Baggarly's breakdown of Giants' first half
Season of ups and downs
On June 8, the Giants held the best record in baseball and had a 9.5 game lead over the Dodgers. Now at the All-Star break, they trail their arch-rival by one game and are barely holding on to a Wild Card playoff spot. Insider Andrew Baggarly recaps a roller coaster first half for the Orange and Black.
First half MVP
The Giants are just 10 percent of the way through Hunter Pence’s five-year, $90 million contract, but so far they have no reason to regret it. Pence ranks third in the NL in hits, second in runs and he remains an iron man when it comes to bringing energy everyday. He has played all but five of the Giants’ 860 defensive innings in right field, and his streak of 317 consecutive games is the longest in the major leagues. Now if only the Giants could get Angel Pagan back and shift Pence from leadoff to the No.2 spot in the order…
The Giants have a few candidates for biggest surprise, including Jean Machi’s bingo-number ERA through the first 12 weeks of the season and Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. But Brandon Hicks’ eight home runs through 41 games might rank as the most unforeseen contribution of the season. It looks like an even bigger surprise in retrospect, since Hicks was thoroughly exposed against major league pitching after hitting his last homer May 23. Since then, he hit .095 in 30 games and had gone a solid month without a hit (0 for 24, 12 strikeouts) when the Giants designated him for assignment July 11 to activate Marco Scutaro. There’s one fewer Brandon on the team now. For awhile, though, Hicks’ power and defense was a most pleasant surprise. He even parked one to win a game off Clayton Kershaw, proving once again that baseball can get really, really drunk when it wants to.
Matt Cain has two wins in 15 starts, and as you might expect, there have been a few ritual Cainings mixed in there. The story of Cain and a lack of run support is so old, it might as well be in Genesis (with Abel popping up with a runner at third base and one out). But Cain deserved plenty of those losses and no-decisions, and he also went on the disabled list twice with various maladies ranging from a bad hamstring to slicing his hand while trying to cut a ham sandwich. (OK, it might have been roast beef or turkey. Allow us a little lyrical leniency here.) It’s not like every Cain start has resulted in abject misery, but when you pay a guy $20 million a season, you expect they’ll at least be in the conversation for an All-Star appearance. Cain was far from that, and string up a red flag that the Giants are having him open the second half as their No.5 starter, giving him a whopping 12 days of rest.
Remember when Bruce Bochy was asked if he had anything to complain about? The manager meandered a bit before saying, “No. There’s nothing I can complain about.” That little conference room repartee happened June 8, after the Giants swept the New York Mets, climbed to 21 games over .500 and took a 9 ½-game lead in the NL West. The heights were so dizzying, you needed a Sherpa and an oxygen bottle. Turns out the Giants came down with some kind of acute sickness after that, altitude or otherwise, and spiraled back to the pack. For that day, though, the Giants overcame a shaky start from Tim Lincecum, Brandon Crawford collected his 32nd RBI and Brandon Hicks collected his 21st. Yep, that’s 53 knocked in through 64 games from a glove-first middle infield. Hicks and Crawford proceeded to drive in a total of six runs over the Giants’ next 31 games. And the rest of the Giants stopped outhitting the team’s mistakes, too.
In Malmo, they call this a Smorgasbord. So many options on this laden table, all for your choosing! Has ever a contending team had so many sobering losses in one half? Pick any of the three games against the woeful Rockies, who all but begged to be swept yet came back in the eighth inning or later three times to take three games from the Giants at AT&T Park June 13-16. For ripest piece of lutefisk, however, you have to go back to the June 28 loss to the Cincinnati Reds when Sergio Romo blew yet another save and Buster Posey managed to tie it in the ninth with a dramatic home run on a 101-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman. Yet that only set up the Reds to crush a sellout crowd’s spirits with a four-run 11th inning against Javier Lopez and Jean Machi in a 7-3 loss. Romo was removed from the closer role the next day.
One for the history books
Tim Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres for the second consecutive season, becoming the first pitcher in more than 100 years to no-hit the same team twice. Lincecum, who walked just one and threw 113 pitches while completing the task June 25 at AT&T Park, joined Sandy Koufax at an ultra-exclusive table for two: They are the only pitchers to win two World Series titles, two Cy Young Awards and throw two no-hitters. I’m pretty sure you get bottle service comped at that table. Asked how he would celebrate, Lincecum said, “I think I’ll go home and drink a little bit. I can say that, right?”
Outside the lines
The Giants took the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant and made it their own, Michael Morse ordered metal helmets from antiquity and distributed them to half the players in the clubhouse and Hunter Pence hit the first home run into the center field garden – a tater among the kale patches. But the off-field story from the first half had to be Pence’s stolen electric scooter, the citywide manhunt that followed and the eventual safe (and anonymous) return of said conveyance to a local police station. Pence already put in an order for a new scooter, so he planned to auction off his old one to a charity. Which one? The Make-A-Wish Foundation, of course. The way Pence figures it, BatKid had to be responsible for the scooter’s return in one way or another.