When Giants manager Bruce Bochy ran out the same lineup for a fourth consecutive game Monday, he joked it was the “same soup,” a term he often uses for his complement of everyday position players.
Only these weren’t the regular ingredients.
With the regular season in its final weeks, the Giants are fighting to keep alive slim postseason hopes with a significant portion of their lineup sidelined by injuries. All-Star second baseman Joe Panik (back) has played in just four games since July 31. All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford has missed the past week because of calf and oblique soreness. Outfielder Hunter Pence has not played since Aug. 17 because of an oblique strain. Outfielders Nori Aoki and Gregor Blanco are nursing concussions.
24 Marlon Byrd’s RBI total in his first 23 games with the Giants
The Giants have indicated that Aoki, Blanco and Panik might miss the rest of the season with their injuries. They do, however, expect Crawford back in the lineup by Friday at the latest. And they’re holding out hope of Pence returning for their final homestand – which includes four potentially critical games against the Dodgers.
For the time being, though, Bochy continues to piece together a lineup that had won four consecutive games entering Tuesday. Here’s how they’ve plugged the holes:
Out: Panik. In: Kelby Tomlinson.
Tomlinson fits the so-called “mold” of recent young infielders produced by the Giants – such as Panik and Matt Duffy – in that he rose through the minors without much fanfare but arrived ready to contribute at the major-league level.
In his first 36 games, Tomlinson, 25, batted .295 with 13 runs scored and 15 RBIs. He has looked more comfortable at second base lately and, according to FanGraphs, has been worth 0.8 wins above a replacement player since his call-up – not bad considering Tomlinson is, by definition, a replacement player.
Bochy has praised Tomlinson’s athleticism and said he probably could play the outfield if needed. In the spring, the Giants envisioned Duffy as a super utility player until Duffy took over the everyday job at third base. Tomlinson could audition for that role next spring, when Panik is presumably healthy.
Out: Pence. In: Marlon Byrd.
Byrd has been extremely productive since the Giants acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 20. In his first 23 games, he hit .311 with three home runs and 24 RBIs, giving the Giants a right-handed power bat in the middle of the order to replace Pence.
His performance lends an interesting subplot to the rest of the season. Byrd has a contract option for 2016 that reportedly vests if he reaches 550 plate appearances this year. Entering Tuesday, he was at 485, needing to average about 3.6 over the final 18 games to reach the magic number.
Byrd has been everything the Giants hoped for as a deadline acquisition. But he’s also 38, and the Giants might prefer having roster flexibility this offseason. If Pence returns for the last homestand, the Giants could weigh their options with Byrd.
Out: Crawford. In: Ehire Adrianza
Amid a late July roster crunch, the Giants designated backup infielder Joaquin Arias – in effect showing faith in their other backup infielder, Adrianza. While starting 13 of the past 20 games in place of Crawford, Adrianza has shown hints of why – especially on defense, displaying good range to his backhand and a smooth release.
Defense has never been Adrianza’s problem. Replacing Crawford’s offense, however, is another matter, and Adrianza was batting just .130 in his past 25 games entering Tuesday.
.295 Kelby Tomlinson’s batting average in his first 36 games with the Giants
Bochy said the Giants believe Adrianza is “a better hitter than what’s been going on.” But the Giants must be eager to regain the presence Crawford brings to the lineup.
Out: Blanco, Aoki. In: Angel Pagan.
Alejandro De Aza, acquired in an Aug. 31 trade with the Boston Red Sox, has been playing a lot of left field. But the real acquisition in the Giants’ outfield lately has been a rejuvenated Pagan.
Earlier this season, it could have been argued Pagan wasn’t even one of the Giants’ best three outfielders. He battled pain in both knees, and the Giants finally put him on the DL on Aug. 11 with right knee tendinitis. Since returning Sept. 1, though, Pagan has batted .333, hit two home runs – an aspect of his game that vanished the past year as back and knee problems sapped his power – and looked to be moving better in the outfield and on the bases.
In last weekend’s series against the San Diego Padres, Pagan made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Matt Kemp of a home run and recorded his first three-steal game. Afterward, Bochy said: “When he’s healthy, that’s the type of player he is. You watch him go down the line and the range he’s shown in center field – he’s showing that he’s healthy.”
It almost sounded wistful, in a way, raising the thought of where the Giants might be if the rest of them were, too.