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Andy Furillo: Posey, Heston, Crawford position Giants to defend title

Giants catcher Buster Posey in the dugout before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers in San Francisco.
Giants catcher Buster Posey in the dugout before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers in San Francisco. The Associated Press

It’s probably too soon to talk up Buster Posey for National League MVP, Chris Heston as the Rookie of the Year, or Brandon Crawford for a Silver Slugger trophy that goes to the top offensive player at each position in each league.

First, they need to survive a brutal August, which kicks off for them and their Giants teammates over the next week in Arlington, Texas, and Atlanta. Then comes a blistering 26-game, 28-day stretch against six teams with winning records.

Nobody knows whether the Giants will wither in the Texas and Georgia heat or how they’ll play against the best teams in baseball. The only certainty is that with 61 games left in the season, the defending champs have about the same win-loss record as they had in their championship years of 2010, 2012 and 2014.

There are, of course, 25 players responsible for this year’s success, but the contributions of Posey, Heston and Crawford deserve a moment of consideration.

Posey entered Wednesday fourth in the league in average and tied for third in RBIs. The catcher has helped hold together a pitching staff on which three of its starters have suffered disabling injuries. He leads the league among behind-the-plate regulars in throwing out runners trying to steal. Two more months like his first four – and a strong finish by the Giants – should enable Posey to contend with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt for the MVP award, which he won in 2012.

Posey has caught 68 of the Giants’ 101 games, played first base in 26 and was designated hitter twice, but said he feels strong going into the last third of the season.

“I think the more my career progresses, I find different ways to take care of myself off the field, nutritionally and in the weight room,” Posey said.

He’s looking forward to the next 30 days.

“It should be fun,” Posey said. “August is a big month, no doubt about it. All in all, this group responds well to challenges and we have to look at it as a challenge and be ready and excited for it.”

Heston (11-5) would be named the N.L.’s top rookie pitcher if an election were held today. He’s tied for second in the league in victories and he’s top 25 in four other key categories. He’s been the second-best pitcher on the club behind Madison Bumgarner, and he might be the favorite among the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and teammate Matt Duffy for the league’s best rookie.

“Coming into spring, I just wanted to open some eyes,” Heston said. “When I got optioned down, the mindset was to do well and get up here at some point, and then I got the opportunity.”

Heston was looking for a place to live in Sacramento when Matt Cain went down because of a strained flexor tendon in his pitching arm the first week of the season. Instead of opening the season for the River Cats, Heston was in the Giants’ rotation.

“I tried to take advantage of it and have as much fun as possible,” the smiling Heston said in the Giants’ clubhouse Tuesday after beating the Brewers the night before.

Crawford had not hit more than 10 home runs in a season, anywhere, until this year, when his total climbed to 15 on Monday with a shot estimated at 424 feet into the right-center field bleachers at AT&T Park. No shortstop in baseball has hit more homers, nor have any driven in more runs than Crawford’s 63.

Jhonny Peralta of the Cardinals has a higher batting average so the Silver Slugger projection is too close to call.

Crawford said there’s a simple explanation for his added power.

“The difference this year is I’m trying to hit the ball harder,” he said. “I think in the past I probably just tried to make contact. I wouldn’t drive the ball, and I’d hit more singles and ground balls. Now, I’m hitting more fly balls and line drives and they’re going further.”

Four seasons in as a major-league regular, “You develop that comfort, being in the lineup every day,” Crawford said. “I’ve got a good approach and I’ve been consistent with it.”

Baseball doesn’t give a trophy to the best player in a reserve role for a .299 hitter who just lost his starting job to a guy coming off the disabled list. If it did, the award would go to Gregor Blanco, who relinquished left field to Nori Aoki on Monday night but came in as a pinch hitter and drove in a run with a double to right. He had two more hits off the bench in Tuesday night’s loss before getting the start in center Wednesday.

“I just want to make the manager believe he can believe in me, he can trust me, every time he needs me,” Blanco said.

There was no chance Blanco would turn into a mope. Instead, he’s one of 25 players manager Bruce Bochy knows he’ll need to get the club through the heat of August, into the races of September, and maybe into the playoffs of October.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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