Giants aim to regain early-season form in second half
San Francisco will look to Pagan, Scutaro to give team a boost down the stretch
SAN FRANCISCO -- It'll be a new beginning for the Giants when they resume the season on Friday in Miami. The 9 1/2-game edge in the National League West they owned on June 8 has become a one-game deficit. But San Francisco can't dwell on its downfall.
The Giants know what must happen for them to pull ahead of the division-leading Dodgers. The requirements are simple. San Francisco must keep offensive dynamo Angel Pagan healthy. Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse and Brandon Belt must deliver typically solid performances. Lastly, the Giants' pitching staff must rise above mediocrity and at least approach elite status.
Don't be surprised if general manager Brian Sabean tries to hasten the team's progress by engineering a trade, as he has done virtually every Trade Deadline when San Francisco has been in contention. Here's a look at the Giants' season that has elapsed and their season that remains:
Five key developments so far
1. Tim Lincecum's renaissance
Lincecum won four consecutive starts to end the first half, demonstrating that he has become increasingly comfortable with his changing emphasis from power to finesse.
2. Defensive improvement
The Giants rarely beat themselves afield. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, Belt and Posey all are above average on defense. When Belt missed eight weeks with a fractured left thumb, Morse filled in at first and performed capably.
|MVP: Hunter Pence
He is earning his five-year, $90 million contract by leading the Giants not just in run production, but also inspiration.
|Top starter: Tim Hudson
He erased health doubts following horrific 2013 ankle injury, and until recently, the veteran righty set pace for staff with consistency.
|Top rookie: Ehire Adrianza
He's not hitting much (.225), but the Giants know they can rely on him for solid defense up the middle.
|Top reliever: Santiago Casilla
He remained so effective in setup relief after recovering from a hamstring injury that he took over closer role.
3. Setting the bar high
The Giants did virtually everything right from late April to early June. This success taught them that they're capable of sustaining excellence, which will come in handy if they reach the postseason.
4. Surviving slump
Though the Giants have staggered during most of the past five weeks, they haven't completely collapsed, regaining first place in the NL West on three occasions after the Dodgers passed them. They can draw upon this resilience when times get tight.
5. Morse, not less
The oft-injured slugging left fielder has played in 92 of San Francisco's 96 games so far, allaying their fears about his fragility. Though nobody's health is guaranteed, the Giants can worry less about Morse than they did in Spring Training.
Five storylines to keep an eye on in the second half
1. Sandoval's salary drive
Eligible for free agency after this season, Sandoval should be inspired to go on an extended hitting tear that would help make him a rich man. He has had a few hitting binges so far but nothing extreme. Sandoval's current .272 batting average would be the second lowest of his career. That's a noticeable drop after entering the year with a .298 figure. Sandoval needs to start hitting more consistently not just for the Giants' sake, but also for his own.
Players to watch in second haLF
The center fielder and leadoff hitter must overcome his back injury and resume his role as San Francisco's offensive catalyst. As mentioned above, staying on the field is the key for Pagan, whose left hamstring injury last year sidelined him for virtually half the season and sank the Giants' postseason prospects.
San Francisco's chances of establishing a steady, productive offense will multiply if Scutaro can merely approach his production as a Giant in 188 games entering this season, which includes a .319 average and a .366 on-base percentage.
The Giants thrived optimally when they received offensive contributions from up and down the batting order. But if there's one guy who can carry them, it's Posey, who showed flashes of regaining his imposing 2012 form during the first half.
2. Romo seeking resurgence
Sergio Romo doesn't have to reclaim his closer's role from Santiago Casilla to help San Francisco. Romo can be just as valuable in setup situations. But the Giants wouldn't mind seeing Romo, another potential free agent, and Casilla try to outdo each other. The likely result would be plenty of shutout innings.
3. Hudson tries beating time -- again
The right-hander, who turned 39 on Monday, must continue to prove that age is only a number. His season has nosedived in his last five starts, which have resulted in an 0-4 record and a 6.07 ERA. Before that, Hudson was 7-2, with a 1.97 ERA and looked like a legitimate NL Cy Young Award candidate. Hudson solidified the starting rotation early in the season when others struggled. Now, the Giants need him to reclaim the magic he displayed earlier.
4. Looking for a steal of a deal
Observers assume that Sabean will make a swap before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline to boost the roster. Recent examples include 2010 (Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez), 2011 (Carlos Beltran) and 2012 (Pence, Marco Scutaro). Skeptics might claim that not all these moves worked, but the point is, Sabean gets things done. Once Sabean settles on the Giants' biggest need, he'll probably add to his list of key midsummer swaps.
5. Making health a non-issue
Though Bruce Bochy's managing acumen is highly regarded, the less he has to think, the better. When it comes to the Giants' lineup, Bochy wants to be able to write Pagan's name in the leadoff spot without worrying about the center fielder's physical condition. Bochy has similar hopes regarding Scutaro, who's fresh off the disabled list.