On the back of Madison Bumgarner’s fourteen-strikeout one-hitter, the San Francisco Giants solidified their grip of the best record in all of baseball as we enter the All-Star Break. Even if MadBum had pulled off the no-hitter, it would have been the second-best news of the day. Per Andrew Baggerly, star right fielder Hunter Pence is set to start a rehab assignment in about a week, with the Giants targeting a July 25 return date.
This is perfect for the Giants, who currently sit at 57-33, with a three-win lead on both the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals for the best record in baseball. The Giants have done this with mostly smoke and mirrors as they have been incredibly banged up; the entire outfield and half the infield has lost time to injuries. They’re currently without their starting third baseman (Matt Duffy), second baseman (Joe Panik), a $20 million pitcher (Matt Cain) and their starting right fielder and heart and soul of the team (Hunter Pence). Their starting center fielder (Denard Span) has recently been in-and-out of the lineup with a neck injury and their starting left fielder (Angel Pagan) missed about three weeks on the DL, and their setup man (Sergio Romo) missed nearly three months with injury.
At this point, they’ve been equal parts Sacramento River Cats and San Francisco Giants, but it has worked. Whether you chalk it up to a strong pitching rotation (Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are one of the best one-two punches in baseball) or Even Year B.S., the Giants have withstood numerous dings and dents to their roster, many short-term injuries that have added up to a whole lot of lineup shuffling by manager Bruce Bochy.
With Pence returning, the Giants get stability in their lineup. Until last season, Pence was the league’s Iron Man, playing not only in every game since he came to the Giants from 2012 to 2014, but nearly every inning. A hit to the wrist in Spring Training that never quite healed derailed his 2015 campaign. Pence’s hamstring was reinjured quickly after returning from injury earlier this season, so the Giants have learned to not rush Pence’s return from injury. The Giants are definitely looking to make sure Pence comes back when he is 100% ready, as they have their eye on the postseason.
The San Francisco Giants’ replacement players have done admirably, pushing the Giants into the break with wins in 22 of their last 30 games (with an inexplicable near-sweep in a four-game home-and-home with Oakland), but it’s only a matter of time before the players like Mac Williamson and Kelby Tomlinson, who should be starting in AAA Sacramento, get figured out by the league. Pence will give the best team in baseball a much-needed boost. Since his first full season with the Giants in 2013, Pence is the leader in homerun rate, second in hits, second in triples, and sports the third-best OPS in the same timeframe. He is not only one of the best hitters on the Giants’ roster, but his defense in AT&T Park’s spacious right field cannot be replaced.
The Giants currently have the best record in baseball, and have done that mostly on the backs of unknowns at nearly every position at some point this season. With one of their top-three hitters returning from the DL in short order, they’re poised to get even better.
Look out, MLB, Even Year B.S. is real.