Insider's note: The Giants knew this stretch was coming, and it ended up being as advertised. August was brutal, there’s no way around it. The Giants got swept in Chicago at the end of a three-city trip. They went 2-5 during the season’s toughest trip, to St. Louis and Pittsburgh. They lost a series to the Cardinals at home and ended up 10-16 during the stretch of 26 consecutive games against contenders. But you know what? August won’t be the defining month of this season. The Giants were 1 1/2 out on August 1 and they were just 3 1/2 games behind the Dodgers when they started a series in Los Angeles on August 31. The beginning of September has been the real killer, and in retrospect this team probably should have made up more ground against some easier foes in July. That can be saved for a real postmortem next month. For now, as we do every month, we look back at the people, stats, facts, GIFs etc. that mattered in the previous month. This is The Month That Was, August.
1. The Month That Was: The Giants actually outscored their opponents in August. Seriously. They outscored opponents 124-114 ... but they dropped six one-run games and lost four more by two runs. They were so close on so many nights, and that’s why the run of injuries was such a killer. Here are some of their key hitters in August:
Joe Panik: Missed 28 of 29 games (back)
Angel Pagan: Missed 22 games (knees)
Hunter Pence: Missed 13 games (oblique)
Nori Aoki: Missed eight games (concussion)
Brandon Crawford: Missed five games (oblique)
Now, in general, I try to downplay the “injuries cost them the season” angle, mostly because other teams have been hit hard and have overcome. I mean, go look at the Cardinals disabled list, or all the key Dodgers injuries throughout this season. It’s part of the game. When you’re just looking at August, though, there’s no doubt that the disabled list cost the Giants quite a bit. They were shorthanded all month, and when you throw in the fact that Brandon Belt was the only regular to stay healthy AND hit more than two homers, well, it’s pretty amazing that they even managed to win 13 games.
2. Postseason Bumgarner Returns: After one particular strong start by his ace, manager Bruce Bochy smiled and shook his head. “We call them horses. You can ride them,” he said of Madison Bumgarner. Want to know how the Giants nearly had a .500 month despite all the injuries listed above? The World Series MVP is Exhibit A. Here’s Madison’s month:
Pitching: 5-0, 37 2/3 innings, 1.43 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 53 strikeouts, 4 walks
Batting: 5 for 18, 2 homers, 2B, 4 RBI, 3 runs, a pinch-hit single
3. The Bumgarner: When Bumgarner homered in Pittsburgh, he was slugging .554, which would have ranked him third in the National League behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. That blast on August 21 made him the first pitcher since 2006 to hit five homers in a season, and the first Giant to do it since Hal Schumacher in 1934. The amazing thing, though, is that Bumgarner is no one-trick workhorse. Here are his pitching lines in his homer games this season:
May 21: 6 1/3 innings, 0 runs
June 28: 7 2/3 innings, 2 earned runs
July 25 7 innings, 1 earned run
August 16: 9 innings, 0 runs
August 21: 6 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs
Baseball Twitter keeps track of The Maddux, which is a shutout in fewer than 100 pitches. This season has taught us that we need to track The Bumgarner, too. I was going to go with quality start + a homer, but I think Madison would tell you that six innings is not a quality start in his book. So let’s go with these parameters: "7+ innings, 2 or fewer runs, hit a homer." Bumgarner, then, has completed The Bumgarner three times this year. His home-run starts were a little rougher last year, but he fulfilled the requirements in 2012 against the Astros when he homered for the first time and gave up one run over 7 2/3 innings. There you have it: Four Bumgarners for Bumgarner. This should be a thing. Let's make it a thing.
4. Meet Kelby: What was Mike Leake’s reaction to the start of the Kelby Tomlinson experience? "Where did he come from?" Leake said, smiling. Tomlinson, the spec-rocking middle infielder, came from the same land as Matt Duffy and Chris Heston, two other rookies who proved to be saviors over the course of the season. With Panik hurting, Tomlinson turned in a .328/.394/.469 slash line in August. HIs .863 OPS in August was second among Giants with at least 50 at-bats, and by the end of the month Bochy was talking about Tomlinson as a 2016 piece. He looks like a keeper, and the Giants haven’t even really let him show off his greatest asset yet; Tomlinson is the fastest player in the organization but he’s attempted just three stolen bases.
