Don't count slumping Giants out just yet
SAN DIEGO -- Location, location, location. The bottom line in real estate also applies to Major League Baseball, where the National League West is the place to be in 2013. Membership alone buys you status as a contender.
The Giants traveled south looking and feeling nothing at all like the world beaters who, nine months ago, rallied to subdue the Reds and Cardinals in the playoffs and swept the Tigers in the World Series, conquering their realm for the second time in three seasons.
"Rough," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday night at Petco Park, where a 4-2 decision against the Padres lifted the spirits of the defending champs. "We've been going through a really rough stretch."
Losses in 14 of 16 games preceding a four-game series against Bochy's former club could have doomed San Francisco if it lived in any division besides the forgiving NL West.
Just three teams in the league -- the Brewers, Marlins and Padres -- own lower winning percentages than the Giants, yet they remain very much alive in the West.
Arizona (48-44) and Los Angeles (46-45) are above .500 in the division, the D-backs having squandered an opportunity to pull away from the pack during a 7-11 stretch. The NL West leaders would be fifth in the American League East, fourth in the NL Central and third in the AL West.
"The way this division is shaping up, you think it's going to be wild -- the wild, wild West," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It could be more than two or three teams involved all the way to the finish. It could be everybody."
The surging Dodgers, coming off a sweep of the D-backs in Arizona, look like the team to beat now with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez driving the offense and Ricky Nolasco fortifying a potentially dominant rotation.
But who knows where this is going. It wasn't long ago that the D-backs were firmly in the driver's seat. The Rockies also had a nice little run before their struggles began in mid June. Even the Padres, with seven straight wins and a 10-2 stretch, made a move before the wheels came off with 10 straight losses.
"The D-backs probably have been the most steady," Black said. "And the Dodgers obviously are on fire. We've all had our ups and downs."
San Francisco has recent history on its side. The Giants took flight in the second half last season, carrying momentum into the postseason and riding it to the promised land with a fine blend of pitching, defense and clutch hitting.
Those ingredients have been missing this season, leaving Bochy groping for answers.
Injuries have claimed leadoff man Angel Pagan and starter Ryan Vogelsong, and a foot injury has inhibited World Series hero Pablo Sandoval. But reigning NL Most Valuable Player Award winner Buster Posey, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford form a solid nucleus along with Sandoval, whose fourth-inning homer on Thursday night was his ninth. Only the Marlins have fewer homers than the Giants' 60.
"Guys do start pressing, trying to pick everybody up and carry the load," Bochy said. "It's been a long enough time to stop saying those things and go out and do it."
A pitching staff that has won so many big games remains essentially intact, searching for the stuff that had made Bochy the envy of 29 peers. The team ranks 11th in the NL in ERA at 4.13, compared to 3.68 last year (fifth) and an MLB-best 3.36 in the 2010 title season.
"We've got to be in the moment, relax a little more," said Tim Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner who owns a 4-9 record with a 4.61 ERA. "Accept it and absorb it and move on. I've taken that approach personally.
"Worrying about the fact we're not scoring runs just compounds the issue. Guys start trying to do too much. We've just got to get back to playing the game with the confidence we've had in the past."
Underscoring San Francisco's offensive problems: the club was 9-for-84 in the past 14 games with runners in scoring position when Kensuke Tanaka lined an RBI single with the bases loaded on Thursday night to tie the game at 2 and end starter Jason Marquis' night.
All-Star Madison Bumgarner claimed his 10th win when the Giants scored twice in the eighth on Gregor Blanco's RBI double and Posey's run-scoring single. Tanaka -- in his third start in left field since getting summoned from Triple-A Fresno -- was the catalyst with a single and steal.
San Francisco showed remarkable character after the break last season when the club lost All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera to a ban for performance-enhancing drugs. Scutaro came from Colorado in a deal that had a stabilizing impact, minimizing the loss of Cabrera.
"We took off in the second half last year," Crawford, the sterling shortstop, said. "There's no reason why we can't do it again."