Angel Pagan

As offense comes back to life, Giants face several tough decisions

Matt Cain Dodger Stadium bullpen

My wife made plans for us to go out to dinner with another couple last night, but when they came to pick us up at 6:30 the Giants already had a 9-1 lead. So I don’t feel like I missed much, but it would’ve been cheating in certain respects to come home and write a recap as if I’d watched the last three innings.

The Giants have scored 17 runs in their last two games after scoring the same number of runs in their previous seven games. Whether that’s a signal that the Giants are progressing back to the mean offensively, or they simply feasted on an overmatched D-Backs starter and a flame-throwing hurler who can’t get the Giants out in Nathan Eovaldi … well, that remains to be seen.

There were several moments during the game that were cause for celebration: Brandon Crawford had an incredible 11-pitch at-bat that culminated with a home run that gave the Giants a 2-0 lead and surely lessened some of the post-break tension in the dugout; Hunter Pence risked his body yet again with a soaring catch against the neon-green wall down the right field line; the Giants strung together a few two-out hits to expand their lead in the third; Pablo Sandoval’s three-run homer on a pitch at neck level highlighted a five-run fifth that put the game out of reach.

Before the game, Bruce Bochy’s media session told a different story.

Matt Cain

It was obvious that something was wrong with Cain when the second half rotation was announced on Sunday. And yesterday, for the first time in Cain’s career, the Giants admitted that his arm isn’t in mint condition.

Matt Cain was wearing a sleeve on his right arm and Bochy said the right-hander’s “elbow has been cranky at times going back to spring training.” Cain was the No. 2 starter in the first half, but will take the ball fifth in the second half. Bochy said Cain threw Thursday and felt fine.

“Right now, he’s scheduled to go (Tuesday in Philadelphia),” Bochy said. “He should be good to go.”

Apparently the plan is to be “cautious” with Cain, which probably means resting him as much as possible (as the Giants did when they reshuffled their starting pitchers this week), not forcing him to throw too many pitches (he’s only thrown 110 pitches or more once all season, 116 on April 12), and skipping him if need be. Then, after the season is over, hopefully rest takes care of the problem. At worst, maybe Cain undergoes a relatively minor arthroscopic procedure to clean out whatever bone chips are floating around.

Unlike a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament, bone chips aren’t catastrophic. The worry is that Cain struggles through the second half due to the pain, and/or compensating for the current injury causes Cain to suffer a more serious arm problem. With no obvious replacements in the minors, Yusmeiro Petit could become a frighteningly important player over the next two-plus months.

Tough decision No. 1: While Matt Cain pitches through pain, should the Giants add another starter/long reliever as insurance?

Marco Scutaro

The lineup for Saturday’s game was already released, and Scutaro’s name wasn’t on it. After sitting yesterday due to “neck stiffness,” that’s three straight games Scutaro has missed since making his 2014 debut a week ago.

Joe Panik is going to get some good big league experience this week, but the Giants are probably doing all they can to find a veteran second baseman. The Braves released Dan Uggla yesterday, but unless the Giants are intoxicated by familiar names, that signing wouldn’t make much sense. They just DFA’d Brandon Hicks, who at this point is Uggla with a better glove. Uggla’s slash line over the last four seasons: .209/.317/.391 (and that includes a 36-HR season in 2011).

In other words, he’ll probably be a Giant by Tuesday.

Tough Decision No. 2: Should the Giants trade for a starting second baseman? If so, are they willing to bring in a player who’ll make significant money in 2015 and possibly beyond?

Angel Pagan

Perhaps the most disheartening news from Bochy’s update was that Pagan hasn’t swung a bat and is unlikely to return before August. Back injuries are tricky, as the Giants know all too well. If Pagan is still this far away from anything approaching standard baseball activity, the possibility exists that he might not return this season.

That’s just a possibility. Pagan hasn’t undergone surgery. He’s in phenomenal shape, so his back isn’t dealing with the strain of extra weight. A recovery could occur, to the point where we see Pagan back at the top of the lineup before the end of August. But if he returns for the Giants second homestand of the second half, which starts on Aug. 12, that would mean 22 more games without Pagan. As I wrote over two weeks ago, the Giants need another outfielder.

Tough Decision No. 3: With Pagan’s injury history and their lack of outfield depth, does acquiring a center fielder become more important than grabbing a second baseman?

There’s no way the Giants can fill every need through trades, especially since Brian Sabean is almost guaranteed to look for bullpen help before the other things we’ve mentioned.

That makes things sound rather bleak despite the recent offensive outburst, but at least the Giants are in a favorable division for a team with several holes. The Rockies, Padres and D-Backs are already looking toward 2015. The Dodgers hold the edge in on-paper talent, but the Giants are a game ahead of Los Angeles in the loss column and  Matt Kemp said he wants to play every day as a center fielder, for the Dodgers or any other team that would use him the way he’d prefer.

Maybe Kemp can head up north! Just kidding, he’s owed about $117 million over the next five-plus seasons, and the Dodgers aren’t about to trade him to their chief rival while agreeing to pay a good chunk of his salary (which is what it would take to unload him).

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