Giants look to build on strong homestand, win away from AT&T Park

Giants look to build on strong homestand, win away from AT&T Park

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SAN FRANCISCO — Just over a week ago, general manager Bobby Evans stood in the visiting dugout at Citi Field and spent 20 minutes discussing a team that looked dead in the water.

“The fans have a right to be upset — they’re not alone,” Evans said. “The players are upset. The front office is upset.”

What a difference a homestand can make. 

The Giants won in thrilling fashion on their final day in New York and then came home and took five of seven from the Reds and Dodgers. They are still just 17-25 and far behind three teams in the National League West. But as players packed up Wednesday, they could at least take solace in the fact that they’re playing real baseball again. Whatever happened in Cincinnati appears to be out of their system. 

“It’s a start, that’s what it is,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You can’t think you’re out of it. You’ve got to keep playing the way you have been playing.”

That style had clear markers over seven days at home. The Giants played their usual strong defense once Brandon Crawford returned Thursday, and they slightly increased their offensive production, with Buster Posey and Brandon Belt bringing some punch back to the lineup and Denard Span proving a game-changer at the top.

But more than anything, the Giants pitched well. Bochy leaned on his starters against the Reds and Dodgers and they didn’t let him down. Over seven games, the rotation threw 48 2/3 innings with a 2.77 ERA. 

That’s actually in line with what the Giants did even when they were the worst team in the league. At home, the starters have a 2.82 ERA, third in the Majors. On the road it’s an unsightly 6.62, ranking 29th. Does Bochy believe the last week can carry over to Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field?

“Do close to what you’ve been doing here at home,” Bochy asked of his starters. “We’re not asking you to shut them out. That’s always nice. But give the team quality starts and stay away from the big innings.”

The Cardinals (21-17) and Cubs (21-19) are second and third in the NL Central, behind the surprising Brewers. While the Cubs rank sixth in the league in runs scored, the Cardinals have done it with pitching. Only the Dodgers have allowed fewer runs in the NL, and the Giants will see three big guns: Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright. Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta are waiting in Chicago. 

Perhaps those big names are a blessing in disguise. The Giants have had no luck getting to rookies and journeymen, and names like Martinez and Lester and Arrieta will certainly grab your attention when you come to the yard. Bochy liked the focus he saw over the past week. He cautioned his team not to let that get away. 

“You have to be careful about saying ‘We’ll be okay, there’s lots of time left.’ That’s not the thing that stops it,” he said. “What stops this is a sense of determination and attitude. Last year we were saying, ‘Hey we’re okay, we’re fine.’ We weren’t. You’ve got to go out and do something about it and that’s what I’m proud of with this (winning) run.”

The clubhouse felt that sense of determination, but if the attitude doesn’t make the trip to the Midwest, changes could be coming. When he spoke last week in New York, Evans insisted the Giants weren’t going into “sell mode,” but multiple sources indicated that the front office was indeed close. Brian Sabean changed his travel plans after the debacle in Cincinnati, and when he arrived at Citi Field, he was said to be close to “blowing it up.”

The homestand provided a reprieve but it won’t be permanent. If this road trip leads to a deeper hole, the Giants will again have to start thinking about where they can send their pending free agents, and what they might get for Johnny Cueto, who remains on track to opt out of his contract.

The players hope that discussion doesn’t return. At the moment, they have lighter concerns.

“I hope we’re not rain-delayed a ton in St. Louis, that’s the first thing,” Posey said Wednesday, smiling. “But no, St. Louis is playing well and Chicago is a good team. We have to be ready to go.”

A familiar story: Kershaw brings an end to Giants' winning streak

A familiar story: Kershaw brings an end to Giants' winning streak

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto and Yasmani Grandal started jawing at each other at the end of the top of the third inning Wednesday, and as they do, the benches cleared. As coaches tried to calm the two and players glared at the other side, Clayton Kershaw burst from the visiting dugout. He did not join the fray.

Kershaw pounded his fist into his glove as he crossed onto the grass. He split the crowds and went straight to the mound, where he started warming up as players filed off the field. He wasn’t here to argue. He was here to end a winning streak.

The Giants, winners of five straight, ran into a familiar buzzsaw. There’s nothing you can do when Kershaw is on his game, and with Cueto off his, this one was over early. Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in a 6-1 Dodgers win. He lowered his career ERA against the Giants to 1.62.

“I think pretty good might be an understatement,” catcher Buster Posey said of Kershaw's day. 

The Giants had three hits — all singles — before Eduardo Nuñez took old friend Sergio Romo deep in the ninth. This one was over long before that. Given the way Kershaw pitched, it was just about decided when Grandal smoked a two-run double in the first. 

Cueto gave up a single and double with one out. He got Cody Bellinger swinging with a good changeup and he went down in the zone again with two strikes on Grandal. As Buster Posey spread his legs out and got ready to block a scud, Grandal found a way to turn on the slider and knock it off the wall.

