SAN FRANCISCO – Tim Lincecum has a 4.97 ERA through 13 starts. The Giants have a 9-4 record in them.
Is he charmed? Lucky? Is he pitching to the score, to borrow a phrase from the great Jack Morris Hall of Fame debate?
Or is he simply playing for the hottest and most complete Giants team in his eight big league seasons?
“I can’t think of a time we’re as good as we are now,” said Lincecum, and this might be a good time to point out that he has two World Series rings either stashed in a safety deposit box or, knowing him, in the back seat of his car.
“It’s early, but we’ll ride it out, ride the wave and keep producing. We’re all pulling on the same string, which is what you want.”
That string must be hooked up to a hot-air balloon, because the Giants just keep rising and rising. They’re 42-21 after their third consecutive come-from-behind victory Sunday afternoon, a 6-4 win that completed their first three-game home sweep of the New York Mets in a dozen years.
Some perspective: Do you remember when the Giants clinched the NL West by beating the San Diego Padres on the final day of the season in 2010? That win put them 22 games over .500. They’re 21 over now. And we haven't gotten to Flag Day yet.
So … have they ever played with more heat and helium?
“No, to be honest with you,” said left-hander Javier Lopez, another two-ringer. “This is just a really solid team all the way through. It’s not just the pitching but the defense has been so solid, and the timely hitting … I think we’ve lost what, one time when we’ve outhit an opponent?”
(Checking game notes … yep, 27-1.)
“Break it down however you want, but all the way through, this is a complete team," Lopez continued. "I think guys noticed it early in the spring that it could be this way. But to see it in action is another thing. It’s a unique situation for me personally, got a team to rattle off something like this. And what a lot of guys are excited about is that we’re starting a stretch where (20 of 25 games) are at home.”
The schedule will get tougher, for sure. Those four Bay Bridge games against the A’s July 7-10 will be the most anticipated in the history of the interleague series between the clubs. The Giants will not have the Mets to push around all season.
And yet …
“It’s a little crazy what we’re doing right now,” Lopez said.
Start with the lineup. Bruce Bochy gave Buster Posey and his bad back a full day of rest, not even wedging his bat into the lineup at first base. Bochy didn’t push Angel Pagan’s sore knee one day after the leadoff man reached base in all five trips. The manager insisted in his pregame session that he would’ve made those prudent choices regardless of whether the Giants had baseball’s best record (and a 9 ½-game lead in the NL West) or not.
Gregor Blanco, who is good enough to be a starting outfielder on many clubs, came off the bench and shined as the offensive star in Pagan's place, hitting a two-run double in the second inning that put the Giants ahead and then adding an RBI single in the seventh that proved useful.
Last year, when Pagan went down, Blanco already was a starter and Andres Torres, bless him for trying, got overexposed quickly when he was thrust into a larger role. Nick Noonan soaked up more starts than forecasted on the infield and slugged .238. Years from now, when you look at photos of their White House visit, you might leak some soda pop from your nose when you remember that 2013 club had Kensuke Tanaka and Jeff Francoeur front and center.
Bochy is too classy to knock former players. Then again, does he really need to?
“That’s the biggest difference. We have more depth than last year,” Bochy said. “We lose (Brandon) Belt and we put (Michael) Morse out there.”
(That would be the same Michael Morse who is hitting .278/.329/.550 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI. He's making $6 million. The Giants could have signed Chris Young instead. The Mets did, for $7.25 million. He's hitting .205/.295/.336 with four home runs and 15 RBI.)
There’s more depth on the Giants' roster and more depth in their lineup, too. That’s another change from last year, “when your hope was the heart of the order and you hoped it’d come back around,” Bochy said.
The Giants could try to get even deeper at the trade deadline. Should they decide to make a move for Chase Utley or Martin Prado or even Daniel Murphy, then Brandon Hicks becomes quite the nice power threat off the bench. Or maybe they don’t disrupt a good thing, especially with the fine defense Hicks is providing -- including all those double plays that simply didn't get turned in 2013.
GM Brian Sabean is a month away from needing to make a call on that. No sense in laying out all the pros and cons now.
For now, the Giants are outcompeting the team across from them. Lincecum was upset with himself for throwing away a pickoff throw in Cincinnati. He made it right by spinning to pick off Matt den Dekker in the first inning Sunday.
“He’s got that good ability,” Bochy said. “Sometimes he just has to be reminded.”
“After my last outing, I needed to show a little more out there,” said Lincecum, who gave up a two-run homer to Curtis Granderson in the first inning and a solo shot to him in the sixth, but nothing more.
Blanco’s double in the second inning “gave me the bounce I needed to keep on competing,” Lincecum said.
Even a bad bounce turned into a good one for the Giants when Blanco thought he hit it fair over the bag against Zack Wheeler. It was called foul.
“Then I hit it better,” Blanco said.
Could it get any better for the Giants? Timely hitting. Contributions up and down the lineup and bench. A closer, Sergio Romo, with a league-leading 20 saves in 22 tries. The best record in baseball. Clubhouse cohesion. A major league-best 18 comeback wins. And they're just ankle deep into 20 of 25 games at home, where they can keep the houseplants well watered and try to grow that record some more.
You don’t need lucky bounces when both your feet are in midair.
It's enough to put the manager in an alien mood.
“No,” said Bochy, trying to swallow his smile. “There’s nothing I can complain about.”