Giants add long ball to successful mix
Pitching-rich club even better with homers coming in bunches
ST. LOUIS -- In the Giants' World Series championship seasons of 2010 and 2012, the winning formula was pitching, pitching, pitching, defense, and then more pitching.
The Giants had opportunistic offenses in those years, but their strongest suit was run prevention.
The emphasis hasn't changed with the 2014 San Francisco club, which sports the best record in the Major Leagues at 35-19.
But the Giants have added a component that they did not have much of in the previous three seasons -- the home run. Thursday night, the Giants hit two home runs in a 6-5 victory over the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
In their first 55 games, including one suspended game, the Giants have hit 62 home runs, second most in the NL. They trail only the Colorado Rockies, who play at the highest altitude in the Majors, in the hitter-friendly environment of Coors Field.
This is in stark contrast to the Giants' power numbers in recent seasons. They hit only 107 home runs in the 2013 season. But they hit just 103 home runs in 2012, when they eventually won everything.
So this kind of pop is just a bit on the surprising side. Giants manager Bruce Bochy expected excellence from his 2014 club in the usual areas, with good reason. But even he didn't see the wave of four-baggers coming.
"I think you look at the home runs," Bochy said when asked where his team had exceeded expectations. "I thought we'd hit a few more, but for us to have hit as many as we've hit at this point, I didn't quite see that coming. I thought last year we had a power shortage, and we probably fell a little bit short of our expectations on the power angle. But this year it's been the other way."
Some of the power sources might be expected. Some might not.
"[Second baseman Brandon] Hicks hasn't hit for a high average but he's hit his share of home runs," Bochy said. "And then acquiring [Michael] Morse helped put a power bat in the lineup."
Hicks is hitting only .188 but does have eight homers and has played solid defense at second. Morse, to this point a tremendous find as a free-agent signing, leads the club with 11 homers. He was the hands-down man of the moment Thursday night, tying the game in the second with a towering 442-foot solo homer over left-center and then providing the winning margin with a two-run double in the eighth.
"What a great addition," Bochy said. "His presence, he's a run-producing, power bat in the heart of our order that just stretched out our lineup. Now, we feel like we're getting production throughout the order."
The Giants' power total may be even more surprising, given that first baseman Brandon Belt, who appeared to be having a breakthrough season with nine homers in only 129 at-bats, has missed the last 19 games with a broken left thumb.
But as in other areas of this club, this is not a one-man operation. There are a lot of contributors to the growing home run total. Buster Posey has seven home runs so far after hitting 15 in all of 2013. Brandon Crawford has six home runs. So does Hunter Pence. Pablo Sandoval hit his eighth Thursday night, a 407-foot shot, from the right side.
The Giants' descriptions of their current circumstances typically include references to having a lot of fun. It may be relatively easy to have fun when your team is 35-19. But the Giants, who can pitch and play defense and now also seem to have plenty of power, deserve to enjoy themselves.
"I'm having a blast," Morse said after Thursday night's triumph. "With this kind of team, the makeup, the chemistry, you can't not have fun.
"You know, these guys, everybody's so humble and everybody wants to win. The lineup we have, it takes the pressure off of you and you can go up there and relax and try to have your God-given talent take over.
"It's such a good balance and we're all really close in here. And that's what winning teams are."
At this point, nobody's winning more than the Giants. They already had some of the fundamental needs for another championship run, including the strong pitching.
But now, they have added the long ball as a regular attraction. They were already good. If this home run thing holds up over time, they'll be one step above good, which is somewhere between terrific and scary.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.