Crunch Time 

Late Sunday night, and the Giants are in a tailspin. Their best hitter is out indefinitely, their starting rotation other than Jason Schmidt is getting cuffed around, they have no sure path from middle relief to set-up to closer, and their corner infielders are swinging like punch-drunk prizefighters.

This week is crunch time for several reasons. The Giants will find out how severe Moises Alou's ankle is injured, and the prognosis should loom large in determining how to replace him. If Mo's return is in expected within a month, perhaps the Giants call up someone from Fresno and hope Finley and Winn get hot. If his return is a distant horizon, Sabean needs to decide quickly how he wants to play this season: Does he trade for offense and sacrifice some of the longer-term rebuild, or let it ride with the young'uns and perhaps surrender the season less than one-third of the way through?

Another reason to look to this week: Noah Lowry returns. Perhaps he'll stabilize the rotation. Perhaps he'll be the #2 that Matt Morris hasn't been so far. It's a lot to ask of a young guy who has thrown all of one inning that counts all year, but stranger things have happened.

His return will also force some decisions about the makeup of the pitching staff. This may be the week we see another non-performing bullpenner sent packing.

With the brutal schedule -- the team left Philly late tonight and arrives in S.F. at 5 a.m., only to turn around and play 10 games in 10 days -- Bonds is likely to sit out 3 or 4 games. Can you say, "Batting fourth, third baseman, Pedro Feliz"?

This sounds like deja vu from last year, although the big purge of '05 started in late May with the Williams-Aardsma-Hawkins trade and continued into June with the dumping of Levine, Herges, and Brower.

One key to getting through the Mo-less stretch: the return of a healthy Ray Durham. If Ray can pretend to be a decent #3 hitter for a few weeks, he may save the Giants' bacon.


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