Giants are loose, confident as they hit stretch drive

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Giants are loose, confident as they hit stretch drive

CHICAGO Matt Cain usually talks with his fastball.

But ask him about the dynamic in the dugout, or theclubhouse, or on the team flights or anyplace where the NL West-leading Giantscongregate these days, and watch him turn from laconic to loquacious.

What gives Cain the most optimism as the Giants begin the unofficialstretch run Monday, with all 28 games left on the schedule against divisionopponents?

Its the way this group of guys is, said Cain, after theGiants staged a comeback, scored twice in the ninth and pulled out a 7-5victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Theres just a good feelingin the clubhouse. Guys are having fun. Theyre excited to come to the field. Wevehad that since day one of spring training. Theres times you go through a longseason and you just kind of get tired of everybody, but these guys have beenfun all year.

A little less madcap than 2010, sure. This team has morewedding rings than Van Cleef & Arpels. Even the younguns like MadisonBumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt are on thestraight-and-narrow path.

No red thongs in sight, mercifully.

They are similar in one respect, though.

Were all on the same page, Cain said. I think you haveto have that to have a winning season.

OK, so Cain didn't make any bold, Jonathan Sanchez-type predictions about the NL West. You'll hear no chest puffing or "they're not going to catch us" pronouncements. The Giants respect the Dodgers' talent too much to say this division race is nearing an end.

L.A. WATCH: Dodgers score twice in ninth, walk off on D'backs

But make no mistake: This is not a team that expects to fall out of first place.

All on the same page, their group theater required a bit of improvisation on a breezy Sunday afternoonat Wrigley Field. Xavier Nady started all three rallies. They strung togetherhits. After Cain missed his spot (middle-middle, belly button, as hedescribed it) and paid for it on Alfonso Sorianos three-run home run that gavethe Cubs a 5-3 lead, there was no give-up on the visiting side.

Theres a feeling in the dugout that even if things arentgoing right, we still feel were in the game, Cain said. Ive been on teamsbefore when you dont feel youre in the game. This team feels theres achance, if we do the right things, well find a way to win. Its a good feelingto have.

Even the new guys have taken notice.

Ive been part of good teams and this one seems like aneasy one to get along with, Nady said. You dont have any real egos here.

Its always an ego boost to go 5-1 on your last two roadtrips, as the Giants have done after taking care of business against theHouston Astros and Cubs despite some tough travel circumstances. They thrivedeven though they had to play 12 of 16 away from AT&T Park.

EXTRA BAGGS: Giants' relief committee slices and dices, etc.

Its a big change from the squad that had so much trouble onthe East Coast in the first half, including a 1-5 trip to Washington andPittsburgh entering the All-Star break.

The way we ended the first half really bothered people,said left-hander Javier Lopez, who got a double-play grounder to end Sundaysvictory. There was a concerted effort when we got back, especially on theseroad trips, to play the way we can. We didnt finish the drill like we wantedto. We knew we couldnt do that and stay in the race.

Their lineup, despite a severe shortage of power, isdrilling everything in sight. At the break, the Giants were hitting .224 withrunners in scoring position and .184 with RISP and two outs. Now theyvebumped those season averages to .251 and .197.

Its not striking out in those situations, Giants managerBruce Bochy said. Its timely hits. Thats what it takes when you dont hitthe longball.

Angel Pagan got robbed by the third baseman and centerfielder in two previous at-bats, but he got a hit to fall when the Giantsneeded it most. His two-strike single on a slider from Carlos Marmol put theGiants in front.

Make an at-bat as tough as possible, Pagan said.

Even Aubrey Huff was able to do that, despite getting hisfirst at-bat since July 30 (and fourth since June 10), he was able to foul offa two-strike pitch when appearing as a pinch hitter in the sixth. Stayingalive, just like his old walkup music. And that made an impact when the nextpitch from Manny Corpas bounced away and allowed Belt to score the tying run.

The Giants offense is working without the home run becausethey are creating opportunities, starting with Pagan in the leadoff spot. Heshitting .350 with a .423 on-base percentage in 29 games since moving atop thelineup Aug. 3. The team is 20-9 over that span. And Pagan said the move was hisidea.

We needed somebody to get on base, he said. I asked Bochyto put me in there because I knew I needed to simplify things and I could be ahelp to the team. I think it was a good thing for us. I got there when the teamneeded me the most.

Pagan has scored 33 runs over the last 29 games. His 32 runsin August was the most in the major leagues. Nobody else in the NL was evenremotely close (The Brewers Rickie Weeks was next, with 22.)

You have to love his focus up there, Bochy said.

