Aaron Rowand

5 questions facing the Giants

After the first couple months of the season, it’s pretty clear we know all we need to know about the San Francisco Giants. At times they look like the slowest, oldest team in baseball, then over Memorial Day Weekend the main image we all had was Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez sprinting around the bases after base hits from Buster Posey.

In other words, we really don’t know anything about this team. The roster and the lineup will probably be wildly different in a month, let alone by the end of the season. What do we need to know about how this team will fare after today, as the Giants sit in the middle of the NL West, on pace for 87 wins? Here’s the five most pressing questions:

1. What is up with Tim Lincecum?

After an April where it looked as if a third straight Cy Young was inevitable for Tim Lincecum, now he’s looking like his team’s fourth- or fifth-worst starter.

Baseball’s a long-term game that features knee-jerk reactions. Until we hear definitive proof that Lincecum has a physical ailment of some sort, it doesn’t make sense to do anything other than sit back and wait for him to go back to the pitcher he’s been his entire life. However, it speaks to the fragility of this team that its entire hopes rest on the shoulders of a 160-lb. pitcher who had back problems a season ago. Because if Lincecum either sits due to an injury or continues walking 5 guys a game, the Giants won’t finish .500 this season regardless of how the next four questions are answered.

2. What can the Giants expect from Buster Posey?

Anybody else find it worrisome that the only reason why fans are optimistic about this team (other than two good home series against the Nats and D-Backs) is they called up their 23-year-old gap-hitting prospect catcher to play first base? Listen, Posey looks fantastic. He’s already looks like he has more of an idea of what he’s doing at the plate than anybody on the team not named Freddy. But he doesn’t make the lineup faster or more powerful, and as a young player he’s bound to have ups and downs as the scouting reports on him make the rounds. Until he gets bigger and faces the better pitchers in the National League a few times, we can’t expect anything other than the normal peaks and valleys you see from any rookie. Which means unless you’re hoping for something around .285/.335/.395 from Posey this season, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

3. Will Aaron Rowand ever be punished for sucking?

And that doesn’t mean from the fans, either. Everybody following the team wants Rowand to “grab some pine,” except for the guy who always uses that phrase and the people who work with him. Sure, Rowand may be a ballplayer’s ballplayer, a gritty gamer who’ll always be a favorite of Kruk and Kuip, Bruce Bochy and other assorted company men. But since the series in Florida, Rowand seems intent on proving that no pitcher should ever throw him a strike for the rest of his career. The good news is he’s made Barry Zito’s contract somewhat palatable by comparison, but something has to be done. Fake injury, real injury (Tire iron + kneecap? Kidding!), a vacation in Fresno, a backpacking trip through Europe with Tom Emanski, nobody here cares. Just figure out a way to keep Bochy from writing him into the lineup as if he was just in a slump like Lincecum is. No. Lincecum’s history says he’s a good pitcher. Rowand’s history says he took advantage of the steroid era in great ballparks for hitters. He’s not going to suddenly gain a clue of what the strike zone consists of between overthrown relay heaves from shallow center.

4. What happened to the bullpen?

It used to be a cauldron of flamethrowers. Now it’s Brian Wilson, some hard-throwing guys who spent last season in the minors and a bunch of guys who are hurting either physically (Affeldt, Medders) or mentally (Romo, Runzler). Will Alex Hinshaw be invited back and start magically throwing strikes? How long can they count on guys like Santiago Casilla and Denny Bautista? The only bright spot for the ‘pen (which looked to be this team’s main strength before the season, back when we thought Zito would go 0-5 in April with a 984.89 ERA) is that Brian Wilson hasn’t been overused yet (5 fewer appearances and innings than at the same point last year).

5. Is Andres Torres for real?

Sure, I could have gone the obvious route and asked some sort of, “Who will they trade for at the deadline” type question, but we all know the answer to that: nobody of impact. First, the Giants are spending more than they hoped to this season for players, and even though there’s a buzz around the team and they have more giveaways than the frozen foods aisle at Costco on a Saturday, the attendance isn’t as good as the team would like you to believe (I was there for Matt Cain’s unbelievably stress-free, dominant performance on Friday and there was never more than 23,000 people there — forget that 31,000 number the corporation fed you). Plus, their strength is pitching but it’s not like there’s a surplus. Would you trade Cain or Jonathan Sanchez right now? Me neither. Unless something crazy happens, the Giants’ moves the rest of the way will be of the Pat Burrell variety.

So … how do the Giants figure things out offensively with the guys they have? It was a nice start to give Andres Torres the chance to prove himself as a leadoff hitter and finally re-start Posey’s service clock, but with DeRosa and Renteria major question marks to contribute much of anything the rest of the way, the Giants are short on guys who can be trusted to hit Major League pitching. Sure, benching Rowand would help, but it’s not like Schierholtz has done much more than hit grounders off his front foot over the majority of his career, and Bowker takes pitches as if he has the respect from umpires that Tony Gwynn (not Jr.) had during his playing days. Lots of called third strikes with him, just like there was with Lewis.

Frighteningly, the two keys to the Giants’ offensive season are how Torres, a fringe Major Leaguer, and Posey, a rookie who doesn’t have to shave yet, perform. (I’m not worried about Pablo, who’ll end up around .300/.340/.480 unless someone alerts him to the Little Star Pizza near my apartment — best pizza around, for my money. Sorry Ralph.) Can Torres continue to play as if his body has been taken over by some combination of the positive traits of Marvin Benard, Armando Rios and F.P. Santangelo?

Questions missing the cut:

1. What are they going to trade for?

2. Can Freddy/Edgar/DeRosa stay healthy?

3. Will Zito revert back to bad Zito?

4. Can Marty Lurie be stopped?

5. Is “Giants Baseball: Torture” the most overdone slogan ever?

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