Programming note: Twins-Giants coverage Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (Channel Locations)
SAN FRANCISCO – It won’t qualify them for the playoffs and it could change before you squirt lighter fluid at your Memorial Day picnic. But it deserves to be proclaimed nonetheless:
The Giants have the best record in the major leagues.
They are 31-18 after smothering the Minnesota Twins in a 2-1 victory Saturday night in which their No. 5 starter again pitched like an ace and their .227-hitting cleanup man knocked in both runs with two powerfully impressive swings.
Ryan Vogelsong and Pablo Sandoval were the stars this night, but the Giants invested in an adjustable lamp this season. The spotlight tends to dart around the clubhouse from one day to the next.
That’s the main reason they keep winning series and keep growing their lead in the NL West. And it’s also the main reason they have the major leagues’ best winning percentage through a 49-game record for the first time since 1973.
That’s right. Four decades ago. Ron Bryant won 24 games that season. Bobby Bonds came within a home run of being the first 40-40 man in major league history. Those were career years.
These current Giants don’t have anyone on pace for a career season. Buster Posey is hitting .265 with a grand total of three doubles. Sandoval, even after hitting his fourth homer in six games, is at .227.
And if not one player is performing over his head, it’s hard to accuse the team of doing so.
“Buster, Pablo … those are middle-of-the-order guys not hitting as well as they usually do,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “We’re scoring runs because we’re driving them in throughout the lineup. We’re getting it done other ways. But Pablo is turning it around, and once Buster gets right, who knows what we can do?”
Crawford and Brandon Hicks, typically Nos. 7-8 hitters, are a part of that depth with 14 homers and 42 RBIs between them. It’s the same story in the rotation, where the Giants are 14-6 when Tim Lincecum and Vogelsong, ostensibly the Nos. 4-5 starters, take the mound.
That’s not to suggest Lincecum and Vogelsong have pitched squeaky clean all season. Lincecum has been up and down. Vogelsong had a 7.71 ERA and averaged 13.2 hits per nine innings over his first four starts, when fans and some in the media began to murmur about things like ropes and leashes.
But in six starts since then, Vogelsong has a 1.35 ERA. And he’s allowing just 6.05 hits per nine innings. He yielded only three in 6 2/3 scoreless innings Saturday – his second consecutive start without allowing a run.
Vogelsong rattled off the list of reasons the Giants stand atop the major league standings: big and timely hits, tenacious bullpen work, consistent outings from the rotation. He began to expound on those areas before he stopped his own train of thought.
“Oh, and we’re playing great defense,” Vogelsong said. “I know Crawford has saved me multiple runs. I’m just kind of thinking about it here and we’re playing great defense, and you can’t replace that. It’s not like we’re going to strike everyone out.”
Vogelsong’s strikeouts are up, though. He only regretted one ball he threw all day, and it wasn’t any of his 107 pitches over 6 2/3 shutout innings. It was his lob to first base that sailed over Michael Morse’s head for an error following Aaron Hicks’ comebacker, which extended the seventh inning and ended Vogelsong’s night.
It made that standing ovation a little duller than it otherwise would have been.
“Yeah, I heard it,” said Vogelsong, “but I was pretty upset with that throw.”
The rest of his night was crisp. Vogelsong said he rediscovered his cutter, his changeup and curve were there when he wanted to throw them, and his fastball is back in that happy annex where movement and precision meet.
“I feel I can throw anything in any count,” he said. “And that’s great, because it’s not always like that. I’m not sure if it makes Buster’s job easier or what, but it definitely helps you mentally on the mound.”
Can there be any question that Sandoval is in a better mental place? Entering the game, he was an .063 hitter in 73 at-bats whenever a count got to two strikes. He didn’t have a single two-strike RBI all season.
His home run off Sam Deduno in the second inning came on an 0-2 breaking pitch. So did his sacrifice fly in the sixth. It takes confidence to stand in a major league batter’s box. It takes supreme confidence to stand there with two strikes.
“With two strikes, I try to battle, battle,” Sandoval said. “When you get to this clubhouse, to this chemistry every day, it helps you to play relaxed.”
I asked Sandoval if he went with his Batman undershirt again. “No, Superman,” he said. “Spiderman tomorrow.”
With their superhero T-shirts and medieval helms in a half-dozen lockers, this is a loose clubhouse. Then again, when you have the best record in baseball, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“Yeah, it does,” said Crawford, asked if it felt like he was playing for the team with baseball’s best record. “I think we all knew this was a really good team. We thought that way coming into spring training. We’re having a lot of fun out there and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Just don’t suggest they’re playing over their heads. As Crawford pointed out, upstarts don’t own recent World Series rings.
“It’s not like we have a bunch of guys who’ve never done it before,” Crawford said. “That counts for something, too.”