Here is a link to my Sunday column about Hunter Pence. The full text runs below:
The feel-good parts of the story are all there. Hunter Pence is in great spirits after Corey Black broke his left arm with a fastball. And Black is contrite and expressed sorrow to Pence on Twitter.
That still leaves the Giants with a hole in their batting order and a big problem in the cavernous right field at AT&T Park. The Giants were power depleted before Pence got hurt — they were power depleted in spite of the new mantra, “Get men on base. Keep the line moving.”
A team needs someone to go downtown at least some of the time. Pence went downtown 20 times last year. Nice round number. Keep it in mind.
Pence is out six to eight weeks. Best-case scenario he returns third week of April. He’s a fast healer and he’s highly motivated and he has that indefinable mystique. It’s like he’s connected to the essence of life — whatever that is — to the essence of nature or his body or some essence no one can define. Pence has an essence.
Even with his special essence, the third week of April seems unrealistic. Broken bones take time to heal. Then there’s rehab. Then there’s getting into the swing. Literally getting into the swing. You don’t sit for six to eight weeks and come out whacking big-league pitching. Even if you are the essential Hunter Pence.
Mid-May seems a reasonable projection for when Hunter Pence again can be Hunter Pence, when he can find his fluid swing. So, Bruce Bochy has to change plans. This is a serious change because no one saw it coming, and because the Giants have only partial answers.
Some of the answers are creative. Angel Pagan probably will move from leadoff hitter to No. 3 hitter. Pagan has power and he can make the switch. One caveat. Pagan himself gets hurt — gets hurt a lot. There are no guarantees with him. Bochy always must think about a Pagan replacement in addition to a Pence replacement. That’s a lot of replacements to consider.
Now comes the big move. Nori Aoki, the new outfielder in town, will bat leadoff and get first crack at right field. Good luck, Nori.
Can Aoki bat leadoff? Sure. He’s a singles-doubles hitter. He ought to handle batting first. Counting Aoki, the Giants have three leadoff hitters — Aoki, Pagan and Gregor Blanco. That’s an overabundance of leadoff hitters. Call it a leadoff-hitter imbalance.
One other thing about Aoki. He has almost zero power. Last season, he hit exactly one home run. I told you to keep in mind Pence’s 20 dingers — a big number in this apparently post-steroid era. This is the point in the article when you compare 20 to 1. No comparison.
The loss of Pence is a big loss. Don’t fool yourself.
Pence is a better fielder than Aoki. Pence is brilliant at playing that big weird scary right field at AT&T. Aoki won’t be so brilliant. He is not a great outfielder. Both Blanco and Juan Perez, who will share left field, are better.
In the World Series, the Royals never started Aoki in right field in the three San Francisco games. Never. He came off the bench. They did start him in Kansas City. Those three non-starter games are interesting and, perhaps, revealing. Aoki batted .071 in the Series.
Sure, Aoki can bat leadoff, can do well. But the entire batting order is weaker. Consider this. Last year, Buster Posey batted third. Who batted behind him? Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval protected Posey. He was Posey’s policeman.
Now, Brandon Belt will be Posey’s policeman. It’s not like Belt has achieved chief-inspector rank. He’s a uniformed guy who patrols the neighborhood. Expect teams to pitch around Posey, something they never did before. Expect Giants batters to press. Try to do more. It’s natural in a compromised batting order, but never good.
Pence’s absence puts more pressure on the starting pitchers. You know that. Because the Giants will score fewer runs — and they will score fewer runs — the pitchers have to allow fewer runs. Pressure all around.
Those are the Giants’ realities.
The Giants could find a temporary solution if they want to. Allen Craig is extra in Boston. The Red Sox don’t like him and don’t know what to do with him. With the Cardinals he had 92 RBIs in 2012, 97 in 2013. The Giants need RBIs and they have players to trade. Mostly in the bullpen. George Kontos is valuable, a very good reliever. Trading him to the Red Sox for Craig makes sense.
Except for this. Giants general manager Brian Sabean does not make panic moves. He slowly digests events, including injuries. Think of a python digesting its evening meal. Sabean is likely to keep what he has, to believe in his own players. Craig earns more than $25 million the next three years. That’s a big salary to take on for a short-term replacement.
Which means the Giants, almost surely, will push on Penceless for the time being. They will depend on pitching and defense, as they always do. And on Bochy’s brilliance.
Which means the Giants’ story already is more fascinating than anyone expected. And this is merely the introduction to the book. Get out your spectacles. Find a comfortable chair. Expect a great read.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.