SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are demonstrating how teamwork can grow through rivalry. It's friendly rivalry, of course.
Three groups of position players and starting pitchers are vying to maintain the team's best offensive execution, based on an unofficial point system that rewards subtleties, such as hitting behind a baserunner, as well as heroics, such as home runs.
Giants players and coaches universally emphasize that this game within the game does not dominate their priorities. The numbers that consume them the most remain those on the scoreboard.
"Obviously, we're not out there thinking, 'If I do this right here, I'm going to score six points for my team.' We're trying to win," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "I'm not rooting against Hunter [Pence] because he's on the other team. It's more important to win games than to win this."
The Giants' 8-5 record indicates that they've honed their perspective along with their offense. They rank second in the National League in scoring entering Tuesday night's series opener at AT&T Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers. San Francisco has averaged nearly 5.1 runs per game. That's a significantly higher figure than last year's 3.9, which was 10th in the NL.
|TEAM BRANDON |
|Captain: Buster Posey |
|Ehire Adrianza |
|Tim Lincecum |
|Brandon Belt |
|Brandon Crawford |
|Brandon Hicks |
|TEAM LASER SWAG |
|Captain: Hunter Pence |
|Michael Morse |
|Tim Hudson |
|Ryan Vogelsong |
|Joaquin Arias |
|Juan Perez |
|TEAM GUERRILLA |
|Captain: Pablo Sandoval |
|Angel Pagan |
|Madison Bumgarner |
|Matt Cain |
|Gregor Blanco |
|Hector Sanchez |
The Giants' offensive renaissance can be attributed to multiple sources. The acquisition of left fielder Michael Morse, who's hitting .350, and the renewed health of center fielder Angel Pagan, owner of a .412 average, have bolstered the batting order dramatically. They share the team lead in RBIs with 10 apiece. Buster Posey (.877 on-base plus slugging percentage) and Brandon Belt (.860 OPS) have sustained stretches of robust hitting. Non-roster Spring Training invitee Brandon Hicks (.368 batting average) has exceeded expectations, and Crawford (.308) commanded attention with his walk-off homer Sunday against Colorado.
Hitting coach Hensley Meulens pointed out that San Francisco also has made better use of conducting hitters' meetings, reviewing plate appearances on videotape and taking extra batting practice.
"These are things we've done in the past, but we put more emphasis on them this year," Meulens said.
Amid all this, the point system is the miniature basketball hoop on the rim of a garbage can. It's hardly necessary, but it's amusing, entertaining and, in its own way, stimulating.
"It brings a competitiveness," Meulens said. "It also makes it fun. They're pulling for each other more, and you can see it."
And, as Pence said, "Any little thing that can make it more fun adds spice. That's all that's behind it."
The fun factor separates this pursuit of points from the grading system employed in 1964 by manager Alvin Dark, whose rankings were largely based on intangible skills such as baserunning and throwing to the cutoff man. Predictably, the incomparable Willie Mays was the club's top performer. Handy, heady infielder Jim Davenport also scored well. But future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda received low ratings from Dark, prompting controversy.
Fifty years later, the Giants intend to skirt such trouble.
"It's just a competitive way to play a little game against each other," Crawford said of the contemporary contest.
Each team includes two regular position players. One functions as a captain. Pence leads Team Laser Swag, Pablo Sandoval heads Team Guerrilla and Posey guides Team Brandon (featuring all three players with that first name).
The pitchers' inclusion is not insignificant. Madison Bumgarner's grand slam and sacrifice fly against Colorado last Friday night gave Team Guerrilla a 28-point bonanza.
The more challenging circumstances are, the more points a hitter can earn. For example, extra points are assigned for hits, runs or RBIs with two outs.
Whether they're goaded by the pursuit of points, bolstered by maturity or motivated to reverse last season's underachievement, the Giants are on pace to upgrade their situational hitting dramatically. Their .272 batting average with two outs is fattened by their .404 average with two outs and runners in scoring position. The club's corresponding figures a year ago were .253 and .238. Also, San Francisco's .306 average with runners in scoring position eclipses last year's .256.
"I believe the guys are really focused to get the job done," Meulens said.
Pence described this concentration as team-oriented, a possible effect of the points game.
"You're focusing more on others," he said, "instead of just yourself."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.