Insider's note: This is the second month of the “Month That Was,” and it should be significantly more enjoyable to read than April’s version. These guys were 9-13 when May began and sat 4 1/2 games out of first, but they rattled off five straight wins when the calendar turned and never looked back. By the end of May the Giants were 30-22 and right back in the West race (they even moved into first for a night). As always, here we’ll recap the players, stats, plays, quotes, etc. that mattered over 31 days of a month when we had fireworks during the ninth inning of a game and watched Steph Curry choose the Giants over the A’s, among other things. This is the “Month That Was, May.” Enjoy …
1. Homegrown Leaders: There are many ways to judge a team’s success over the course of a month, and here’s one simple, goofy one: The Giants had four infielders (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford) get nominated for National League Player of the Month. The fifth homegrown infielder, Matt Duffy, didn’t become a full-timer until late in the month but did enough to make the Rookie of the Month ballot. Three pitchers — Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Santiago Casilla — made the Pitcher of the Month ballot. None won, but you get the point. Add up all the contributions and you’ve got a team that won 70 percent of its games, won 21 games in a month for the first time since 1968 and outscored opponents by 40 runs in 30 games.
2. May Mashers: The Giants were literally better at everything in May than in April. Like, everything:
3. Embracing Average: Like the RBI and pitcher win, batting average is no longer “cool.” But don’t tell that to players, especially these Giants. This is a group that believes in getting your pitch and hitting it, and in May, pretty much the whole lineup did just that. There were 24 National League players who had a .300 average in May and five of them are in the Giants lineup. Crawford (.340) just edged Belt (.339), and they were followed by Posey (.323), Panik (.314) and Nori Aoki (.314). Duffy didn’t have quite enough plate appearances to quality for most standard leaderboards, but he hit .313 in May and Angel Pagan hit .275. After returning from injury, Hunter Pence hit .254.
Here you've got a TEAM that hit .291 in May, which beat runner-up Arizona by 19 points. For comparison’s sake, a .291 average would have ranked a player 11th in the National League last season.
The Giants also led the National League in May OBP (.348) and OPS (.787) and ranked second in slugging percentage (.439).
4. Belt Bash: Belt walked up to me in the dugout during a slump a couple years ago and jokingly asked what he could do to raise his BABIP. There was no need last month, as Belt BABIP’d .417 while posting a .339/.405/.670 slash line. There was nothing fluky or lucky about that, either, as Belt had a 36.7% line drive rate (his career average is 23.6%), second in the Majors last month to Matt Carpenter. According to the excellent Baseball Savant website, Belt’s average exit velocity through the end of May was 92.86 mph, which put him 13th in the majors.
In simple terms, Belt is hitting the ball hard. Really hard. That contact led to seven homers, 13 doubles and one triple in May after Belt hit just two doubles, no homers and no triples in April.
5. Pedroia 2.0? Credit Liam Connolly of Giants PR for pointing out that Elias recently compared Panik at age 24 to Dustin Pedroia at 24. When you dig deeper, it actually gets really interesting. Panik had played 122 career games through the end of May and had a .303/.355/.401 slash line with five homers, 21 doubles, 56 runs and 39 RBI. Pedroia through his first 122 career games: .294/.367/.409, with six homers, 27 doubles, 50 runs and 40 RBI.
6. Duffy vs. Sandoval: We’re going to cheat a bit and stretch this one into June, since Duffy wasn’t a full-time guy until Casey McGehee got optioned late in May. The comparison, though Sunday’s games …
Duffy this year: .282/.235/.416, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 0.9 WAR
Sandoval this year: .244/.310/.356, 5 HR, 17 RBI, negative 0.2 WAR
Duffy’s 2015 pace: .741 OPS, 11 HR, 70 RBI
Sandoval for Giants last year: .739, 16 HR, 73 RBI
Keep in mind that Duffy is a rookie making the league minimum. Sandoval is in the first year of a five-year, $95 million deal. If this keeps up, that swap alone would allow the Giants to bring an extra No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher in this offseason.
7. Back to VogelStrong: To write this post, I go through every story I write the previous month and pull out the highlights. On May 2, I included this note at the end of a Giants story: “Important beard update: Ryan Vogelsong shaved his Brian Wilson beard.” Hey, maybe it really was important.
