San Francisco Giants

Bochy finds little not to like after Giants sweep Mets, improving baseball’s best record

SAN FRANCISCO -- After the Giants won for the 42nd time in their first 63 games on Sunday by what’s becoming a familiar, all-hands-on-deck formula -- six innings by Tim Lincecum and three scoreless from the bullpen; RBIs from Brandon Crawford, Brandon Hicks and the surprise contributor du jour, Gregor Blanco -- manager Bruce Bochy was asked in all seriousness if there’s anything he doesn’t like about his team right now.

Bochy offered a couple platitudes about the Giants "coming out every day ready to go," and "not thinking about what’s happened in the past." And then he summed it up with:

"No, there’s nothing I can complain about."

Not with a team that’s 42-21 after sweeping the New York Mets at home for the first time since 2002 with their 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon. Not with a 9 ½ game lead in the West in the second week of June. Not with the Giants improving to 9-5 in Lincecum starts this season despite the right-hander’s 4.97 ERA, and getting three RBIs from Blanco on a day Bochy decided to rest sparkplug leadoff hitter Angel Pagan and use Blanco in his place.

Lincecum, a member of two World Series teams the past four years, was asked to recall a time the Giants were playing this well in the regular season during his tenure and said:

"I can’t really think of a time we were as good as we are now. But we’re going to ride it out, ride the wave, and just keep producing. Everybody’s got everybody’s back and we’re all pulling on the same string, which is what you want. It’s fun to be a part of."

Blanco epitomized that Sunday, ripping a two-run double to right in the second inning to give the Giants a 3-2 lead and adding an RBI single in the seventh for his first three-RBI game of the season. On May 11, Blanco was hitting .100, struggling with his inconsistent playing time. He’s now batting .253, including 9-for-20 in his last five starts, in which he has also recorded seven of his 13 RBIs on the season.

"He’s really picked up his play," Bochy said. "He’s done a great job of just picking the club up when Angel needs a break. … Had a great game and he’s been swinging the bat much better."

Blanco said his improvement over the last month has coincided with an acceptance of his role as primarily a bench player. Sunday was his first start in a week, though he’d played in three games between starts as a late defensive replacement.

"At the beginning of the year I didn’t know what was going to be my role exactly, and I was trying to do too much I guess to play every day, or to impress I don’t know who," Blanco said. "I don’t need to impress anybody. I think I just need to play my game and the things I’m doing right now are just because of that."

Blanco said that meant taking a simpler hitting approach of "just trying to put the ball in play," while keeping himself sharp between starts with focused batting practice sessions. He said he has been treating BP sessions like series of at-bats and emphasizing hitting low line drives and ground balls.

"It’s getting better every time," Blanco said. "I think my last BP, I hit only one fly ball and the others line drives and ground balls. So stuff like that I think is going to help me and it shows in the game."

Blanco’s double in the second off Zack Wheeler gave Lincecum the lead after Lincecum had allowed two runs in the first inning on a homer by Curtis Granderson, who surprised Lincecum by jumping on a 3-0 fastball. The Giants added a run in the third when Michael Morse hit into a double play with men on first and third, and in the eighth when Brandon Crawford doubled and scored on a single by Brandon Hicks.

Crawford also drove in the Giants’ first run in the second with a single, giving him 32 RBIs on the year -- second-most on the team behind Morse’s 43. That and Blanco’s day underscored the point Bochy made when asked after the game about the main difference between this year’s Giants team and last year’s, which finished 10 games under .500.

"I think the biggest difference is we have more depth this year," Bochy said. "The club is getting contributions from everybody, where last year it seemed like you got through the heart of the order, then you had to wait for them to come back around. You look at the back end of our order, they’ve done a great job. … They’re all doing something to help."

Being a part of that, Blanco said, has been a source of pride for the bench players, such as Joaquin Arias and Hector Sanchez, who also started Sunday with Buster Posey getting a day off. Blanco said he took inspiration from Sanchez, who provided several big hits off the bench early in the season.

"I said to myself, he’s doing it so I need to step up and start swinging it too," Blanco said.

"Hopefully we keep doing this because that’s what winning teams do. Always somebody steps up today, somebody’s going to step up tomorrow, stuff like that. It just feels good to be part of it."

