Every foul Mitch Moreland hit off Jonathan Sanchez, the more I expected to see a wicked slider in the dirt. But Sanchez didn’t have that pitch in his arsenal today, and the Giants played a game that looked just like one of the dreary efforts they put forth in May — except with Cody Ross hitting his customary homer to left to break up the shutout.
Sanchez was up in the zone (and away too, most of the time), with an umpire behind the plate that was perfect for him had he pitched like he did against Atlanta. Since that start Sanchez has looked not quite unfocused, but perhaps tired — he doesn’t seem to be finishing his pitches. Nevertheless, the thought of him pitching Game 7 is enough to make any Giants fan reach for a bottle of Don Julio and bag of limes.
Still, some good things happened today for Bruce Bochy: the bullpen was once again phenomenal, with even Ramon Ramirez looking solid against three hitters in the eighth inning; the Giants looked like their feisty selves late in the game, proving once again that this is the most resilient squad they’ve fielded in the last decade; Bochy once again looked like the more experienced and quick-thinking manager, as Ron Washington won Game 3 despite himself, deciding to pitch Colby Lewis against Aubrey Huff instead of bringing in a lefty (which led to Lewis hitting Huff in the foot after getting ahead 0-2).
However, after the offense mustered not much more than a couple barely-over-the-fence homers tonight, Bochy faces a couple decisions. Two decisions that — if they don’t work out tomorrow — could be picked apart by the hindsighters for years.
1. Should he rest Pat Burrell?
Burrell might be “The Machine” in Brian Wilson’s house, but he’s hardly been anything but an automatic strikeout lately. Burrell has put the ball in play one time in 11 plate appearances. 2 walks, 1 groundout and 8 strikeouts. It’s not like he’s fouling the ball off, or hitting the ball hard right at people; he’s just missing everything. Burrell struck out 4 times today, and each one looked exactly the same.
When Andres Torres picked up his golden sombrero in Game 2 of the NLCS, capping a 3-for-25 run in the first six games of this postseason, Bochy rested him in Game 3 (he pinch-hit in the 7th, grounding out to Jose Contreras). Since then, Torres has looked quite a bit better, going 9-for-23 at the plate since. Nobody’s saying Burrell should be benched permanently. But something isn’t right. It’s time for him to take a seat to start tomorrow’s game, especially since in the Giants’ worst-case scenario they have three games left.
2. Should he give Pablo Sandoval another shot?
One noticeable thing about Bochy’s recent statements to the press is that he’s not trying to fool anyone. He may not come out and make announcements until he absolutely has to, but he definitely throws out strong hints. During the “Bruce Bochy Show” before today’s game, he sounded as if Sandoval had one last chance to get out of the bearhouse:
We need to have Pablo go out there and show what he can do with the bat, because this guy, if he’s on, he’s going to do some damage … We’ll see how it goes tonight, how he swings the bat. We had some other good options, one was Huff DH’ing, and Ishikawa play first or even DH Burrell, I can put Schierholtz out there or even Huff in left field … I think it’s time to see if Pablo can go out there and show us, and show everybody, what he can do with the bat because we’ve seen this guy carry us.
In other words, “I’m hoping for a 3-for-4 night with a homer from Pablo, but if I don’t get it I’ll look elsewhere.”
Sandoval isn’t as lost as Burrell is right now, as he’s at least making contact. But Burrell’s problem is he’s in a major slump (which we’ve seen him break out of before). Sandoval has been in a season-long slump, and once again looks like a guy who guesses at the beginning of each plate appearance. If he decides to take the first pitch, it’s inevitably a strike and he ends up in an 0-2 count before he can tap his helmet with his bat twice. If he swings, it’s inevitably at a pitch about six inches off the ground that he digs for either a weak fly ball or a grounder to a middle infielder.
Managing from my sofa…
I’d like to see Schierholtz in RF, Ishikawa at 1B and Huff in LF. Burrell has already made more of a stink about not wanting to DH in 2010 than Cliff Lee ever has about not wanting to start on three days rest, so that option’s out. But Burrell’s only chance at reaching base is facing a pitcher who’s unable to throw strikes, so being granted the same mental break Torres received doesn’t seem like it could hurt. As for Panda, any time he’s succeeded in 2010 it looks like a happy accident. It’s too late in the year and he’s gotten too many chances.
However, without Jose Guillen around Bochy seems to be hesistant to take Burrell out of the lineup, and besides one at-bat for Cody Ross against Tommy Hunter, Burrell’s the only Giant to have faced the Rangers’ Game 4 starter (he went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk when Hunter faced the Rays over a year ago, with Burrell as the DH).
I can see Bochy shaking up the lineup with my suggestion or something similar, or letting Burrell work through this. And with the way things have gone in October, I can see Burrell getting another chance and making Bochy look like a genius with a barrage of extra base hits down the left field line. But if either Burrell or Sandoval start and the Giants don’t put together a multiple-base-hit inning or five, Bochy’s going to get legitimately questioned for the first time in what seems like forever.
Unless Madison Bumgarner keeps the Giants in the game with six solid innings, something Sanchez couldn’t do tonight. If you can forgive a little McCarver-speak for a second: it’s a lot easier as a manager to look good when your starting pitcher does his job. Also, one comforting thought as your head hits the pillow: Hunter has pitched 7 1/3 innings in two postseason starts thus far, and while his K/BB ratio is an otherworldly 12/0, he’s also given up 11 hits and 5 ER. The Giants just have to hope Bumgarner does what he’s done so far, the Rangers’ bullpen is needed for five innings or more, and the end of the game is a battle of wits between Bochy and Washington. Because regardless of Bochy’s decisions on the lineup, I’ll take him in that battle every time.