5. #Duffman Doesn’t Slow Down: The rookie just keeps piling up numbers, and you’d be hard pressed to find a Giant who has been more consistent since Duffy took over the third-base job in May. His batting averages since that point:
The power has been up and down, but the OBP has been between .341 and .359 each of the past four months. Here’s a fun question for 2016: Who leads the Giants in average — Duffy, Panik or Posey?
6. Play of the Month: This was easy. Juan Perez made a basket catch as he climbed a wall. This was easy.
7. Definitely Not the Play of the Month: Good job, good effort, Eury Perez!
8. Pitch of the Month: Dude. This wasn’t fair, Sergio.
9. Live Arms: Bochy is letting Hunter Strickland loose, and the results have been impressive. After pitching 10 times in June and 12 times in July, Strickland appeared in 14 of 29 August games, posting a 2.40 ERA across 15 innings. He allowed three homers — the only three he has given up this season, but otherwise gave up just five hits. Strickland often teamed with Josh Osich (three runs, eight strikeouts in nine August innings) to get the Giants through the middle innings, and as soon as next season those two should be locking games down late.
They also have given the bullpen a velocity boost. Giants relievers had an average fastball velocity of 91.5 last year; it’s up to 92.2 this year and should keep rising in future years as guys like Strickland (96.8 fastball average), Osich (95.4), Mike Broadway (95.2), Cody Hall, Derek Law, etc. get bigger roles.
10. Quotes of the Month: “He made a life decision.” — Duffy, on Skeeter’s weight loss.
"He's springy. Uplifting and upbeat. He just gets out there and goes. He's in attack mode.” — Pence’s first impression of Leake.
“Definitely. With the way things have been progressing and the way my throwing program has been going, I don’t see any reason why not.” — Tim Lincecum on August 1. He had a setback and ended up having surgery.
"I don't want to see that range.” — Bochy, when Panik’s back first acted up and a reporter pointed out that Hector Sanchez carries a middle infielder’s glove, just in case.
"I probably got a concussion from the concussion test.” — Aoki, after he was hit by a fastball and put through a day full of tests. He ended up having a concussion from the fastball.
“He definitely can sense the big moments, and tonight was a big game for us.” — Posey, after Bumgarner’s first huge start of the month.
“He looked at me like, ‘Why are you asking?’ That’s who he is.” — Bochy, on asking Bumgarner if he was OK to go out for the ninth.
“Tonight he put on a clinic. That’s exactly what you want out of your leadoff hitter. I don’t want to use the word perfect, but I’d say he was pretty close to perfect out of the leadoff spot.” — Duffy on Gregor Blanco after a big game in August.
“I’m not sure why that was so funny to me, but I thought it was hilarious. I got the giggles. I kinda felt like a ballerina out there. I felt like I looked so stupid out there.” — Belt, on a “leaping” catch.
"I think he's a mudder.” — Bochy, when asked if he would put Belt in the outfield during a rainy game in St. Louis.
"I don't know if I'll ever be okay with (a pitcher pinch-hitting for me), but if you ever have one hit for you, he's got to be the one. You’ve got to swallow your pride.” — Ryan Vogelsong on Bumgarner’s pinch-hit appearance.
"Now we've got to hear from him for a few days. He was saying how easy that was.” — Bochy after Bumgarner’s pinch-hit single.
"He's a legit hitter. He’s not a pitcher I think you hit eighth. He could hit seventh.” — Bochy on Bumgarner.
"He'll have his spikes on. I’ll be honest, it's nice having a pitcher you have confidence pinch-hitting with.” — Bochy, a day after the pinch-hit appearance.
"He's got more home runs than who I had on the bench.” — Bochy, when Bumgarner pinch-hit against Trevor Rosenthal with two outs in the ninth and the Giants down a run.
"He came into the office after the game and he felt like he lost the game. I said, 'You're kidding me, right?' That's his makeup.” — Bochy, on Bumgarner-Rosenthal.
11. Quotes of the Month, Part II: “He’s a Matt Duffy-ish type player.” — Jake Peavy on Tomlinson.
"He's a warrior. This guy will give you all he has, and that's all you can ask. He's well-prepared and he has a great focus. That was a long first inning and that's kind of been his niche, but he responded.” — Bochy, after Vogelsong had a nice start in St. Louis.
"I was setting them up for him.” — Tim Hudson, after Class-A right-hander Chase Johnson followed Hudson in his rehab start and struck out 14.
