The Pirates haven't righted the ship yet after the All-Star break, but the SF Giants are clipping along. They've finished a 5-1 road trip, and have won 8 of their last 9 games. After losing the first in San Diego, they won the next two, and scored a lot of runs doing it.
Wednesday's game was really interesting. Matt Cain again got better as he went along, and gave up only one run, on a mistake pitch homer. James Shields pitching for the Padres had the Giants scoreless, missing one opportunity after another with runners on base. But those extended innings, and the long at-bats Giants hitters had, chased him from the game early because of pitch count. Once he was gone, the Padres vulnerable middle relievers got hammered.
Brandon Belt homered for the first time in ages, and that bodes well for the near future with this highly streaky hitter. Buster Posey once again muscled two runs across with a double--he's an unassuming Superman with runners on base. Pence, who launched a screaming line drive homer on Tuesday that went nearly 500 feet, scorched a single and an RBI on the next pitch after Posey's double on Wednesday. Once again, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy were getting on base the entire road trip.
But it's really past time to take notice of Brandon Crawford. I have to admit that last year when he hit the grand slam that sunk the Bucs in their Wild Card game, I thought of it as a fluke, a lucky swing that sent the ball out in the perfect spot, the closest and lowest point for a homer.
But this year he's not only the best defensive shortstop in the league, or a clutch singles hitter at the back of the lineup. He's hitting with authority and power. On the Giants he's second to Posey in homers, and here's a stat that blew me away: he has more RBIs than the Buc's run producer, Andrew McCutchen. Crawford hit a big fly homer on Wednesday, with a real home run swing.
Tuesday's homer highlight was a grand slam by none other than Hector Sanchez, the catcher called up from the minors when Susak got hurt. That was a home run swing, and a home run flip of the bat, which got the ire of the Padres' pitcher. The man threw chewing gum at him! The umps warned both benches.
After an off day, the Giants at home face another couple of teams with losing records, though both have been winning lately: Oakland and Milwaukee. Then they start facing tougher opponents. Friday may well see the return of Aoki to the lineup. He only got one hit in his two minor league rehab games so his timing is apt to be off, but how about this: the Giants with Aoki AND Pence in the lineup, and three pitchers returned to the starting corps, of which two--Cain and Peavy--look good.
Only flies in the ointment: Hudson didn't look sharp his first start (though he didn't get bombed either), and reliever Affeldt was ineffective in his return. We may not see Lincecum again this season, with hip problems that may require surgery. It's not clear whether Pagan has fully recovered from his leg injury. But the Giants right now have more of their key personnel healthy than they did much of last season.
While there is some speculation about moves the Giants might make before trade deadline, there's also a feeling that they mostly have the makings. Not so in Pittsburgh apparently--the players are fielding questions about trades, with Neil Walker quoted as saying the team has some obvious needs.
There's been a lot of chatter about trades, and none made so far. Both the Oakland As and the Brewers are surrounded by trade talk, and some of it may happen while they're in SF. I'd be surprised if the Giants traded very high--maybe Maxwell, who has a lot of potential, maybe Affeldt, but this team has such great chemistry it's hard to see it disrupted. The infield is solid and with Aoki back, so is the outfield. If the Giants trade it will be interesting to see if they sacrifice experience (a few of their older relievers) or youth (they're packed with great potential among pitchers in the minors.) I wouldn't be surprised--or disappointed--if they stood pat basically. And I don't think many other fans would either.