Giant Pride

Even in last place, a win against the Dodgers feels good. Friday night, Madison Bumgarner topped Clayton Kershaw. The Giants never beat Kershaw. Last night, the Giants obliterated Ricky Nolasco. The Giants never beat Nolasco. 19 runs on 22 hits from a last-place team, on the road against its first-place archrivals? We’ll take that any day.

I’m not writing this to try and stir anything up with the Dodgers. The records are what they are, and LA will be the ones playing in October this year. The Giants are simply trying to move out of the cellar in the season’s final weeks. But I’ll tell you this: when your last-place rival comes into your house, prevents you from clinching the division, and sets a stadium-record for runs scored while beating you up and down the diamond, it can’t feel good. And for a season like the one the Giants are having, you take small victories where you can find them.

The Giants were awful in the month of June, and it ruined their season. Most of us know that. But it was their play in July and August that frustrated me even more. After falling out of contention mid-season, there was no way they could’ve played any worse. But in all honesty, they didn’t play a whole lot better either. Think about it; when is the last time the Giants went on a nice winning streak this season? Frankly, they soured me with their lifeless play in July and August more than they did with their terrible defense and pitching in June.

I point all of this out not to frustrate anyone, but to make a point that the Giants are finally playing better baseball in the month of September. Not amazing baseball, but better. They’ve won 5 of their last 7, and they’ve been very competitive in Los Angeles this weekend. Everything came together last night for a Giants’ offense that has been looking better of late as well.

Giants 19, Dodgers 3. The most runs by one team (including the Dodgers) in Dodger Stadium history. A grand slam and career high 7 RBI for Hunter Pence, who should have been locked up in August, and will now likely cost the Giants at least $80 million over 5 years. That’s a lot of money. Pence in the month of September? 54 AB, .407, 7 HR, 22 RBI. He’s a streaky son of a gun, but he can play, and the Giants would be fools to let him enter free agency without signing a deal. Sounds like they’ve begun talks, and Hunter has all the leverage in this one.

Brandon Belt came to the party last night too. 5 hits, a home run, and 6 RBI in a SUPPORTING act from Belt, who’s a .289 hitter with 16 HR for the season. I was frustrated with Belt for quite a while, and I’ll admit I feel very foolish about it now. When a guy hits .352 with 23 HR in his first minor league season, you start envisioning big things. I think big things are coming for Belt, it just took him a little longer to get going than the impatient fans (myself included) expected. With an offseason to rest and a fresh slate heading into 2014, a 1-5 lineup of Pagan, Scutaro, Belt, Posey, and Pence could do some real damage. If Pablo can put together a healthy season and Brian Sabean can find a regular to man LF, that could be a dangerous lineup. But Belt is my 3-hitter going forward, and he’s become a different hitter in the second half. Good for him.

The highlight of the night for me was the late innings, when the Giants’ backups continued to tack on runs. 7 of them in the last 3 frames, to be exact. Ehire Adrianza had his first hit as a big leaguer, as did Johnny Monell. Great to see from a couple of guys who rode the bus for a long time down in the minors. Adrianza looks like he can handle the bat a bit, and we all know he’s got the glove-work. I think Monell’s bat can play a bit too, and he didn’t look awful behind the dish to me, as his scouting reports would lead one to believe.

Heath Hembree continues to look good on the mound in his debut action. Hasn’t given up a run yet, although the plus velocity hasn’t been there yet. Maybe he works 93-94 now? But I was hoping to see some 97’s as well.

Overall, this was a night to feel proud if you’re a Giants fan, and we haven’t had many of those this season. If they can win today and take 3 of 4 from the Dodgers in LA, it’ll feel very, very good.

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Writing on the Wall

The Giants split an old-fashioned double header last night with the Reds, dropping the first game in ugly fashion and gutting out a win in the night-cap. The split kept the Giants at 8 games under .500, but they lost a half-game in the standings to the division-leading Dodgers, who made a furious comeback last night in Toronto.

Game 1: Reds 9 Giants 3

Eric Surkamp made his first big league start in nearly two years after recovering from Tommy John surgery… it did not go well. Surkamp’s start was eerily similar to Mike Kickham’s against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month; after breezing through a 1-2-3 first inning, Surkamp could not locate his pitches, and the Reds teed off. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Votto, Cosart, Bruce and the rest of the Cincy hitters that AT&T Park is not a hitter-friendly stadium, because balls seem to leave the yard frequently whenever they’re in town. Ultimately, Surkamp was tagged for 9 hits and 7 runs in less than three innings of work. Yusmeiro Petit, who was called up with Surkamp to provide some bullpen relief, did just that, eating 5.1 IP and allowing 2 ER. I know it probably wouldn’t have been a popular decision among the fan base, but maybe Petit should’ve taken the start rather than rushing Surkamp up before he was ready. Either way, Petit’s efforts may have saved the night for Bruce Bochy, who needed all the bullpen help he could get in the second game.

Game 2: Giants 5 Reds 3

After two embarrassing losses to start the series, the Giants needed a win badly in the night game. Luckily, the offense came out hacking, posting 3 runs in the 1st and another in the 2nd. Sandoval and Pence had two hits apiece in this one, which was nice to see. The four early runs were enough to earn the win, although it didn’t come easy. Zito allowed three ER and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, but Bochy used five relievers to seal the win, including a 4-out save from Romo, who allowed a hit but recorded all four outs by way of the K. The win marked #1,500 for the skipper Bruce Bochy, who is building himself quite a lengthy list of accomplishments. Way to go, Skip!

A few thoughts here:

The Giants are 6.5 back of the Dodgers right now, with a week left until the trade deadline. That really isn’t a huge deficit, especially for how the Giants have played. But let’s be honest here, are the Giants really a good baseball team this year? To me, the eyeball test is sometimes a better indicator than any statistic on how a team is performing. They’ve been battling injuries and inconsistency most of the year. They’re still not scoring many runs. They’re not playing good defense. They don’t have three, let alone five reliable starting pitchers. They can’t beat anybody outside the NL West, and they haven’t proven they can compete on the road… they play nine games against the AL East alone in August.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are surging. They’ve won 22 of 27 and 9 straight on the road – and they’re doing this with a cooled-off Puig and almost entirely without Matt Kemp. To me, it’s pretty clear that one team is headed in one direction, while the other is headed in the complete opposite.

You’d have to think that Brian Sabean and his team know all of this much better than any of us, and I hope they use the trade deadline to make some tough decisions. There really isn’t one player out there who can transform the Giants into a contending team, but this certainly isn’t a time to completely sell the ranch either. The Giants are a proud franchise, but 8 games below .500 is a steep hill to climb. I think it was a mistake to publicly declare Lincecum safe at the deadline, but maybe they toss Romo’s name out there in the next couple days. Why not get some value for a few of these guys while we can? Yes, you’ll probably lose some casual fans in the process, but if the sellout streak at AT&T Park ends and the team is forced to lower ticket prices, allowing the die-hards to start attending more games again, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

The Giants have given its fan base so much to be thankful for in the past few years, so there really shouldn’t be too much complaining here. And if today marks the start of a historic resurrection and they end up playing their way back into the playoff race, I’ll gladly look like an idiot for saying all of this. But I just don’t see it happening this year. At this point, though, what takes place between now and July 31 is really anybody’s guess.