SAN FRANCISCO -- While they were stumbling through June and July, the Giants kept thanking their torrid start to the season for keeping them in contention, and repeating that they still had time enough to turn things around. Now, as the calendar flips to September, we may be seeing why.
The Giants capped a 6-1 homestand and sweep of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday with a 15-5 blowout win that encapsulated everything they've done right during their season-high-tying six-game winning streak.
They pounded out 16 hits while setting a season-high for runs, including 10 extra-base hits that were the most by the Giants in a home game in AT&T Park history. They got another six strong innings from Madison Bumgarner, who allowed one run and recorded his 16th win, tied with Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto for the major-league lead. In seven games over the homestand, Giants starters combined for a 1.07 ERA
"It's all coming together, we're playing good baseball all-around," Bumgarner said. "Everybody's doing their part. We're getting hot at a good time of the year.
"I feel," he added, "like we're starting to play our best baseball of the year."
That would be saying something, given the Giants started the season 42-21 before their midsummer swoon. But as Bumgarner pointed out, in recent years, it has seemed to play out this way. In 2010, the Giants went 18-8 in September to chase down the Padres. In 2012, they went 19-8 in the season's final full month. Even last season, when they were well out of the playoff race, the Giants finished September with a 16-11 record.
"It's what you have to do to be a winning team," Bumgarner said. "We've got a lot of guys here that know how to win and have done it before.
"Now is definitely not the time to hold back, no matter where you're at in the standings. But for us, we stand a real good chance of still being in the division (race), and definitely the wild card, too. So we've just got to play hard and see where we wind up."
Maybe it was just the effect of a warm, sunny afternoon at AT&T Park, but the outlook certainly seemed rosier than even a week ago, when the Giants returned home to play the Rockies seven games over .500 and 4 1/2 games back of the Dodgers in the division. They are now 12 games over .500 for the first time since July 24, when they led the West by 1 1/2 games, and hold a one-game lead over St. Louis for the N.L.'s top wild-card spot.
"The vibe obviously is good when you've played that well," said right fielder Hunter Pence. "But we've still got things we can continue to work on and get better at, continue to push. I wouldn't say this is the time to get hot. Every time you're playing you want to be hot, and there's still a lot of baseball left to be played."
The Giants still trail the Dodgers by 2 1/2 games, but will play L.A. three times the next time they're back at AT&T Park, where they've suddenly remembered they're supposed to have an advantage. After a stretch of 22 losses in 30 games at home, the Giants have won 10 of their last 13, starting with a series win over Philadelphia from Aug. 15-17 that manager Bruce Bochy said was important for "just getting that confidence, that swagger, whatever, back and to start playing well at home."
"I really thought we'd turn it around," Bochy said. "Now, if you're asking me if I thought we'd score this many runs, no ... But it's good to see the guys having some confidence at the plate here at home and putting runs on the board, taking pressure off the pitchers."
Whether it's that way or vice versa is debatable. The Giants' pitching staff allowed a total of 14 runs in seven games on the homestand, and as Bochy said, "We go as our pitching goes." It has been that way for years in San Francisco, particularly as the season has gone into September and -- twice -- late October.
The starting rotation, at least, has a slightly different look this year. There's no Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum is currently hidden away in the bullpen. Yusmeiro Petit is scheduled to make another start in Lincecum's place, and Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy are both new this season -- Peavy even more so, having made just seven starts as a Giant. But both are veterans with track records, who have pitched in big games, and Bumgarner felt no need to single them out when talking about the Giants being primed for the home stretch.
"Everybody's throwing really well, defense has been great ,offense has been great. All around, everybody's paying really good ball right now," he said.
"It'd be nice to finish the year strong going into the playoffs. We've shown what we can do in the postseason in '10 and '12. So for whatever reason, I'm glad we've got the guys who know how to do that."
Tomorrow's game story gets into the particulars of Sunday's game and the sweep, but here's the offensive barrage in a nutshell: 15 runs, a season high and the most scored by the Giants at home since they scored 16 on Aug. 24, 2010 against the Reds; 16 hits that included 10 for extra bases, their most ever at AT&T Park and most in a game since Aug. 13, 2004 in Philadelphia; three triples, their most in a home game since May 8, 1977.
In the three-game sweep, the Giants outscored the Brewers 31-8 and had 46 hits. Both are the second-highest totals they've posted in a three-game series at home since AT&T Park opened in 2000.
"We faced good starting pitching here and I thought our guys did a great job of stretching out the at-bats, finding ways to move runners," Bochy said.
"Just a series where we swung the bats pretty good," said Pence.
