I text back and forth with my producers every afternoon to discuss topics for SportsTalk Live and our pre-game show, and in June the conversation always went something like this: "Which injury updates are we going to give?"
That was the story of June, over and over again. It started right off the bat, with Hunter Pence going on the DL on June 2. Kelby Tomlinson (June 9), Matt Cain (June 14), Matt Duffy (June 20) and Joe Panik (June 28) also went down. Angel Pagan missed half the month and Ehire Adrianza and Sergio Romo missed the whole thing.
And yet, this June recap is unlike the ones I have done in previous years. The Giants found a way to play as well as any team in baseball. Here's how it all went down ...
1. June Boon: The Giants went 12-14 last June and 10-16 in June of 2014 as they blew an eight-game lead. In 2013, it was 10-17. It has been a trend for this group: A June Swoon, as Bruce Bochy so often calls it, that derails a division lead or entire season. When Pence was sidelined to start this June, it was easy to slide right into “here we go again” mode, but a funny thing happened. The Giants proved to be deeper than expected, with a rotation that keeps them in almost every game and a lineup that has a knack for coming through in big spots (they had two walk-off wins in the month). They scored 145 runs in June, good for fourth in the NL, and ranked fifth with a 3.72 ERA. Throw in an excellent defense and you have the balance for a 17-10 month. More importantly, the lead in the NL West was pushed up to six games by the end of the month.
2. Personal Swoons: Not all of the Giants escaped June’s grip, and when you throw in the first week of July we certainly have a better understanding of what the biggest issue is going forward. Only three of the current relievers posted an ERA under 4.00 in June, with Santiago Casilla (7 ER in 10 innings), Javier Lopez (4 walks in 4 1/3) and Josh Osich (1.95 WHIP) having months they’d like to leave behind. Then there was Jeff Samardzija, a huge positive the first two months. He had a 6.83 ERA in five June starts and allowed a league-leading nine homers. When Samardzija gave up an AL-high 29 homers last year, he never was hit for nine in one month.
3. Doubling Up: Brandon Belt once jokingly (I think) claimed that he would break Pagan’s San Francisco Giants triples record. He might end up with another mark. Belt had 13 doubles in June, the most in a month by any player this season. Belt, who gets AT&T’d out of a dozen homers a years, leads the Majors with 27 doubles, putting him on pace for 50. Jeff Kent’s franchise record is 49. Game on.
4. The Replacements: After an offseason spending spree added two starters and a center fielder, GM Bobby Evans was asked if he was concerned about infield depth. Evans noted that the Giants might find a guy or two on the non-roster invitee list, but ultimately the Giants stuck with two young guys already in-house: Tomlinson and Adrianza.
Well, the veteran signings finally came through — and the timing was perfect. Ramiro Peña came out of nowhere to bat .400 in 35 June at-bats with six RBI. Conor Gillaspie hit .311 in 20 appearances and drove in eight runs. Grant Green has helped in July and Albert Suarez provided six solid starts in place of Cain.
You can throw in two rookies, too: Jarrett Parker posted a .296/.433/.481 slash line in June and combined with Mac Williamson to give the Pence-less Giants five homers, 10 RBI, 13 runs and pretty strong defense.
5. Play of the Month: Speaking of defense, Brandon Crawford reclaims his familiar Play of the Month spot. I don’t know if there’s another current shortstop who even tries to make this play.
6. Bumgarner’s Blast: For much of June, it actually seemed like Madison Bumgarner might be allowed to participate in the Home Run Derby. While the Player’s Association got involved in the nixing, I really think the idea became unrealistic the second other pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Adam Wainwright and Jose Fernandez asked in. Nobody was pushing for a pitchers-only derby, and Bumgarner wanted to face actual position players.
It won’t happen, but June — like so many months over the past three years — did include a Bumgarner homer. Bumgarner’s bomb in Atlanta was hit 109.4 mph, and per MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, he now has the two hardest-hit pitcher homers of the Statcast era. The homer he hit off Jeff Locke last August in Pittsburgh left the bat at 111 mph. Then there was this, from Elias: Bumgarner has three games with a homer at the plate and at least 10 strikeouts on the mound, the second most in the divisional era to Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton (five times).
