Giants own majors’ best record after Vogelsong, Sandoval key 2-1 win over Twins
05/25/2014 12:00 AM
05/25/2014 12:01 AM
No caveats here for total victories or winning percentage -- by all measurements, at 31-18 after their 2-1 win over the Twins on Saturday night, the Giants have the best record in baseball. Even on May 24, that means something.
"Really I think we've been hitting on all facets to this point," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've been clicking - that's what it tells me."
When the Giants have needed the timely hit, they've often gotten it -- they led the majors with 94 two-out RBIs entering Saturday. The offense then went quiet on Saturday night -- with Pablo Sandoval driving in both runs on a solo home run and sacrifice fly -- and the Giants instead won behind a masterful pitching performance from Ryan Vogelsong and some shutdown relief pitching.
They secured their 10th series win of the season already and they're 6-1-1 in series played at home. They're 16-8 at AT&T Park, the environment they were sculpted to play in, and where they went just 42-40 a year ago.
Vogelsong pointed to the same basic reasons for the current record as Bochy did -- clutch hits, strong bullpen (third-lowest ERA in MLB), good defense (eighth in MLB defensive efficiency rating). Bochy threw in a more "balanced" lineup this year with more power -- the Giants' 58 homers are third-most in baseball, and the guys batting seventh and eighth Saturday night (Brandon Hicks and Brandon Crawford) have accounted for 14 of them.
Sandoval threw in that the Giants are having "fun. ... It helps we're playing relaxed. We play our game. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose." They just haven't been doing all that much of the latter.
May is far too early to draw sweeping conclusions about a team. The Giants were tied for first place on May 25 last year, too. You all know what happened after that.
For now, the majors' best record means pretty much what Bochy said it means. "I think," he said, "it means we're playing good baseball."
In his last six starts, Vogelsong now has a 1.35 ERA in 40 innings in which he's given up 27 hits and struck out 35 batters. The more important statistic to him, though, may be this: In his 10 starts this season, the Giants are 7-3. Last eason, they were 9-10 when he took the mound.
"More times than not that means you're keeping your guys in the game," Vogelsong said. "As a starting pitcher, that's the first and foremost thing to do, give them a chance to win. So yeah, that is a stat that means a lot to me personally."
Vogelsong acknowledged that stat will sometimes mask a bad start in which the offense picks up the pitcher. But recently, that hasn't been the case. Vogelsong has received just 12 runs of support -- total -- in his last eight starts. He got two Saturday night, and made them count by throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out seven.
It's the first time in Vogelsong's career he has thrown back-to-back starts of 6 2/3 innings or more without allowing a run. Saturday night, he said he went after the Twins knowing from film study and watching Tim Lincecum pitch Friday night that their hitters will take quite a few pitches. He recorded five of his strikeouts looking.
Vogelsong said his location lately has "been better, but everything's been pretty good. I feel like when I'm out there I can throw anything in any count, and that's a great feeling, because it's not always like that. The last couple games, it's been that way."
Even before his seven scoreless innings the last time out against the Marlins, Bochy said, "You could see this coming. Because of the stuff that really has picked up, his velocity I think, his command. He's really hitting both sides of the plate well and his secondary pitches have gotten crisper."
Vogelsong also said his off-speed has picked up his past few outings. "I found my cutter again and the changeup's better. Everything's kind of rolling together at the same time."
Maybe the only down note of Vogelsong's outing Saturday was the way it ended. With a chance to complete the seventh, he gloved Aaron Hicks' comebacker but threw too high to first base, pulling Michael Morse off the bag. That brought Bochy out of the dugout to relieve Vogelsong, who received a standing ovation as he left but couldn't fully enjoy it.
"I heard it, but I was pretty upset with myself after that throw," he said. "No excuses, I just made a bad throw. So yeah, I was pretty upset. I wanted to finish that inning, too."
Instead, Juan Gutierrez threw one pitch to get Chris Herrmann to ground into a fielder's choice and close the book on the latest chapter in Vogelsong's resurgence.
Also surging: Sandoval, who has now homered in four of his last six games. Saturday, he drove an 0-2 pitch from Samuel Deduno the other way into the left-field seats in his first at-bat for his first hit all season in an 0-2 count. He had been 0-for-20.
Sandoval also hit his sixth-inning sacrifice fly in an 0-2 count. He said afterward, though, that he hasn't changed his approach recently with two strikes. "I just try to put the barrel on the ball," Sandoval said.
Bochy, who has been asked about Sandoval a lot lately, reiterated that he "can't say he's changed, except for he's gotten his timing and he's gotten his confidence going. ... That was the longest tough streak he's ever gone through. But it looks like he's come out of it and he's making great contact right now."
Maybe an even better indication than the home run of Sandoval returning to form was the sacrifice fly, on which he swung at a curveball maybe three inches off the ground and hit it nearly to the warning track in right-center field. For a player known as a good bad-ball hitter, it was signature.
"It was low," Sandoval acknowledged. "I just dropped the barrel on the ball."
Bochy confirmed after the game that the Giants will skip Matt Cain's next turn in the rotation. Yusmeiro Petit will start Monday's series opener against the Cubs instead.
Cain (strained right hamstring) threw a short bullpen session before Saturday's game and "still felt it a little bit," Bochy said. "It's not worth the risk, so we're going to skip him this time around."
The Giants will not put Cain on the disabled list as of now, Bochy said, and could slide him into the rotation before his turn comes up again "depending on how he feels."
Sergio Romo recorded the save in his first opportunity since losing a ninth-inning lead in Colorado, though he did allow a home run to Josmil Pinto leading off the ninth. It was the first run allowed at home all season by Romo, who retired the next three hitters.
With two outs, the Twins had a switch hitter in Hicks due up, but instead pinch hit right-handed hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki. The likely reason -- Suzuki was one of three Twins hitters with any prior experience against Romo. Suzuki, who grounded out to Romo, was 1-for-5, with the lone hit coming back in 2009 -- a home run.
With runners on first and second and nobody out in the sixth, Buster Posey surprised a few people by trying to drop down a bunt on the first pitch. Posey fouled the pitch back into the stands.
Bochy was asked if that was a sign Posey's still dealing with some back soreness and said no -- rather, it's something Posey has wanted to work into his game, and in that situation it had its merits.
"They're playing back. If they do throw him out, he moves the runners. If not, he gets a base hit," Bochy said. "So it's not a bad move."
Granted, this is your No. 3 hitter and former batting champion up with runners in scoring position. Usually, he's the guy you want driving those runners in. But Bochy seemed OK with the play. Another thing to consider is whether Posey would have done so without a red-hot Sandoval hitting behind him.
The Giants can make it a clean 6-0 in interleague this season with a win in the Sunday finale. It'll be Madison Bumgarner (5-3, 3.38) against Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco (2-4, 5.50). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.
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