It was easy to write off the San Francisco Giants the way this season started. Guilty as charged here. Their bizarre run of World Series championships in even-numbered years and flameouts in odd-numbered seasons that started in 2010 seemed right on course when they opened April with a 4-10 record and were already last in the National League West, six games out of first on April 18.
Since then, however, the Giants have the best record in the game. They’re 26-10, have moved into first in the West and have the second-best record in the NL to the Cardinals. And much like their championships, so much of San Francisco’s success is about pitching.
The Giants are wrapping up an historic May that triggered their resurgence. They have thrown eight shutouts in the month – eight! – with all of them at home. Not a single one was a complete game.
At one point, four straight home games ended in shutout wins, including a three-game blanking of the Dodgers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team with eight home shutouts in a month was the 1916 New York Giants. The last team with eight shutouts in a month was the 2013 Dodgers (in August) – but no one else had done it since 1988. So this is pretty heady stuff.
After a 9-13 April, the Giants headed into the weekend at 21-7 in May.
“I know we got off to a rough start, and we all knew that’s not who we are,” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters after a 4-0 win over the Dodgers that finished the sweep and featured a Madison Bumgarner home run off Clayton Kershaw. “I think we’ve become more who we are right now. We’re playing better baseball, and it’s a nice run.”
Aside from Bumgarner, the World Series hero from last fall, the Giants don’t have an awe-inspiring rotation by any means. A resurgent Tim Lincecum (5-2, 2.56) is leading the way so far. Bumgarner is 6-2, 3.00 and the other three starters are pedestrian as the numbers for Chris Heston (5-3, 3.82), Ryan Vogelsong (4-2, 4.24) and Tim Hudson (3-4, 4.62) would attest.
“Our guys know how to pitch,” said Bumgarner. “We don’t really have any flamethrowers, like a lot of teams. But everybody we run out there knows how to pitch, knows how to get outs and knows how to win. It’s fun to watch them compete.”
The bullpen has been picking up the starters’ leftovers and pretty much shutting everyone down. Closer Santiago Casilla is 4-0, 1.66 and has 15 saves in 17 chances. Opposing batters are hitting just .098 against situational lefty Javier Lopez, who has a 1.42 ERA in 23 games. George Kontos has also made 23 appearances with a 2.08 ERA.
And things are only getting better for the offense now that outfielder Hunter Pence has returned from the broken arm he suffered in spring training. It’s being led by free agent signee Nori Aoki, who played four of the seven games against San Francisco in the World Series last year for Kansas City. He’s currently atop the Giants in hits (60) and average (.321)
A Giants-Dodgers pennant race in the NL West looks like a pretty good bet as the calendar turns to June. And between the Giants, Cardinals and Nationals, there looks to be three pretty strong teams in the NL fighting for turf come October. Looks like the Giants are bucking their historical trend this year.
Bad news for Heim
The season might be over very early for Amherst High product Jonah Heim, a catcher for the Orioles’ Class A team in Delmarva, Md. Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters that Heim is likely headed for foot surgery after suffering a Lisfranc (mid-foot) injury sliding into a base Tuesday night. He is going to see a foot specialist in the coming days.
Heim, a 19-year-old who was a fourth-round pick in 2013, was making huge strides at the plate with a .258 batting average, 10 extra-base hits and 16 RBIs in 36 games. He batted just .196 in 46 games with two other Baltimore Class A teams last year but has drawn raves for his defense from Showalter and Brian Graham, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer who is Baltimore’s director of minor-league operations.
Meanwhile, Clarence’s Mark Armstrong is off a good start at Class A Dayton with a 3-1 record and 2.82 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts). Armstrong, Cincinnati’s third-round pick in 2013, has 39 strikeouts and 12 walks in 51 innings.
The Nationals aren’t endearing themselves to teams with some of their antics at Nationals Park, and the Phillies are griping pretty openly about batting practice getting cut short and slow music from the ’70s and ’80s played over the stadium loudspeakers during their BP sessions.
“We’ll take care of that,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg told reporters when the team was there last weekend. “We’re going with the silent treatment at our place. It’s bush league. And irrelevant. What’s the point?”
Cracked Nats outfielder Jayson Werth: “It’s nice soothing music they’ve got going on here. It’s nice for the fans at the ballpark before the game. Yeah, maybe get a beer, a pretzel, enjoy BP.”
Sounds a lot like the infamous 1997 playoff series the Bisons had with Indianapolis. After a near brawl between the teams late in the regular season in the tunnel of Indy’s Victory Field – reportedly over volume of clubhouse stereos – the Bisons played Japanese pan flute music during the Indians’ pregame sessions here. That led to a volley of baseballs fired at the press box windows from Indy players before Buffalo officials intervened.
Around the horn
• Another solid rehab stint in Buffalo for Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, who went 4 for 11 and again endeared himself to the clubhouse. Cracked Herd manager Gary Allenson: “He played good defense and bought some nice spreads after the game so the players were happy to have him.”
Tweeted third baseman Matt Hague: “Even though you are back to being a blue jay.......you will always be my fav bison ?? you’re the best!”
• You wonder if the AL East is going to end up like the 1973 NL East, where the Mets won the division with just 82 wins. The Yankees lost 10 of 11, somehow swept the Royals in three straight, then dropped the first two games at last-place Oakland. And they entered the weekend in first place at 25-24. Yikes.
• A shout-out to good friend of this corner Paul White of USA Today, who has retired after serving for all 33 years of the paper’s history and the last 26 as one of its key baseball correspondents. White, a Niagara Falls product who regularly checks in with me at the World Series about the latest Bills and Sabres news, was the editor of the paper’s Baseball Weekly publication that was a pillar of the sport during the 1990s and is largely credited with creating the expanded box scores that are the norm today.