Giants seeing offensive improvement from Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik

Giants seeing offensive improvement from Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik

SAN FRANCISCO -- Every year, Brandon Crawford creates the playlist that the Giants listen to after victories. But there haven't been a whole lot of opportunities this season for Crawford to hit play on his iPhone knowing he had been the star of the show.

That changed Wednesday. 

Crawford's solo shot in the sixth was the difference in a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays and continued what has been a solid progression over the last couple of weeks. The at-bats have been better, and Wednesday's oppo shot looked like something straight out of Crawford's torrid streak last May. 

"I felt balanced," he said. "I'm making a lot better contact, finally barreling it a little bit more and swinging at better pitches for the most part. That's the biggest thing."

The overall numbers are still far short of what Crawford would like, but there certainly has been improvement at both spots up the middle, and the Giants needed it. Joe Panik doubled Wednesday and has raised his OPS by 117 points over the last couple of weeks. Crawford is up 84 points since the end of the last homestand. 

The main story yesterday was about Shaun Anderson, who didn't get the win but at least could flash a wide smile after Crawford guaranteed a win for the Giants. Here are some other notes from a two-game series:

--- Pablo Sandoval had an RBI double on Wednesday and is hitting .364 with two doubles, three homers and eight RBI over his past eight games. He was in the lineup because Brandon Belt's knee acted up, but given what Belt is dealing with health-wise, and Evan Longoria's struggles, there's really no reason for Sandoval to be out of the lineup this weekend. 

If performance matters, no Giant has earned starts right now more than Sandoval. The staff certainly should be able to find a way to ride this hot streak through Arizona. 

--- Buster Posey will be checked again on Friday, but all signs are positive, and he should come off the concussion list and start. Drew Pomeranz will come off the Injured List to start Sunday's game. Jeff Samardzija goes Friday and Madison Bumgarner starts Saturday. 

--- The highlight of the weekend may come Saturday, when Johnny Cueto will visit the Giants at Chase Field and throw a bullpen session for the staff. Cueto has gotten up to about 40 pitches -- all fastballs -- during recent sessions in Arizona and all is still going well. The Giants are being coy about a timetable, but as I've reported before, he's aiming to return in early to mid August.

[RELATED: Giants top two prospects on track to return to San Jose in early June]

--- Finally, the closer: Will Smith was really, really good in the ninth Wednesday and has been all year. He is 11-for-11 in save opportunities, has a 2.70 ERA, and is averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

It'll be fascinating to see what Smith brings back at the deadline. Just about every team now seems to prefer to build a bullpen with spare internal parts, but this is a lefty who can close for a contender with a ninth-inning need or easily slide into the seventh or eighth for a team with a stacked bullpen.

In theory, Farhan Zaidi should be able to get a pretty nice haul for his closer.

What can Giants get in Madison Bumgarner trade? Tim Kurkjian answers

What can Giants get in Madison Bumgarner trade? Tim Kurkjian answers

Every Madison Bumgarner start can be his last as a Giant. 

The July 31 MLB trade deadline is over a month away, but Bumgarner could be gone before we know it. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is sure to be taking and making calls regarding his team's ace. Those calls should start with the New York Yankees, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian says. 

"The Yankees have to be at the top of that list," Kurkjian said Tuesday on KNBR. "Their lineup is ridiculously productive when it comes to hitting the ball out of the ballpark. But I still think they're one really good starting pitcher short of going into October as the team to beat. ... The question is, how much are they willing to give up?"

One Yankee the Giants should covet could be more available than ever. Clint Frazier, 24, was demoted to Triple-A on Sunday to make room for veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion despite proving he clearly belongs in a major league lineup. Through 53 games this year, Frazier is batting .283 with 11 home runs and a .513 slugging percentage. 

Frazier is the exact kind of player the Giants should be pursuing. He has faults with poor defense and has responded tough to criticisms this year, but he's a young, right-handed power bat that can actually hit the ball over the wall at Oracle Park. Frazier would also be under team control through 2024.

It won't be that easy to acquire him, however.

"I had an executive tell me the other day, 'There's no way the Yankees would trade Frazier even straight up for Bumgarner.' I think the Giants would need Frazier and at least another top prospect before they're gonna move Bumgarner, even in a rental situation," Kurkjian said. 

The Yankees still value Frazier even though there might not be room for him on a star-studded roster. On the other hand, the Giants want to make sure they get the best return possible for a team legend despite the fact he'll be a free agent at the end of the year. 

"How many teams are going to be willing to give up a tremendous amount for a two-month rental who's not the best he's ever been?" Kurkjian said. 

Bumgarner is 3-6 with a 3.87 ERA this season. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. His ERA has lowered every month so far. In March/April he posted a 4.30 ERA in six starts; in May he had a 3.72 ERA in six more starts and he has a 3.32 ERA through three starts in June.

The big left-hander has seen his fastball velocity rise as well. Bumgarner's average fastball velocity of 92.2 mph also is his highest since 2015, according to Brooks Baseball.

Oh, and there's that whole playoffs thing, too. 

[RELATED: History shows teams shouldn't wait to trade for MadBum]

The Yankees need Bumgarner to win another ring. The Giants need Frazier for the ball to go over the wall.

Let's make a deal.

Madison Bumgarner trade should be MLB teams' priority now, history shows

Madison Bumgarner trade should be MLB teams' priority now, history shows

With smarter, more analytical front offices, baseball is changing before our eyes. Even in the sport's evolution, however, history can teach us a lot. 

When it comes to this year's MLB trade deadline, teams should be taking a page out of baseball's history book and pounce at the chance to acquire Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, writes The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

Sure, Bumgarner is one of the most accomplished postseason pitchers of all time. But in this case, Rosenthal is going back even further than his heroics in 2014, and it all starts with a different left-handed pitcher. 

On July 7, 2008, the Brewers acquired CC Sabathia from the Indians for Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta and a player to be named later. The PTBNL turned out to be three-time All-Star Michael Brantley. More importantly, Sabathia went on one of the greatest stretches by a pitcher we've seen, propelling the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

Sabathia was unhittable once he joined Milwaukee, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA over 17 starts -- seven of which were complete games. What made the trade different than others, however, was its timing. By adding Sabathia in early July, the Brewers had the big lefty for five extra starts compared to him joining the team after the July 31 trade deadline. 

Times have changed, and fewer teams pull off a trade like that weeks before the deadline. Front offices understand that if teams like the Mets and Diamondbacks continue to struggle, pitchers like Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Zack Greinke, and Robbie Ray could become available.

Sabathia joined the Brewers two weeks before his 28th birthday. Bumgarner turns 30 on August 1. Sabathia had a 3.83 ERA when the Indians traded him. Bumgarner currently owns a 3.87 ERA over 15 starts. But as the season progresses, Bumgarner only has performed better. 

[RELATED: Giants might have two best pieces before trade deadline]

Bumgarner's ERA has lowered every month so far. In March/April he posted a 4.30 ERA in six starts; in May he had a 3.72 ERA in six more starts and he has a 3.32 ERA through three starts in June. Bumgarner's average fastball velocity of 92.2 mph also is his highest since 2015, according to Brooks Baseball.

For teams that believe they can make a playoff push -- even for the Wild Card Game -- their front offices should be calling the Giants, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi should be answering before the market gets flooded.