DENVER – The Giants won’t just turn the calendar from June. They’ll tear out the page, put it through a shredder, douse it with their accelerant of choice, spill a little extra to be sure, and light a match.
They were 10-17 – their worst month since they went 8-16 in July, 2008. Angel Pagan had surgery that will keep him out till September. Middle relief was a gong show. The offense disappeared for long stretches, showed up confused and wandering the cereal aisle at Safeway in bath slippers, then disappeared again.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants avoid sweep with 5-2 win in Denver]
But something good happened in June. Besides the fact that they somehow, magically and deliciously, dropped just two games to the NL West leaders.
They got the front of their rotation back.
Matt Cain has a 1.82 ERA and .174 opponent’s average over his last five starts. Madison Bumgarner, after pitching the Giants to a streak-busting victory Sunday at Coors Field, has a 1.91 ERA and a .168 opponent’s average in his last five.
This is more than a good run from their top two pitchers. This is the lifeblood that sustains the team. This is how the Giants fit themselves for two World Series rings in three years – by riding their horses all the way to the flower garland.
Leave it to Guillermo Quiroz, soft-spoken backup to the backup catcher, to describe what he saw when catching Cain and Bumgarner the past two afternoons at Coors Field:
“They’re hitting spots. Every time they throw a pitch, they throw it with purpose and it’s where it needs to be.”
Everything has not been as it should for the Giants this season. Everyone can see it. Bruce Bochy’s roster doesn’t always fit the need. Depth is an issue. Barry Zito is turning every road venue into a low-gravity zone. The Giants’ next three starters at Cincinnati, Mike Kickham, Tim Lincecum and Zito, are 1-12 with a 7.58 ERA in 16 road starts.
Yes, 1-12. One road win between the three of them in 16 starts.
But if they couldn’t get the top of the rotation straightened out, what hope could be left for everything else?
When you’re not playing well and dealing with injuries, you end up having to play more must-win games. And right now, the Giants MUST win on Cain’s day. They MUST win on Bumgarner’s day. They MUST win at home, and they MUST take series against teams like the Marlins.
Well, oops on those last two. And you can understand why Bochy was so steamed when his club wasted Cain’s eight innings of brilliance in Saturday’s 2-1 loss.
But Bumgarner stepped up Sunday. Yet again, he was the stopper they needed. Of his eight victories, five have stopped or prevented losing streaks.
“I feel like you’ve got to think like that every time out, really, whether you’re winning or losing – especially today,” said Bumgarner, who mixed a terrific cutter and slider with a parachuting curve in seven innings. “I feel pretty good right now and Cain seems to be feeling good. Hopefully we can get it rolling here.”
It’s appropriate, really, that with 81 down and 81 to go, the Giants jet to Cincinnati. The last time they visited there, it was the ultimate gut check time – and that’s not a reference to the city’s famously caustic Skyline Chili.
You remember. They needed to win three elimination games. They needed to sweep a three-game series from a club that hadn’t been swept at home all year. They did it.
Hunter Pence speechified, Ryan Theriot made it rain sunflower seeds and the dugout turned into a high school pep rally.
When Bochy met with the team on Saturday, he told them he wanted to see more talking, more cheering, more encouragement and more life in the dugout. What better dugout than the visiting side at Great American Ball Park to rekindle that spirit?
That aside, the rotation can’t just be Bumgarner and Cain and pray for … well, you know.
“They know it’s going to take everybody for us to get where we need to go,” Bochy said. “Some of Z’s starts have been good. He’s pitched some big ones for us. Timmy, I like where he’s at. Early in the last game at LA, he was throwing very well with consistent command.
“We know we’ve got to pick it up. That was a June swoon. We’re fortunate and every team in the division can say that. That’s why this thing is bunched up. We’re fortunate to still be in this thing. It could’ve gotten away from us in June and that’s what you’ve got to remind yourself.”
It’s a new month and a new half. And by the end of July, there might be a new player or three.
Pass the sunflower seeds.