COLUMN: Pablo Sandoval’s injury isn’t the end of the world

Because nothing engages a fan base quite like a crisis, Giants fans determined to sweat the temporary loss of Pablo Sandoval should know their anxiety is appreciated by the franchise.
When you’re selling a product in a competitive market, as the Giants are, any buzz is good buzz.
But to conclude that the 2012 Giants are done simply because their most productive bat will be out of the lineup for six weeks is not valid. To follow the numbers, and many baseball fans do, is to realize they may not even be destined for a tailspin.
It is expected that Sandoval, who fractured the hamate bone in his left hand Wednesday night, could miss about 40 games. He missed 41 games last season in the wake of fracturing the same bone in his right hand.
The Giants had a better record without Sandoval (25-16) than with him (61-60). They were 12-13 when he left, 37-29 when he returned, going from 4- games out of first place in the N.L. West to one game up.
Though much of San Francisco’s surge occurred before Buster Posey sustained his season-ending injury last May 25, the fact remains that losing Pablo not only failed to kill the season but also might have sparked his teammates to respond.
The other salient factor is, again, the calendar, which can play cruel tricks on inexperienced or unsuspecting baseball fans.
The best news of all for the Giants and their fans is that the standings rarely look the same in late September as they do in early May – or even early June.
The Angels, expected to at least compete with Texas for A.L. West supremacy, have spent most of the season in last place. The Red Sox, always a factor in the A.L. East, also dwell in the cellar. The Phillies, generally regarded as the best team in the N.L., have done more sputtering than spanking.
All three of those fan bases have better reason for anxiety than those who follow the fortunes of the Giants, who are rightfully regarded as a team with enough pitching to have a reasonable chance to reach the postseason.
The Giants have spent most of the season bobbing around the .500 mark. That’s what they are and what they will be as long as they rely on the pitching of a .600 team, the fielding of a .500 team and the hitting of a .400 team.
That’s what they have been even with the portly third baseman there to lead the team in most major offensive categories.
Insofar as it always hurts the offense when its top RBI man has a cast on his wrist, Sandoval’s absence most certainly presents a challenge, especially for a lineup so low on wattage. At this time, though, the Giants are not a playoff team – with or without Pablo.
San Francisco’s lineup, even at its best, is built to scavenge for runs. And “at its best” means having a healthy and potent Aubrey Huff, which is not the case. It means a reliable leadoff batter, and Angel Pagan’s first month has been sporadic.
When the lineup is functioning at its top end, four runs is not an explosion – as it seems to have been throughout this season.
The preferred heart of the lineup – Posey, Sandoval and Brandon Belt – might become prolific and feared by 2015, but as of now it remains very much in the early stages of development.
Rarely is a team doomed by a single injury sustained in the first month of a season, especially when the player should return long before the second half of that season.
The loss of Derrick Rose in Chicago dooms the championship aspirations of the Bulls.
The loss of Terrell Suggs in Baltimore threatens the Super Bowl goals of the Ravens.
The loss of Brian Wilson means the Giants are trying to win without an established closer, something few teams successfully manage.
Those losses, however, came at an awful time (Rose, in the first round of the NBA Playoffs) or could stretch over an entire season (Suggs, Wilson).
Sandoval will be back in plenty of time for the club to make a run at the postseason.
Meanwhile, Giants fans can be thankful they’ve been spared the loss of the team’s real pillars, namely Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. As long as they’re healthy and dealing, this team can linger around a pennant race.
As crises go, this one is utterly fabricated. Giants fans are better off saving their anxieties for the truly devastating loss.
On the other hand, if you’re predisposed to panic, chew on Brandon Crawford’s defense. Chew, if you must, on losing three in a row to Miami. And search for the upside to eating as much angst as you can swallow.

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