In a way, it was fitting that the Giants concluded the first half with a series sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. More precisely, it was fitting that the sweep came nearly on the heels of a seven-game losing streak, as the Giants through the first half played the part of a pendulum swinging to extremes.
Starting with an eight-game losing streak in April, the Giants’ season thus far has felt like one streak after another. They caught fire in May, winning eight in a row at one point and sandwiching that between two five-game winning streaks. Since then, they dropped five in a row twice, and rattled off seven consecutive losses as June turned into July.
The roller coaster paused Sunday with the Giants on their way up, their three-game sweep of the Phillies sending them into the All-Star break three games over .500 at 46-43. And given the difficulty of sustaining any kind of momentum, manager Bruce Bochy said, the team could be in a much worse position.
We’re not where we want to be, obviously. But you just want to hang in there. You’re a nice win streak away from being where you want to be.
Bruce Bochy, Giants manager
“I think overall it’s pretty good, to be honest,” Bochy said Sunday. “You look at the start, we almost buried ourselves. And we bounced back, got back to playing the brand of ball that we need to play.
“We’re not where we want to be, obviously. But you just want to hang in there. You’re a nice win streak away from being where you want to be. You look at what we’ve been through between injuries, schedule – not to make excuses – it’s been an OK first half here and I’ll take it.”
The Giants played most of the first half without starters Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, who were expected to help anchor the rotation over full seasons, and right-fielder and leader Hunter Pence, who appeared in just 23 games because of two arm injuries. Leadoff hitter Nori Aoki suffered a leg fracture in late June, curtailing a solid half for which he almost made the All-Star team, while the Giants’ other offseason acquisition, Casey McGehee, flamed out at third base and is no longer in the organization.
Yet the Giants mostly found ways to plug those holes. Chris Heston, expected to start the season with the River Cats, became a rotation “savior” – in Bochy’s words – while taking Cain’s place and compiling nearly identical numbers to ace Madison Bumgarner. Another rookie, Matt Duffy, stepped in as the everyday third baseman and generated enough confidence from the Giants’ staff to be thrust into the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
An aging rotation has not been as dominant as in seasons past, posting a 3.91 ERA that ranks eighth in the National League; the bullpen has also struggled at times while compiling a 3.64 ERA, sixth-highest in the N.L. The offense posted the league’s second-highest batting average (.271) and scored the third-most runs (377) but in stretches looked nearly incapable of scoring, particularly at home.
All of which suggests that it has been difficult to figure out this Giants team through its first 89 games. Yet the Giants have managed to stay squarely in the race, and head into the second half trailing the Dodgers in the N.L. West by 41/2 games and the second wild-card team by two.
I don’t think we need somebody to have a breakout year; we just need everybody to do their job, and do their thing – and we’ll be fine.
Bruce Bochy, Giants manager
As reason for optimism, the Giants point to their expectation that Cain and Peavy both will be healthy contributors in the second half, that Pence is back in the lineup (though Bochy will keep an eye on his troublesome left wrist) and that Aoki is due back from injury within two weeks. With the roster at full strength, Bochy said Sunday, “I really expect us to be even a little better in the second half.”
Last year, the Giants received a boost down the stretch by the arrival of Peavy in a trade and the emergence of Joe Panik as their everyday second baseman. Bochy was asked whether another surprise, like that of Heston this year or Panik in 2014, will be necessary to push the Giants into a rare odd-year postseason run.
“No,” Bochy said, “I just think we need our guys to do what they’re capable of doing. … This is a talented ballclub. I don’t think we need somebody to have a breakout year; we just need everybody to do their job, and do their thing – and we’ll be fine.”