Sports

Giants have their closer, sure, but others in ’pen likely to decide team’s fate

San Francisco hopes it has found the answer to the back end of its bullpen after the offseason signing of closer Mark Melancon. Still to be determined: who among a cast of still mostly unproven relievers will form the core group that will get the ball to Melancon in the ninth?
San Francisco hopes it has found the answer to the back end of its bullpen after the offseason signing of closer Mark Melancon. Still to be determined: who among a cast of still mostly unproven relievers will form the core group that will get the ball to Melancon in the ninth? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bobby Evans smiled, because it beats crying in front of grown men.

“Things are good,” the Giants general manager said during batting practice at spring training the other day. “How are things going for you?”

Lousy. All the kids are San Francisco Giants fans and they keep asking me how the Giants are going to do this season.

The starting pitching looks ox-strong, they’re told. Buster Posey is still Buster Posey and everyone else in baseball isn’t, they’re reminded. The new closer should help us banish the name of Santiago Casilla to the tomb of Salomon Torres.

But oh, that bullpen.

Just 5 minutes ago, Evans was talking about how reliever Will Smith was up for a season-ending operation. Smith (the nonactor version) was supposed to grow into a left-handed solution to 2016’s mine-blast of a bullpen.

You remember last year’s bullpen, no matter how much therapy your HMO covered. They’re the ones who made a cottage industry out of blowing saves, with a team-record 30 leads slaughtered.

This year is supposed to be different. It has to be, or nothing will be. The loss of Smith left Evans semi-smiling in conversation, because again, grown men can only weep at funerals and onion factory lines.

Free-agent closer Mark Melancon is a $62 million answer to the question “How can you never again blow a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning of a playoff game against the Cubs?”

But first, you’ve got to get the lead to the ninth. The answer isn’t to tax your starters through the eighth inning – three of their five starters ranked in the top five of innings pitched in the National League at 200-plus innings per arm last year, and to what end?

Evans can’t go sign situational pitchers off the street at this point because there’s a reason the unemployed are still unemployed.

So this is the answer to last season’s killjoy of a bullpen:

No more Casilla, Sergio Romo or Javier Lopez, thirtysomethings, one and all.

Lots more George Kontos, Hunter Strickland and Cory Gearrin. Throw in some Steven Okert and Josh Osich for good measure, and some Derek Law and Bryan Morris for extra seasoning, and toss in who knows who else from the 40-man tussle for the opening day roster.

Feeling any relief? My kids didn’t think so.

If the loss of Smith to Tommy John surgery ruins the Giants’ season, the season was already ruined. It just reminds us how fragile the Giants’ World Series hopes were in the first place.

The starting pitching has to be oh so good, and the offense has to be oh so strong, and from the seventh-inning stretch through the eighth, everyone better hold their oxygen and hope manager Bruce Bochy is really good at knowing which bullpen wire to cut on those ticking nitrogen bombs.

Because, for all that’s changed, nothing’s changed except the level of name-recognition in the bullpen. They’re either going to bring the Giants much-needed relief, or they’re going to relieve this team from their postseason duties.

If the latter happens, it’ll finally be OK for Evans to cry. My kids will cry with him.

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