8. They’re Going Streaking: The Giants had eight shutouts during one stretch of 12 home games, with Tim Lincecum leading the way and starting three of those games. Every member of the starting staff was part of the streak as the Giants became the first National League team since 1916 to have eight shutouts at home in one calendar month. The peak was a three-game shutout of the Dodgers, and the Giants stretched that one into a 34-inning shutout streak that was the sixth-longest in franchise history.
Finally, this, from ESPN’s Jayson Stark: “The Giants have also thrown back-to-back-to-back shutouts twice this month. And you know how many teams in the past 100 years have had two different streaks of at least three straight shutouts in the same calendar month? Precisely one. That would be those '69 Mets again.”
9. Play of the Month: From Crawford, of course.
10. Quotes of the Month:
“I figured after you give up four homers in a game, it’s probably time for it to go.” — Vogelsong, who shaved his thick beard after a brutal start in Los Angeles.
“Nori hit a homer ... OK. For me to hit a homer ... OK. But for us to hit them back-to-back like that? I don’t think the oddsmakers set good odds on that.” — Panik, when he followed Aoki’s leadoff homer with a second solo blast.
"I called Augie -- it's been a tough go there for him. There are some talented kids there. They'll come out of it. We've all been through it, and more than anything you just stay behind your guys. Augie and I talked for a while. He'll be the rock there and he'll be the guy keeping them together.” — Bruce Bochy on May 3 as Jose Alguacil and Double-A Richmond suffered through a 14-game losing streak. They got back to .500 on June 5.
“I feel like I’m getting into a rhythm.” — Belt on May 5. (Yeah he was.)
"I'd hit .400 against righties, too, and be Ted Williams.” — Crawford, saying he wished he knew what his secret was against lefties so he could use it against righties.
"Oh man, wear it! I'm going to wear it everywhere. It's going to be tough to take that thing off. That little piece of jewelry means a lot to me.” — Michael Morse, when asked what he would do with his ring. No joke, Morse was put on the DL in late May with a sprained ring finger.
“I get asked 'how hard.’A difficulty rating is extremely impossible for me to do. I just give my best every day.” — Pence, when asked if the rehab was harder than expected.
“That was the Timmy I remember having nightmares about when you would see his name come up in the rotation.” — McGehee, after a strong Lincecum start.
“Ichiro is hitting third for the Marlins. Two power hitters up there today.” — Panik, when he was put in the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
“It’s going to mom. Especially on Mother’s day, to do that is pretty cool. You do it for mom — that’s pretty cool.” — Duffy, on the pink bat he used for a walk-off hit.
“Joe was like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry … I was the one punching you in the ribs. Honestly, I didn’t feel a thing.” — Duffy, after that walk-off celebration.
“I was joking with Joaquin, like, 'Man, you didn’t see how hard I hit that ball?'” — Gregor Blanco, on Joaquin Arias getting deked by Ichiro.
“Today the mound got the better of me, and that’s my fault.” — Lincecum, after he slipped a couple times in a rough loss to the Reds.
“It’s nice to have worked our way back up to the top of the division. Obviously the Dodgers are a great club and have a lot of talent, but we feel like we’re a team that can beat anybody on any given night.” — Tim Hudson, the night the Giants moved back into first.
“I’ve never been accused of not being able to sleep.” — Belt, when asked after a breakthrough game if he would sleep better.
11. Quotes of the Month, Part II:
"He came out of the barn with his heels clicking.” — Bochy, on the return of Pence.
“He hit it good. Every park in the Major League Baseball that’s probably a homer, except this one. That’s why I came here.” — Hudson, on a ball Adrian Gonzalez hit 410 feet only to watch Pence catch it.
"He's probably wondering, geez ... he doesn't get to start until Kershaw? He'd probably like an easier matchup, but he just stays ready and waits for Kershaw to pitch.” — Bochy on Arias, who starts against the MVP and few others.
“We kind of kid around with the pitchers sometimes that if you want to win the game, throw a shutout and hit a homer. He was trying to do that.” — Bochy on Bumgarner, after his win over Kershaw and the Dodgers.
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball. To be able to do that and run into one, it’s pretty special. You know runs are going to be at a premium.” — Bumgarner, on his homer off Kershaw.