Pence, the model of consistency, was bumped up to third in the order with Buster Posey getting a day off and went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and three runs scored. Pablo Sandoval came a double short of hitting for the cycle. Andrew Susac, catching in place of Posey, had a career-high three hits and drove in three runs.
Bochy credited Susac with "probably as big a hit as any today" for his RBI double in the second inning that gave the Giants their first run. Sandoval had led off the inning with a triple and stayed at third on groundouts by Michael Morse and Gregor Blanco. It looked like the Giants might waste the scoring opportunity against Brewers starter Kyle Lohse, but Susac came through.
"I got a good scouting report from Hunter, just talking about (Lohse's) slider, which he happened to throw me about four, five times in the at-bat," Susac said. "And I was lucky he left me one over the middle, and I just put good wood on it."
The offensive outburst allowed Bochy to take Bumgarner out after six innings with a comfortable lead. Though in control, Bumgarner had thrown 96 pitches, and was coming off his complete-game shutout of the Colorado Rockies, in which he threw 103 pitches but had the tension of carrying a perfect game into the eighth inning.
"There was a lot of stress with (that game) and the work these pitchers have to go through especially when they're looking at no-hitters and things like that," Bochy said. "I wanted to lighten the load on him, and he gets an extra day (before his next start), but it also allowed me to get some guys some work who I thought needed work."
Bumgarner's August line: Six starts, 4-1 record, 1.57 ERA, 26 hits allowed in 46 innings and 56 strikeouts. He's 16-9 on the season with a 2.97 ERA, tied with Kershaw and Cueto for the MLB lead in wins, his 199 strikeouts rank third in the league and his 1.08 WHIP ranks fifth.
Bumgarner downplayed his own numbers after Sunday's game but touted those of the starting staff on the homestand. This was some week for starting pitching. You had Bumgarner flirting with perfection, Yusmeiro Petit setting a new major-league record retiring 46 consecutive batters (though many came as a reliever) and Jake Peavy taking his no-hitter into the eighth on Saturday night. The starters on the homestand: Seven games, 50 2/3 innings. 1.07 ERA, 25 hits allowed, seven walks, 57 strikeouts.
"Anytime you're playing good I feel like it spreads and kind of helps everyone out, and takes a little bit of pressure off," Bumgarner said. "For whatever reason, it does seem like if one guy starts doing good another follows, and it kind of is a little contagious, I guess."
One of the relievers Bochy wanted to give some work Sunday: Lincecum, who pitched the final two innings, and was shaky. Lincecum allowed a solo home run to Ryan Braun in the eighth and an RBI single by Scooter Gennett in the ninth after Rickie Weeks led off the inning with a double and Lincecum hit Martin Maldonado with a pitch.
Lincecum had last pitched Aug. 23, and Bochy said he wasn't surprised to see Lincecum look "a little rusty."
"I thought his delivery was a little more balanced, more on line," Bochy said. "He got some work and got some pitches under his belt -- two innings, that's good work for him. Now if we need him in a little more stressful situation, I think he'll be more comfortable without that long length of time without being out there."
The fact Lincecum pitched today makes it doubtful Bochy would want to use him in the completion of the May 22 suspended game in Colorado, which will be made up Monday before the Giants play their regularly scheduled game against the Rockies in the evening. Helping matters is that Bochy will have an expanded bullpen to deploy, with September call-ups arriving.
The Giants after the game announced their initial call-ups. Outfielder Juan Perez and left-hander Mike Kickham were recalled from Triple-A Fresno, right-hander Hunter Strickland was recalled from Double-A Richmond, and infielder Chris Dominguez and catcher Guillermo Quiroz had their contracts purchased from Fresno.
Kickham has been with the Giants before, while Strickland has a 2.02 ERA in 38 games this season for Richmond. Strickland has also converted all 11 of his save opportunities, while posting a 48-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 2/3 innings.
The Giants now leave for a six-game road trip that's really a seven-game trip, including the completion of the suspended game. That's scheduled to start at 1:10 p.m. PT, with the next game starting 30 minutes after the first one is completed. Here are the pitching probables for the full games of the series:
Monday: RHP Tim Hudson (9-9, 2.90) vs. LHP Franklin Morales (5-7, 5.14)
Tuesday: RHP Yusmeiro Petit (4-3, 3.44) vs. RHP Jordan Lyles (6-2, 4.08)
Wednesday: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (8-9, 3.73) vs. RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 5.74)
The Giants will be back home Sept. 9 to face Arizona -- followed by a three-game series against the Dodgers. Where will those teams stand at that point? Stay tuned -- September is just getting started.