"I didn't know somebody was even close to him, to be honest.” — Bochy, when told that Bumgarner had been named National League Player of the Week.
“Well … he started tonight.” — Bochy, when a St. Louis reporter asked him the difference between Michael Wacha’s August start and his October relief appearance that led to the walk-off.
"I can't believe he hurt his oblique with that smooth swing.” — Bochy, a day after Pence got hurt.
"All of a sudden he just climbed the wall." — Matt Cain, on the Perez catch.
“He’s amazing with how he can change himself to playoff mode. He seems like he’s getting stronger.” — Blanco, during Bumgarner’s red-hot month.
“I’ve watched one part a time or two. Or a hundred.” — Crawford, when asked if he’s watched the wild-card game.
"Oh my gosh. That homer he hit was loud. I've seen it all year (on TV). It's nice to see it up close. He can swing it. It's like having nine hitters up there when he's pitching.” — Marlon Byrd, after Bumgarner’s homer in Pittsburgh.
“I was a little nervous. I just play, but if I say I didn’t think about it, I’d be lying.” — Michael Morse, on his brief time on the other side of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
“He tried to sneak a piece of cheese by me and I turned on it.” — Javier Lopez, describing his lone big league hit in my story about relief pitcher at-bats.
“I feel like they’re all equally bad.” — Bumgarner, when I asked him to rank the relief pitcher swings.
“We’ve got some grinders and that’s what I like. And I feel like that’s what the organization likes. It certainly pays off at this level.” — Bumgarner, on the Duffy-Tomlinson generation of Giants.
“It was awesome. I was smiling so big for him. That standing ovation gave me chills.” — Duffy, on Tomlinson’s grand slam.
"I was like, man, I don't usually do that. Now it's embarrassing. Yeah, jeez ... I usually don't like to do anything like that. Yeah, jeez, man ... I didn't know it was going to look like that.” — Tomlinson, after he watched his bat flip.
“He loves dog food. We’ve had to put the dog food in the pantry because he likes to grab it and eat it. When he found out where we’d put it, he went right to it, so we always have to make sure the pantry door is closed tight. He’ll take a big handful and try to shove it in his mouth, but so far we’ve always caught him. I tasted it to see what he’s so excited about. It’s really bland. But I think he just wants to chew on something. Other than the dog food, he’s awesome.” — Belt, writing about his son, Greyson, in his always-entertaining blog.
“He couldn't avoid (a strain). He would be the last guy to talk to right now.” — Crawford, when asked if he had talked to Pence about oblique strains.
"Bum was Bum today.” — Bochy, after Bumgarner’s final start of a 5-0 month.
"We're trying to win games. I don't want Buster to be playing third base.” — Duffy, on staying in the game despite a sprained ankle.
12. GIF of the Month Nominees: This category is just absolutely loaded this month. There were no turkey taps, but Belt had some fun after his leaping grab at first. Tomlinson's family had some fun, too; this was a pretty awesome moment. Duane Kuiper makes his first appearance in the monthly recap, which is appropriate since last month was the one in which he learned that I only travel to Arlington. @natt0 does incredible work on Twitter, and this may be the masterpiece. Posey is good for a quality GIF or two every season, and here he is mocking Bumgarner. Even Cain, the Turkey Tap Champion, got into the act. Hell, last month was such a strong GIF month that I even briefly considered choosing a Tampa Bay Ray.
13. GIF of the Month: The winner, though, has to come from the #FullClubhouse video. Players enjoyed doing this, and those who were polled said Bochy and Jeremy Affeldt ended up being the stars. So here you go, your GIFs of the month: BFFs Bruce Bochy and Jeremy Affeldt.
14: The Month That Will Be: Well ... we've seen a lot of September. It's not going well. The Giants have dropped way too far back in the West, and they'll pretty much need to run the table here to make sure that Dodgers series means anything at all. The good news? The schedule gets pretty easy, with the Padres, Reds and Diamondbacks coming to town, followed by a "trip" to San Diego and Oakland. The bad news? We could see two or three key bats shut down in the coming days. It'll be an up and down stretch here, but at the very least we should get one more Hudson start in Oakland and a few more weeks to watch guys like Duffy, Tomlinson, Strickland, Osich, etc. continue to break through. Enjoy the final stretch, everyone. And check back here in a few weeks for another recap.