SAN FRANCISCO -- For all that seemingly went wrong for the Giants over the season’s first quarter, they were 18-18 when a healthy Hunter Pence walked into the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on Saturday.
“We held the fort down,” manager Bruce Bochy said this week. “That’s what I told him we would try to do. Particularly with that (slow) start, it could have buried us, but we fought back.”
Bochy then pointed to past bumps in the road -- like the Melky Cabrera suspension in 2012 and the injuries to Matt Cain and Angel Pagan last season -- and noted that facing forward is “the character of this ballclub.”
Pence went down two games into spring training, robbing the Giants of their heartbeat and one of their two best hitters. Cain and Jake Peavy have combined for 7 2/3 innings. The Giants have one of the three veterans back and hope to put Cain and Peavy back in the rotation over the second quarter of the season.
[RELATED: MLB standings]
For now, we look back at all that went right and wrong through the first 41 games …
MVP: At this point, not only could you put Brandon Crawford on your MVP ballot, but you certainly should. And we’re not just talking about a Giants MVP ballot, either. Crawford ranks fifth in the National League in WAR (2.2) according to Baseball-Reference and eighth (1.7) per FanGraphs.
He has a .303/.391./515 slash line, 27 RBI, and has played his usual spectacular defense at one of the key positions on the field. At the moment, he’s an All-Star. And yes, an MVP candidate.
[RELATED: Brandon Crawford stats]
CY YOUNG: Madison Bumgarner is throwing harder than he ever has in the big leagues and is as dominant as ever. He’ll likely be an easy choice here the rest of the year, but after a quarter of the season we’ll give the slight nod to a guy with two actual Cy Young Awards. A season after being pulled from the rotation, Tim Lincecum is 4-2 with a 2.08 ERA. Some of the advanced stats aren’t as favorable, but for now, focus on this positive …
Lincecum’s earned runs allowed in his eight starts: 0, 3, 1, 4, 0, 0, 3, 0.
He’s a major part of why the Giants are where they are.
[RELATED: Tim Lincecum stats]
WHAT’S GONE RIGHT: Start with a starting staff that was full of question marks this spring but has put up a 3.59 ERA without Cain and Peavy -- the fourth-best mark in the league … Pagan has stayed healthy and on the field, batting .325 in 39 appearances … After a slow start during which his average dropped well below .100, Brandon Belt is hitting .305 with a .867 OPS … Matt Duffy and Justin Maxwell have added depth and versatility and plenty of big plays on both sides … Chris Heston has been a revelation, posting a 3.72 ERA in his first two months as a big league starter … Finally, the bullpen is as strong as ever, with George Kontos (1.23 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) keeping pace with the Core Four.
WHAT’S GONE WRONG: Casey McGehee is hitting .190 and has driven in just nine runs, four of them coming on one swing … The Giants haven’t gotten much out of their backup catchers, and carrying three catchers for a few weeks didn’t lead to many good moments … There’s been some shaky baserunning, and it certainly looked like it took awhile for the Giants to adjust to Life After Flannery … There was an eight-game losing streak that put the Giants in a hole they’re still trying to dig out of … Giants starters have given up 28 homers (and more than a handful of deep flies to the track), which certainly could be a much bigger issue as the weather heats up.
REASONS FOR ENCOURAGEMENT: This team is deeper than expected so Bochy should be able to mix and match more than he has in the past, giving more time off to guys like Pagan and Crawford, who have worn down in the past. The lineup is better than expected, too, with the Brandons turning into All-Star caliber hitters.
REASONS FOR CONCERN: Cain has had no setbacks during the rehab process, but a flexor strain on the heels of a bone-chip procedure is a big reason for concern. There remains no timetable for Cain’s return to the field. For all the injuries in the Giants clubhouse, the Dodgers have been hit considerably harder and they remain in first place. The industry expectation is that the Dodgers will eventually add another big name to a rotation that is without Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy for the rest of 2015, so life won’t get any easier for the Giants as summer comes.
SNAPSHOT MOMENT: A tip of the cap here to Duffy, who walked off the Marlins with a Mother’s Day single. It was the kind of game that shows why the Giants have won three titles in five years and remain in the hunt this season when most expected them to take a step back. They got a strong start that day and the lineup stuck with that never-say-die approach, scoring twice in the ninth off Marlins closer Steve Cishek.
STORYLINE TO WATCH IN THE SECOND QUARTER: At the moment, coming off six straight wins, there aren’t too many glaring holes on the roster. But Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Co. are always shopping, and they’ll use the next 40 games to figure out exactly what this team needs. The Giants like to add pitching when they can, and while the rotation has been strong, at least a couple of pitchers look headed for some serious regression. If Cain and Peavy can’t get -- and more importantly stay -- on the field, the Giants could once again find themselves looking for a starter. We’ll know for sure by the end of the season’s second quarter.