Bee staff writer Matt Kawahara looks at five questions facing the Giants in the second half of the season:
1. Bullpen issues
The Giants’ shakiest group has been the bullpen, which is tied for the National League lead with 17 blown saves. Their 3.94 ERA is actually second-best in the N.L. West, but inconsistency has been an issue, along with a lack of defined roles. Manager Bruce Bochy has played matchups, resulting in several Giants relievers being among the league leaders in appearances. Sergio Romo’s return from elbow troubles before the break could help stabilize the late innings, but the Giants still could feel they need to shore up this area before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
2. Regulars returning
Joe Panik tentatively is due back on the first trip (at San Diego, Boston, New York Yankees) after the break. Pence could return for the first homestand (beginning July 25). The Giants hope Duffy is not too far behind. When those regulars start coming back, the Giants may have to get creative with their roster. Replacements from the River Cats like outfielders Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson and infielders Ramiro Pena, Ruben Tejada and Grant Green have contributed in emergency duty. But the Giants won’t have room to keep all of them and could lose those who no longer have minor-league options.
3. Starters’ workload
Johnny Cueto leads the league in innings pitched (131 1/3 ), Madison Bumgarner is second (129 2/3 ), and Jeff Samardzija is sixth (117 1/3 ). For the top two especially, the workload has not affected their numbers, and both pitchers’ track records indicate they are capable of sustaining that kind of pace. Still, the Giants hope to continue playing deep into October. It will be interesting to see how the Giants, knowing they have to get to the playoffs first, manage the innings load for their co-aces in the second half.
4. A tougher schedule
The Giants’ surge to close the first half came against a string of losing teams. Their second-half schedule is much more daunting, beginning with two interleague series in Boston and New York. The Giants have a three-city East Coast trip in the heat of early August. They will play the Nationals seven times in the second half, host the Orioles and Mets, and play a four-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in early September that should draw plenty of attention. And, of course, they will face the Dodgers nine more times.
5. A sustainable pace?
The Giants won 50 of their first 81 games, putting them exactly on pace for 100 wins. It’s a number they have reached just three times in the San Francisco era, most recently in 2003. While their second-half schedule is tough, they also play seven of their final eight series against N.L. West teams – on whom they feasted in the first half, winning 26 of their last 32 games against division opponents. That may allow them a chance to build momentum through September and into what they hope is another even-year run to the World Series title.