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Richard Justice

On top of NL, Giants are back where they belong

On top of NL, Giants are back where they belong

The San Francisco Giants have the best record in the National League, and that really doesn't mean much except for a couple of things.

First, they're the Giants.

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When they're rolling, everyone pays attention. Attempting to win the World Series a third time in five seasons does that.

At the moment, the Giants are rolling entering Saturday's action. Best bullpen in the game with a minuscule 1.75 ERA. Nice offense, too, third in the NL in runs. Only the Rockies and Marlins have scored more. Only Colorado has hit more home runs.

This is a new way of doing business. When San Francisco won the World Series two years ago, the team finished dead last in the NL in home runs.

These boys have some fight in them, too. The Giants have come from behind nine times to win and have won 15 games decided by two runs or fewer, most in the Majors. They're 14-4 against teams with winning records, including 6-2 against the Dodgers.

But if you press the Giants on the thing they're really happy about, it would be the starting pitching. That's the thing they weren't sure about on Opening Day.

So far, so good. This month, the Giants' rotation has a 3.04 ERA. Only the Padres and Reds have been better.

If the Giants start rolling out quality starts the way they did in in the 2010 and '12 championship seasons, they're going to be tough to stop.

Two of San Francisco's starting pitchers, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, have been outstanding. Matt Cain has pitched well in three of his five starts. Ryan Vogelsong has allowed two earned runs in his last three starts.

Vogelsong's ability to bounce back from a bad season is critical to whatever the Giants do this season, and these last three starts are indications that general manager Brian Sabean did the right thing in trusting him to do just that.

As for Tim Lincecum, his reinvention remains a work in progress. He has had some nice moments.

For instance, Lincecum was as solid as ever in allowing the Braves one run in six innings. Two weeks before that, he'd turned in five solid innings against the Dodgers.

But there have been some tough times, too. Lincecum has two quality starts in seven turns and an ERA that hasn't been under 5.00 a single day this season.

Whether this is the new normal for Lincecum remains to be seen. Given Lincecum's history and how well San Francisco plays every other part of the game, he's likely to get every opportunity to figure things out.

That's true of third baseman Pablo Sandoval. That the Giants are third in the NL in runs with Sandoval hitting .171 is the single most surprising thing about this season.

But contributions have come from almost every corner of the clubhouse. Catcher Buster Posey has been MVP solid as usual, and left fielder Michael Morse has been a tremendous addition with eight home runs. First baseman Brandon Belt has nine home runs, and new second baseman Brandon Hicks has six.

There are tests coming. Belt will be sidelined indefinitely after sustaining a broken thumb Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Manager Bruce Bochy has some interesting options -- Joaquin Arias, Posey, Adam Duvall -- but Belt, who'd emerged as a complete player in his third full season, will be missed.

All in all, though, the Giants are in a good place, and baseball is better when they're in the middle of things.

This was a season when it was easy to doubt that they were capable of another playoff run. But baseball people never overlook them.

They've simply won too much in recent years, shown too much toughness and resilience. There's also talent -- Posey and Hunter Pence and Bumgarner and Hudson, etc.

In Bochy, they have one of the three or four best managers in the game, and in Sabean, they have one of the game's most aggressive and successful general managers.

So despite the doubts about the pitching staff, it might just turn out to be another baseball summer in San Francisco. Isn't that usually the case?

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.

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