EXTRA BAGGS: Pence takes protection racket seriously, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Pence takes protection racket seriously, etc.

BOX SCORE

SAN DIEGO Hunter Pence reached 100 RBIs for the first timein his career with his three-run home run in the first inning Saturday night,but he wasnt doing handsprings in the clubhouse.

And not just because its bad form to celebrate a milestonefollowing a loss.

Its nice but you cant be too happy, said Pence, pointingout that hes getting tons of RBI chances because cleanup man Buster Posey hasbeen an on-base machine.

With Posey, theyre walking him a lot with runners on base.So its important that I have a good approach. Theres a reason Im gettingthese opportunities. To protect him, thats my job right now.

Everyone knows it: There will be times in the postseasonwhen Posey wont get anything to hit. Thatll be especially true if the Giantsface left-handed pitchers in the playoffs. Posey is hitting .431 against themthis season -- the highest average in the majors.

Yes, thats right. Posey is hitting .431 in 160 at-batsagainst left-handed pitching.

He did more damage Saturday against lefty Eric Stults. Poseywalked and also went 2-for-2 with a pair of singlesto raise his average to .337. He now has a larger lead over the Pirates AndrewMcCutchen, who saw his average fall to .329 despite hitting a walk-off home runagainst the Reds.
MCCUTCHEN WATCH: Slump halted, ground lost

Of course, for now, Melky Cabrera is still listed as theofficial leader with a .346 average. Thatll change after the 162ndgame, when hell no longer have enough plate appearances to qualify.

And in case you were wondering, yes, its theoreticallypossible for Posey to pass Cabreras average. Hell be off on Sunday, soassuming he gets 12 at-bats over the final three games at Dodger Stadium, hedneed nine hits to raise his average to .34586. That would nudge out Cabreras.34565, assuming you add an extra plate appearance to his total -- whichwouldve been the case if MLB and the union hadnt changed the rule atCabreras request.

Posey will get a break Sunday, but Bochy wont rest all hisregulars. For one, he wants to give Tim Lincecum a fighting chance at avoidinga career-worst 16th loss. For another, there are some regulars whowant the chance to continue to hone their swing. That includes Pence, who ishitting just .224 as a Giant but has 43 RBIs in 55 games.

Average is overrated to me, said Bochy, who probably won't trot out that same comment if Posey wins the batting title.

I like damage anddriving in runs," the manager continued. "Thats how you win ballgames. You talk about a guy whosknocked in 100 runs, its a great year and he did it in nice fashion there witha home run today.

If Pence can continue to do damage, that might get Posey afew more pitches to hit. And theres nothing wrong with that.

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Aubrey Huff did not have a productive day, and not becausehe had a hitless at-bat off the bench.

Madison Bumgarner struggled in his four innings. And themore the starting pitchers struggle, the more likely itll be that Bochy keepsa 12-man pitching staff. Thatll make it tough to keep someone like Huff, whoessentially requires two roster spots because he needs a pinch runner.

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A loyal reader gave me one heck of a news tip. He thought hesaw Brandon Belt and Bumgarner on the off day last Monday, kayaking around thebay near McCovey Cove. Their wives were in a double kayak while the two playerseach paddled solo.

I asked Belt today and he said yes, indeed, it was them. Thewhole thing was Belts idea. Bumgarner went along with it, but forget the swimtrunks and water shoes. He wore his blue jeans and cowboy boots. I only wish Ihad the pictures.

Apparel choices aside, they did the smart thing by ridingsolo. Every kayak guide knows those double-seaters by another name: divorceboats.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The kid who raced The Freeze on Thursday night blew a tire as he hit center field, hobbled for about 50 feet, and then went down for good. He still had a better night than the Giants. 

They blew all four tires in the fifth, giving up eight runs in a nightmare frame that turned a two-run lead into a 12-11 loss. The Giants finished 1-7 on the swing through Denver and Atlanta, and they have lost 18 of their last 23 games. 

But, let’s face it, you’re here already. So here are five more things to know from the night … 

—- Matt Cain was hanging in there until the fifth, and then … disaster. The inning started with Brandon Phillips’ solo shot that cut the lead to one. Then it went single, single before Cain was relieved by Bryan Morris. After that, it was single, single, single, sacrifice fly, homer, flyout, walk, single, pitching change, single. 

—- Morris had to wear it in the fifth because the bullpen is short, and boy, did he wear it. Morris gave up five runs on five hits and a walk. His ERA jumped two full points in two-thirds of an inning. 

—- Kyle Crick made his MLB debut in that horrendous bottom of the fifth. The Giants surely did not want to bring him in with runners on, but Bruce Bochy had no choice when Morris blew up. Crick’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater. After giving up a hit in that inning, he pitched a perfect sixth and perfect seventh. Crick topped out at 97 mph. Pretty, pretty good stuff there. He needs to get a long look the rest of this year. 

—- In the second, Buster Posey hit a ball that went 311 feet and had a hit probability of just six percent. Cain hit a ball 357 feet. Posey got a homer that bounced off the top of the wall; Cain just got a double. Baseball is such an odd game.  

—- On a positive note, Javi Lopez, who calls Brandon Belt “Sparky,” repeatedly referred to Posey as Gerald. He’s going to be good at this job. 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made.