SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants’ roller-coaster season continued on one of its biggest crests this weekend, as their three-game sweep of the A’s gave them 11 wins in the last 12 games.
Since falling to 43-43 with a loss to the Mets on July 8, the Giants have outscored their opponents by a combined total of 76-34 over their last 12 games and matched their high water mark for the season at 10 games over .500.
And despite a seven-game losing streak to start the month, the Giants on Sunday evening were one game back of the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, right back in the N.L. West race.
"There’s obviously two months left in the season, a lot of baseball left," said starter Tim Hudson, who became the 15th pitcher to defeat all 30 major-league teams in the Giants’ 4-3 win on Sunday. "But it is nice to close the gap on them. It’d be nice to have a one-game lead. But right now we’re trying to inch our way back in and play as good baseball as we can."
Manager Bruce Bochy said this weekend’s series, particularly the last two games, were more the style of baseball the Giants want to play. Both were one-run wins, and Sunday featured four scoreless innings from the Giants’ bullpen and several strong defensive moments, including catcher Buster Posey throwing out two runners trying to steal.
One of those came in the ninth inning, after closer Santiago Casilla had put the first two runners on with no outs. Casilla stuck out pinch hitter Josh Phegley, and Jake Smolinski then surprisingly took off for third base on the first pitch to Marcus Semien. Posey threw him out easily.
"It caught me off-guard a little bit," Posey said. "But obviously, for me, the runner’s right there in front of me. So once he breaks, it just becomes instinctual at that point."
Casilla struck out Semien to end the game and secure his 26th save of the season, a career high. It was also the second straight day Casilla made the ninth inning interesting, and he still has a 6.74 ERA in July. Bochy, though, said he’s most concerned with the end result.
"I’m happy he’s getting out of it," Bochy said. "I’d like to see it a little easier, but he’s got the stuff to get out of it, too. That’s what a closer has to have. You hate to see a walk late in the ballgame, but I thought he had good stuff, kept his poise out there, and that’s what’s important."
Bochy also gave Casilla a hat-tip for going to a quicker slide-step in the Semien at-bat, which gave Posey a split-second more to get off a throw on Smolinski. Posey also threw out Ben Zobrist trying to steal second base in the first inning, and added his first four-hit game of the season, raising his batting average to .328.
"I thought (Zobrist) had a great jump, I didn’t know if (Posey) had a chance, but he really came out of the chute well and threw a bullet right on the money," Bochy said. "Swinging the bat, everything, what a game he had today."
Posey, meanwhile, cautioned that the Giants mustn’t get too high on their latest winning streak, particularly given their up-and-down nature this season. He stressed the need for a "clean slate" Monday -- which, coincidentally, is what the Giants have given themselves in the division going into the season’s final two months.
"Obviously we’d rather be right there than not," Posey said. "A lot of baseball left to be played. Just got to keep going."
* Hudson’s milestone is covered in tomorrow’s print story. As for Sunday’s outing, the right-hander said he felt "very similar" to his last start in San Diego -- in which he lasted just four innings and allowed three runs -- but he had better fastball command against the A’s and was able to weather a 29-pitch inning and strand a leadoff single in the fifth.
"I thought he was sharp early," Posey said. "He had that one long inning, I think it wore on him. But he still found a way to get us through five. All in all, I thought it was a step in the right direction."
Hudson said he knew facing Zobrist with a man on and two outs in the fifth might have been his last batter -- with a one-run lead and cleanup hitter Josh Reddick on deck -- and he "just wanted to try to go in there and make some good pitches." He got Zobrist to fly out, saving an awkward decision for Bochy of whether to take Hudson out when he was one out away from qualifying for the win.
"Gutty effort by him today," Bochy said. "That fourth inning he threw a lot of pitches and I’m sure that caught up with him, but overall I though the threw the ball well, had better command than in his last start. So that’s a good sign."
* Hudson had a 4-1 lead after the second inning thanks largely to Matt Duffy, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning and an RBI single in the second. Duffy has 46 RBIs on the season, second among N.L. rookies only to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant.
"It’s fun to watch," Posey said. "(Duffy is) obviously very talented, but he’s a smart baseball player. I think he’s only going to get better because he has an approach when he’s at the plate and understands what the pitcher’s trying to do to him. I think you’re going to see he’s able to make adjustments even quicker going forward."
If you missed our feature this morning on Duffy’s rapid ascent for the Giants this season, that can be found here.
* With a runner on first and one out in the eighth, Bochy sent reliever Javier Lopez up to put down a sacrifice bunt. It was Lopez’s first plate appearance since 2011, and when he got the bunt down against Eric O’Flaherty, it was the second sacrifice of his career -- and first since 2004 with the Colorado Rockies.
* Nori Aoki was in the Giants’ clubhouse after the game, and all signs are that he will be activated before Monday’s game against the Brewers, who arrive for a three-game series. The pitching probables:
Monday: RHP Chris Heston (10-5, 3.18) vs. RHP Kyle Lohse (5-11, 6.29)
Tuesday: RHP Matt Cain (2-1, 4.09) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (1-5, 4.00)
Wednesday: RHP Jake Peavy (2-4, 4.86) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (5-8, 3.94)
* One more Hudson note: Early in the game, third-base umpire Joe West asked to see the ball after determining Hudson had gone to his mouth while on the mound and not wiped it off before gripping the ball. It seemed to irk the Giants at the time -- Bochy gave West a lengthy stare before the next pitch -- but Hudson made light of it afterward.
"He just wanted to check the ball," Hudson said. "If I was cheating I’d hope I’d have a little better stuff than I was throwing out there today."