The Giants could not have finished off the unofficial first half of the season in a more fitting style. Their 3-1 win to complete the three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals on Sunday was a microcosm of the success that has San Francisco at least two games ahead of every other team in the majors heading into the All-Star break.
Dominant pitching and timely hitting, usually by way of the long ball. That has been the recipe that has worked so well for Gabe Kapler's group and did again Sunday.
The pitching component did not come as a surprise. Kevin Gausman struck out nine over six innings and looked like every bit of the All-Star that he is. The offense, however, came from a less predictable source, as Curt Casali provided all the scoring with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second.
Casali has been on a tear since returning from the injured list a month ago, so the fact that he hit the homer and reached base another two times Sunday was not a shock. But what has been constantly shocking is how frequently unsung Giants players have stepped up to provide decisive, winning plays, just as Casali did Sunday. Given the poor injury luck they've dealt with to this point, with some of their best players still sidelined, there is no way the Giants would be where they are without those contributions.
"His performance today was excellent on both sides of the ball," Kapler said of Casali after the win. "What I'd say is I think it exemplifies the type of team we were in the first half, just getting contributions from every player up and down the roster, contributions from guys who came up from the minor leagues, and obviously excellent performance from the veteran players.
"But I think it's worth noting that on this homestand, we won games and we did it without our No. 1 catcher, our All-Star catcher. We had four different catchers start games on this homestand, and I think that is a good example of how we've stepped up for each other as a team and how these players take a great deal of pride in picking up for one another and kind of being great teammates, being prepared for these moments."
Buster Posey is on the 10-day IL. Evan Longoria has been out since June 5th. Brandon Belt has been sidelined for more than two weeks, and Tommy La Stella hasn't played since May 2nd. The Giants weren't expected to be a playoff team with all of those guys in the lineup, much less out of it.
And yet, they continue to prove all the doubters wrong.
"I don't know if you're ever ready to replace that many guys," Casali told reporters via videoconference, "especially those four in particular, guys who are expected to be in the lineup and produce, but we take it upon ourselves to be as prepared as we possibly can. I think our coaching staff deserves a lot of credit in terms of how they help us get ready for an opposing starting pitcher.
"It's a cool mentality. We have a lot of great guys on this team and everybody's just looking for their opportunity to step up and contribute in any way possible, and fortunately, that has meshed well with outstanding -- outstanding -- pitching."
The Giants reached the All-Star break with MLB's best record, just as they did in 2016. But the success San Francisco has achieved thus far despite the seemingly endless flow of unfortunate injury news suggests that the Giants won't fade in the second half like they did that even year.
And because of that, it's not too early to start believing that the Giants might now be an odd-year team.