The Giants know their focus cannot waver now, even with a 412-game lead. They still have six more against the free-spending Dodgers, andthe rest of the division wont roll over for them, either.

Cain likes the way the Giants are positioned. And he likesthe vibe.

Were not trying to repeat. Were just trying to win, Cainsaid. Guys are just, whatever, lets find a way to win today.

Latest round of bullpen auditions go poorly in Giants' 50th loss

Latest round of bullpen auditions go poorly in Giants' 50th loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- Practically speaking, the 50th loss is no different than the one before or the one after, but this sport is built on milestones, and this one came quickly.

The Giants lost their 50th game on August 12 last year. This season, it was clinched when Ryder Jones grounded out in his fourth career at-bat, handing the Mets a 5-2 win on June 24. 

Bruce Bochy called losing 50 of your first 77 games "hard to believe" and "embarrassing." Johnny Cueto, who went seven strong, said the reality was "hard and sad." Brandon Belt, who got Cueto off the hook for a loss, agreed with his manager.

"That's a pretty good word to use -- it is embarrassing to come out and lose every day, especially with the group of guys we have," Belt said. "When you're losing as much as this, it is embarrassing. We're trying to do whatever we can to turn this thing around."

Lately, that has meant changes to the roster. It is officially audition season, and in that respect, it was not a particularly inspiring day for the bullpen. The Giants felt they would have a better mix this year, but it hasn't played out. Instead, they're once again trying to find pieces for the next successful Giants bullpen.

With Hunter Strickland suspended and Derek Law in the minors, two young relievers, a middle-innings stalwart, and a newcomer pitched the final two frames. They gave up four runs.

Sam Dyson was the first on the mound in the eighth. Belt had homered a few minutes earlier, tying a good starter's duel. Dyson gave up a leadoff triple to Curtis Granderson and walked Asdrubal Cabrera before throwing two good sliders past Yoenis Cespedes for the strikeout. With two lefties coming up and the go-ahead run still on third, Bochy turned to Steven Okert. He immediately gave up a seeing-eye RBI single to Jay Bruce. Wilmer Flores doubled off George Kontos later in the frame to make it 3-1. 

In the ninth, Kyle Crick showed some of the wildness that kept him in the minors for seven years. He, too, gave up a leadoff triple, a sin you always pay for. A walk helped put another run into scoring position and a wild pitch extended the Mets’ lead to four. 

Before the game, Bochy talked of getting an extended look at Jones. He was 0-for-4 in his first big league game but he’ll be back out there tomorrow. It’s time to fight for a job, and the same holds true of some relievers who didn’t fare well Saturday. It is a group with a closer locked into a longterm deal and little else decided. 

Are Strickland or Law eighth-inning guys? Will Dyson be a worthwhile reclamation project? Will Kontos be back, and will he carve out a different role? Are Okert and Josh Osich capable of giving Bochy lefties he trusts? Is Crick’s improvement in Triple-A a sign of things to come? There are many questions to be answered over the next three months. 

“This is a good time for them, this is what players get up here for, to show what they can do,” Bochy said. “Because of our situation, we’re going to take a look at these guys and we know there are going to be growing pains.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' 50th loss of the season

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' 50th loss of the season

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The promotion of an intriguing prospect can bring a certain buzz to the ballpark. It didn’t last long. 

The debut of Ryder Jones came in the latest flat performance from the Giants, who collapsed late and fell 5-2 to the Mets. The loss was their 50th of the season. They did not lose their 50th game last season until August 12. 

With the score tied in the eighth, Curtis Granderson crushed a leadoff triple into the alley. Sam Dyson walked the next batter and then whiffed Yoenis Cespedes, but Jay Bruce greeted Steven Okert with an RBI single to right. It kept going poorly from there. 

Here are five things to know from a cool day by the water … 

—- Jones grounded out to second in his first at-bat and then flied out to center, grounded out to first, and grounded out to second. He had one chance in the field, starting a double play that ended the second inning.  

—- Johnny Cueto seems to have turned a corner. Over his past two starts, he has allowed just three earned runs over 14 innings. Whether they trade him or not, the Giants certainly could use a nice little hot streak for the next six weeks. 

—- A few seconds after Bruce Bochy shook Cueto’s hand, Brandon Belt got him off the hook for a loss. He hit the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh into the seats in left-center, tying the game. The homer was Belt’s 14th. He’s on pace for 29. 

—- The Mets got eight one-run innings out of Jacob deGrom, who is quietly the most reliable of a star-studded rotation. He struck out seven and gave up just four hits. 

—- If Madison Bumgarner wants another Silver Slugger Award, he’ll have to chase down deGrom, who hit a homer in his last start. His single in the third was his 10th hit, and he finished the day with a .294 average.