San Francisco Giants: No reason to sound the alarm
By Mark ONeill
Though it may appear that there is a runaway snowball bearing down on the San Francisco Giants and building momentum as it goes, I am here to tell you that the recent spate of injuries can be viewed in many ways, as a blessing in disguise. I might not try to persuade Brandon Belt at this moment that his groin issue is a beneficial thing, but overall, having to contend with adversity right out the gate, not only sets the tone for a marathon, it establishes the height of the bar.
This year, the bar appears to be set somewhere in the Himalayas.
Glancing back at last season, the Giants romped out to the majors’ best record at 43-21, while also number one in the early going in home runs. The injury bug affected Santiago Casilla in April, but did not rear its scaly head with a serious injury until May 9th, when Brandon Belt’s thumb got pulverized by a pitched ball. A few weeks later, Angel Pagan and Matt Cain went down and the team went into a mid-season crisis that almost kept it from getting into the playoffs.
This season the injury worm was spring-loaded for immediate impact, but this need not work against San Francisco.
Whether the Giants just thrive on adversity, or whether adversity somehow motivates them, there appears to be more than enough to go around.
Over the long haul, all teams are going to lose players to injury, some more than others. Both the Dodgers, who lostKenley Jansen
early in spring training for a couple of months, and Giants (Hunter Pence
) have been hit early. That doesn’t mean they’re done with mishaps, but it does mean that they have begun filling in the requisite number of games to be missed, in the ledger to which only the baseball gods have privy.
It is foolish to be frustrated that the injuries have occurred so early, because that could mean there will be fewer later, if the law of averages holds anywhere near normalcy. Having to dip into the minor league system can always be viewed as a good thing, if for no other reason than to help clarify matters.
If a kid like Joe Panik comes up and sticks, then the Giants are that much better. If a kid like Juan Perez comes up and just can’t elevate his game to that next level, no matter how sporadic his opportunities are, at least management has that information, and can pursue other options. It’s nothing personal-just business.
Timing being everything as always, think of the difference between a team under a full head of steam, competing late in the season with more than one club from multiple divisions, incurring an injury. The loss of a key player can remove that momentum, faster than Madison Bumgarner can chop down a tree, so having the issues rise up earlier, rather than derailing the locomotive, merely allows it to be redirected in a timely manner.
May 9, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
It may be Chris Heston who provides the same kind of infusion as Joe Panik did last year, or it could be Ty Blach. In the event Belt’s injury requires more time, it could be Travis Ishikawa, currently on the DL for minor back issues, or even Adam Duvall who ends up lending support. What everyone needs to understand is that Giants management will not falter when it comes to responding to the challenge.
As much as one would like to beat one’s head against the wall, there is plenty of time for that should matters take a turn from ugly to vile. For the moment consider yourself lucky that the Giants get the opportunity to test the depth of their club early on, allowing them to prioritize their backup options, instead of having to do so in the middle of a three-way pennant race.
One last reason why an injury that occurs early on can be helpful, is that it focuses the entire team on the vulnerability of each and every one of its members. Rather than getting down, injuries can rally troops to achieve greater heights. Motivation comes in many forms and a team which functions as a unit, utilizes every tool in the shed.
On a store-bought team, an injury might be considered more of a logistical problem than anything else. On a team like the Giants, players take it upon themselves to do everything possible to minimize the ripples slowly spreading outward from a player’s absence. Each assumes a role in compensating for the missing player by staying that much more riveted on the day-to-day process of playing competitive ball.
If a team can demonstrably raise its level of play when an injury occurs, this reinforces the concept of team chemistry, certainly a term long associated with the Orange and Black. Do I think the team is getting tired of seeing Brandon Belt get injured? I think they are too strongly imbued with a sense of camaraderie to vary from that theme.
I also think that with a track record as stellar as that of Brian Sabean, the Giants are in good shape, for the shape they are in. They have played two spirited games out the gate and I look to see that attitude continue. With three titles in five years, Sabean has had to plug more gaps than a picket fence around a little league field, so I’m not worried about the rash of minor injuries.
What I might worry about is the intestinal fortitude of folks who are already whining, three days into the season.