SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Giants are a season-high 6.5 games back in the National League West and a season-low seven games under .500 at 40-47 entering Monday’s series opener against the New York Mets. Bruce Bochy isn’t relying on the ‘it’s a long season’ narrative anymore, either.
“You can’t keep saying that,” Bochy said. “At some point, you have to turn it around and get clicking as a club.”
The Giants have lost five of their last six games, 11 of their last 13 and 16 of their last 21. Bochy believes it’s his hitters that need to match his pitchers, a familiar complaint throughout the earlier part of the decade, but one that the 2013 Giants didn’t hear at the start of the season.
“Our pitching, which was our concern early, I think has stabilized now,” Bochy said. “With the offense, we just have to get going. Sure, you have to stay optimistic and go ‘Hey, we have a lot of time left.’ But there is a sense of urgency at some point where even though we’re not at the All-Star Break, you’ve got to play better.”
Considering their recent struggles, the Giants are fortunate to be just 6.5 games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. But if the Giants let that deficit continue to grow much more, they could find themselves playing meaningless baseball games in September.
Bochy knows that July wins mean just as much as September wins and that one game can determine a division. The 2010 World Champion Giants taught that lesson to the San Diego Padres when they seized the N.L. West crown in the last game of the regular season after trailing by 7.5 games on July 4.
“You don’t win it here, but you can lose it here,” Bochy said. “So it’s going to be important that we finish up these last few games before the break strong. The last thing we want to do is go into the break playing like we’re playing now and get too far behind. So I think these are critical games, this series and the next series.”
Bochy and the Giants will get their second shot at Mets phenom Matt Harvey, who allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings in his second career MLB start on July 31, 2012 at AT&T Park.
There’s a chance Harvey will get to start the All-Star Game in front of his hometown fans at Citi Field on July 16, but Bochy said Monday’s start against his Giants won’t be a big factor in his decision on who takes the mound first for the National League.
“I know which way I’m leaning and I’ll leave it at that,” Bochy said. “This kid’s had a special year and I know he’s from New York, so all that’s been discussed.”
Bochy hasn’t seen Harvey in person since last season, but said he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from afar.
“I think sometimes it’s just a matter of a young player getting settled in, whether it’s a position player or pitcher,” Bochy said. “This guy’s got tremendous stuff and sometimes it takes awhile to get that confidence, that sense of belonging, and he certainly has it now.”
For now, Bochy is concerned with Harvey the Met, not Harvey the All-Star. He said he can’t focus on the Midsummer Classic until after he’s guided the Giants through the next two series. When asked if he’s looking forward to a break from his struggling squad, Bochy made it clear that his responsibilities make it far from a vacation.
“Those are tough times, too,” Bochy said. “Actually, it’s an honor. But to be honest I’m thinking about this club right now. My time has to be spent here. Once we play that Sunday game, then all my thoughts will be in New York. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but again I can’t think about that until I’m done here.”
Bochy is experimenting with a lineup shuffle as he attempts to get the Giants back on track before the break. Brandon Belt might’ve needed to double-check the lineup card to confirm he’s batting in the No. 3 spot for the first time in his MLB career.
Before Monday’s game, Bochy explained his reasoning and offered a hint that the switch could be more than temporary if Belt responds well.
“Try to tweak it a little bit, change it up, see if we can do something to get this offense going,” Bochy said. “Brandon has a history of being a good on-base guy and it breaks up the order a little bit. It’s just a case where sometimes you break it up to break it up. That’s why he’s in the three-hole and we’ll take a look at it. We’re facing three right-handers and we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s been going well for Belt lately, as the Giants’ first baseman is 18-for-55 (.327) over his past 17 games. He’s already matched his career-high with nine home runs and is tied for third place in the N.L. with 19 RBI in the seventh inning or later.
Bochy also moved Pablo Sandoval, mired in a 3-for-42 (.071) slump, down to the No. 5 spot in his batting order for the seventh time this season. While Sandoval has gone a season-high 24 games without a home run and is hitting .160 over his last 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Bochy said he’s not considering any drastic moves with Sandoval.
“If you look at where we’re at right now, we have to let him play through it,” Bochy said. “He’s one of our guys and you have to stay behind him. That’s the only way we’re going to have a lot of success is have our guys do what we hope and expect them to do. And that’s the case with Pablo. He’ll come out of this.”
Sandoval went hitless in the series finale Sunday after collecting one hit in four at-bats in each of the first two games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I thought he swung the bat better last start,” Bochy said. “He missed some time there with the foot injury and he had two games of rehab there in Vegas. It probably was not enough, but he’s a good hitter.”
The Giants don’t have many options to spell Sandoval now that Joaquin Arias has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with appendicitis. Bochy said that Arias, who was carrying a .353 average in 51 at-bats since June 11, started feeling pain in his appendix Sunday night and had to have it removed.
“Tough news again for him … he swung the bat well yesterday,” Bochy said. “We have to get by without him for a couple weeks.”
The Giants recalled Nick Noonan from Triple-A Fresno to take Arias’ roster spot.
While Bochy isn’t on Twitter, he joined the #VotePence movement by making his own pitch for Hunter Pence to join him on the trip to New York.
“Hopefully he gets in,” Bochy said. “I know our fans are behind him. It’s going to be fun to have one of our guys on the group of five that get voted in. If you look at Hunter’s numbers, he deserves to go in, so it’s something he’s earned. I’m hopeful that he’ll make the club.”