San Francisco again rising to occasion despite questions entering '16
By Richard Justice
When the San Francisco Giants are on a roll like this, almost everyone in baseball seems to be struck by the same thought.
Uh oh, here they come.
When a club wins the World Series three times in five seasons -- 2010, '12, '14 -- people start to get the idea it knows what it is doing.
The Giants didn't even make the postseason in 2011, '13 and '15. That's the strange part.
When they're good, the Giants are championship good. In the past five seasons, seven teams have won more regular-season games than San Francisco. The Cardinals (396) have 30 more victories than the Giants (366).
In the postseason, though, the Giants are 23-10 (.697). That is, when the stakes are the highest and the light the brightest, San Francisco is at its best.
That's a tribute to an organization that gets it on every level, beginning with team president Larry Baer and his top baseball executive, Brian Sabean. These men are the gold standard for doing things right, whether it's creating the environment at AT&T Park or constructing a winning club.
And there's that big fella with the lineup card, Bruce Bochy, who has 1,726 regular-season victories -- 16th on the all-time list -- and three World Series championships. In terms of communication, getting a cohesive effort and managing a bullpen, there surely has never been anyone better.
Bochy would be the first to tell you that having coaches like Dave Righetti and Ron Wotus as well as players like catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner has been crucial to his success.
During Spring Training, Bochy marveled at the way his players welcomed new players into their clubhouse, how all that mattered was the bottom line -- that is, playing smart and winning.
Most nights, the Giants are the only team that runs out a lineup with an entirely homegrown infield: third baseman Matt Duffy, Crawford, second baseman Joe Panik, first baseman Brandon Belt and Posey.
"They have such pride in wearing the Giants uniform," Bochy said.
Those of us on the outside never really understand this sort of thing. Some discount it completely.
I once asked Jack Morris if we made too much of chemistry and teamwork.
"I think you make too little of it," he said.
Despite the history, there were plenty of questions about San Francisco entering the season. Even after a $251 million spending spree for Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span, there were unknowns.
What did Matt Cain have left in the tank? In the previous two seasons, he'd made just 26 starts with a 4.83 ERA. Could Cain come close to being the pitcher who was 55-35 with a 2.93 ERA between 2009-12? In those four seasons, he was a monster, averaging 220 innings and 180 strikeouts.
And could a reconfigured bullpen -- one without Jeremy Affeldt, who retired -- be as good as the one that was so good in the championship years?
Finally, could Bumgarner, Posey, Hunter Pence, etc., continue to play at a championship level as they got older?
So far, so good. The Giants just won their sixth straight road game Wednesday night, beating the Padres, 2-1, on a four-hit effort by Cueto.
On Thursday, the Giants can complete a 7-0 trip for the first time in 103 years. Since finishing the past homestand with a walk-off victory over the Blue Jays, they are 7-0.
In this stretch, the starting rotation is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA. Cain has allowed three earned runs in 15 innings in his past two starts. Cueto and Bumgarner just pitched the franchise's first back-to-back complete games in 14 years.
Meanwhile, the bullpen has gone 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA.
Offensively, the Giants are hitting just .237 during the winning streak, but with that kind of pitching, it hasn't mattered. And pitching is what carried San Francisco during the championship years.
The Giants have gained three games in the National League West standings during the winning streak, going from one game out to a 2 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers and Rockies. Los Angeles has had a remarkable first half considering all the injuries, and Colorado may have enough young pitching to hang around.
When the Giants are done with the Padres, they'll return to AT&T Park for a weekend series against the Cubs.
It'll be a good checkpoint to see what the best team at the moment can do with the team that has the best record in the Majors. But the way things are going, we might just see a lot more Giants-Cubs this season.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.