San Francisco Giants’ Returns Should Breed Optimism


The San Francisco Giants are in a tough place right now. They’ve been mired in an offensive slump for more than a week, and have lost eight of their past nine games. Entering the final series before the All-Star break on Friday, against the Philadelphia Phillies, they hold a 42-42 record, sitting dead even.

The team has reason to be optimistic as the second half inches closer. Since the start of July, the Giants have had three players return from injury, all of whom figure to be a key component to any second-half surge.

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Matt Cain was such a big piece to the Giants’ World Series runs in 2010 and 2012, but after being forced to undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, he missed the second half in 2014, and was forced to watch the team run through October from the dugout. He was then forced to miss nearly the entire first half of 2015 after suffering a flexor strain in Spring Training.

After missing just under a year, Cain returned to the mound on July 2nd. He was shaky in his first start back, allowing seven hits and four walks, which led to five runs in five innings. His second start, however, brought back memories of the Cain that was one of the best pitchers in the game just a few years ago.

Against the New York Mets on Tuesday, Cain went six shutout innings, and allowed just a pair of hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven. His fastball command was noticeably improved from his first start, and it had good velocity, touching sitting between 91 and 92, and even touching 94 on occasion. It had deceiving velocity, looking a few miles per hour faster than it really was, also reminiscent of the Cain of old.

Cain’s changeup and curveball were both sharp, giving him three really good pitches to work with. He threw 95 pitches in his second start, and 66 were strikes, good for a 69.5 percent strike rate. In his first start, he threw 89 pitches and just 51 strikes, equaling a 57 percent strike rate.

Getting Cain back, the good Cain that Giants’ fans grew to love, is a great boost to a rotation that has been searching for consistency. He could take some pressure off of Madison Bumgarner to be perfect every fifth day, and make his job easier in the process.

Jake Peavy could also play a hand in helping ease the rotation worries. In a pair of starts since returning from hip and back ailments that forced him to miss nearly three months, Peavy has been simply fantastic.

Against the Washington Nationals in his 2015 re-debut, he went 6.1 innings, and allowed only three hits and a pair of runs. The only mistake he made was a pitch to Clint Robinson that was crushed for a two-run home run. That one mistake was the only difference in the game as the Giants would go on to lose 2-1.

In his second start, in Wednesday’s series finale against the Mets, Peavy was excellent again. He went seven innings, and shut New York out through the first five before allowing an unearned run in the sixth and an earned run in the seventh. The team would lose again, 4-1 this time.

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Now that Peavy is healthy, he looks like a completely different pitcher than the one who tried to fight through the pain at the start of the year. He has more life on his fastball, adding two or three miles than what he was showing in April. His offspeed pitches are sharper, showing more command and movement this time around.

In his two most recent starts, Peavy has looked like the pitcher who helped guide the Giants into the postseason last year. If he can continue to pitch this well, Peavy, Bumgarner, and Cain will make a very strong trio. Adding in rookie Chris Heston and Ryan Vogelsong, who has enjoyed a strong return to the rotation will make them a formidable front five.

Of course, the team will need to score to win. That’s where Hunter Pence comes in. Pence returned on Tuesday, ahead of schedule and sans rehab assignment, and he wasted no time making his presence felt.

On Tuesday, Pence drove in two runs, one on a fielder’s choice and another on a base hit, accounting for most of the team’s three total runs. But his biggest play came in the field. On a pop up to short right field, Pence ran a long way before making a sliding catch in foul territory to record an out for Cain. He spun around and fired home, throwing an absolute bullet to catcher Andrew Susac to nab Curtis Granderson at the plate, completing quite possibly the defensive play of the year for the Giants.

He continued on Wednesday, adding another pair of hits. He chopped a double down the right field lne in the second, then singled home the Giants’ lone run in the ninth inning.

Pence’s bat in the lineup is a huge presence, but it’s his intangibles that make him irreplaceable. His heart, hustle and determination are unmatched in the game. No one can fire up a crowd as quickly as the “Reverend” Pence can. As the Giants continue to march through the season, the team will need that now more than ever.

The returns aren’t finished for the Giants, either. Left fielder and leadoff hitter extraordinaire Nori Aoki should return from his fractured fibula a couple weeks after the All-Star break, and the team can’t wait to get his bat back in the lineup. He was the spark plug for the Giants’ offense earlier in the year, and having both Pence and Aoki in the lineup is a recipe for success.

The Giants have fought hard to stay afloat while missing a lot of big pieces. They’ve had major ups and major downs, but are still fighting day in and day out to get stay close to a playoff spot. With the returning players, they have a few new weapons to fight with.

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