"I mean, I'd like to think they're both wrong. I’ll take the higher number. I keep on thinking, if the stands weren't there …" — Belt, after ESPN said his homer at Coors went 437 feet and MLB put it at 475.
"That's all I got. You’re probably not going to see one harder than that. That's probably off the wall in San Fran, though.” — Belt, on that homer that went to the third deck in Denver.
“It's awesome. You think you're heading out and then they put a couple more on the scoreboard.” — Chris Heston, on an offense that keeps scoring with two outs.
“I’m pretty sure yesterday wasn’t the last baseball game I played in. I still feel like I’ve got a lot left, a lot to offer. I still feel I’m the same guy who was (fourth) in the league in hits last year.” — McGehee, minutes after he was taken off the roster.
“I beat his ass back there.” — McGehee, when asked about his message during a meeting with Duffy.
“I was surprised by the decision to designate him, but I guess I wasn’t surprised by the way he handled it because he’s been that way with me from the start. I feel like with another person, maybe it’d be easy to not point the finger but to have some kind of animosity.” — Duffy, on that meeting with McGehee.
“I’ve definitely had fun following them. It’s the most NBA I’ve watched since I was a kid and I was watching Jordan and all them. It’s been as fun for me to watch the Warriors as it was during those Jordan-Pippen Bulls days.” — Posey, on the Warriors.
“I asked him how the Bulls were doing. He didn’t say a whole lot.” — Crawford, on his message to Chicago’s George Kontos as he announced a Warriors score.
"Clutch hitting is a thing that's hard to measure. But he certainly has it.” — Bochy on Crawford, the RBI leader among shortstops.
"I love RBIs.” — Crawford.
"What makes him so great and special is that you never, ever, ever catch Miguel off-guard. Once he steps up in the box, he's ready to hit. I don't know how he does it. There are situations where you find out if they want to pitch to you. You see a pitch or two. He's always ready to hit. You throw a pitch on the plate, he'll do damage.” — Victor Martinez, in a story Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wrote about Miguel Cabrera. So, uhh, Sergio Romo says hello.
12. Belt Bash II: Belt had a run where he totaled three hits and a homer in three straight games, which came after 30 games without a homer to open the season. The last player to record a home run in three straight immediately after a season-opening homer-less streak of at least 30 games? Also Brandon Belt! He did it in 2012, too, after opening the year with 48 straight without a homer. Only one other player (Gabe Kapler in 2009) has pulled that off in the last 10 years and Belt has done it twice.
He joined another small club with that torrid streak. Barry Bonds was the only previous Giant to have a three-game streak with three hits and a homer in each game. Bonds did it from May 23-25, 2000 against the Expos.
13. Prank of the Month: Last month we had the first Turkey Tap of the month, an award Matt Cain has already wrapped up for June. Cain also gave us our first ever, well, I don't know what we'll call this exactly. I mean, kids might read this. But it sure was entertaining when he went deep with Morse. Here's another angle. Matt Cain, ladies and gentlemen.
14. Madison Loves May: Bumgarner was 4-1 with a 2.61 ERA this May after going 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA last May. He’s 9-1 in May over the last two years while no other MLB pitcher has more than seven May wins. Bumgarner also homered last month, with his shot off Kershaw traveling 391 feet and coming off the bat at 101.1 mph, according to ESPN’s home run tracker. Madison does well in May. (He does well in October, too.)
15. GIF of the Month: The nominees first, starting with Lou Seal enjoying May as much as anybody. And a tip of the cap to Belt for his bat-drop skills. You can add this one to your Bochy Reaction Files and keep this GIF handy when watching that excellent Duffy clip that's floating around (sometimes you have to be ready with the block).
The winner, though, is Romo, hitting 'em with the Mutombo Finger Wag.
16. The Month That Will Be: Some pretty good tests for the lineup are coming up. The Giants are currently scheduled to face Felix Hernandez, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard over the next eight games, but the rest of the June schedule isn’t too bad. After flying home from New York on Thursday night, the Giants stay on the West Coast until a June 30 game in Miami and they play 11 of 15 games at home following this Mets series. The biggest developments over the next 22 days will come in the rotation. Will Jake Peavy get through his rehab assignment? Will Cain return to the rotation? Does Heston get sent down? Does Vogelsong go back to the bullpen? We’ll have all those answers by the end of June.