The San Francisco Giants are building sizable distance from inter-division opponents in the ultra-competitive NL West, and don’t appear vulnerable to a mid-summer collapse. San Francisco is a proven winner in early MLB action, recording a 26-5 record when scoring first. They most recently took advantage of the run-scoring challenged Chicago Cubs, who failed to plate a single run in the final 20 innings of the three-game series.
Erratic right-handed hurler Tim Lincecum was at his best on Wednesday afternoon, disallowing the Cubs from registering a hit while striking out five batters in five innings of scoreless work. As usual, the two-time Cy Young Award winner revved up his pitch count in the early innings, which ultimately prevented him from having a legitimate chance of tossing his second career no-hitter. Lincecum was pulled after throwing 96 pitches.
The Giants’ pitching staff has flown under-the-radar as one of the best units in baseball. They began the day with the third best team-wide ERA (3.09), and showcased why they’ve been able to mount substantial success through the first third of the season against Chicago. San Francisco’s bullpen is perhaps the best in the league, recording 13 wins to lead all of baseball. They’ve been extremely tough to hit, posting a 2.37 ERA with a highly efficient .220 batting average against.
As a team, the Giants have emerged as one of the toughest opponents in the league. They own the best record in baseball (34-19), largely because of consistency from their bullpen. On Wednesday, Giants relievers chewed up four innings, allowing two hits and a walk. In the wake of lights-out setup man Santiago Casilla suffering a right hamstring strain that landed him on the disabled list, manager Bruce Bochy has employed a committee approach, a strategy that hasn’t failed to this point.
Left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt surrendered the Cubs’ first hit of the game with one out in the seventh inning, ending the Giants’ combined no-hit bid. Though the Giants’ bullpen couldn’t cap what would have been the first combined no-hitter in franchise history, they executed at a high level. San Francisco’s lineup supplied its staff with plenty of run support, slapping five runs on the scoreboard between the sixth and seventh innings. Pablo Sandoval continued his surge, driving in a run for an eighth consecutive contest.
The Giants’ top-rated pitching staff has catapulted the team into position to claim an early stranglehold on the NL West, a division that had been anointed to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Spring Training. San Francisco is currently clicking on all cylinders, despite key injuries to a few important pieces. As the Giants prepare for a challenging six-game road trip against top-tier NL Central opponents, they’ve already proven themselves as a legitimate contender.