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SAN FRANCISCO — Just over a week ago, general manager Bobby Evans stood in the visiting dugout at Citi Field and spent 20 minutes discussing a team that looked dead in the water.
“The fans have a right to be upset — they’re not alone,” Evans said. “The players are upset. The front office is upset.”
What a difference a homestand can make.
The Giants won in thrilling fashion on their final day in New York and then came home and took five of seven from the Reds and Dodgers. They are still just 17-25 and far behind three teams in the National League West. But as players packed up Wednesday, they could at least take solace in the fact that they’re playing real baseball again. Whatever happened in Cincinnati appears to be out of their system.
“It’s a start, that’s what it is,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You can’t think you’re out of it. You’ve got to keep playing the way you have been playing.”
That style had clear markers over seven days at home. The Giants played their usual strong defense once Brandon Crawford returned Thursday, and they slightly increased their offensive production, with Buster Posey and Brandon Belt bringing some punch back to the lineup and Denard Span proving a game-changer at the top.
But more than anything, the Giants pitched well. Bochy leaned on his starters against the Reds and Dodgers and they didn’t let him down. Over seven games, the rotation threw 48 2/3 innings with a 2.77 ERA.
That’s actually in line with what the Giants did even when they were the worst team in the league. At home, the starters have a 2.82 ERA, third in the Majors. On the road it’s an unsightly 6.62, ranking 29th. Does Bochy believe the last week can carry over to Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field?
“Do close to what you’ve been doing here at home,” Bochy asked of his starters. “We’re not asking you to shut them out. That’s always nice. But give the team quality starts and stay away from the big innings.”
The Cardinals (21-17) and Cubs (21-19) are second and third in the NL Central, behind the surprising Brewers. While the Cubs rank sixth in the league in runs scored, the Cardinals have done it with pitching. Only the Dodgers have allowed fewer runs in the NL, and the Giants will see three big guns: Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright. Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta are waiting in Chicago.
Perhaps those big names are a blessing in disguise. The Giants have had no luck getting to rookies and journeymen, and names like Martinez and Lester and Arrieta will certainly grab your attention when you come to the yard. Bochy liked the focus he saw over the past week. He cautioned his team not to let that get away.
“You have to be careful about saying ‘We’ll be okay, there’s lots of time left.’ That’s not the thing that stops it,” he said. “What stops this is a sense of determination and attitude. Last year we were saying, ‘Hey we’re okay, we’re fine.’ We weren’t. You’ve got to go out and do something about it and that’s what I’m proud of with this (winning) run.”
The clubhouse felt that sense of determination, but if the attitude doesn’t make the trip to the Midwest, changes could be coming. When he spoke last week in New York, Evans insisted the Giants weren’t going into “sell mode,” but multiple sources indicated that the front office was indeed close. Brian Sabean changed his travel plans after the debacle in Cincinnati, and when he arrived at Citi Field, he was said to be close to “blowing it up.”
The homestand provided a reprieve but it won’t be permanent. If this road trip leads to a deeper hole, the Giants will again have to start thinking about where they can send their pending free agents, and what they might get for Johnny Cueto, who remains on track to opt out of his contract.
The players hope that discussion doesn’t return. At the moment, they have lighter concerns.
“I hope we’re not rain-delayed a ton in St. Louis, that’s the first thing,” Posey said Wednesday, smiling. “But no, St. Louis is playing well and Chicago is a good team. We have to be ready to go.”