Note: The Giants Cove welcomes guest blogger Chris Fields, a senior writer at ChatSports.com. ChatSports provides dynamic sports content covering the pros, college, tennis, golf and even poker. Enjoy Chris's take on what the Giants need to do to make the 2012 MLB playoffs:
With the All Star break wrapping up, the Giants are preparing to start their playoff run. Sitting half a game behind the Dodgers in the NL West and half a game behind the Reds in the wild card race, the Giants expect to be one of many teams fighting for a playoff spot.
Here are 5 things that will determine if the Giants will be suiting up in October.
1. Lincecum must be close to the old Lincecum
Maybe the most important key for the Giants is the pitching of Tim Lincecum. Big Time Timmy Jim has been flat out atrocious so far in 2012, posting a 6.42 ERA.
The two time Cy Young winner has had control and velocity problems, not a good combination. He leads the team in walks and has seen his fastball top out around 90 or 91.
Three good starters (Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong) won't be enough to get the Giants to the postseason. The team currently ranks eighth in the league in ERA. In order to make the playoffs, Lincecum needs to get his ERA down to around 4 or 4.5 for the year, and the Giants need to have one of the top three staffs in the bigs.
2. One more bat must step up: Huff? Blanco? Schierholtz? Christian?
In the first half the Giants had 4 consistent hitters (Cabrera, Sandoval, Posey, Pagan). If one more player can join that group the Giants will have a great shot. The Giants lineup of 4 players is simply not up to par with the Dodgers or Reds, their two competitors for playoff spots.
Several guys are candidates to step up, but none look especially threatening. Could Aubrey Huff get healthy and regain his 2010 form? Doesn't look likely. Could Gregor Blanco pick his average up .20 points? Possible. Maybe youngster Justin Christian could emerge as the starting right fielder, but with such limited experience I wouldn't bet on it.
A player that seems to be getting overlooked is Nate Schierholtz. Schierholtz doesn't have Blanco's speed, but could be a more consistent hitter. Blanco put up a .252 mark, with a .337 OBP. If Schierholtz were to start the second half of the season I would guess he would do better the .252. Not to mention Schierholtz has an absolute canon for an arm. Bochy however doesn't seem to be extremely high on Schierholtz.
3. Casilla rebounds
While we are looking for one of many bats to step up to help the Giants lineup, the success of the bullpen could come down to one person: Santiago Casilla. Casilla became the closer when Wilson went down, and came out of the gates on fire, posting a 1.1 ERA through April and May.
During those months Casilla converted 14 of 15 save opportunities. Casilla hit a bump in the road late in June that carried through July and into the All Star break. During the last two months, Casilla has posted a Lincecum-esque 6.5 ERA.
Because of their low scoring mentality, the Giants play tons of close games, which makes the closer role extremely important. The Giants have the most save opportunities in the NL.
If the Giants want to be in the post season, they can't afford to lose games in the 9th. Casilla will be extremely important. If Casilla fails, the team should look at moving Sergio Romo to the closer role.
4. Penny provides good long relief
Everyone knows about the back end of the Giants’ bullpen. Lopez locks down lefties, Romo dominates righties, and Affeldt provides depth.
However the guy who could be the most important has barely pitched an inning for the Giants this year. Brad Penny, recently signed from Japan, will be the Giants long reliever in the second half of the season. Long reliever could be an especially important role for the Giants if Lincecum continues to struggle and Zito pitches inconsistently.
In blowouts, Penny will be asked to eat up innings to keep the aforementioned back end of the bullpen fresh. In tight games where the starter has to exit early, Penny will be asked to throw two or three innings and give the Giants a fighting chance. If Penny is good, he could make up for inconsistency by Zito and Lincecum.
5. Make a move for a bat
It doesn't look like Freddy Sanchez, a .300 hitter, will ever suit up for the Giants again. This leaves the middle of the infield pretty thin. Ryan Theriot has been the only consistent contributor from either position.
The most exciting way to make a post season push is to trade for an impact player (see: Carlos Beltran). The Beltran experiment didn't work, but trading for a slightly less expensive contributor could be a possibility. G.M. Brian Sabean has said that the Giants won't make a move to simply rent a player like Beltran, but are looking to make improvements for the future.
The positions of need - at first and shortstop - are currently held by young players Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. The team currently seems committed to developing these two players instead of replacing them. Sabean has also said that the team will not pursue a starting pitcher, so Zito and Lincecum are safe in their rotational positions.
If the Giants add a bat, it will likely be a power hitter who would either make spot starts or find a position in the infield. The Giants are currently tied for last in the league with 51 home runs.