San Francisco Giants

Giants’ offense faces tough task against Pirates’ rotation

As notable as the Giants’ pitching was in May, posting eight shutouts in 30 games, the real key to their 21-9 record might have been the offense that broke out after a sleepy April.

The Giants averaged nearly five runs per game in May, totaling the second-most runs in the majors (148) and the third-highest OPS (.787). A team not known for having a lot of power slugged .439, fourth-highest in baseball, and the contact approach didn’t go away, either – the Giants’ .291 batting average was the majors’ highest.

The calendar flipping to June dovetails neatly with the arrival of the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park for a three-game series that figures to test the surging offense. The Giants will face the top three starters from a Pirates rotation that owns the majors’ third-lowest ERA (3.22), beginning tonight with ace Gerrit Cole, who’s 7-2 with a 2.11 ERA.

Tuesday night, they get A.J. Burnett, who at 38 years old is 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA and has more strikeouts (59) than hits allowed (55) in 642/3 innings pitched. On Wednesday, it’s left-hander Francisco Liriano, who’s 2-4 but with a 3.47 ERA and the fourth-best K/9 rate in baseball (11.31).

It’s a good challenge – and the numbers for the Giants’ individual hitters last month were impressive as well. Going by the metric wRC+ – which attempts to measure how many runs a player created for his team – four Giants hitters ranked in the top 30 in baseball in May: Brandon Belt (fourth), Buster Posey (20th), Joe Panik (21st) and Brandon Crawford (23rd), according to the website FanGraphs.

Manager Bruce Bochy pointed out that the Giants’ next trip includes a three-game series against the New York Mets, in which they’re scheduled to face Noah Syndergaard – the highly touted, hard-throwing right-hander who recently made his debut – and Matt Harvey, who owns the third-highest average fastball velocity (95.8 mph) this season.

“Really throughout the month (of June) we’ll be seeing some good teams,” Bochy said. “It’s going to be important to continue this type of ball we’ve been playing.”

That starts tonight against Cole and the Pirates. The Giants’ lineup:

LF Aoki

2B Panik

RF Pence

C Posey

1B Belt

SS Crawford

CF Pagan

3B Duffy

P Vogelsong

And the Pirates’ lineup against Ryan Vogelsong:

3B Harrison

RF Polanco

RF McCutchen

2B Walker

LF Marte

1B Alvarez

SS Kang

C Stewart

P Cole

▪ After all that talk about the Pirates’ rotation, Vogelsong was pretty good during May, too. In five starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA, while opponents hit .184 against him.

Bochy said the difference for Vogelsong in May was probably a combination of better command and settling into the familiar routine of starting, after Vogeslong began the season as a long reliever and spot-starter.

“Now it’s become a regular routine for him; I think that’s helped him out,” Bochy said.

This will be the first time Vogelsong has faced his former team since Aug. 25, 2013. It was one of the better starts of his career – he threw eight scoreless innings and allowed just two hits.

▪ Bochy said Sergio Romo is available tonight after being off-limits Sunday afternoon because he was sick. That ended up hurting the Giants a little – Bochy may have been freer to get Santiago Casilla out of a rough situation in the Braves’ four-run ninth had Romo been available to back him up.

“He said he felt a lot better,” Bochy said. “My guess is he’s good to go.”

▪ Jake Peavy played catch on flat ground today, and Bochy said how Peavy responded could give the Giants a better idea of when he can make his next rehab start. The Giants have pushed that back after Peavy experienced back tightness after his last rehab start.

▪ Bochy said the Giants could reassess their 13-man pitching staff before leaving on the upcoming trip. They needed the extra coverage in the bullpen after a long series in Colorado on the last trip, but Bochy said he feels the Giants got “things in order.”

“We’ll see how we come out of this next couple days,” Bochy said. “There’s a possibility we could change that.”