Giants need more help from first-half heroes

The San Francisco Giants have been way up and way down this season. In early June, they built a 9-1/2 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. Now they’re neck-and-neck with their division rivals.

From no-hitters to bullpen collapses to glorious grand slams, the Giants have seen just about everything through 96 games.

First-half Giants MVP: Hunter Pence

It’s no surprise Hunter Pence was elected to the All-Star team this season. The 31-year-old rightfielder has turned out a Cal Ripken-esque first half with the Giants. Pence played 855 of the 860 first-half defensive innings for the Giants while posting a solid .297/.355/.465 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage).

Pence is third in the NL in hits, second in runs scored and his 318 consecutive played games is the longest active streak in the majors.

He’s found a majority of his success with the Giants batting in the two-hole this season, but took over leadoff duties after Angel Pagan went down and has hit .293 (12-for-41) with a .341 OBP in that spot.

Pence has made his share of great plays in the outfield this season and continues to prove invaluable for a club trying to reclaim dominance in the NL West.

First-half Giants Cy Young: Tim Hudson

Tim Hudson took over Madison Bumgarner’s spot on the All-Star pitching staff. While Bumgarner has had an dominant first-half, Hudson (7-6) has been able to thwart Father Time and lead the starting rotation in ERA (2.87), WHIP (1.10) and K/BB ratio (4.11).

His 180 ground ball outs shows why he’s given up the fewest home runs among Giants starters.

Time will tell if the 38-year-old can hold up for a whole season. At this point, he’s far surpassed the expectations on him when he was brougth over from Atlanta.

Best Moments: Tim Lincecum‘s no-no and the first ever battery slam

On June 25, just 10 days after his 30th birthday, Tim Lincecum threw the second no-hitter of his career in as many seasons. Both were against the San Diego Padres, and this year, fans at AT&T got to witness.

He tossed 113 pitches with six strikeouts and a walk in the game. He completed both feats in less than a year and became the first Giants pitcher to hurl two no-nos since Christy Mathewson did it in the New York-era in 1901 and 1905.

Lincecum joined a super-exclusive group — with just Lincecum and Sandy Koufax — as the only pitchers to win two World Series titles, two Cy Young Awards and throw two no-hitters.

As if Lincecum’s act wasn’t enough, The Giants made history again with a pitcher and catcher hitting a grand slam in the same game for the first time in baseball history.

Buster Posey and Bumgarner accomplished the milestone in back-to-back innings to give the Giants life going into the All-Star break.

Worst Moments: Sergio Romo vs Colorado Rockies

Sergio Romo had just about as bad a series as you can have as a closer against the Rockies. On June 13, he allowed a career-high five runs in the ninth inning after entering the game with a 4-2 lead.

The next day, Romo (4-3, 4.86) came out and blew a 4-3 lead that mushroomed into a 5-4 loss after Brandon Barnes hit an unlikely inside-the-park home run into Triples Alley.

It was the first time Romo blew back-to-back saves in his career and his ERA ballooned from 3.00 to 5.08 by the end of the game.

On the other side, 41-year-old Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins saved all three games of the series.

Biggest Surprise: Jean Machi and Brandon Hicks

Before June 26’s game against the Reds, Jean Machi held a mind-boggling 0.29 ERA. It was a number manager Bruce Bochy called “unbelievable” earlier this year.

Machi (5-0) has a more down-to-Earth 1.60 ERA now, but  has still surprised with his bullpen performance, even notching two saves.

Brandon Hicks’ .162 average was well below the Mendoza Line before he was shipped to Triple-A Fresno to make room for Marco Scutaro. The eight home runs he hit in a 51-day span (April 3 to May 23) before that might have been the most unlikely contributions to the Giants this year.

Hicks was out of options before he was designated for assignment. We may not see him again with the return of Scutaro and the bench consisting of three other players capable of handling the position (Joe Panik, Ehire Adrianza and Joaquin Arias).

At any rate, his homers were something almost no one expected.

Biggest Disappointment: Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong‘s run support

Matt Cain has started 15 games for the Giants. He’s won two. While run support has been a factor in the win-loss column, Cain’s inconsistency and disabled-list stints have left many scratching their heads about his season.

Cain (2-7) has the highest ERA of anyone in the rotation (4.18) and has shown few Cain-like glimpses this season.

He’s been on the disabled list twice ranging from a bad hamstring to slicing his hand making a sandwich. He’ll come out of the break with 12 days rest as the Giants No. 5 starter.

Only my high school prom featured less scoring that Ryan Vogelsong’s starts this season. In Vogelsong’s last four starts, he has four losses and zero run support.

Vogelsong (5-7, 3.86 ERA) has started 19 games this season and more than half of those have been quality starts. After his latest outing, he said, “It’s kind of crazy that it keeps happening to me.

Looking Forward

With Scutaro back in the lineup, the Giants get a much needed lift at their least productive position. Giants second baseman are batting .179 (57-for-319). That mark ranks second to last in baseball in front of the Padres (.151). They are also tied for ninth in the league in errors with 60.

Bochy said Scutaro will not play everyday at second. It’s more likely he’ll play three or four times a week.

Speaking of injuries, there is still no timetable on Pagan, who has been on the disabled list since June 25, retroactive to June 14, with back inflammation. Pence continues to serve as the Giants leadoff hitter.

The Giants play the Dodgers nine more times this season. Six of those games are at AT&T Park.

The Padres are third in the NL West, 11 games behind the Giants.

Despite going 10-22 in their last 32 games, if the Giants can get and stay healthy, with consistent starting pitching and continued bullpen success, they have every chance of finishing atop the NL West.


Follow @SFBay and @Pacific_Theme on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco Giants.