The title of this post comes from a Bruce Lee movie—“Return of the Tiger”—which I have admittedly not seen and have little interest in actually seeing. That said, the actual return of the Kung-Fu Panda is something that Giants fans have universally been looking forward to since he went on the disabled list in late July. I’ve checked several times throughout the day to see if Pablo Sandoval will be activated today but there’s still no solid news although there is plenty of innuendo and insinuation that today will be the day. Most people expected him back either yesterday or today and Sandoval’s personal twitter account tweeted “Thank you San Jose for the hospitality - I felt great and ready for tomorrow - Let’s go Giants #PANDAMODEON” last night after his game with the Single-A San Jose Giants ended. I assume he meant to write “pandamonium” as a play on “pandemonium” unless he was referring to an odeon where ancient Greeks and Romans gathered to perform early musical theater in which case I don’t follow.
My strong hunch is that Sandoval will return to AT&T Park on the active roster tonight. When he does come back, I’d imagine that one of the lesser right handed relievers—Brad Penny, George Kontos, and Clay Hensley—or lefty, Jose Mijares will be sent down to make room for him although there’s an off chance that either Joaquin Arias or Brett Pill might get nudged off of the active roster. My money is on Brad Penny since the Giants currently have thirteen pitchers and only twelve position players—most teams carry eleven pitchers and thirteen position players with the last spot up for grabs. Of the eight relievers on the active roster, there are five righties and Penny is usually the last one off of the bench, he’s certainly the pitcher I have the least faith in with the game on the line although he seems to be a good inning eater.
The move really depends on what skipper, Bruce Bochy plans to do with the infield when the Panda comes back and who he thinks he’ll need in the bullpen until September 1 when rosters are expanded. Washington has four lefties and three switch hitting position players on their active roster so it’s 50-50. Bochy is notoriously hard to read and sometimes his decisions regarding who gets playing time and who stays on the active roster seems capricious at best.
There has been a mini-debate raging through Giants fandom for the last few weeks regarding what the Giants should do with their infield when Sandoval returns. Since the signing of Marco Scutaro at the edge of the trade deadline, the Giants find themselves in the enviable position of sporting too much infield talent. That said, each guy brings something different to the lineup and the defensive structure of the team so I’ll give a quick run through of the contenders.
As I wrote earlier today, Brandon Belt hasn’t been getting a whole ton of love from Giants fans this season but he has stabilized his offensive game and shown some strong improvements since ending a terrible 2 for 50+ streak nearly two weeks ago. The thing that many people overlook when they peer through his offensive statistics is that he can generally be counted on for a quality at bat. Even if he ends up striking out, he makes the opposing pitcher work for it, fouling off pitches and laying off “come get me’s.” He’s also a solid defensive first baseman and with his large yet gangly frame he’s able to get to balls that some of the other options at first might not be able to. I personally like Belt at first given the choices and I think he has the ability to really start heating up as the Giants go to work down the stretch.
Brandon Crawford has been the regular starter at shortstop but he doesn’t give the offensive support that impatient fans have come to demand over the last season and a half. His defensive play is joyously outstanding 90% of the time and dismally bleak 10% of the time. Like Belt, there are some people out there that would like to see someone who is more offensively inclined to assume his starting role but Crawford has also shown a lot of improvement and he can force scoring opportunities from the bottom end of the lineup.
Ryan Theriot is a heckuva character, he’s got the energy of Pat Burrell during the 2010 season, running around and punching his teammates after walk offs. His defense is strong at second base and he does a good job of holding down the latter part of the middle of the order, coming through with punchy singles in clutch moments.
Marco Scutaro is a jack of all trades type who can play second, third, and short and I’ve even heard that he has been taking a few reps at first. He’s been pretty outstanding for the Giants since he joined after Sandoval’s injury in late July, sufficiently filling in the Panda’s clown sized shoes at third. He’s generally hitting second in the lineup and he’s been doing a great job there, moving Angel Pagan over or getting things started himself. At his age—he’s 36—his defense isn’t quite as strong as most of the other candidates but the Giants sure could use his bat.
Joaquin Arias is sort of a stop gap and defensive substitute. He plays shortstop well and he’s picked up third base fast where he’s made most of his appearances. His offensive prowess is sub-Crawford but even he still has the ability to get things done in the clutch and he’s probably the second or third fastest Giant which comes in handy as a pinch runner when Sandoval represents the tying run on first or second unless they install an oxygen tank at third.
Brett Pill comes in from time to time as a pinch hitter and has been platooned with Belt on and off throughout the season at first base. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but his offensive numbers are fairly solid. That said, Buster Posey generally gets a start a week at first base and Belt has been heating up so Pill’s role will probably continue to diminish throughout August and into September barring an injury or a rough patch for Belt.
Aubrey Huff is still on the DL, who knows when he’ll be back. He probably won’t factor much in the rest of the season although I can see him making some pinch hitting appearances in September.
All of that taken with a grain or two of salt, the following is what I would personally recommend if anyone ever thought of asking me:
1st: Belt should be the regular starter with Posey taking occasional starts when he needs a day out of the crouch.
2nd: Theriot should be the regular starter although Scutaro should be worked in so he plays the majority of games, splitting his time between 2nd, short, and a little third.
SS: Crawford should be the go to guy but Scutaro should take a few games.
3rd: Panda all the way unless he needs a breather, in which case Scutaro should take the start.
Now there are the people who want Sandoval to continue playing first as he had been doing when he was injured but I think that’s just absurd and should only be employed if the Giants find themselves in dire offensive straits in September.