Evan Longoria

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too. 

The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench. 

That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors. 

"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."

Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though. 

Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games. 

The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers. 

Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies. 

[RELATED: Belt not a fan of robot umpires despite frustrations]

"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."

Giants core continues to struggle as team drops fourth straight series

Giants core continues to struggle as team drops fourth straight series

SAN FRANCISCO -- The focus for the past week has been on the newcomers, and Kevin Pillar certainly has done all one can do to take some pressure off his new teammates. 

But the Giants were not built to rely on a Pillar or Tyler Austin, or Connor Joe and Michael Reed before them. The core was kept intact throughout the offseason -- not totally by choice -- and for two weeks of bad baseball, that's the group that's letting Bruce Bochy down.

The Giants lost 3-1 on Wednesday, the lone run coming on Pillar's solo shot off Padres lefty Nick Margevicius. As there usually is, there was a whiff of a rally in the late innings. As they have done so often, the Giants came up one big hit short.  

Farhan Zaidi has tinkered with the edges of the roster relentlessly, but the Giants won't go anywhere in his first year if production doesn't come from the core. 

Pillar drove in nine runs in this series and hit two homers. The six position players who were in the Opening Day lineup and remain on the roster have combined for 18 RBI and five homers all season, and that's mostly because of Brandon Belt. 

"I know it's magnified early when guys aren't quite swinging the bat like they normally do," Bochy said. "I think you can look across baseball and you see quite a few guys who aren't hitting what they normally would be hitting. So you try to stay encouraged that those are going to get better, those numbers."

So far, they tell an ugly story.

The average OPS in the National League was .761 entering the day. The Giants were a distant last at .582, and they don't have any holdovers even hitting at an average rate thus far. 

Buster Posey has a .189 batting average, .520 OPS and zero RBI. Evan Longoria's average is at .188 and his OPS is .496 after an encouraging spring. Brandon Crawford has an 11-game hitting streak but a .666 OPS. Joe Panik is at .575 and now in a platoon. Steven Duggar is at .578 and has struck out in more than a third of his at-bats. Belt is the one guy who has gotten off to a decent start from a power perspective, but even his .734 OPS is well below his career average.

[RELATED: Pillar achieves feat last done by Bonds]

"It's going to have to happen pretty soon for us," Bochy said. "As I've said, our core guys are the guys that we'll lean on, but really I think with our new guys here, I think our lineup has more depth. We've been swinging the bats better. We just had an off day with some big hits or even some productive outs."

They've had a lot of them so far, leading to a 4-9 record. The Giants have lost their first four series for the first time in 36 years, and it's not going to get any better if the core players don't find a quick fix.

Evan Longoria's recent offensive slump has Mike Krukow 'really concerned'

Evan Longoria's recent offensive slump has Mike Krukow 'really concerned'

One week before Opening Day, Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow predicted third baseman Evan Longoria would hit at least 20 home runs this season

In just the second game of the season, Longoria was on the board with his first homer of the year. Krukow's crystal ball seemed to be onto something. 

But a lot can change in just a couple of games. 

Longoria had just one hit in three games against the Rays over the weekend. After a rough stretch against his former team, he's down to a .194 batting average with nine strikeouts and only seven hits. 

“I’m really concerned about it,” Krukow said Monday on KNBR

Krukow believes there was an emotional factor to Longoria's down series against the Rays. Chosen with the No. 3 pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Longoria spent the first 10 years of his career in Tampa Bay before the Giants traded for him last offseason.

“One thing we’ve learned about Longoria is that he’s an emotional guy, and this series with Tampa was a big series to him," Krukow said. "He loved Tampa. That was his identity. He was the guy there, and we saw last year when he came over and saw how out of water he was the first month or two. He just wasn’t in the comfort zone, and we saw it again these last three games with Tampa.

“He had one hit, and I think the team, all his friends, and what that city meant to him became a distraction for him this weekend." 

The Giants begin a three-game home series against the Padres on Monday night. Getting the Tampa Bay series over with could be good for Longoria, and Krukow's hoping he can hit the reset button. 

"I’m hoping he can get beyond that today when the Padres get into town, but they need to have some production from the three-four-five guys, and right now they’re not getting enough." 

For the second straight season, Longoria is off to a slow start. He went 0-for-17 to start his Giants career last year. This is concerning for many reasons, but especially for the veteran when you look at his career splits. 

Entering his 12th MLB season, Longoria has typically started off hot at the plate. His .280 career average in the first month of the season is actually the best out of any month before slowing down after that. 

[RELATED: Tyler Austin fills one big hole for Giants' struggling lineup right away]

As a whole, virtually nobody is hitting for the Giants. Their .208 team batting average is 26th in baseball and their six home runs are the third-worst in the game. 

The anti-Dodgers have to flip the switch soon, or else it's going to be another long season.