7. All-Brandons Update: A couple of years ago, during the Brandon Hicks Era, I wrote a piece about how the Giants infield had three of the 20 Brandons who had ever been position players in MLB. Since then, a few Brandons have been added to the record books (welcome, Brandons Drury and Nimmo) and Crawford and Belt have continued to develop. They both had big a big month, so now is a good time for a Brandons Leaderboard update:
Most Hits by a Brandon:
1. Phillips – 1,782
2. Inge – 1,166
3. Moss – 630
4. Crawford – 602
5. Belt – 581
1. Phillips – 169
2. Inge – 152
3. Moss – 127
4. Belt – 73
5. Crawford – 55
Career WAR (Belt and Crawford were 4th and 7th, respectively, last time I did this):
1. Webb – 33.3
2. Phillips – 24.5
3. Inge – 19.1
4. Crawford – 17.2
5. Belt – 15.3
8. Quotes of the Month: “I mean, they had me ride a horse on the field, so if they trust me with something like that with 40-some-thousand people going crazy and I can’t do baseball activities, that’s a little bit different." -- Bumgarner, on the perception that he could get hurt in a HR Derby.
"I like the phrase, 'Be a fountain,' and lift these guys up and at the same time do the work to get back. The good news is there's going to be a lot of the season when I get back. That's exciting.” — Pence’s reaction to having hamstring surgery. He’s one of a kind.
"He would have had to put it in a pretty good place.” — Duffy, when told that Posey tried to bunt for a hit.
“I felt he may have lost a little bit of confidence in me. I just wanted to go to him and say that I want to be that guy who you want to come up in big spots for the team. 'Don’t lose confidence in me. I know I haven’t gotten the job done. But I’m going to fight for you.'” — Williamson, explaining why he went into Bochy’s office for a meeting the day before he homered off David Price.
“That one had to take a timeout.” — Posey, on why he angrily tossed a bat toward the dugout after an out.
“Once we let the lead slip away we didn’t back down. We were ready for it. To do it against their big guy, their closer, it was that much better.” — Panik, on a walk-off hit off Kenley Jansen.
“Belt is going to hit a homer tonight. He had his home-run swing in there.” — BP pitcher Chad Chop, as he walked out of the cage before a June 12 game. Belt homered off Julio Urias two hours later.
“It was appropriate having this type of game, a tortuous game-” — Bochy, after the Giants got a walk-off to give him 800 wins with the Giants.
“He earned this. He’s a pretty good hitter and he’s facing a lefty. It really wasn’t a tough call. This wasn’t done to have fun or make a joke of it. He’s a pretty good hitter.” — Bochy, on letting Bumgarner become the first pitcher in 40 years to intentionally hit instead of the DH.
“That was definitely pretty special that we got a chance to do that. I’m glad I didn’t make him look stupid.” — Bumgarner, after his double that night.
“I would go with Belt. When they try coming inside on him, he’s got that kind of power.” — Panik, when I asked this spring about the next Splash Hit.
"I did it. I did it.” — Belt, with his arms raised, as he walked into the clubhouse following the 69th Splash Hit.
“I definitely wanted to be the one, absolutely. There’s not a person in here who didn’t want to be the one. I keep on thinking it’s going to be one those things where it’s going to be up there for like three days and then somebody is going to hit 70.” More from Belt. After more than a year without one Splash Hit, Denard Span put another one in the water five days later.
9. Social Media Highlights: Given that the Giants are tied for the lead in blown saves, you should probably bookmark this Grant Brisbee Vine for possible future use. And next time the Giants play the Cardinals, make sure you're following @BestFansStLouis, an account that makes fun of gems like this. And here's a reminder that the Crying Jordan can still be used in an important way.
But since we're not going to get a Bumgarner derby invite, we'll wrap it up with this one: Just watch this BP home run on a loop.
10. The Month That Will Be: The Giants headed to the off day with the best winning percentage in the Majors (.621), which came as a shock to a couple of players who were told about it after Wednesday’s win. “We passed the Cubs?” one said. Yes, they did. The immediate road ahead is pretty smooth, with the Diamondbacks coming into town this weekend and the second half kicking off in San Diego. A road trip that goes through Fenway and Yankee Stadium is a test and the Nationals come to town at the end of the month, but the schedule in July isn’t all that imposing.
The bigger deal this month will be the runway to the trade deadline, and if the first week of July has taught us anything, it’s that the Giants should be in on every relief pitcher made available. Will they get one? We’ll know by the time we do this again in August …