Brandon Belt

Giants, at their low point of the season, turn to Madison Bumgarner

Bruce Bochy knows what people are saying about him. What they’re saying on Twitter, what KNBR callers say about him over 50,000 watts, what the paying customers are saying in the stands. Bochy’s a tinkerer, they say. He mixes and matches too much. He makes too big a deal out of handedness-based matchups. He doesn’t give the best players time to “figure it out themselves.”

Bochy hears you, and he disagrees.

“We would like continuity,” said Bochy, who’s presiding over a team that’s lost four in a row and averages 2.69 runs scored per game at AT&T Park.

“As much as is mentioned that I like to change lineups, that’s not the case.”

As much as people scream and complain about Brandon Belt starting the game on the bench whenever the Giants face a lefthander, like today against the struggling (50 baserunners in 26.1 IP) Randy Wolf … Bochy getting blamed for the Giants’ offensive woes is sort of like complaining that someone isn’t opening up a bottle of wine quickly enough with a 50-cent Swiss Army knife.

Put simply, there isn’t much to work with here. And while Belt’s been collecting hits at a pretty impressive clip of late (don’t get me wrong, I wish he were in the lineup this afternoon), it’s not like the Giants turn into a winning team with Belt on the field for 9 innings.

The Giants aren’t putting a lot of money into their offense. Mostly because they’re putting the vast majority of their resources into the pitching staff. One of those players who received a substantial financial commitment is today’s starter, Madison Bumgarner. The reasons why they were so quick to lock up Bumgarner are twofold. First, they want to control costs on a guy who was set to enter free agency while still entering his prime. Second, the Giants believe he’s the guy who can win a game himself, even during times like these.

With the way the Giants are hitting, he may have to. Based on how Bumgarner looked before the game during batting practice this morning, he may be the team’s top offensive contributor today. After the brief pregame interview with Bochy, I watched a few hitters take one round each in the cage. Brett Pill, Melky Cabrera, Hector Sanchez and Bumgarner.

Generally you can tell when players are practicing situational hitting during BP. I’m not positive, but the four rounds I saw did not appear to be one of those times when the players practice hitting the other way. They were just taking hacks off lefty BP pitcher John Yandle.

Pill hit a couple lazy pop flies, a few liners to center field and a grounder or two through the hole between where a third baseman and shortstop would normally play. Cabrera hit some fly balls not quite to the warning track, and ended his round with a drive that hit the bottom of the left-centerfield wall on the fly. Sanchez’s session was about as nondescript as Pill’s. Then Bumgarner came up, and using that interesting leg-kick of his he hit several balls through the left side of the infield. (Bumgarner takes a wide stance. As the pitcher winds up, he picks up his left foot, brings it a about a foot toward his back foot, then moves his left foot back to its original position, starting his swing as his front foot returns to the dirt.)

Then Bumgarner ended his round with two straight home runs. One to left-center, caught by a fan in the first row behind the “382” sign on the outfield wall. Then another to straightaway left, at least four or five rows deep.

You might think I’m making too much out of batting practice, and I probably am. But last year, when the team’s offensive struggles were almost comical, the Giants’ BP sessions were absolutely pathetic. This became noticeable when the other team would follow the Giants and take BP, usually with at least two hitters easily parking balls over the wall. The Giants’ lack of BP power was even more striking when the slo-pitch behemoths had their home run derby before one late summer game, each barrel-chested hitter hitting over a dozen HRs each.

This team just isn’t a very good hitting team. They have very little power, and their “hack-hack-hack” approach was illuminated by both Fangraphs and McCovey Chronicles this week. The team speed, thought to be a newfound strength, hasn’t presented many tangible advantages. Nope, the Giants need Madison Bumgarner to dominate on the mound today and hopefully supply a little pop at the plate as well. Is it ridiculous to ask a pitcher who’s 1-for-14 this year and hasn’t hit a HR in his Major League career (he hit 2 in the minors) to save the team offensively? Absolutely. But that’s where we are right now, and that’s why Bochy keeps moving things around in hopes that SOMETHING works. Things can’t get much worse for the Giants than they’ve been this week, and now they pray that a 22-year-old makes everything okay.

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