Barry Zito

Giants audition for 2012 while clinging to hope in 2011

There really isn’t any point in detailing all the different ways the Giants could make the postseason. If you were able to locate this weird little internet outpost, you surely can find any number of sites that’ll display the standings and every single playoff permutation. What matters is the Giants aren’t playing meaningless games, and because of what you’ve seen lately (high-scoring, winning baseball), the players making a good impression now have an advantage over the guys who either aren’t or can’t due to injury.

Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez don’t have anything to worry about, but Andres Torres sure does. Same with Brandon Belt, who might get Pilled back to Fresno next season unless he has an Aubrey Huff-like Spring Training. Because that makes so much sense, you know.

The Giants aren’t going to sign a big free agent during the off-season. Just rid yourselves of that notion right now, because it’ll make you feel that much better when Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran all sign with other teams. It’s probably going to be Jimmy Rollins, Michael Cuddyer or nothing for the Giants, plus the current players who survive Brian Sabean’s WINTER … OF … RETRIBUTION.

Some general managers react to poor offensive production by making trades. When Brian Sabean’s players don’t produce, he MAKES THEM PAY. (Starring Brian Dennehy)

With the way Bruce Bochy juggles lineups, it’s small sample size theater, with each game providing the guys in the lineup with a chance to either show they’re ready to “take advantage of their opportunity” or shrink from the pressure. And for a team still not that far removed from playing 15 postseason games where every pitch was analyzed — not as part of a greater pattern, but for the singular moment it created — this method of judging players isn’t all that surprising.

That’s where the Giants were coming from when they demoted Brandon Belt in April. Hey, he couldn’t handle being asked to play his best baseball for a few weeks. That, in and of itself, showed he wasn’t ready to be a Giant, because the Giants at that time were a bunch of playoff-tested rock stars. Once Cody Ross was ready to return from his injury, the choice was clear to the team: the scared rook or the guy whose name spelled backwards is “SORRY DOC.”

Despite Bill Neukom’s supposed interest in sabermetrics, the Giants believe performance under pressure is a better indication of future Major League success than charts, graphs and patterns. Right or wrong, the guys helping the Giants stay in contention right now are the ones with a head start on making the 25-man roster next April. So who’s boosted their chances of getting invited back, and which players could find it hard to get back into Sabean’s and Bochy’s good graces? Here are some educated guesses…

Stock Up:

Mark DeRosa: What a comeback story. DeRosa would have remained a favorite of teammates, the media and Giants employees even if he never returned from his recurring wrist ailments. Since coming back on Aug. 5, DeRosa’s raised his batting average from .162 to .260 after going 2-for-3 with a sac fly last night. DeRosa actually hit cleanup on Tuesday, even though he only has 2 extra base hits (doubles) in 85 plate appearances.

Crystal Ball: DeRosa was this close to retirement, now there’s a lot of noise about DeRosa coming back to the Giants next years as a utility guy. 

Justin Christian: It’s almost like he’s the new Andres Torres for a team and manager tired of watching the old Torres struggle. He’s over 30, he’s got some speed and can play center field. He also struggled mightily at the plate in his first 25 plate appearances (.130/.200/.174), but in the past two days went 5-for-8 with a couple doubles.

Crystal Ball: Christian doesn’t have the track record of Torres, who garnered MVP consideration last year until undergoing an emergency appendectomy (as opposed to an elective appendectomy, I guess). But next spring Christian may be the one gunning for a center field job in Scottsdale.

Brett Pill: No walks and 6 extra base hits in 30 AB. Bochy loooooves his aggressiveness, and he’s played a key offensive role in a couple recent wins (including last night).

Crystal Ball: As much as it might drive the guys who really study prospects absolutely bonkers, Pill’s at least reached equal standing with Belt in regards to next season, at least in Bochy’s eyes. With a strong showing during Spring Training, Pill could end up on the 2012 opening day roster.

Chris Stewart: He can bunt and throw with the best of them, and he’s even starting to hit (a little). He’s also shined as the best Giants catcher in terms of handling the staff, at least anecdotally.

