Melky Cabrera's Suspension Could Derail San Francisco's Playoff Hopes
Cabrera wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill player for San Francisco. He was leading the team with 159 hits and a .346 batting average. The Melk Man ranked second on the squad with 60 RBIs. For much of the season, Cabrera and catcher Buster Posey have provided the majority of the Giants’ offensive firepower.
Fortunately for the Giants, Pablo Sandoval returned to action earlier this week after he strained his left hamstring three and a half weeks ago. Still, the Giants will be forced to continue without their reliable No. 3 hitter for the remaining 45 games of the season, plus the first five of the playoffs, should the Giants make it that far. In the third spot this season, Cabrera batted .363 while slugging .547. Even though the Giants rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring runs, the switch-hitting outfielder’s middle-of-the-order dominance coupled with San Francisco’s great pitching made the Giants a first-place team.
Sandoval will likely be a formidable third hitter (though not as dangerous as Melky), but Cabrera’s departure makes the team’s offensive depth a whole lot thinner. Let’s be clear. This is not the end of the world for the Giants, who recently acquired Hunter Pence from the Phillies. As currently constructed the Giants’ 1-6 hitters are not bad at all on paper.
Pence will need to be a whole lot better than he’s been, though. Since the Giants traded for him, his intense struggles have lowered his .271 batting average and .447 slugging percentage to .259 and .426, respectively. It sounds even worse when you point out that as a Giant, he’s batting .177 with a slugging percentage of .290. Yes, he’s driven in 11 runs in 15 games, but he’s also struck out 19 times.
In the Giants’ favor, they also boast a top 5 National League pitching staff. Then again, so do the Dodgers, who recently overtook the Giants for first place in the NL West. Although the Diamondbacks have dropped eight of their last 11 games, they are not out of the race yet and have also shown an ability to get hot. From late July to early August, Arizona won 11 of 14 games. With that said, the NL West will likely be a two-team race between the Giants and Dodgers.
Finally, Cabrera’s hitting against left-handed pitching (.395/.444/.667) will sorely be missed. While he and Posey love them some southpaws, guys like Sandoval and Pence have not fared as well against left-handers this season. Although the switch-hitting Kung Fu Panda hits .323 against lefties, he is only slugging .415 compared to .515 (his slugging percentage against right-handers). Pence, on the other hand, has seen his offensive numbers dip all across the board against southpaws in 2012. He is batting .223 and slugging .393 against left-handed pitching this year.