Arizona Diamondbacks

Giants slam door shut on great, terrible and historic first half

Buster Posey Madison Bumgarner grand slams

As someone who watched his first Giants game on television since Saturday (not yesterday — last Saturday), I have to wonder what you’re all complaining about. This team is great! Home runs galore, fun wins over tough division rivals … what’s not to like?

OK, a closer look at the schedule shows that today’s 8-4 win, where all the runs came on grand slams from Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner — gave the Giants their first home series win in over a month. And the D-Backs, much like the Padres last weekend, are far from good. But San Francisco sure needed a win like this heading into the All-Star Break after a June swoon that seeped into July.

HOWEVER … according to the guy who drilled the first bases loaded bomb, this Giants season isn’t quite the catastrophe some are making it out to be.

“That’s the hard thing I think, for us and for media as well, is we’ve got — what are we, 52 wins or something? It’s been a good first half. We have to remember that,” Posey told Amy Gutierrez after the game.

“We’ve got some momentum going into the break. We’re in a good spot.”

If you put aside how utterly terrible the Giants have looked since June 9, Posey has a point. They’re within a game of the Dodgers, who have the best record in a tightly-bunched National League where the top eight teams are within four games of each other. If the Giants went 1-0 in March, 15-12 in April, 15-13 in May, 14-12 in June and 7-6 in July, they’d not only have the same 52-43 record, the media (and the fans, but players don’t dare question them) wouldn’t be searching for reasons why a team that once had a 9.5-game lead at the same time they were on a 108-win pace have looked like baseball’s worst team for over five weeks.

This team is somewhere in between the glorious squad we saw leading up to June 8 and the listless group that got shut out six times in a 19-game stretch. And while the first half was largely disappointing due to the squandered lead, there were some memorable moments and reasons for optimism.

1. Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter, and the Giants have to be excited to see how he bounced back after that disastrous start in Cincinnati: seven straight starts lasting six innings or more; six quality starts; 0.30 ERA over his last four.

2. Three home runs for Bumgarner, who became the second pitcher in history to hit two grand slams in the same year.

“It’s almost like running an American League lineup out there, because pitchers on the other team know they have to pitch him tough. There’s not many pitchers that can turn around 97* like he did,” Posey said.

*According to the stadium radar gun, the Matt Stites fastball Bumgarner yanked into the left field seats was 98 mph.*

3. Despite the offensive slowdown, the Giants have 86 home runs. They hit only 107 last year.

4. The Giants haven’t scored a run for Ryan Vogelsong in three straight starts — and they only gave him one run in the start before that sad trio — but he’s given the team a chance to win 17 of his 19 starts.

5. Tim Hudson and Michael Morse aren’t going to win the Cy Young and MVP awards, but much like the team itself they enjoyed productive first halves thanks to rip-roaring starts — in Hudson’s case, productive enough to earn his fourth All-Star nod.

6. Of all the big contracts this team has handed out in the last 10 years, Hunter Pence’s was probably called an overpay more often in the days after it was signed than any other. But in the current market for outfielders, Pence has been worth the money (in year one, at least).

Hit the brakes

That doesn’t mean the concerns have slipped away. It doesn’t take a member of the media to determine that the bench is a huuuuuuuge question mark, with or without Marco Scutaro (who’s sounded awfully Eeyore-like about his back since Spring Training). Angel Pagan deals with one injury after another. And while the offense has had to deal with injuries to Pagan, Brandon Belt and Scutaro, along with a crippling early-season slump from Pablo Sandoval, the pitching staff has been relatively healthy.

That is, except for Matt Cain. Cain endured two disabled list stints in the first half. Neither was related to his elbow or shoulder, and he has a 1.86 ERA in his last three starts. So why does the Giants’ second half rotation look like this?

  1. Madison Bumgarner
  2. Tim Hudson
  3. Tim Lincecum
  4. Ryan Vogelsong
  5. Matt Cain

“Matt going the last day. He’s fine. We’re just going to push him back a little bit,” Bochy Bochy told reporters after the game. He also went on to mention that Cain could get moved up if Hudson gets too much work in Tuesday’s exhibition.

That qualifier doesn’t exactly do much to mask the fact that the No. 2 starter is now the No. 5 starter. Cain is the team’s highest-paid player. Bochy probably considered making him the Opening Day starter for the second consecutive year. There has to be a reason why the team is giving the guy who’s thrown the lowest number of innings 12 days rest, while no other starter will get more than eight days off.

Extra BASGs

— Even when Pence doesn’t hit — he went 0-for-4 today — he contributes in other ways. Today he threw out Ender Inciarte at third to kill a first inning rally. In the sixth inning he made a fairly dangerous-looking play when he ran back and snared Paul Goldschmidt’s line drive to the wall, which also saved a run.

“Hunter, those are two game-changing plays. Throwing the guy out at third, you’ve got first and third with Goldy up there, and of course the fly ball he caught by the wall,” Bochy said.

— Pablo Sandoval’s defense has been great for most of the season, and today he made a few noteworthy plays. He charged that Aaron Hill grounder and made a pretty difficult throw in the fourth. There was the diving stop on Mark Trumbo’s grounder with two outs (which also saved a run in the sixth). My favorite was when Inciarte got picked off trying to steal third — after making the tag, Sandoval kept the fun going when he shoved future Giant (just kidding, he’s getting $11 million per year in 2015 AND 2016) Martin Prado off second base and got the out. The call was quickly reversed, since Sandoval would’ve gotten a yellow card at the very least if baseball adopted soccer’s rules. But it was a clever and hilarious effort, nonetheless.

— Bumgarner also hit the double to start the Giants’ first grand slam-capped rally, and finished the game with the highest slugging percentage and OPS on the team.

— I know it was a cool play that won a game in 2013 … but why are the Giants celebrating Pagan’s inside-the-parker with a bobblehead? Who’s able to watch those highlights of the Pagan getting sent around third by Tim Flannery (who looked like he was ready to pull out a jockey’s whip) without thinking tornhamstringtornhamstringtornhamstringtornhamstring?

— Here’s an idea: a bobblehead with Pagan standing on a base while saluting. Done.

— It’s time to retire the “ball dudes” idea, no pun intended. Watching senior citizens flail around down the lines was good for a chuckle 20 years ago, but now I cringe and wonder when someone’s going to get hurt — either a ball dude who falls and breaks a hip, or a fan who takes a ball to the face because the person tasked with protecting fans in the first couple rows can’t get his glove up quickly enough.

I’m not sure how the old codgers get chosen for each game (I’m going to give the Giants the benefit of the doubt and assume they aren’t C-Level executives for companies that sponsor the team, or other assorted ownership group cronies), but it’s time to get some teenagers with decent skills out there instead. And while they’re at it, maybe ditch “Kiss Cam,” the fist-pump song and the rigged game shows between innings.

On that note, happy All-Star Break, everyone!

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