* Lincecum looked to be in trouble four batters in Sunday, walking Matt den Dekken to lead off the game and allowing a single by David Murphy and the homer to Granderson. But he picked den Dekken off second to avoid a bigger inning, and after the Granderson homer retired the next seven batters, not allowing another run until Granderson took him deep again in the sixth.

"Good to see him bounce back," Bochy said, referencing Lincecum’s eight-run, 4 1/3-inning nightmare in Cincinnati. "Good stuff, better command, pitched more efficiently."

Lincecum said he had a brief déjà vu moment after Granderson’s first home run, "but you’ve got to bounce back and not let that bury you in a hole." He felt his changeup and curveball lacking consistency early, so relied mostly on his fastball and slider, striking out six Mets hitters and walking just one. After the last outing, he said, "I needed to show a little bit more out there and I felt like I did that a little better. The result wasn’t great, but we got a win and I’m happy with that."

Bochy also said he doesn’t put as much stock into Lincecum’s ERA as the Giants’ record when Lincecum takes the mound. They’re now 9-4 in those games, with Lincecum 5-4 on the season to go with the 4.97 ERA.

Lincecum said Granderson surprised him a little by swinging at a 3-0 fastball in the first, but that he still should have located the pitch better. He was more frustrated with the two-strike curveball, down and in, that Granderson golfed into McCovey Cove in the sixth.

"It’s on the plate, and I got strike two on him by throwing it off the plate and making him chase," Lincecum said. "I’ve got to bury that pitch."

Those are the details that Lincecum must concern himself with these days. Another is the holding of runners, which he did not do well against the Reds and wanted to improve. On Sunday, his pickoff of den Dekken in the first inning was a promising sign in that regard.

"He was doing a better job of throwing over and changing his look," Bochy said. "He has got that ability, just sometimes he’s got to be reminded."

Lincecum said that part of his game is "mental. You’ve just got make sure you keep them close and keep looking and vary your times. … Tried to be a little more focused on that."

* While Crawford’s 32 RBIs highlight the depth of the lineup, Juan Gutierrez is doing a similar job for the bullpen. Gutierrez pitched a scoreless seventh inning Sunday, striking out two, and now has a 2.93 ERA in 26 appearances this season. He also hasn’t allowed a run yet at AT&T Park -- he’s at 12 2/3 scoreless innings in 14 games.

"He’s really helped strengthen our ‘pen and given us more depth there," Bochy said. "You need that bridge to get to the eighth, ninth inning, and he’s done a nice job there."

Jean Machi hasn’t been bad either, though he cashed in one of Jeremy Affedlt’s runners in the eighth Sunday on a wild pitch. Machi still has a 0.32 ERA -- a big reason why the Giants haven’t missed Santiago Casilla more.

* Speaking of Crawford, the Mets played some matchups in the eighth inning that failed miserably. After right-handed reliever Carlos Torres struck out the first two hitters of the inning -- Hector Sanchez and Tyler Colvin, both hitting left handed -- manager Terry Collins replaced Torres with left-hander Scott Rice to face Crawford.

Crawford is batting .333 with a 1.073 OPS this season against lefties. He doubled. Then Collins brought in right-hander Vic Black to face right-handed hitting Brandon Hicks. Hicks singled, scoring Crawford. It gave the Giants a two-run lead going into the ninth, and gave off the distinctly awkward feel of strategy gone awry.

* Bochy said he decided to use Javier Lopez to start the ninth rather than Sergio Romo because Lucas Duda, who was leading off, had "looked locked in against our righties" during the series. The move backfired a little when Lopez walked Duda, but Romo then came in and retired the next three hitters for his 20th save.

Romo is now 20-for-22 in save opportunities this spring. Here he is from today’s Bee talking about his season to this point. That he has one fewer save than the Giants have losses is a pretty good indication of how things have gone.

* The Giants now welcome in the Washington Nationals for a four-game series, with the opener featuring a promising pitching matchup. Here are the series probables:

Monday: RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-4, 3.10) vs. RHP Ryan Vogelsong (4-2, 3.39)

Tuesday: RHP Doug Fister (4-1, 3.19) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (8-3, 2.68)

Wednesday: RHP Tanner Roark (4-4, 2.91) vs. RHP Matt Cain (1-3, 3.52)

Thursday: RHP Blake Treinen (0-2, 1.78) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (6-2, 1.97)

Those are all 7:15 p.m. games with the exception of Thursday, a 12:45 p.m. start.