Giants sticking together in pursuit of division title


Giants sticking together in pursuit of division title

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants trail the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. West by a 12 game. In 2010, they entered the break trailing by two games and went 45-29 en route to a World Series title. In 2011, they entered the break leading the division by three games, went 34-36 and missed the playoffs.

Are there positives to glean from the past about running just behind the pace horse?

"You know what, there could be," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "It might give you that fire that says you've gotta step it up in the second half.

"Maybe it adds a little more intensity, maybe it adds a little more fun."

Fun is something the Giants know, and the vibe in the clubhouse Friday as players returned from the All-Star break was that of old friends reuniting -- showing off sunburns and vacation images captured on smart phones.

"I was missing them already, man, after three days!" Angel Pagan said. "That's something that's pretty cool. That you look forward to get back with your teammates and go to war."

Bochy noticed it too.

"The break is nice, and we had some guys that needed it, but it's good to get back. After a couple days, you're excited to get back, can't wait to get back.

"We're like a family."

The Giants, who have dropped seven of their last nine games entering the break, will need to come together as a family and turn things around for a second-half push. The Diamondbacks took a three-game winning streak into the break and 2011 N.L. MVP runner-up Matt Kemp is back in the Dodgers lineup after missing 51 games in the first half.

Do the Giants have enough in the clubhouse to win the West? Friday's starter Madison Bumgarner tackled the question on Chronicle Live Thursday.

"I think so," Bumgarner said. "If we didn't think so, that'd be our first problem."

The team support started early Friday with Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz taking batting practice in front of an empty stadium in shorts, working on their swings together.

"It's something that feels really good," Pagan said. "When you have teammates that look out for each other. When someone struggles, somebody's got your back. There's no better feeling than that, and that's the type of clubhouse we have."

Three teams chasing Giants in tight race for first overall pick


Three teams chasing Giants in tight race for first overall pick

LOS ANGELES — The Giants have a pretty strong track record when picking in the top five of the MLB Draft. In 1985, they took Will Clark with the second overall selection, and Clark remains the highest-drafted player in franchise history. A year later, Matt Williams was taken third overall. Jason Grilli at No. 4 in 1997 is rather forgettable, but taking Buster Posey with the fifth pick in 2008 led to three titles. 

With a week of baseball remaining, the Giants are a lock to pick in the top four of next year’s draft. A few days ago, they looked like a pretty strong bet to pick first overall, but the standings — the bottom of them, at least — have tightened in recent days. Here’s a look at the contenders, so to speak … 

White Sox (63-92): No team went into tank mode this year quite like Chicago, with trades of just about every big piece on the roster. But a funny thing has happened … they’ve actually played decent baseball down the stretch. The White Sox are 11-12 in September after a blowout of the Royals on Sunday. They finish up with four against the Angels and three against the Indians, so they should get pretty close to 100 losses. 

Phillies (62-94): They have looked all along like the team to beat, but they hurt their top-pick chances by taking three of four from the Dodgers last week. They host the Nationals and Mets this week. 

Tigers (62-94): All of a sudden, they’re the biggest road block for the Giants. The Tigers have lost seven straight and they’re 4-20 in September. They finish up with three against the Royals and three against the Twins, and all six games are on the road. 

Giants (61-95): Can we stop for a moment and appreciate this. We’ve been talking about it for five months, but still, it’s pretty amazing that a $200 million team is headed into the final week with a very good shot at having the worst record in Major League Baseball. What an awful season this has been. Having said that, the Giants have not shown any signs of actually tanking, and manager Bruce Bochy said this weekend that he won’t shut any players down. So, it’s on to Phoenix, where the Giants have lost six of seven this season but the Diamondbacks might chill out a bit after clinching a postseason spot. They’ll face Zack Godley, Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke. The season ends with three at home against the Padres. The Giants have struggled against the Padres for the last year and a half, but they’ll have Matt Cain going in an emotional start and Madison Bumgarner will also get a game. 

Given another look at fastball, Williamson gets revenge against Kershaw

Given another look at fastball, Williamson gets revenge against Kershaw

LOS ANGELES — Mac Williamson was sent up to pinch-hit when the Giants faced Clayton Kershaw earlier this month, and on a two-strike count, he watched as Kershaw shook off five different signs as he stood on the mound. Kershaw then froze Williamson with a fastball. It was a good lesson for Williamson, a player still trying to find his footing at the big league level.

“He’s a guy you can’t really guess with,” Williamson said. 

The outfielder admits he tends to overthink things. “I’m a perfectionist,” he said Sunday. But given a start against Kershaw, Williamson let his talent — and a little luck — take over. Williamson’s first hit off Kershaw was a bleeder that resulted in an infield hit. His second bounced through the middle of the infield for a single. The third one was the highlight of the day for the Giants. 

Kershaw had a shutout going when he tried to sneak a first-pitch fastball past Williamson in the eighth. He blasted it to dead center. It was the only run for the Giants in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers. 

“It’s good to see him get those swings off,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That homer was to the big part of the park. It shows how strong he is.”

The Giants have always known Williamson has the strength and raw talent. He hasn’t stuck for a number of reasons, including injuries and that aforementioned tendency sometimes to overthink at the plate. It probably hasn’t helped, either, that the Giants tend to sit him for days at a time and then play him against the Kershaws and Zack Greinkes and Rich Hills of the world. 

Williamson took advantage of the tough assignment on Sunday, joining a small group of Giants who have three hits in a game off Kershaw. 

“Hunter was ahead of me,” he said, smiling. “He beat me to it.”

Pence also had three hits, giving the Giants six from the corners against the best pitcher in the game. It wasn’t enough, but for Williamson, it was something to build off as the offseason approaches. He said it’s a winter he doesn’t plan to take lightly. Williamson’s agents are working to line up a Winter Ball job in the Dominican Republic.