In search of spark, San Francisco got one from righty before break
SAN FRANCISCO -- If the Giants somehow return to the postseason, they'll reflect on the last weekend of the first half as one of the wakeup calls that roused them.
On Friday in San Diego, the fourth-place Giants locked their clubhouse to conduct a half-hour meeting during which players essentially told each other, "Snap out of it." They happened to win that night, 10-1.
One day later, Tim Lincecum, who had lurched through this season with a 4-9 record, delighted the Giants by no-hitting the Padres. Certainly, they had last year's World Series triumph to remind them of their capabilities, but Lincecum's bravura performance gave them a more current source of hope.
The Giants needed something to erase the disappointment of the previous 94 games as they approached the All-Star break. Maybe gathering their collective resolve, as they did in the meeting, and seeing an example of the elevated effort they'll need, which Lincecum provided, will spur them to ascend the National League West ladder.
Meetings are fleeting. They mean nothing unless talk is turned to action. But the sequence of Friday's outpouring and Saturday's milestone delivered by Lincecum may have refreshed the Giants' spirit.
All-Star closer Sergio Romo said that the sentiments expressed in the meeting "definitely hit home to a lot of us. For us to understand and look at each other and believe that we're better than we're putting out -- getting back to that confidence and expecting things to go right, going on the field expecting to win. Pure positivity. I think everything about that sticking together is huge for us."
Then Lincecum illustrated the meeting's message by pitching his masterpiece. Suddenly, the Giants had something around which they could rally. Players talk all the time about "building on" a particularly inspiring game, but on many occasions the foundation proves to be built on quicksand. By contrast, Lincecum's gem provided genuine inspiration. Like most of his teammates, Lincecum had endured his share of downtrodden times during this season. Yet he didn't let that stop him.
MVP: Buster Posey He has entrenched himself as a legitimate, middle-of-the-order run producer.
Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner Has emerged as the staff ace by avoiding the injuries and ineffectiveness that befell others.
Rookie: Sandy Rosario Having changed organizations five times, the 27-year-old may have found a home.
Top reliever: Sergio Romo Opposing hitters know they're going to see his slider, but they still can't hit it.
"As a manager, you look for things to help bring the club together," Bruce Bochy said. "Something like this does a lot for the team."
The Giants are far from eliminated from postseason contention. But they must perform with a sense of urgency once the season resumes Friday. They not only begin the theoretical second half with a 10-game homestand, which represents an obvious opportunity to gain ground, but they also begin this stretch with a three-game series against the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Just winning twice over the weekend will reinforce the upbeat attitude -- the swagger -- that they lost during their 17-35 tailspin from May 14-July 10 and regained while taking three of four games at San Diego last weekend.
Thriving during the coming week will mean more to the Giants than gaining a game or two in the standings or creeping closer to .500. They can influence not only the West race, but also the outlook of general manager Brian Sabean, who must decide whether dealing for a proven hitter or a useful pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is worth the trouble.
Statistically, the Giants are a tangled mess. They're right where they should be in the NL pitching rankings, with the league's fourth-worst ERA (4.11), including the third worst by starters (4.59).
Their offense appears adequate, given that they rank third in the NL in batting average overall (.264) and with runners in scoring position (.258). But they're only eighth in runs scored, reflecting their erratic production. In the 26 games between the Giants' 10-run outputs on June 13 at Pittsburgh and last Friday at San Diego, they scored three or fewer runs 17 times.
Players to watch in second half
Matt Cain The Giants desperately need his consistency and mound presence if they're to contend for a postseason berth.
Pablo Sandoval Potentially a big-time run producer, Sandoval showed signs shortly before the All-Star break of regaining his form.
Tim Lincecum Can help both the ballclub and his status as a likely free agent by building upon his no-hitter for a strong finish.
The Giants lack cohesion on the field. Their July 8-10 series against the Mets demonstrated their inability to coordinate a solid effort. In the first game, they pitched superbly but left 18 runners on base and went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position in a 4-3, 16-inning loss. The next night, they amassed 13 hits but forgot how to pitch in a 10-6 defeat. Then came the series finale, when nothing went right in a 7-2 loss.
Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, whose Giants tenure spans their four straight winning seasons, cited the team's lack of consistency and execution.
"We didn't hit with a lot of power last year -- we had the fewest homers in baseball -- but we got the key hit when we needed to," Affeldt said. "We're getting guys on base, but we haven't been able to get that key hit. Defensively, we've made some interesting errors this year [the Giants rank next-to-last in the NL with a .981 fielding percentage; consequently, their 66 errors are tied for third most in the league]. Pitching, I don't know how many runs we've given up with two outs in the last three weeks. It's been a lot. That cannot happen at the Major League level. I've been a huge part of that; I've given up five or six two-out runs. When that happens, you lose."
Yet the Giants don't consider themselves losers. Ask right fielder Hunter Pence, their most unsinkable player. Pence personifies the approach the Giants must maintain to make the season's second half a compelling one.
"No matter what, in life there are always tough times," Pence said. "Those are things that help you grow stronger. There is no 'woe is me.' We have a blessed opportunity every day. That's something to be extremely grateful for, to be in this league and be able to play for the San Francisco Giants. History will show that these swings can flip really quick. ... Teams with the experience that we have keep pushing."