SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter last weekend at San Diego provided a rare first-half highlight for the stumbling San Francisco Giants. The coaching staff received a short reprieve from all the problems facing the club as the National League All-Star staff in New York.
Now, the defending World Series champions must get back to work in a hurry if they want to hang around in an NL West that is still wide open. The first-place Arizona Diamondbacks are in town for a three-game series starting Friday night to kick off the second half.
“We know where we’re at, and what has to happen in the second half, and that’s us getting more consistent in all facets of the game,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said as the Giants held a light workout Thursday evening. “This thing’s not going to happen right away as far as getting right back to where you want to be. It’s a gradual thing, and that happens by playing good baseball.”
At 50-45, Arizona leads the fourth-place Giants (43-51) by 6½ games — so this series will be important for both clubs. Arizona will look to separate, while San Francisco hopes to gain ground in a tight division. The Giants are struggling in every phase, with a daunting August schedule on the horizon.
First, there’s an important nine-game homestand, which includes a 10th game at AT&T Park on Tuesday in a doubleheader with Cincinnati in which the first game features the Reds as home team to make up a July 4 rainout.
Nobody is counting out the Giants at this stage.
“This is the team that’s won two out of the last three World Series. They’re still the king of the hill in this division,” D-backs infielder Cliff Pennington said. “You start here after the All-Star break kind of refreshed and ready to go. To play a good team right off the bat is what you want. Every division series is big. They’re the top dog in this division. You’ve got to knock them off the hill. Just being ahead of them after the first half doesn’t knock the team that won the World Series two out of the last three years out of it.”
Still, San Francisco has lost 14 of its last 20 games and is desperately seeking some momentum. Not to mention some good fortune.
“They seem eager to get back. That’s great news,” Bochy said. “I think it’s pretty simple, really: Early, our pitching wasn’t what it normally is, and we went through a month really not hitting, not putting runs on the board. That was our biggest issue. It got contagious and we had a hard time getting out of it. ... It’s going to be up to us to find a way to get some runs. We just got shut down too many times the last four or five weeks.”
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson expects the Giants to fight their way back into the race despite all the challenges, saying, “I don’t look at them as a fourth-place team.”
While center fielder Angel Pagan hit an inside-the-park home run May 25, he hasn’t played since and had surgery on his left hamstring that will sideline him perhaps for the rest of the year — though the Giants and Pagan remain optimistic it won’t be that long. It was a tough blow for the Giants after Pagan re-signed during the offseason for $40 million over four years.
“He feels he will be back before the season’s over,” Bochy said.
The Giants hope to get right-hander Ryan Vogelsong back sometime next month after he heads out on a rehab assignment, perhaps soon. The 2011 All-Star broke two bones in his right pinkie area and also dislocated a knuckle in the hand on a swing May 20 and underwent surgery the next day.
Vogelsong’s return would be a boost to a rotation that, aside from All-Star lefty Madison Bumgarner, has been far from steady.
Both Vogelsong and Pagan have been in Arizona working back from their injuries.
Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, tossed a 148-pitch gem against the Padres last Saturday at Petco Park for his first career no-hitter.
“I’m just glad I don’t see a cast on his arm,” Bochy said.
If Lincecum’s outing provides a positive entering the second half, Bochy will take it. He’ll take just about any advantage right now.
Yet plenty of teams would like nothing more than to take down the franchise that has won two of the past three World Series championships.
Gibson, for one. He is thinking big in mid-July, like October big.
“I don’t want a vacation. I want a short offseason,” he said, referring to a long postseason run. “That goes without saying.”
Notes: The Giants’ All-Stars, Bumgarner, Sergio Romo and Marco Scutaro, had the night off. So did Jeff Francoeur and Sandy Rosario, as both were waiting for the births of babies. ... Arizona RHP Ian Kennedy had his beard shaved off at a barber shop during the break. “I treated myself to an actual shave Monday,” he said. “It’s the first time in 26 months since my daughter, Nora, was born.” Why the new look? At 3-6, “I needed a change.”