DETROIT – The Giants are through the dog days and charging headlong into the pennant race, with an even 100 hits over their last seven games as they take the field against David Price and the Detroit Tigers Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Everyone might drag a bit today, though. Leaving the ballpark at 1 a.m. after a lengthy rain delay will have that effect.
Madison Bumgarner, though, was told to go back to the team hotel before Friday night’s game began. The Giants knew there was the likelihood for some weather interruptions. So at least the starting pitcher had a shot at eight solid.
The pregame discussion in Bruce Bochy’s office was free flowing, as it often is on the road before day games. It’s the best time to be a beat reporter. I’ll touch on a few topics here:
--Tim Lincecum got a nice jolt of confidence from his scoreless ninth inning in the Giants’ 8-2 victory Friday night. It was his second relief appearance since getting a timeout from the rotation, and his first clean one – although one of the three outs was caught at the warning track.
Lincecum has pitched in two blowouts. Is he edging toward a more meaningful role?
“Well, how players perform dictates where you use them,” Bochy said. “With Tim, he gets his confidence back, you can use him anywhere – including the rotation. Put him back in there at some point.”
--Buster Posey is doing more early-count swinging. That’s apparent from the data, but Bochy added to that by saying Posey’s hot streak might have been triggered when he stopped overanalyzing and trying to figure out what the pitcher would throw him.
Hitters always have a better average when putting the first pitch into play – it’s .331 among all NL players – but the advantage is especially distinct for Posey. He’s hitting .500 (25 for 50) with three homers and eight doubles.
You’ve always heard that hitters should try to work deep counts and get into favorable ones. But it seems more and more, pitchers aren’t content to throw that 3-1 cookie down the middle. They’re just as likely to backdoor a slider, especially to a dangerous hitter like Posey. And if you work a deep count, you’re more likely to get to two strikes – and obviously, that comes with its own unwavering set of disadvantages. The league average on any two-strike count is .175. Posey is hitting .212.
--Bochy decided to flip-flop Pablo Sandoval, who is the DH today, and Hunter Pence in the Nos. 4-5 spots. Pence runs better, and Sandoval is hitting just .210 from the right side. (He’s at .327 when batting left-handed.)
--Brandon Crawford is getting a break because he has a sore hip in addition to a shoulder that has been barking for some time. He was covered with icepacks Saturday morning, and it’s a quick turn from Friday night’s game. Plus Bochy said he doesn’t have any hesitation throwing Matt Duffy out there.
“Duffy’s done a pretty good job,” Bochy said. “With him, Susac, Arias … these guys are playing well. It makes it easier to give these (starters) a little break.”
--As for the Giants’ overall offensive outburst in the past week-plus, Bochy said, “I just think their confidence has gone up, and they’re not missing their pitch.”
Gregor Blanco, who is batting .394 in a nine-game hitting streak, made reference to that Friday night, saying, “I don’t feel any pressure right now.”
It’s a pennant race, so this is the time when you’d imagine the hitters should be feeling more pressure. But when you’re in an environment where everyone is hitting, like Friday night when all nine starters had a knock by the third inning, it makes you grip the bat a little looser.
The Giants haven’t had 100 hits in a seven-game span since the 2000 season, according to STATS Inc., and are batting .370 over that stretch. Bochy said it’s reminiscent of the way they hit in April and May, but I see a difference. Back then, they were hitting home runs at a completely unsustainable rate. That wasn’t the way their offense would continue to be successful given their personnel and especially given their home ballpark. Sure enough, when the home runs stopped, they couldn’t figure out a way to win at AT&T Park for 2 ½ months.
This offense the past week or two has included some home runs. But it hasn’t been dependent on the long ball. They’re stringing hits, getting doubles and triples, running the bases well and sustaining innings – all the things they did so well in 2012, when … well, you know.