Crystal Ball: Stewart will replace Eli Whiteside as Buster Posey’s backup next season.

Brian Wilson and Barry Zito (the guys who came back from injury): Simply because they showed some good old fashioned September grit. Bringing Wilson back probably isn’t the smartest decision (his velocity’s down and his motion has been altered, which leads one to think he’s still compensating for his sore elbow), but it’ll earn brownie points with the brass. Zito might have saved his Giants career by returning to action and pitching a solid 9th inning on Friday in Colorado.

Crystal Ball: Nothing will change for Wilson (unless his elbow gets worse or doesn’t completely heal by March), and there’s absolutely no way Zito will be released or traded. 

Cody Ross: Caught fire before pulling his hamstring the other day. Might be a little case of too little, too late, but Ross did provide a glimpse of what the Giants hoped they’d see from him throughout the season.

Crystal Ball: He’s well liked in the clubhouse, and will almost surely finish second on the team in homers this season. It’s conceivable that Ross takes a pay cut and returns to San Francisco as a free agent.

Pat Burrell: He’s been severely limited by his foot injury, but announcing he’ll either retire or come back to the Giants and no other team, even adding, “You know, I like the way they do things here,” is sure to make the organization happy.

Crystal Ball: Minor League invite next spring and if Burrell can still play he might get another shot as a backup outfielder. 

Stock Down:

Andres Torres: It seems like the Giants have had enough. Torres has been relegated to pinch-runner/defensive replacement status, only starting four games in September.

Crystal Ball: It’s looking less likely by the day that the Giants will tender Torres a contract after the season. Torres is a hard worker, a snappy dresser and a great story due to his career arc and his battles with ADHD, but it seems like the Giants’ decision makers aren’t going to forgive him for a disappointing 2011.

Brandon Belt: He’s been handled poorly, but one has to wonder if there’s a little resentment from Bochy and Sabean toward Belt for making them look like reverse ageists. Also not helping his cause: the fact that Belt was reluctant to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and had to be convinced by Bochy that it’s something he needs to do.

Crystal Ball: Belt better perform well this winter and in the spring, or the Giants will have no problem pointing to Belt’s trouble hitting and/or laying off sliders around his ankles while shipping him back to Fresno. 

Jeff Keppinger: After nine multi-hit games in August, Kepp’s average has fallen by 22 points to .281 in September.

Crystal Ball: He’s very slow and an ambivalent fielder at best, but Keppinger’s under team control and will still be offered arbitration by the Giants. However, if his slide continues through the last week of the season and his average ends up in the .270 range, his 2012 role is no longer set in stone. 

Eli Whiteside: His offensive numbers aren’t any worse than Stewart’s, but he’s made several defensive miscues.

Crystal Ball: The Giants will wave goodbye to Eli after the 2011 season concludes.

Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholtz (the guys who couldn’t come back from injury): The fact that Sanchez couldn’t come back from his ankle sprain looks pretty bad now in the Giants’ eyes, especially after how disappointing he was as the No. 2 starter (and how Zito worked so hard to come back from his ankle injury, even though we have no idea how much more or less severe Zito’s injury was than Sanchez’s). Schierholtz could’ve used a strong September to cement his place in the 2012 lineup, but his foot just wouldn’t heal fast enough. While it might be unfair, it now looks like the perception that Schierholtz will always be a fourth outfielder might stick.

Crystal Ball: Schierholtz is going to have to fight whatever free agent outfielder the Giants sign for playing time. Sanchez will probably never pitch for the Giants again. 

Pablo Sandoval: He’s been the Giants’ best position player all season, and it isn’t even close. But he’s facing shoulder surgery and the questions about his weight won’t go away. It might sound crazy, but there are whispers that the Giants will look into trading him this off-season.

Crystal Ball: With so much uncertainty regarding the 2012 lineup, the Giants will probably play it safe and pencil Sandoval in as the starting third baseman for another year. However, if he’s included in a package deal for a proven bat (specifically, a guy who’s proven he can play 150 games per year and keep his weight from fluctuating), don’t be surprised. 

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