MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Don't EVEN think about dismissing Giants

Bochy's ballclub cools but still poses major threat in NL

Don't EVEN think about dismissing Giants

CHICAGO -- Stepping up to sit down on a bench in the undersized visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, Bruce Bochy banged his famous 8 1/4-sized head onto the concrete roof. It did not feel good.

"I got that over with," Bochy said. "I've got to do that when I get here."

Sure, but how many times?

"Under and over would be about 10," he said. "Four-game series? I'd take the over."

There might be better analogies for the Giants' 2016 season, but this one will do. It was a pleasure ride until the All-Star break, and since then it has been more of a head-banger than anyone could have imagined.

Riding its even-year magic, San Francisco was the winningest team in the Major Leagues well into July, yet the Giants came into a four-game weekend series against the best-in-baseball Cubs with a 15-27 record since July 30, somehow even worse than the Twins (as hard as that is to believe) and the half-dozen or so teams that started the season in rebuilding mode.

Just as the Cubs took off when they swept a measuring-stick series against San Francisco last August, the Giants could easily get themselves turned around this weekend.

Even in their state of regression, the Giants haven't lost their hold on a postseason spot. And if San Francisco gets into October behind Madison Bumgarner, with Bochy calling the shots, well, everyone knows how that can turn out.

Here are five reasons that the Giants still pose a major threat to the Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers and the rest of the National League:

1. They're healthy, at least by the low standards that apply in early September.
When the Pirates visited Wrigley Field ahead of the Giants, they had a completely different starting rotation from Opening Day. The rival Dodgers have used 14 starting pitchers, in part because they've tied the Major League record by placing 27 players on the disabled list this season.

But the only major player sidelined for San Francisco is Jake Peavy (and he was replaced with an upgrade when general manager Bobby Evans acquired lefty Matt Moore). The outfield of Hunter Pence (hamstring), Angel Pagan (groin) and Denard Span (neck) is playing through injuries, but all three started Thursday night.

"I'd say for the most part we're healthy," Bochy said. "Hunter, I think, where he's at now, he's close to being who he is -- 100 percent. He's going to tell you he's got no excuses. He feels good. We've had a groin issue with Pagan, but this time of the season, a lot of guys have aches and pains. It goes with the territory. You're playing baseball. We're healthy right now."

Pence's two-run dinger

2. Their rotation has the potential to be the best in the Majors down the stretch.
Bumgarner has seldom met a challenge he can't meet -- ask the Royals about this at your own risk -- and the two big-ticket guys imported to work behind him, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, entered Thursday having delivered a 3.00 ERA since Aug 10. Moore worked 8 2/3 no-hit innings against the Dodgers and then bounced back from Corey Seager's break-it-up hit to hold Arizona to one run over 5 1/3 innings.

Bochy is handing the fifth starter's spot to 26-year-old rookie Albert Suarez over the Giants' big tease, Matt Cain, who moves to the bullpen. Cain and Peavy have combined for a 5.66 ERA, but the rotation ERA still ranks fourth in the NL, with starters working more innings than every NL team except the Nationals and Cubs.

Suarez strikes out Goldschmidt

3. There have been recent signs of life for Pence in particular and the lineup as a whole.
The Giants were fourth in the NL in scoring in the first half, but they have outscored only the Phillies since the All-Star break. They aren't a power-hitting team, so to put pressure on opposing pitchers, they have to get men on base (third in OBP before the All-Star break; seventh in OPS in the second half) and get timely hits.

Bochy values doubles and triples (which AT&T Park yields) almost as highly as home runs. He'd love to see All-Star first baseman Brandon Belt start hitting again, but until he does, he'll hit him low in the order and lean on Buster Posey, Pence, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik.

Pence was having a great season until June 1 (.298/.375/.486), when he hurt his hamstring badly enough it needed surgery. He got back in less than two months, but in his first 28 games back, his slash line was .218/.269/.299. Pence homered in his first at-bat Thursday against the Cubs and entered the series 6-for-13 in his previous four games, and Bochy might have enjoyed Pence's three-hit game on Tuesday as much as he did Crawford's seven-hit game on Aug. 8.

Pence and Posey (no home runs since July 16) could set a completely different tone in September.

Posey's RBI double

4. They've got Crawford at shortstop.
It's still hard to believe this guy wasn't an All-Star. The NL might have won the game if it had Crawford. OK, that's an overreach. But the point here is that Crawford is really, really good, and he plays one of the two most important positions on the field (Posey plays the other one, and that's a pretty good sign, too).

Crawford won a Gold Glove in 2015 and leads MLB shortstops in defensive metrics this time around, just a tick ahead of Addison Russell and Andrelton Simmons. He's a very consistent hitter. Should you want to point out Crawford's home run numbers are down, you shouldn't overlook he's leading the NL in triples.

Here's the best thing about having Crawford: With him in the middle, the Giants rank fourth among the 30 teams in defensive efficiency, as rated by Baseball Prospectus. They're miles ahead of the Dodgers and the teams in the Wild Card pack.

Crawford's RBI triple

5. Uh, they're the Giants; they're managed by Bochy and 2016 remains an even-numbered year.
These guys have been through it all.

"You have that to fall back on," Bochy said. "You have the times they've had their backs against the wall. I don't think there's a better team in baseball when they have to play under pressure or have their backs against the wall. They have that going for them."

While you're writing off the Giants, they'll thinking back to their two bad stretches in 2014.

That year, San Francisco broke to a 43-21 start, but it went 5-18 in June and early July. After regaining their equilibrium, the Giants went through a 5-13 slide a month later. And all anyone really remembers is Game 7 against the Royals, when Bumgarner came out of the bullpen and Alex Gordon might have tied up the game if Crawford hadn't cleanly fielded a panicked one-hop throw from Juan Perez.

The Giants know better than any team around that the real fun starts in October. You don't want to see them across the field any time that the stores are selling Halloween costumes.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.