Down The Stretch 

Barring post-deadline trades or serious injury, what we see of the Giants' 25-man roster is likely what we get for the last two months.

(By the way, according to BP's VORP ratings, Randy Winn was the 46th best ML OF in '03 and was as good a hitter as Johnny Damon; he was 28th best in '04 and better than Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. This does not include fielding, I know.)

So what do we have? To no one's surprise, not Barry. Bonds isn't likely to come back this year. Like, duh. Interesting timing, though. I wonder if the Giants would have considered themselves buyers at the deadline if Barry had made his status known last week.

I'm disappointed that not a single one from the Axis of Rueter-Tomko-Alfonzo-Durham-Feliz wasn't traded. Then again, practically no one from any of the bottom feeders was traded in the past week, so how much is Sabean's fault is hard to say.

The lack of roster turnover at the deadline simply pushed a lot of questions regarding the Giants' future into the final stretch of the season. Other than the seagulls circling the half-empty bleachers strewn with cold garlic fries, what should we keep our eyes on in August and September?

1) Signs of Brian Sabean's deteriorating mental health. He assured us he was not an idiot in late 1996, and we believed him. But he hasn't denied it recently, and his waffling over the Giants identity -- rebuild project or pennant contender? -- is an ominous sign.

Watch for: photos of Sabean and Courtney Love partying at night clubs together; reports of Sabean trying to call the Mars Rovers on his cell phone.

2) Lance Niekro improvement. He should get more and more starts against right handed pitching. If he doesn't, see #1. If he does, will he show more selectiveness at the plate? His walk rate went up slightly in July. Let's see if he can show a better eye and keep hitting the ball with power.

Watch for: Lance laying off the low inside sinker.

3) Lowry's workload. As Will Carroll notes in today's Baseball Prospectus, Lowry is one of several young pitchers heading for 200+ innings for the first time. He's struggled with control and predictability this year. Batters seem to be sitting on the changeup and hitting it larga distancia. Can Lowry work on his control and his stuff without running out of gas?

Watch for: More fastballs inside to keep hitters from looking changeup all the time.

4) Barry Bonds retirement. OK, I don't expect him to quit anytime soon. He's got $18 million coming to him next year, after all. But I want to see progress toward a full recovery; I want to see him jogging, hitting in the cage, and doing other light baseball duties in a few months. I'm starting to see people sketch 2006 lineups with Bonds in the middle. Don't count on it just yet. The Giants shouldn't, either.

Watch for: More setbacks or surgery; if the latter, all bets on his '06 return are off.

5) To Schmidt or not to Schmidt? The Giants' ace has looked better of late, even dominant for brief stretches, with the wildness and grueling pitch counts of the first two months of this season starting to fade. His last three starts: 21 IP, 23 Ks, 18 hits, 5 BBs, 1 HR. He's not throwing 95 MPH+, but he's hitting 93 or 94 on occasion, still sports a devastating changeup and is getting swing-throughs with the breaking pitches. Is he worth $10.25 million next year? The next two months aren't likely to provide certainty. When the Giants thought Robb Nen would be back in '04, they were caught without a good plan B. Will they make the same mistake by assuming that Schmidt will be ace-like in '06?

Watch for: Schmidt's ability to spot the fastball where he wants, when he wants.

6) Pitching staff consistency. I've said this before, but why not again: The handling of the pitching staff this year has been maddening. Just leave the kids in there and let them pitch, fercrissakes. Too many promising young pitchers have left the organization in recent years. Time to nurture them, no matter what the short-term pain. This also means leaving Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez on the farm the rest of the year. No need to rush them. Rags, Felipe, Sabes: we're watching you on this.

Watch for: Brad Hennessey's demotion. If the Giants don't let him finish the year pitching every fifth day for the big club, I'm going to tie Lou Seal to the portwalk, smear his fur with cold garlic fries, and let the seagulls have at him.


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