SAN FRANCISCO The Giants are arguably playing their bestbaseball of the season and theyre doing it without a player who was arguablytheir first-half MVP. They were also without their second-half MVP as BusterPosey was a spectator for all of Thursdays 5-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.Melky Cabrera is long gone and Buster Poseys hamstring issue is lingering,putting pressure on teammates like Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan and HectorSanchez to deliver the run support.Pagan was a sparkplug atop the lineup again, Sandoval drove him in on a pitchat his neck for the games first run and Hector Sanchez broke it open to giveBarry Zito enough cushion to get into a groove. Zito (10-8) worked eight-plusinnings and watched the bullpen surrender his shutout but hold on for the win,which improves Zito to 9-1 this season, 36-3 as a Giant, and 121-7 in hiscareer when he receives four or more runs of support.I thought his stuff was crisp and he was using all hispitches, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Breaking ball was very goodtonight, his fastball too. He made pitches when he had to and had good focusout there. He just had a different look tonight.Zitos look was all too familiar after he walked Braves leadoff man MichaelBourn on four straight pitches to open the game. But Pablo Sandoval made asparkling defensive play behind him, with an assist to Brandon Belt, and Zitodid the rest to escape the early jam.Its huge, Zito said of the highlight-reel play Sandovaland Belt combined for. Martin Prado connected pretty good on that and for usto be able to shut that down, that inning right there, and get some momentumand allow the offense to do what they do was big. Pablo made a huge playtonight.The last couple games, Ive been doing that, Sandoval said of his one-hopthrow across the diamond. Belt is a great first baseman; I call him The PickMachine.Sandoval already has a nickname, but The Slop Machinemight be more fitting after he put good wood on a ball way above the strikezone to drive in Pagan in the third inning for a 1-0 Giants lead.Hes aggressive up there, Bochy said of his current No. 3hitter, Melky Cabreras old spot in the lineup. Hes the type of guy that doesexpand the zone, but he also has that ability to hit a pitch out of the zonewell. That pitch there, he made an adjustment from the first time up. He feltlike he was trying to get a little pull happy there so he went the other way.You have anybody in the heart of the order, you want them to swing the bat.Sandoval doesnt need to be told to swing the bat; it comes naturally to him.But there was a thought process behind that hack.That was a curveball, Sandoval said of the hanger he sentthe other way. The at-bat before, they threw me the same pitch, so I just wentup there and got a pitch high to try to put the ball in play, try to get a linedrive. He threw me that curveball almost at my head, so I hit it.The Pick Machine Belt was also in the middle of the Giants next rally, afour-run fifth that ended up more important in retrospect when the Braves made thingsinteresting in the ninth. Though Belts grounder down the first-base line wasruled an error on Freddie Freeman, it was the Giants third run, which turnedout to be the game-winner in a 5-2 final. Before Belt got to the plate in the fifth, Pagan started the rally by gettingon base for the third straight time with his second walk. Pagan, who extendedhis hit streak to seven games, came around to score when Hunter Pence shockedthe crowd and his own skipper with a perfect push bunt.I was as surprised as anybody when he broke that out on us, Bochy said. Itwas not a play. He says hes done it before. You give him credit. When yourenot locked in at that plate, you want to do anything you can to get the run in.And he took it upon himself to do a push bunt there and you couldnt lay down abetter one. It did surprise me; I didnt see it coming.After Pence and Belt kept the line moving, Sanchez tacked onthe Giants final two runs with his second double of the game. The Giantsyoung backstop came into the game hitless in his last 10 at-bats and 5-for-28 in13 contests since being activated from the disabled list on August 2.Make adjustments, Sanchez said of his strategy. I was late and I wasntswinging the ball very well. But I came in today and worked in the cage earlyand thats the result.The Giants four-run fifth came after Zito had mowed down 11 of the last 12batters he had faced. Zito was in cruise control after getting the five-runcushion until he allowed back-to-back singles to open the ninth. That forcedBochy to turn to his bullpen, despite some misgivings.I checked with him, Bochy said of his pre-ninth inningtalk with Zito. He came up and said I feel good. When I went out to get himhe said Im sorry. He felt horrible. Just a great job he did. You do want toreward a pitcher; it feels good. This time I had to get him early and thatsnot a lot of fun, but he earned that shot to go out there and try and finishit. Next couple guys got on so I had no choice but I thought his eighth inningwas very good. It looked like he was comfortable and free and easy so I let himstart the ninth.Zito had no hard feelings, expressing appreciation for the chance to go for hissecond shutout of the season and sixth of his career.Its awesome that he let me go out there, Zito said. Iwanted to go out there and finish it and I felt like I could, I was justfrustrated I didnt make my pitches like I had been all night and risked theteam possibly giving up the lead too.Luck for Zito, and Bochy, the Giants didnt give up the lead, though theyneeded three relievers to get the final three outs.Jeremy Affeldt was the first to get the call and allowed both inherited runnersto score on Freemans double. Situational southpaw Javier Lopez was next inline and did his job by striking out lefty Brian McCann. After a pseudo-chess game between Bochy and Braves managerFredi Gonzalez, the next matchup came down to Sergio Romo vs. Jason Heyward.The right-handed Romo had no problem with the lefty who finished a close secondto Posey in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting, getting Heyward to ground intoa fielders choice that almost turned into a game-ending double play. Instead,Juan Francisco has the distinction of ending Thursdays contest, as he groundedout to Sandoval at third. When you do it by committee, thats the way it goes, Bochysaid. Guys get hot and guys have their tough times, whatever. But we have fourguys that were comfortable putting out there to finish off a game. Its a niceluxury to have, guys who are used to pitching late in the game. Well get thematchups hopefully that we like and that we can get, but theyll all be used.The ninth inning may have taken longer than Bochy, Zito or the fans wanted dueto all the pitching changes, but the end result is a win, San Franciscos fourthstraight. The Giants are now a season-high 15-games over .500, having won nineof their last 12 games.Melky who?