Giants ride shutout streak to top of NL West
Matt Cain, it's your turn.
"Don't worry about it," Madison Bumgarner told him Thursday night. "There's no pressure."
"All you've got to do is throw a shutout."
These guys are such kidders.
After all, Cain had a perfect game earlier this season. He's the ace of the staff, one of the best in the business. On the other hand, what have you done for us lately, Matt?
It's going to be such a downer when the Giants allow a run, and that, absolutely, positively is going to happen. Brace yourselves, Giants fans.
It has happened before. Not that long ago, really. As a matter of fact, the Giants gave one up last Sunday. It happened in the ninth inning of a game against the A's.
If we'd known it was going to be the last one for a while, we could have marked the occasion. Home plate could be on display in Cooperstown by now.
But since then, the Giants haven't allowed a single one. They shut out the Dodgers in three straight games, and then Madison Bumgarner kept it going with a brilliant one-hit shutout of the Reds Thursday night.
Reds' catcher Ryan Hanigan got the only hit, a leadoff single in the sixth inning. When Bumgarner was done, he'd extended the shutout streak to 36 innings, the longest streak in the 130 seasons the Giants have been doing business.
In 36 innings, the Giants have allowed all of 17 hits, with 10 walks and 28 strikeouts. It began with Barry Zito going seven innings and getting finishing work from a pair of relievers against the Dodgers on Monday.
Ryan Vogelsong matched Zito with seven shutout innings on Tuesday, and was also followed by two relievers. And then Tim Lincecum went seven on Wednesday before turning the ball over to the bullpen.
Bumgarner got the ball on Thursday and was very nearly perfect.
"Amazing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Now it's Matt Cain going against the Reds tonight at AT&T Park.
Oh, there's that whole thing with the standings as well. When the Giants left Oakland on Sunday, they were in second place, three games out of first.
This morning, they're alone atop the National League West, a game in front of the Dodgers.
There's so much right going on with these Giants. Though the team was offensively challenged for much of this season, Bochy has found a nice combination in the middle of the lineup.
Hats off to general manager Brian Sabean for the Melky Cabrera deal. The outfielder has been terrific from start to finish. Pablo Sandoval has been solid again, and Brandon Belt has been the guy the Giants projected him to be.
And even with closer Brian Wilson gone for the season, the Giants' bullpen has been plenty reliable.
But these Giants are about the starting rotation. That was true when they won the World Series in 2010, and it's why plenty of people thought they might go back this season.
It was supposed to begin with Lincecum, Cain and Vogelsong, in that order. But until this week, Lincecum's season has been a long-running nightmare.
His velocity was down, his command off. He'd won one time and had an ERA over six. For a guy who'd won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons, it just didn't seem possible he was having such struggles.
He kept fighting through it, working on mechanics, conditioning, you name it. The Giants toyed with giving him a start off, and this week, Lincecum made that decision look like a good one.
Likewise, Zito has gone through tough times the last few years. He, too, appears to be fixed. To have all of them pitching at a high level isn't a fair fight.
This was the Giants team that Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers feared when he acquired Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel last winter. The Giants had an off year in 2011, and Towers looked at all that pitching and didn't think they'd have another one.
It was easy to project a great Diamondbacks-Giants race in the division this summer, but the Dodgers sprinted out of the gate and looked like the best team in baseball for a few weeks.
There's no way of knowing how it'll unfold in the weeks ahead. All that's for sure is that the Giants made a statement this week.
To quote former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, "It's all about the pitching. It's always about the pitching."
If that's the case, this summer may be all about the Giants. We resume the streak at 36 innings tonight at AT&T Park.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.