With return of key players, Giants making run

With return of key players, Giants making run

SAN FRANCISCO -- In Spring Training, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a vision -- a vision not necessarily of the defending World Series champions repeating what they accomplished last season, but more of how he could put them in the best position to do so.

When Hunter Pence fractured his forearm in an exhibition game March 6, Bochy was hit with a roadblock. He was forced to begin the year without one of his core players -- a middle-of-the-order guy and the energizer of his ballclub.

Pence's injury was just one of many obstacles the Giants would face through the season's first 98 games, but on Monday night at AT&T Park, Bochy finally had the starting lineup he envisioned at full strength in a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Giants improved to a season-high 11 games over .500 with the win and crept within a half-game of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the closest they've been to first place in the National League West since June 29.

"I think this is kind of what we were looking for a couple weeks ago when we were struggling," shortstop Brandon Crawford said.

Crawford's two-run homer

In April, Jake Peavy landed on the disabled list with a back strain and in June, Pence missed 30 more games with left wrist tendinitis and Nori Aoki fractured his fibula. Tim Hudson strained his shoulder, Jeremy Affeldt strained his, too, and Gregor Blanco suffered a concussion.

Slowly, the injured Giants began to recover, and on Monday, with Aoki's activation from the DL, Bochy had the necessary pieces to maneuver through situations the way he hoped at the beginning of the year.

"Everybody runs into injuries like we did," third baseman Matt Duffy said. "To sit there and dwell on them, you can't do that because everybody's banged up, too. But it's definitely encouraging we're at full strength or close to it."

Bochy had the luxury of pinch-hitting Blanco for starting pitcher Chris Heston, and Blanco came through with an RBI double in a 3-2 game to extended the Giants' lead. Blanco, who had performed admirably in a full-time role over the past month, is again an invaluable weapon off the bench.

Blanco's RBI double

"Here we had Blanco on the bench, and he comes through with a big hit there to give us a little cushion," Bochy said. "It's going to make our bench better."

Santiago Casilla and George Kontos, who each made multiple appearances over the weekend against Oakland, were able to catch their breaths as Hunter Strickland held the lead and Sergio Romo locked down the save, his second of the year.

Romo notches save

It's not as if the Giants were playing poorly without their key players, but having them healthy is essentially as if general manager Bobby Evans acquired multiple pivotal pieces prior to Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"It's definitely exciting," Duffy said. "We've just got to keep with our approach, keep it simple. We know what we're capable of now and I think it's not about putting our expectations too high. Just relax, play our game and good things happen."

Oliver Macklin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.