The Giants are in first place in the National League West by one game, although as I write this the Dodgers have a 5-4 lead over the Pirates in the top of the 9th. The Nationals are in town for a series full of glamourous pitching matchups that even SportsCenter can’t (fully) ignore. Hunter Pence not only hit his first home run since coming to San Francisco yesterday, he put the Giants in the lead immediately after Buster Posey battled Rafael Betancourt in what could’ve been the best at-bat a Giant has had all season.

Still, baseball always finds another way to squeeze another story into the mix, even when it seems like there’s no room.

Pablo Sandoval is coming off the disabled list tonight, as the Giants have optioned Brett Pill. Even before we knew about the corresponding roster move (which means the Giants will continue to carry 13 pitchers), this tweet from Andrew Baggarly freaked everyone out.

Then he clarified that tweet with this one:

(Side note: I’ve gotten entirely too comfortable typing and publishing the word “tweet.” It bothers me, too.)

In effect, Bruce Bochy is being noncommittal because there’s no reason to commit to anything. Sandoval will come off the bench as a pinch hitter during the late innings of what should probably be a fairly close and low-scoring game tonight. Yet, the battle between internal politics and public perception has become an interesting sidebar to this whole Sandoval thing.

Here’s what we think we know.

  • Brian Sabean is uncomfortable with the idea of Pablo Sandoval playing first base again.
  • Bochy wants to keep his options open, because he’s a creative lineup writer and you never know what may happen.

If you want to go a little further, some believe this statement to also be true:

  • Bochy would rather wax his goatee than see Brandon Belt strike out again with runners in scoring position.

Not to drive everyone nuts again, but I also saw Marco Scutaro field several grounders at third during batting practice this evening … then throw the ball to first baseman Pablo Sandoval. Then Sandoval, J.T. Snow and Will Clark locked Belt in the broom closet and threw away the key.

Why would Bochy even consider playing Sandoval again at first base? After all, Sandoval didn’t injure his hamstring doing the splits at third, and the guy was nearly a Gold Glove third baseman last season. That might be the answer, actually — that “last season” part. No question Sandoval can still hit. You could wake him up at 4:30 am, drag him out to the cage in his Panda Pajamas and he’d mash.

But the Giants were (rightly) concerned about Sandoval’s conditioning back when he was on the DL due to the injured hamate bone in his left hand. Sandoval, unlike Tim Lincecum, does not walk or run on his hands. Sandoval’s hamstring injury (it’s rather alarming how poorly “ham” and Sandoval have gotten along this year), while shelving him for about half as long, theoretically would make managing his weight even more difficult than the hand injury

Remember Sandoval trying to pick up grounders and throw accurately to first during the 2010 postseason? Luckily the World Series erased those visions from our collective memory, just like Barry Zito’s last start of the 2010 season against the Padres and Jose Guillen’s existence.

The Giants had high hopes for Sandoval this season after giving him a fairly lucrative extension, at least compared to what he was previously making. Remember, at the beginning of the season Bochy said Sandoval would in effect be the team’s third catcher behind Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez. Now the Giants hope the Panda can simply handle his normal position without falling apart.

With Joaquin Arias hitting well enough against left-handed pitching, Marco Scutaro handling third base pretty well, and Bochy formerly filing papers to adopt Ryan Theriot this week (that may or may not be true), the Giants’ manager wants an out … just in case Sandoval’s range and/or throwing accuracy have fallen to 2010 levels (or in case Belt goes in another slump). It’s probably not worth worrying about tonight, since the Giants are facing the team with the best record in baseball, but worrying is what Giants fans do best other than dress up in costume and argue with each other on Twitter.