Are the Giants primed for another run?
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There's plenty of room for error during a 162-game schedule, giving even the most atrocious of teams an opportunity to grab a taste of the high life.
The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants persevered their way through the elongated Major League Baseball schedule a year ago, but reaching the pinnacle of America's pastime had its shares of both joy and pain.
Poor pitching, untimely hitting and maybe some sort of gypsy curse plagued the Giants before they captured their first National League West title since 2003. Having finished no better than third in the division from 2005 to 2009, the Giants were plagued by a grueling seven-game losing streak and losses in 10 of 12 games by July 4, 2010 and sat a distant 7 1/2 games off the lead in the NL West.
Starting pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner struggled to keep the ballclub afloat and the offense managed to score more than three runs on only three separate occasions during the mid-summer decline.
"We need to be more consistent on both sides of the ball," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after a 4-3 loss in 15 innings at Colorado last Independence Day. "Really, it's going to come down to getting some timely hits. That's what has been missing more than anything."
Something must have clicked as evidenced by an inspiring 21-5 run over the next 26 games to pull the club within a game of the San Diego Padres for division bragging rights.
Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria and Buster Posey were a few of the offensive charges that helped the club climb back to relevance, while Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner took care of opposing batters on the mound. Bochy's club fell back into a funk and faced a 6 1/2-game deficit in the NL West by late August before the addition of Cody Ross and a late September surge moved the club to as many as three games ahead of the Padres.
"In this last month it's really been one game: One game, you go out and give everything you've got for that one game and you worry about tomorrow the next day," Posey said after a 4-1 win versus Arizona on Sept. 30. "We've just got to keep doing that and good things should happen."
Posey, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, must have known something since the Giants finished the year two games ahead of San Diego for the division title, beat Atlanta in four games in the NLDS and punched their ticket to the World Series by taking out Philadelphia in six games for the NL pennant. San Francisco then hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy by defeating Texas in five games in the World Series thanks to a pair of wins by Lincecum.
The participants in this year's Fall Classic obviously haven't been determined since it's June 27. The Giants are definitely one of the favorites to represent the National League in back-to-back years, but it wasn't looking good during a season-worst five-game slide from June 16-21.
However, San Francisco has collected itself with a five-game winning streak -- the longest since a six-game run from May 6-12 -- and solid pitching from its staff. Ryan Vogelsong, Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner have recorded wins in the streak. Bumgarner has been turning the most heads lately with a 4-3 mark in his last seven decisions since beginning the year 0-6 with a 4.25 ERA in his initial eight outings.
Bumgarner struck out a career-best 11 batters in Sunday's 3-1 win over Cleveland, keeping the Giants close with Arizona for division supremacy with a 1 1/2-game advantage. The young lefty, who broke out in 2010 with a 7-6 mark in 18 starts, will be a vital factor to the Giants' success even though the likes of Lincecum, Cain and Jonathan Sanchez will do their part. So far Bumgarner's resurgence is turning his manager into a believer.
"I'll go back as far as his last outing," Bochy said after Bumgarner regrouped from a June 21 outing versus Minnesota in which he allowed eight runs and nine hits in only one-third of an inning. "I knew this kid would bounce back. There was no doubt in my mind."
Bumgarner noted his manager's words are a "boost of confidence." Reliever Jeremy Affeldt shared his own sentiments on closing out the win against the Indians for his pitching mate.
"That was awesome," Affeldt said. "That was probably bigger than just a good outing for him. I think it was a big part of his maturing process. I think everybody, I'm sure from the coaching staff to the players and the front- office personnel, is pretty proud of him."
Right now the Giants are 10 games over .500 at 44-34 and own a 24-13 record at AT&T Park. They don't have Freddy Sanchez (shoulder) or Posey (ankle) anymore and will need Bumgarner and the rest of the staff to make up for the offensive deficiency.
An upcoming seven-game, six-day road trip against the Cubs and Tigers should be a good test for the team and veteran Zito, who was recently activated off of the 15-day disabled list. Zito is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in only three starts and his left arm will be put to the test in Tuesday's doubleheader against the Cubs.
Just a speck of what Zito used to be coupled with two-time NL Cy Young Award honoree Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner could crystallize division authority even earlier this time around.