Madison Bumgarner has been the steadiest performer of Giants starting pitchers, winning 10 games before the break and earning a spot on the National League All-Star team. His fortunes are closely tied to the Giants' hopes of contending for another championship.

Five pressing questions about the Giants

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 - 4:47 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013 - 7:05 am

The Bee's Matt Kawahara raises five pressing questions about the Giants as they return from the All-Star break:

1. Can the rotation turn back the clock?

Madison Bumgarner, named to his first All-Star team, has been the only steady hand in a disappointing first half for the Giants' highly touted rotation. The Giants received quality starts (at least six innings and no more than three earned runs allowed) in just 44 percent of their games, and their starters' ERA of 4.59 is the third-highest in the National League, ahead of only the Padres (4.75) and Brewers (4.86).

The rotation has had a heavy workload the past three seasons, including the two World Series runs, leading to questions about whether this is the year it catches up with them - an issue that seemed to arise again during Matt Cain's last outing, though he insisted he is OK physically.

It's also unknown what impact Vogelsong, who had a 7.19 ERA when he got hurt, can have when he returns - and who will make way for him in the rotation. Chad Gaudin has pitched well in six starts, while Barry Zito's road woes have contributed to the Giants going 1-7 in his last eight outings.

2. What to make of the no-hitter?

For one night, Tim Lincecum recaptured the magic of his two Cy Young Award seasons with his 13-strikeout, 148-pitch performance in San Diego. Afterward, he was quoted as saying he's "evolving as a pitcher" as he adjusts at age 29 to not having some of the same raw stuff that made him successful early in his career.

Lincecum is 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA. But in eight starts since June 1, he has a 3.16 ERA with 57 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 51 1 / 3 innings. Are those signs Lincecum is figuring things out after a year and a half of often maddening ups and downs?

His second half could provide some answers before the Giants must decide in the offseason whether to bring him back in free agency. More immediately, there's the question of how Lincecum responds to his high pitch count in the no-hitter, though the All-Star break gave him extra time to recover.

3. Is the offense coming around?

There was a sense of near-bewilderment in the Giants' clubhouse during their first-half swoon - including a stretch in which they scored two or fewer runs in 12 of 16 games - over how nearly an entire lineup could be in a slump at the same time.

But it happened, and while the offense showed signs of life during the San Diego series - scoring 23 runs in the first three games - the Giants' record is a reflection of their run-starved June.

This is still much the same lineup that won the World Series last year - minus Pagan at the top, without whom the Giants have gone 15-28. But they could use a return to form from Pablo Sandoval (hitting .194 since his return from a foot strain June 24) and Hunter Pence (48 RBIs, but just 2 for his last 28 with runners in scoring position).

Buster Posey, in the midst of another All-Star-caliber season, needs their help.

4. Have they dug themselves too deep a hole?

So far, the saving grace for the Giants has been the N.L. West, where only 8 1 / 2 games separate first-place Arizona from last-place San Diego.

The Giants aren't out of the race as a result, but the second half won't get much easier, with more than half of their games (42 of 77) against teams that are .500 or better. That includes 12 interleague games against the top four teams in the American League East, arguably baseball's toughest division, and 10 against Arizona, beginning with a three-game series at AT&T Park to open the second half.

The Giants play most of September in the division but will spend the entire second-to-last-week of the season in New York, a scheduling quirk with back-to-back series against the Mets and Yankees.

If the Giants want those series to mean something, they'll have to start making up ground soon.

5. Is there help on the way?

Last year's trade-deadline acquisitions of Pence and Marco Scutaro were pivotal to the Giants' World Series run, with Pence helping anchor the middle of the lineup and Scutaro becoming one of baseball's best hitters in the second half.

The Giants so far this season have brought up Kensuke Tanaka from the minors and taken a flier on Jeff Francoeur in efforts to spark their lineup, but as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, they haven't made any splashy moves. Manager Bruce Bochy has talked about the possibility of getting bullpen help, but he's mostly stuck by the line that the players in the clubhouse now are the ones the Giants will rely on the rest of the season.

That can change, of course, but it also will be interesting to see - if the Giants don't start turning things around right out of the break - how quickly the front office starts assessing how best to be competitive in 2014.

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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