COHN: These Giants are winning with offense
Published: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 10:11 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Today, the Giants embark on an epic road trip.
It may not seem epic at first considering they're driving across the Bay Bridge to Oakland for two games. After that, they return home for two more games with the A's. Nothing intimidating about that.
It's just that, including the A's games, the Giants play — get this — 14 of their next 18 games on the road. That involves multiple changes of underwear or many trips to the hotel laundromat, or both. And it involves pretty scary teams.
The Giants will play some of the best outfits in the majors on the upcoming trip which is more like a quest or maybe a sojourn. Some of the bloodcurdling opponents are: Oakland, St. Louis, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. It's a murderers' row and, although we haven't yet reached June, this trip could be season-defining, in the season-affirming or season-deflating sense. The definition of the trip is strictly up to the Giants.
Are the Giants capable of success on this trip?
It's the essential question and it's relevant right now. And it's important to mention fans are worried about the Giants who have not been able to run away from the National League West, even though they are the world champions. There's a general woe-is-us tone on sports radio and blogs.
Well, wait a minute. The Giants are tied with the Diamondbacks for first place in their division. That's not shabby. It's a lot better than where the ritzy and highly-overpriced Dodgers currently reside, in the cellar near the coal pile with the lights out and the elevator on the fritz.
The Giants' philosophy — and it qualifies as a philosophy — is and has been simple: Hang around the top of the division during the regular season. Win a lot at home and hold your own on the road. Get into the playoffs as a division champ or a wildcard team. Just get in.
And then everything starts again, everything recalibrates. The Giants, who may not seem lethal in the regular season, become lethal in the playoffs. In the postseason, pitching always dominates, and the Giants' pitching, in theory and usually in practice, is as dominant as it gets.
So, please don't moan or despair. Well, you can if you want, but just don't do it about the Giants. And now, to make you think out of the box, here are some wrinkles concerning the Giants.
You and I and everyone else consider them a pitching team. In fact, that's what I just told you when discussing the playoffs. But before Sunday's 7-3 win over the Rockies, Giants' starters had the third-worst earned run average in the National League — 4.68. This is highly un-Giants and could be a reason to worry if you feel a need to worry.
Except for one thing. The Giants are hitting like mad. Coming into Sunday's game, they led the NL in batting — .271. And they were fifth in runs scored. After Sunday's come-from-behind win, 15 of their 28 wins were come-from-behind jobs. In the past, the Giants were not like that. They fell behind and stayed behind.
That means, at least for now, you need to think about the Giants in a totally new way. As weird as this sounds — and it sounds very weird — the Giants are currently not a pitching-first team.
They don't really have a fifth starter, although lefty Michael Kickham will make the trip from Fresno to Oakland and start against the A's on Tuesday. Ryan Vogelsong has a busted finger. And Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum have been mediocre — Lincecum more so than Zito, and that makes you wonder if he ever again will be Tim Lincecum.
But Madison Bumgarner is superb, a pleasure to watch, and Matt Cain started the season poorly but got the win Sunday and has won his last four starts.
If the Giants are not a pitching-first team, what are they?
The Giants currently are a hitting-first team. Look up the batting numbers for Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and you'll be impressed, maybe blown away.
So, the Giants are playing out of character, but they still are winning. Is that good?
Here's what manager Bruce Bochy said after Sunday's game: “If I had my choice, sure, I'd have it the other way, get an early lead and pitch well.”
In other words, he wants the Giants to be the Giants as we understand them.
He also spoke about the Giants' comeback wins and their hitting, did this before the game:
“They're relentless. They go hard for nine innings or like (Saturday) extra innings. They keep going hard. They keep fighting. That's the way you have to play the game. When you do it enough times, you get the confidence that you can do it and that you're not out of a game and, when you don't do it, it goes the other way. 'Oh no we're in trouble.' That's what you want to stay away from. We've done it so many times this year the confidence grows that you can do it. That life in the dugout stays there.”
So, we come back to the original question: Are the Giants capable of success on their highest-degree-of-difficulty road trip?
Heck yeah. The way they are hitting and eliminating deficits they can beat anyone. But this is clear, and you can engrave it in stone. If the Giants want to go all the way again — into the playoffs, through the early rounds, into the World Series, and win the World Series — they must revert to form, to who they really are. That means great pitchers surrounded by a supporting cast of good-to-very-good (Sandoval)-to-great (Posey) hitters.
It's how the team is meant to be.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at email@example.com.
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