“It was a good pitch,” Cueto said. “Grandal beat me on that one. I didn’t think he was going to be able to hit that ball.”

The two were in the middle of most of Wednesday’s drama. When Grandal came up in the third, a fastball flew up and in for a run-scoring wild pitch. Cueto said the ball slipped, but the two exchanged words after Grandal’s flyout.  

“I explained that the pitch slipped,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I told him I wasn’t trying to throw at his head. I told him that if I’m going to hit him, I’ll do it low.”

The two spoke during Cueto’s first at-bat, and all was fine. They were sorry for the misunderstanding, Cueto said. There was one other aspect of the incident where there was no misunderstanding for Cueto. Asked if he might have been annoyed with the Dodgers for stealing signs, he paused. 

“What I’ll say is not to use that as an excuse, but they were relaying signs (from second),” he said. 

To do that, you need a runner on second, and the Giants never made Kershaw sweat. The win was his 20th over the Giants. 

“He was right on today,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Very tough. We had mostly right-handed bats out there but he had great stuff. We couldn’t put any pressure on him.”

The Giants have gotten used to these games. It was a bit easier to take because of what happened on the rest of the homestand. The Giants went 5-2, taking series from the Reds and Dodgers. They’re 17-25, which is nowhere near good, but they finally feel headed in the right direction. 

“We’ve got to be happy with it,” Posey said. “Obviously we would have liked to win today, but you have to be happy going into the off day.”

Span, Crawford return, Giants respond with first three-game winning streak

Span, Crawford return, Giants respond with first three-game winning streak

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple of times over the past week, Bruce Bochy has referred to the three days the Giants spent in Cincinnati as “embarrassing.” Players don’t often want to admit they were shamed on the field, but the Giants did concede Sunday that a rematch at AT&T Park meant just a bit more than it normally would.

“After a while of playing like we did you start to take stuff personally,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “We knew we were a better team than that, and with some of our guys back in the lineup, everyone is feeling more confident.”

It showed on both sides, as the Giants took three of four from the Reds after getting Denard Span back atop the lineup and Brandon Crawford at shortstop. The three-game winning streak, modest as it is, is the first of the season. 

Jeff Samardzija, who clinched the third win, called the day at the yard “fun” and “one of those days you can enjoy.” It’s likely nobody got a thrill more than Bochy, who joked earlier in the week that his team was messing with him by always threatening to give the lead back even on nights when the Giants won. This one was a laugher, with the Giants scoring seven in the first two innings and rolling to an 8-3 win. 

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a cushion like that,” Bochy said. “It’s nice to get an early lead and add on. The first couple of innings, it was good to see us put up some crooked numbers there.

“You look at what happened in Cincinnati — we got pummeled pretty good to the point where it was embarrassing. They came here and won the first game, and that’s four in a row, so to bounce back and win three in a row and to play the way we did and execute, it’s a good bounce back.”

The Giants believe this is somewhat sustainable, and they point to two players as their main pieces of evidence. Crawford was his usual self at short, teaming with Joe Panik to gobble up just about anything hit to second, short, shallow left, shallow right, behind the mound, and even down the third base line. Crawford added a two-run double Sunday, a sign that his swing is coming back after a DL stint. 

Span’s swing came back on the first night. He had four hits Thursday and seven in the series, raising his average 68 points. He scored four runs, including two on Sunday. Span flew to Arizona when the Giants headed to Cincinnati, taking extra batting practice and even taking swings off rehabbing right-hander Albert Suarez. 

“It wasn’t like I was in Cancun or Cabo, but all things happen for a reason,” he said of being well-rested. “It sucks being on the DL but I made sure my legs were fresh. I wanted to stay ready so that when I did come off the DL, it wouldn’t take me long to get into the swing of things.”

Span’s big return has Bochy ready to settle things down in the lineup. The Giants will be without Hunter Pence (hamstring) for at least a few days, but Bochy said he’ll have a regular group out there. Span and Panik are his guys atop the lineup, Belt looks comfortable back in the three-spot (he homered for the third time in the series), Posey is hitting cleanup again, and Crawford is back in the No. 5 spot. 

“I like the way it’s set up,” Bochy said. 

The players do, too.

“Getting everyone to where they’re set in a certain spot in the lineup helps, instead of constant mixing and matching,” Belt said. “We have our guys back and it lengthens the lineup.”

The starting pitchers took advantage against the Reds, showing their own length while combining for 29 innings. Samardzija went 6 1/3, picking up his first win of the season. He is not one who worries about statistics, but changing the tune of the record next to his name was a nice addition to his Sunday. 

Samardzija now will sit back and hope his fellow starters can keep it going in a huge series against the Dodgers. Matt Cain, Ty Blach and Johnny Cueto will take the ball, and the Giants are eager to get another crack at a team they’ve played well. This time, they’re pretty close to full strength, too.

"You get back your leadoff hitter and bring back a middle-of-the-order hitter," Panik said. "Hopefully now we can kind of start rolling with it."