Matt Cain

Giants’ weaknesses on full display in loss to L.A.

It’s way too early to look at the Giants’ record (8-12 after Monday night’s 8-3 loss to the Dodgers) and project a .400 winning percentage throughout the entire season. Buster Posey’s slugging percentage won’t be under .350 all year, either. A 20-game sample isn’t all that telling in baseball, unless it’s the postseason. Yet if the Giants are to get back to the postseason in 2015, they’re going to have to overcome some shortcomings that were difficult to ignore on Monday night.

Shaky rotation

It took a few weeks for the league to figure out that Tim Lincecum — who went only four innings, giving up a ton of hits and four earned runs against the Dodgers — is a junk-baller these days, and the best way to attack him is to wait on his changeups and sliders. According to Brooks Baseball, the Dodgers offered at just 32.1% of Lincecum’s fastballs (they swung at 5-of-19 two-seamers and 4-of-9 four-seamers) while swinging at 65.4% (17-of-26) changeups and 66.7% (6-of-9) sliders. Four of the eight hits Lincecum allowed came on changeups, including Joc Pederson’s double.

Lincecum’s ERA is still 3.27, fairly impressive compared to his work in recent years. But he was lucky to only allow four runs, as he was helped out by a lunging catch by Buster Posey, who turned an unassisted double play in the first inning, along with a diving catch by right fielder Justin Maxwell with runners at second and third and two out in the second. If Lincecum doesn’t adjust to the Dodgers’ altered approach, which other teams will surely emulate, his ERA will soar to 2012-14 levels.

George Kontos gave up a home run to Pederson, but that was it and Kontos has been very good this season. Yusmeiro Petit was not good (again), as he had to be pulled after allowing a three-run homer to Justin Turner in the eighth. Bruce Bochy and the Giants believe that Ryan Vogelsong is only comfortable as a starter, but Petit hasn’t exactly shined as a long reliever so far.

Madison Bumgarner can make the entire staff look better with a great performance on Tuesday night against Clayton Kershaw, but the Giants need an awful lot to go right if their rotation is to keep them in contention. Maybe Matt Cain comes back like his right flexor tendon strain never happened, and Jake Peavy’s back heals, and Lincecum goes back to striking guys out and inducing weak grounders, and 2011-12 Vogelsong reemerges, and Tim Hudson gives them six decent innings per start for the next five months. Crazier things have happened to this team, but it’s likely that at least a few of those rosy scenarios will not occur.

Too much of one, not enough of the other

Brandon Belt had a rough start to the year, what with the sub-.200 slugging percentage before April 24 and the groin injury. But one would think that he’d get more than two pinch-hitting chances since Friday night, when he went 3-for-3 with a walk. In that game it appeared that Belt was ready to break out, then the Giants put him on ice because they faced a lefty starter on Saturday. Then there was the Lincecum-doesn’t-pitch-to-Posey thing on Monday, when the Giants faced another lefty, Brett Anderson.

On the other side of the infield, Casey McGehee is allowed to play through his massive slump. McGehee’s OPS is .487 and he looks completely lost as nearly every plate appearance seems to start 0-2. Posey was forced to pick a short-hopped throw on the run from McGehee to save the third baseman from collecting another error (Posey looks much improved at first base so far this season), and McGehee struck out twice and went 0-for-4. No double plays this time, although no one was on first base in any of his plate appearances.

Posey has no interest in playing third base, and the Giants aren’t going to bench McGehee and risk losing him completely this year. But Belt has a much higher ceiling and McGehee’s numbers in Miami might’ve been inflated by an abnormally hot first half and his fortunate position in the batting order, as he spent most of the year hitting between sluggers (McGehee generally hit fourth for the Marlins, after Giancarlo Stanton and before Marcell Ozuna and/or Garrett Jones). That hasn’t been — and won’t be — the case this season for McGehee, who’s probably going to hit sixth or seventh more often than not.

***

What can the Giants do? That’s why these concerns could become full-fledged problems — there are no easy answers. We knew the rotation was iffy going into this season, and while the Giants are trying to figure out a way to get Belt some time in left field (possibly as punishment for Nori Aoki for those moments when his baserunning veers from entertaining to maddening), they’re going to wait this McGehee thing out. It’s only been 20 games; the Giants have time to put together a decent rotation while getting 20+ homers and a high OBP out of Belt and a solid season out of McGehee. But they’ve looked like a .400 (winning percentage, not batting average of on-base percentage) team due to these April shortcomings, as a strong bullpen and productive top-of-the-order haven’t been enough to mask them.

Extra BASGs

— It’s not like the Giants are the only team with problems. Brandon McCarthy’s UCL tear headlines a long list of injuries to key Dodgers — including Yasiel Puig, who’s on the DL due to a hamstring problem — and the notoriously fragile Anderson hasn’t been all that good.

— Your daily reminder that the Giants are still in the most enviable of spots:

— I filmed a Vine of Greg Papa asking Duane Kuiper to show all three World Series rings one more time, and my daughter decided to make herself heard.

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