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How Giants keep getting instant contributions from newcomers

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Thairo Estrada homers

The Giants have a little over a week before they spread out to beaches, lakes and fishing boats for the All-Star break, but the official halfway point of their season came Friday night in Phoenix. They hit it in style, with yet another newcomer providing a capper to a huge offensive night for the most surprising team in baseball.

A four-game losing streak was emphatically snapped, with the lineup totaling 14 hits and notching three more homers in an 11-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It got the Giants to 51-30 at the halfway point and kept them half a game ahead of the surging Los Angeles Dodgers, the preseason favorites to take the division for the ninth straight year. 

Instead it's the Giants who remain on top and on pace for 102 wins. They're doing it with power -- the three no-doubters at Chase Field got them to a 242-homer pace at the halfway point -- and with continued contributions up and down the lineup.

On this night the offensive stars were Thairo Estrada and LaMonte Wade Jr., two castoffs from other organizations who were acquired for cash considerations and a reliever who has since been DFA'd twice. The Giants keep finding contributors seemingly out of thin air, but it's no accident. 

The front office certainly has proven itself to this point and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for helping players of all experience develop. But there's something else at play.

 

"It's one of the main things that winning does," starter Alex Wood said.

The veteran left-hander explained how there's an expectation that newcomers will find a way to fit in right away. It's not quite pressure, Wood said, but there certainly is a sense in the clubhouse that this roster is so deep that you can't afford to get off to a slow start when your number is called.

"We've got guys that are swinging the bats well, guys that are pitching well, so anybody that's new that comes in and really anybody that's on our team, guys are expecting you to go out and get the job done," Wood said. "That's part of a winning culture. You hold yourself to high standards, and when you get your chance to go in there, you perform or you probably won't be in the lineup the next day or you might not be in the 'pen the next day.

"That's one of the benefits of winning. It's kind of a trickle-down effect. It's been a blast to watch."

The latest to join the party was Estrada, a 25-year-old who had failed to stick with the New York Yankees and was designated for assignment when they needed to clear a roster spot for veteran Rougned Odor, who has since struggled. The Giants sent a little cash the other way and acquired a versatile depth piece. 

Estrada's slam put a win away for good and made the whole transaction worth it, but he looks capable of much more. He was once a highly-regarded prospect, and on Friday he had three hits and showed a good approach at the plate. 

"He had good at-bats throughout," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I think he struck that nice balance of focus and intensity at the plate, but also relaxation and patience."

Estrada was surrounded by smiling teammates when he returned to the dugout and said afterward that Giants veterans have been very supportive since he was called up earlier this week.

"I'm just here to continue what they've been doing throughout the season," he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. 

He looks like he fits right in. Estrada's homer -- the Giants' fifth grand slam of the season -- was the 121st of the year for a team tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the MLB lead. The Giants are on pace to easily surpass the franchise record of 235 homers, a power display that has kept them atop the NL West. 

The first goal this season was to get to the top of the division and stay there, and while outsiders might be surprised, the Giants feel they're right on track through the halfway point. 

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"In spring training there was a lot of conversation amongst our players and they really do set the tone with expectation-setting," Kapler said. "We're here to support their mission and our players said that their goal was to win the National League West. What we did at that point is we worked on processes to help our club be in a position to have a chance to do that when we get near the finish line.

 

"Right now we're halfway there. We've got a long way to go, but obviously we feel good about the position that we're in."

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