Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the Giants were assured of the majors’ best record entering the All-Star break. Asked before his team’s first-half finale about the main reason for this, manager Bruce Bochy answered decisively.
“If you had me pick one thing, I’d have to say our starting pitching,” Bochy said, “the great job they’ve done of keeping us in games.”
In that sense, the Giants’ first half ended on a fitting note. Madison Bumgarner carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before it was broken up by Arizona’s Jake Lamb on a one-out single. The Giants beat the Diamondbacks 4-0 behind Bumgarner’s career-high-tying 14 strikeouts and complete game. And they go into the break a season-high 24 games over .500 at 57-33.
“I thought he was going to throw a no-hitter,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “I know he’s come close quite a number of times now. He had the stuff to do it tonight, and I thought there was a decent chance he could do it. But he pitched a great game. And it’s a good win going into the All-Star break.”
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It is the second time in the San Francisco era the Giants have held the best record at the break. The first was 1993, when they went on to win 103 games. The distinction is perhaps more notable for how this year’s Giants have accomplished it.
When Hunter Pence, their right fielder and spiritual leader, injured his hamstring on June 1, it seemed a portentous sign. June has not been kind to the Giants in recent years. The last three had seen the Giants post losing records. Two years ago, they lost an eight-game division lead during the month.
As June continued, the injuries mounted. Pitcher Matt Cain (hamstring), third baseman Matt Duffy (Achilles’) and second baseman Joe Panik (concussion) landed on the disabled list. Outfielder Angel Pagan missed half of the month because of a hamstring strain and reliever Sergio Romo the entire month because of an elbow injury.
Rather than succumb to those losses, the Giants overcame them. They went 17-10 in June and won 40 of 55 games to end the first half.
“Nobody’s really made excuses,” Duffy said Sunday. “Guys that are in the game still are taking it upon themselves that, ‘We’ve still got to find a way to win this game.’ They’re not letting injuries dictate their attitude.
“So much of baseball is attitude, how you perceive your situation. They could be looking at it as, ‘Oh, we’re hurt as a team; we’re going to get better when everybody comes back.’ But there have been no excuses in this clubhouse.”
Starting pitching has carried the Giants. Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are All-Stars – Cueto, who is 13-1 with a 2.47 ERA after signing a six-year, $130 million deal over the offseason, could start Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Jeff Samardzija had dominant stretches and pitched deep into games. The Giants went 40-15 in games started by their top three.
Bochy said he could not name a better 1-2 punch from one of his teams than Bumgarner and Cueto this year.
“If you look at the innings,” Bochy said, “and the workload they’ve carried, the record, this is probably as good as we’ve had.”
Jake Peavy has pitched better since June 1, and Albert Suarez filled in suitably for Cain.
It helped the Giants compensate for a shaky bullpen in which roles were not well-defined and the makeshift lineup at times resembled one for a spring training game.
Mac Williamson, Conor Gillaspie, Grant Green, Jarrett Parker, Ramiro Pena and Ruben Tejada – none of whom were on the Opening Day roster – all played regularly as the Giants hobbled into the All-Star break.
“It’s really been everybody,” Bochy said. “It’s been fun to see how these guys who have replaced our injured players have come up and really filled a void there and played good baseball.”
The replacements’ play allowed the Giants to feel they did not need to rush key players back. Pence, who had hamstring surgery on June 9, could rejoin the Giants when they start their first homestand after the break on July 25, Bochy said. Panik might return earlier, during their interleague series in Boston or New York. Duffy had a minor setback in his recovery and still feels discomfort when running, so his timeline is murkier.
Cain is scheduled to rejoin the rotation right after the break in Boston.
As the roster becomes whole again, Bochy said the Giants may actually benefit in the second half from losing some of their regulars for a spell.
“The guys who have missed time, they should have fresher legs and should be stronger,” Bochy said. “I think it is going to help them as we get into these dog days, the fact that they’re not going into it a little worn down.”
The Giants built their record up against a string of sub-.500 teams before the break and face a tougher schedule afterward. Still, they will start the second half with a seven 6 1/2-game lead in the N.L. West.
“I think it speaks to the kind of character we have in the clubhouse and the organization, that even the sixth-year free-agent guys they brought to camp are the kind of people they felt would fit what we have going in this clubhouse,” said reliever Javier Lopez.
“Guys are asked not to fill shoes as much as just go out and execute the best they can. It’ll be a different face every night, but ultimately it’s the right kind of guys, the right chemistry, that continues here.”