6/3/2014 3:51 P.M. ET
How are the Giants on top? Let us count the ways
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
If you predicted that the Giants would be leading the National League West by seven games on June 3, you are hereby moved to the front of our gifted-and-talented line.
How did so many of us whiff so badly on this team? After all, is there a more respected organization in the entire sport?
Let us count the ways.
The Giants have one of the most highly regarded baseball men on the planet in their general manager, Brian Sabean, who might be the prototype of what a successful GM has to be in 2014.
That is, Sabean is an old-school guy in that his background is as a scout. He's a true baseball guy in every way that term can be defined.
Sabean has also installed a sophisticated analytics department, so when he makes a decision, he has it covered from every angle.
And there's the manager.
Bruce Bochy will join Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa, et al, in the Hall of Fame someday. Yes, he's that good.
Bochy's gift is that people immediately like him. They also respect him. That combination makes for a good clubhouse atmosphere.
Then there's the tactical stuff.
No one runs a bullpen better than Bochy, and that may be the single most important thing a manager does outside minding the personalities and the people.
And the Giants have won a little bit in recent years.
Buster Posey has been part of two championship teams, the 2010 and '12 Giants. So have Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.
Bochy's coaching staff -- Dave Righetti and Ron Wotus and Tim Flannery -- has been to a couple of rodeos as well.
One scout asked during Spring Training, "Aren't you guys overlooking the Giants?"
He meant that the Giants have come to stand for something inside the game, and that in this age of parity, this era when the talent level between the, say, top 20 or so teams isn't that great, such things as attitude and confidence and tenacity and organization matter.
Still, most of us had the Giants picked to finish way behind the Dodgers in the NL West. Some people even had the Padres, Rockies or D-backs finishing in front of them.
Today, San Francisco is rolling along with the best record in baseball and the biggest division lead. In the NL, only the Rockies, Marlins and Dodgers have scored more runs. Only Colorado has hit more homers.
Pitching? Only the Braves have a lower ERA, and they're not close to the Giants in terms of offense.
San Francisco has the second-lowest bullpen ERA in the Majors, and that's no surprise considering Bochy and Righetti's genius at running a relief corps.
Here's where we missed on the Giants:
San Francisco begins the day with a 3.28 rotation ERA, fifth best in the NL. Had we known that would be the number on June 3, we would have all rushed to rewrite our forecasts.
The Giants have done it with terrific work by Tim Hudson and Bumgarner. No surprise there. Cain has been mostly solid when he has been healthy. Yusmeiro Petit has stepped in for Cain and had two terrific starts and three ranging from decent to ugly.
But the point is that the Giants have survived even with one of their main guys going down. That's true offensively, too, after first baseman Brandon Belt went on the disabled list.
In the end, though, the real surprises are Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum. Vogelsong's 3.45 ERA is night-and-day better than it was last season, when he was at 5.73.
The Giants debated whether to even bring him back but decided that the combination of pitching deep into October in 2012 and participating in the World Baseball Classic the following spring may have left him without enough rest. That appears to be the case, and with a quality rotation that goes four deep, the Giants may not give the Dodgers a chance to run them down.
Likewise, the Giants believed in Lincecum when a lot of other people didn't. Lincecum has had a couple of really tough outings, but he also has five quality starts in his past eight tries. Whether he'll ever again be the guy who won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards is a good question, but he's certainly pitching well enough to contribute to another championship team.
Plenty of others are, too. Center fielder Angel Pagan has had an extraordinary season. He's hitting .327 and is leading San Francisco both at the top of the order and in center field.
Michael Morse has been a tremendous addition, playing both first base and the outfield. Right fielder Hunter Pence has been terrific as always, as has shortstop Brandon Crawford. Third baseman Sandoval is hitting .369 over the past month.
In short, the Giants are doing a good imitation of baseball's best team. It's not one thing. It's a dozen things, large and small. It's the GM who put it together and the manager who makes it work. It's a clubhouse built around all the right stuff.
Did we know Pagan would play this well? Or Vogelsong? Or a dozen others? Maybe we should have. It's not their first rodeo.
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.