So far, the 2014 San Francisco Giants have had a bit of a split personality.
It’s been, as Bruce Bochy put it, “A Tale of Two Teams.”
The season started out by exceeding everyone’s expectations. On June 8, the Giants sat 9.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. They held the best record in baseball at 42-21 and were a season-high 21 games over .500. In May they were tied with the San Diego Padres for fourth in the National League with 29 home runs. In April they were second with 32.
In those first two months (and one game in March) the Giants had 236 RBIs, 462 hits, and scored 243 runs. They led the league with two-out RBIs. The pitching also started the season strong, posting a 3.21 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in April. It was even more impressive in May, when the starters and relievers combined for a 2.91 ERA – the best in baseball – and a 1.17 WHIP, second to only the Oakland Athletics.
But then came one of the worst cases of June Swoon that I can remember. The pitching staff struggled, and their ERA skyrocketed to 4.31. The biggest cause for concern, however, was the offensive production when the entire line-up, save Buster Posey, seemed to slump at the same time.
“This offense, they hit a skid there,” Bochy said. “The break’s probably now coming at a good time, hopefully give some guys a break, and hopefully we get clicking here…it’s gonna be important that we do things offensively, get some guys on…we’ve just got to have a little better approach, better at-bats, just fight and claw our way to get some runs over the plate.”
It was an impressive skid. As a team, San Francisco hit .254, which only reached that high with the help of Posey’s .362 average. They dropped to 27th in runs (93) despite managing 225 hits, and 28th in home runs (14). July hasn’t been much better, at least so far. They’re hitting a measly .216 and are tied with the Padres for last in baseball in hits (91) and RBIs (34). The team has been shut out ten times this season, with five of those games coming in the last two weeks. They were blanked only 11 times in all of 2013. The Giants have had MLBs worst record over the last 32 games, going 10-22.
Posey knows that if the team wants to win, they’ll have to get back to the Giants brand of offense.
“Our game is being scrappy. That’s when we’ve had success here. We’re scrappy, we get guys on, then we come up with big hits. I think that’s what we did in ’10 and ’12, and hopefully that’s something we can do the rest of this year.”
And yet, despite the last six weeks, they sit just one game out of first place. After posting a 10-16 record in June, July has brought a near-.500 record (6-7). And on the final day before the All-Star break, they made history as they pounded the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4 behind grand slams from Posey and Madison Bumgarner. They became the first pitcher-catcher duo to both hit grand slams in a MLB game.
The victory gave them a series win, and they’ve now won two of their last three series after only taking three total series in all of June. The pitching was solid, the defense was spectacular, and the timely, two-out hitting was back. It was an almost-perfect game, and it was the perfect way to end the first half of the season. Bochy is hoping his team can carry that momentum over into the second half.
“I thought [that] game was critical. To take series, to go into the half on a good note so guys feel good about themselves. It’s gonna be a battle in the second half, but somehow we hung in there. And it’s gonna be important that, sure, we pick up our play, but this game here was important for the guys out there to go into the half having a good feeling.”
And even though there was a lot of bad to focus on from the first half, Posey knows it’s crucial to put that all behind them.
“I think the challenge for us is, we have to look at the overall record right now. We’re still in a good spot. As poorly as things have gone for us the past month, we’re still in a good spot. We’re going into the break…a game back…and we just have to go forward with these and have these last 70 games or so.”
In 2012, Posey put the team on his back in the second half, they all rose to the occasion in the postseason, and they brought home a second World Series in three years. It’s critical for them to stay healthy down the stretch, and the return of Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, and Brandon Belt will be huge for San Francisco. This season’s division race will be a fight to the finish. It’s time to see if the Giants are up to the challenge.