. They were also, like the 2009 Giants, a team that took on the personality of their dominant starting staff, which resulted in the perception that the Braves’ success was based solely on pitching.

Unfortunately for those hoping the Giants will ride this Manny Ramirez suspension to the first of ten straight Division Titles, Atlanta’s offense from those days was a virtual All-Star team compared to the awful lineup Bruce Bochy has to work with. Even the 1992 team, which didn’t yet include Greg Maddux had seven players with 10 or more homers and 138 as a team, totals the Giants have absolutely no chance of matching.

In the middle of 1993 Atlanta traded for Fred McGriff, who along with Ron Gant and David Justice formed a trio that combined for 113 homers on the season, while the team itself hit a total of 169. Throughout the rest of the ’90’s the lowest total the Braves would amass in a season was 168 (except for 137 home runs in 1994, when the team only played 114 games).

The Giants are on pace for under 90 homers this season, and if Bengie Molina gets hurt it isn’t inconceivable that they could go a full month without hitting a single home run. Granted, the 1990’s were smack dab in the middle of the steroid era, but the Braves’ offense was always in the top half of the National League, or at least solidly in the middle. Even before today’s pathetic shutout against Eric Stults of all people, the Giants were last in the league in runs, homers, total bases, slugging and OPS.

In other words, they have a 100-win pitching staff paired with a 100-loss lineup. Add the two and you’ve got a .500 team. Still, the larger issue is this: it’s near criminal (in a baseball sense) how little thought and creativity it took for Brian Sabean and the rest of the “Giants Brass” to create the 2009 Giants lineup.

The two free agent position players they’ve signed over the past couple years, Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria, are about as frightening to opposing pitchers as an episode of Scooby Doo. The only hitter with upside potential in Fresno is Jesus Guzman, a fielder so awful the Giants are hesitant to call him up to replace either Travis Ishikawa or Rich Aurilia, who are hitting .191 and .175, respectively. They have plenty of talent that started the season at San Jose, but the jump from A-ball to the Majors is rarely succeessful — if that’s even an option, your team is in crisis mode.

With Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and even Kevin Pucetas arising as possible fantastic replacements for Randy Johnson after this season and Zito looking better by the start (apparently Twitter is a PED), the Giants have a pretty large window where their starting pitching should be at or near the top of the National League (maybe even as long as the ’90’s Braves), so maybe there will come a time when the Giants’ lineup becomes a poor-man’s version of what Atlanta had in the 1990’s.

I feel bad even writing that, as if Larry Baer is going to read this post and think, “That’s right, wait a couple years until the young talent’s ready and milk Tim Lincecum for 40,000 tickets every five starts. And don’t forget to try one of Orlando Cepeda’s delicious Cha-Cha Bowls! And did you know Lou Seal’s available for parties?”

Mr. Baer, I beg of you. The good people of San Francisco (and don’t forget their “territory” in San Jose!) demand a team that holds our interest during both halves of every inning, not just one. Just as it was an incomplete viewing experience to twiddle our thumbs and wait for each Bonds at-bat, I’m finding myself channel surfing more often than I should when Giants not named Molina or Pablo Sandoval are scheduled to hit. The Braves were known for their pitching, but they also had plenty of Pendleton, Justice, McGriff, Chipper and Klesko to go around. If that’s the Giants’ template for success, they still have a lot of work to do.

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