May 23, 2011GIANTS PAGE GIANTS VIDEOMychael Urban
Our MLB Insider takes a look back at the Giants' sweep of the A's in a three-game interleague series at AT&T Park, and a look forward to the defending world champions' upcoming three-game series against the visiting Marlins.As expected: With Oakland's top three starters lined up to face the Giants, who have the luxury of throwing out a quality starter every day, most folks figured the games would be tight, low-scoring affairs. And they were right, though Sunday's nine-run, 24-hit (combined) finale represented a fairly dramatic departure from anticipated form. The end result wasn't really a departure at all. Yes, both teams rely heavily on their respective pitching staffs, and both teams have offenses pocked by players under-performing relative to their career norms. But an objective look at both lineups shows that the Giants have a better chance of pushing across a few runs against above-average pitching, and that was essentially the difference for the weekend.
RELATED: Giants complete sweep in dramatic fashion
Freakish: Tim Lincecum never ceases to amaze, but it's particularly amazing the way he bounces back from outings that fall short of the ridiculously high bar he's set for himself. Anyone who didn't expect him to come up with a phenomenal game in front of a national television audience on Saturday, one start removed from matching his career high by issuing six free passes and a rare public show of negative emotion (he growled at the home-plate umpire), hasn't been paying very close attention to his career. It's one thing if he has a game in which his numbers don't look all that great but he actually threw the ball fairly well; it's quite another when the numbers truly reflect the quality of his performance. After the latter, he seethes. And then he turns things right back around. That he didn't walk anyone during his masterful three-hitter against the A's spoke to the talent and determination of the Bay Area's most compelling athlete by far.Riveting recall: Sunday's victory was San Francisco's 11th by one run at home this year, its seventh in walkoff fashion. Some might chalk that up to the heart of a champion. More likely, it's the product of the memory of the championship itself. During much of the regular season, down the stretch and throughout the playoffs last year, the Giants thrived on the "torture" that came with such triumphs, and by bringing back everybody who really wanted to come back for the tittle defense, general manager Brian Sabean kept together a group of players that long ago learned not to panic when the proverbial chips are down. The result is another team that cowers not in the face of a late-game deficit, nor against the game's top pitchers, but instead expects to overcome whatever apparently dire straights present themselves. And they expect these wins to come in much the same manner they came in 2010 -- with help from every man on the 25-man roster. All the while, they're making more deposits to the memory banks from which they withdraw, to the point that soon they won't even have to think about Game 6 of the NLCS in Philadelphia or Game 162 of the regular season against the Padres. They'll simply remember last week, or even yesterday. Invaluable. Lesser lights, shining bright: Nate Schierholtz was the epitome of a role player for the 2010 team. Darren Ford's only real contribution was a mad dash that stole a big regular-season game against the Rockies. Manny Burris didn't seem to contribute much at all. Ryan Vogelsong wasn't even around. Yet when this season comes to a close, and if the way it closes warrants another commemorative DVD, whatever mention of the weekend sweep of the A's will be all about the aforementioned foursome, with Lincecum's gem a mere footnote in part because he'll surely pitch in bigger games down the road. Vogelsong, Schierholtz and Burris played huge roles in Friday's win, and Burris and Ford were the extra-inning stars Sunday. Sure, plenty of bigger names had a hand in it all, but when a team gets heroic turns from the back of the rotation and roster, you get the feeling -- again -- that something special might be afoot.Welcome words: When Sabean told KNBR last week that injured Barry Zito will be competing for his spot in the rotation upon starting his rehab stint with Triple-A Fresno, Giants fans who've fallen in love with Vogelsong surely rejoiced. That old baseball adage about not losing your job to injury doesn't apply here, after all. An easy case could be made that Zito is in danger of losing his job based solely on performance issues; he posted a 4.15 ERA in three starts before going down, and Vogelsong has a sub-2.00 ERA in five starts (plus a pair of relief outings). And as the Giants proved by leaving Zito off last year's playoff roster, they're no longer in the business of letting the size of one's contract correlate to the length of the rope he's given while struggling. What happens, though, if Zito kills on his rehab assignment and Vogelsong is still killing for the big club? Short answer: Who cares? That'd be a helluva problem to have, and in anticipation of such, the Giants would be wise to make sure Zito makes at least a couple of his outings for Fresno in relief, because if the reasoning for putting him back in the rotation is that he's a slave to his career-long routine as a starter, the good will Sabean built up with his semi-tough talk about the star-crossed lefty having to "compete" for his gig will disappear in a flash. Speaking of Fresno: We're still in the process of figuring out the contractual complications that would come with such a bold move, but it might be time for the Giants to consider sending lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt to the minors for a couple of weeks. The best setup man in baseball in 2009, Affeldt hasn't been the same since signing a two-year contract worth a reported 9.5 million after his breakout campaign. Injuries contributed to his regression last season, but he's been healthy this year and, as evidenced by Sunday's ugly outing, something's just not right. Affeldt essentially admitted as much when he recently copped to a serious lack of confidence, and it seems like that's an issue that could very well be remedied by a successful stint with the Grizzlies, where he'd be under far less pressure and could be worked into games in a more controlled environment. The risk, of course, is in the possibility that he'd continue to struggle in Fresno, or feel slighted by the organization, but what we know about Affeldt as a teammate and as a person seems to suggest that he'd be willing to at least consider a scenario that would help his team in the short and long term.No time to count chickens: The Marlins are coming to town for a three-game set that starts Tuesday, and in addition to being a pretty good threat to the Giants' season-long streak of sellouts, Florida is a legitimate threat to cool everyone's jets on the shores of McCovey Cove. Tuesday's starter for the Fish, for example, is Ricky Nolasco, who not only is pitching well this season (3-0, 3.32 ERA) but has a lifetime ERA of 1.91 over 28 13 innings against San Francisco, and he's 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA at AT&T Park. A pitching reprieve of sorts comes Wednesday in the form of Chris Volstadt (2-3, 5.73 ERA this season), but his career ERA against the Giants over 15 innings is 1.20, and on Thursday the Giants have to contend with Anibal Sanchez, whose career numbers against the Giants are identical to those of Volstadt, and whose pure stuff is obviously no-hit caliber. The Marlins can swing it a little bit, too; Hanley Ramirez, their biggest star is scuffling, but Gaby Sanchez is a hitting machine, Greg Dobbs has been on fire for much of the year, and Mike Stanton is a budding slugger of the highest order. By no means can the Giants put this bad boy in cruise control for the rest of the homestead before hitting the road (for Milwaukee) again Thursday night.