SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a good day for the Brandons.
Crawford put the Giants on the board with a three-run blast off San Diego right-hander Joe Musgrove in the second inning, and Belt padded San Francisco’s lead with a solo shot in the fifth. Austin Slater, flexing his newfound mustache power, capped the scoring with a mammoth two-run shot to straightaway center field in the eighth.
The trio of home runs backed another strong start from right-hander Kevin Gausman, who held the Padres to one run on three hits over six innings to lower his ERA to 1.97 on the season. Gausman, who was activated on Saturday following a three-day sojourn on the injured list due to vaccine side effects, has allowed three earned runs over 19 innings (1.42 ERA) in his first three starts of the year against the Padres, each of which the Giants have won.
The first-place Giants improved to 5-3 against the Padres and 20-13 overall, the best record in the National League. They moved 2 1/2 games ahead of San Diego in the NL West and will send Johnny Cueto the mound on Sunday as they aim to complete the three-game sweep at Oracle Park, where they’ve gone 12-3 to start the season.
“It’d be huge for us to come out here and get another win tomorrow,” Belt said. “I think people are realizing that we’ve got a pretty good ballclub, and we’re here to stay.”
The 2021 season had been viewed as a potential swan song for Crawford, Belt and Buster Posey, each of whom is in the midst of the final guaranteed year of his contract with the Giants. But the three remaining players from the championship era are proving that they still have plenty left in the tank so far.
Posey, who received a day off on Saturday, is batting .397 with a 1.231 OPS and a team-high eight home runs through 21 games. Belt, 33, has an .858 OPS over 32 games this year, a smidge ahead of the 34-year-old Crawford, who has posted an .855 OPS over 28 games. The three veterans have combined to hit 22 of the Giants’ 46 home runs this year, which are tied with the A’s, Braves and Blue Jays for the most in the Majors.
“I think they’re physically prepared for this,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think oftentimes in these situations, we can kind of give credit to a lot of folks, but it’s really theirs. They prepared for the season, they’re grinding in the cage, they’re putting together good game plans, they’re making adjustments.
“They’re savvy, experienced, veteran players who understand there’s going to be ups and downs to a season. They can’t let one at-bat spill into another. That’s why you see these big moments, even recognizing that there have been moments of struggle as well. I think it’s all of those things in aggregate.”
Crawford hit .205 with a .663 OPS in April, but he made a small tweak to simplify his swing, which has helped him turn a corner. After Belt singled and Evan Longoria doubled to put a pair of runners on in the second, Crawford pounced on a first-pitch cutter from Musgrove, driving it 407 feet out to right-center field to give the Giants an early 3-0 lead.
“I feel like I have a little more direct path to the ball right now,” Crawford said. “Kind of whatever’s thrown, I feel like I have a chance to hit it. I’m able to kind of look over the middle and react to pitches right now. I don’t feel like I have to cheat to anything, so it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Crawford is now 11-for-31 (.355) with four home runs over his past 12 games and is on pace to hit more than 20 home runs for only the second time in his 11-year career. He also hasn’t lost a step at shortstop, where he continues to make tough plays look routine on a daily basis.
“You almost take it for granted,” Belt said. “He’s so good out there. I think you realize it when he’s not on the field, what you’re missing a little bit. Me getting to see it every day, it’s been pretty awesome. I think right now he’s at the top of his game, so it’s just that much more fun to watch.”
It remains to be seen whether Posey, Belt and Crawford will be able to sustain their production over the course of the 162-game season, particularly since each player has already battled ailments over the first five weeks of the year. Still, Kapler and the rest of his coaching staff are staying attuned to their needs and making sure they receive enough rest and recovery to continue to carry the Giants in 2021.
“Honestly, I think we had a few years in there where pretty much all of us were not healthy,” Belt said. “I think being healthy again and having everybody back in the lineup -- we’ve got a lineup full of really good hitters, so I think that helps. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to see Buster get back up there and look like his 2012 self again, maybe even better. We’re having a lot of fun right now playing baseball with each other, and hopefully we can keep it going.”