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.”

Giants lineup: Posey returns to catch Samardzija, bat clean up

Giants lineup: Posey returns to catch Samardzija, bat clean up

The Giants look win their home series vs. the Reds and Buster Posey is back batting fourth and in the squat to catch Jeff Samardzija on Sunday at AT&T Park.

Cincinnati Reds (19-17)

1. Billy Hamilton (S) CF
2. Scooter Gennett (L) 2B
3. Joey Votto (L) 1B
4. Adam Duvall (R) LF
5. Eugenio Suarez (R) 3B
6. Scott Schebler (L) RF
7. Jose Peraza (R) SS
8. Devin Mesoraco (R) C
9. Tim Adleman (R) P

San Francisco Giants (14-24)

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
7. Eduardo Nunez (R) LF
8. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
9. Jeff Samardzija (R) P

By the numbers: A look back at Giants' marathon 17-inning win over Reds

By the numbers: A look back at Giants' marathon 17-inning win over Reds

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey’s bat and face said it all. The bat was dramatically held out, and then dropped to the ground. The face was that of a man who was tired of all this, and just wanted to go home. 

Posey’s solo shot in the bottom of the 17th last night gave the Giants a 3-2 win, but also kept them from what could have been a back-breaker. Yes, they’re still an extreme long shot to make any noise later this season, but the clubhouse hasn’t given up, and as the night wore on at AT&T Park that one felt like a win the Giants absolutely had to have.

“It wouldn’t have been fun to lose this one,” Posey said during a postgame interview with Amy Gutierrez. “We were out of pitching. Fortunately we got it done there.”

We’ll see if the Giants can keep momentum going. So far this year, they haven’t. They had the Michael Morse homer on the last homestand and Christian Arroyo’s sparkling debut week and the win over Clayton Kershaw. None of those games led to anything bigger. 

Will this be the one that finally turns it around? We’ll know by the end of the homestand. For now, here’s a look back at one of the wildest home games in years, by the numbers …

0: The hits for Billy Hamilton. If you’d like to understand how the Giants broke through against the Reds after four losses, start here. 

1: The number of flying Jeff Samardzija elbows that Christian Arroyo took to the face. Welcome to the big leagues, kid — watch out in those piles! 

“Oh dude! That hurt, like a lot,” Arroyo said. “I was so happy and all I can remember is an arm drilling me in the mouth.”

Arroyo is fine, although his lip was a little nicked up. Samardzija had no idea what he had done until a reporter showed him the video this morning. He enjoyed it. 

2. Consecutive bunt hits earlier in the game, from Eduardo Nuñez and Justin Ruggiano. Bruce Bochy said the staff actually had talked to players and encouraged them to bunt more since the team isn’t really hitting otherwise. 

3: Career walk-off homers for Posey. The previous one was Aug. 27, 2014 against the Rockies.

4: The number of times home plate umpire Tony Randazzo got drilled, including one off the chin. Randazzo left the game in extras and he’ll be off the rest of the series for medical reasons. 

5: Pitches seen by Hunter Pence, who usually would be exactly the type of player you would want on a long night. Pence has a tight left hamstring and he’s out of the starting lineup again Saturday. Bochy said they’re hopeful Pence can play Sunday. 

5:28: Time of game. I sure know how to pick the right days off. 

8: Pitchers used by Bochy. Matt Cain was the next man up, not Brandon Belt. Cain had his spikes on and said he was a batter away from entering for Cory Gearrin. 

9: Shutout innings by the bullpen. They kept the night going so Posey could end it. Newcomer Bryan Morris was especially impressive with his resiliency.  “It’s got to be just a confidence-booster for our bullpen,” Posey said. “They did a great job with a really potent offense. Johnny pitched great. For them to put up zeros as much as they did, hopefully will be big going forward.” 

Morris is off today after throwing 43 pitches, but he definitely impressed his manager last night. 

“It’s getting better and better with him,” Bochy said. “I thought we rushed him (up from a rehab assignment) a little bit, but we needed the help. It’ll get better.”

18: The longest game at AT&T Park, played May 29, 2001 against the Diamondbacks. The Giants lost 1-0 that night. Friday night’s win went down as the second longest game at AT&T Park, edging a 16-inning loss to the Mets in 2013 (shoutout to Dave Flemming for sending a bag of sliders down to a hungry young beat writer that night). 

41: Pitches seen by Zack Cozart. I’ve always thought he was the most underrated defensive shortstop in the league, and the bat now plays. Cozart gave Cueto hell, and after Johnny’s day was done, he turned back toward the field and nodded at his former teammate. 

74: The points Denard Span has picked up on his batting average in two games back. Span has seven hits since returning, boosting an average that sat at .200 when he was on the DL. Perhaps this is all as simple as a 33-year-old feeling refreshed after a couple of weeks off. If so, Bochy needs to find a way to keep Span’s legs under him all summer. This version is a game-changer. 

162: Approximate the number of seagulls surrounding Span in the late innings. Remember, long before he signed here, Span was public about his dislike of birds. 

269: Pitches caught by Posey. He’s off today, of course. “I feel good,” he said. “I feel like I caught 17 innings 10 hours ago. It’s not necessarily enjoyable to play 17 innings. That’s just a fact.”

431: The distance on Posey’s sixth homer of the year, and fourth of the week. The leg kick is all but gone, which shows the kind of power he feels right now to poke one out like that after 17 innings.

“That’s dad-strength,” Posey said Saturday, smiling.