I’ve made it a personal goal not to use the word “sting” during this series. I’ve got too much self-respect for that, as opposed to most headline-makers out there, who think they’re so clever. I mean, “Cain is able?” Come on, that one ran its course about 8 years ago…
Anyway, the Giants have strung a winning streak together folks, all on the road to boot. We wondered how much they could take. What would be the breaking point? Well, apparently getting swept at home by the Cubs did the trick (although our starting pitching was phenomenal in that series). After taking the final two games in Philly, the Giants opened a weekend series at the Trop with the red-hot Rays in impressive fashion. One game in, and they’re already off to a much better start than the last time they played an AL East team on the road in a dome.
I’ll say this about the Rays: Their pitching staff is ridiculously talented. When Chris Archer is your #3 pitcher, you know you’ve got a talented rotation. This was the first time I’d seen Archer pitch, but had heard all about his recent two-hit shutout over the Yankees. The kid has impressive stuff. Touches 97 with the fastball and spots his slider exactly where he wants it. He’s got to be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, and he was pretty filthy yesterday… which makes it all the more impressive (or shocking?) that the Brandons lit him up.
Brandon Belt was in the lineup after sitting out the entire Philadelphia series. It’s amazing what a little mental rest and extra practice can do for a slumping hitter. While the rest of the Giants’ starting nine were struggling to make solid contact against the young Archer, Belt looked like the second coming of the Babe at the plate. He tattooed a changeup in the 5th, tying the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to right. That was his second hit of the game. In the 7th, Belt and Brandon Crawford put Madison Bumgarner in position for the win. After a base-hit by Hunter Pence, Belt went after a pitch below his knees, ripping toward deep center. The ball bounced off the upper half of the wall, and Belt had a triple – although, again he wasn’t running very hard out of the box. What is his deal?! Crawford followed with a blast to right (his second HR in three games), and the Giants had all the runs they’d need. Belt and Crawford hadn’t exactly been contributing at the plate lately, so yesterday’s offensive output was very, very nice to see. When the Brandons are producing, the Giants are tough to beat.
While Belt and Crawford powered the offense on this stormy night in Tampa, the real story of the game was Bumgarner. As impressive as Archer was for the home team, Bumgarner was downright dominant against one of the better lineups in baseball. Aside from a pitch Wil Myers took to the deepest part of the yard for a long flyout, no Rays hitters even made solid contact against the Giants’ southpaw. In another 7-inning performance, Bumgarner allowed 7 hits, 3 BB and 1 ER. He struck out 11 while winning his 11th game and lowering his ERA to 2.69. Dave Flemming mentioned a couple times how MadBum had pitched at least 7 innings in every start since June 8. That’s 9 consecutive outings folks, and he’s 7-2 during that span.
Bumgarner has undoubtedly become the ace of the staff, and one of the top young lefties in the game. He seems like a wily veteran already, but he’s still only 24 years old. If the Giants can get Matt Cain back to form next year (and it seems he’s picking it up since the All-Star break), and just average performance from the rest of the rotation, they’ll be back in contention again.
So, an impressive night for the Brandons and Bumgarner, and the Giants take game one from Tampa. Tim Lincecum matches up against David Price tonight in a battle of former and current Cy Youngs. These AL East matchups are going to be fun. The Giants may be 10 games out, but you know they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler down the stretch against teams like these Rays. If they can compete like they have the last few days, we should have some pretty great matchups ahead.