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Down the Line: Hot Giants are winning despite cold bats

San Francisco is winning a lot of close games thanks to a strong bullpen, but its offense will have to start producing eventually.

May 14, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Giants closer Brian Wilson celebrates after finishing a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
Giants closer Brian Wilson celebrates after finishing a 4-3 victory over… (Jason O. Watson / US Presswire )

No National League team entered the weekend hotter — or colder — than the San Francisco Giants, who entering Saturday were tied for the West Division lead.

The defending World Series champions got there by winning eight of 10, including a six-game homestand sweep against Colorado and Arizona in which they failed to score more than four runs in any game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that had never been done.

Five of the six home wins were by one run — and two were shutouts. That's quite a turnaround for a team that, two weeks earlier, had a losing record and stood third in the division.

But the Giants' punchless offense might be cutting things too close. With Pablo Sandoval on the disabled list, only one regular is batting better than .280 for San Francisco, which ranks next to last in the majors in runs.

As a result, 12 of the Giants' 21 wins have been by one run and five of their division-best 10 home wins have been walk-off victories — which puts enormous pressure on a bullpen that was tied for the major league lead with 10 wins and 14 saves. And that pressure might be getting tough to bear, with three relievers combining to give up eight of the season-high 11 runs the Giants yielded in a loss at the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

"We're lucky to have this bullpen," Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters. "The whole bullpen, they're all helping out and pitching very well. They're picking each other up. That's why we're winning these tight ballgames."

And with a relief corps that led the majors with 57 saves and was third in the NL with 31 wins, it's why San Francisco won the World Series last year. If the Giants don't start hitting soon, though, their pennant hopes will depend on how long the bullpen can hang on.

Killebrew enters hospice

For a guy who retired fifth on the all-time home run list with 573, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew could be remarkably humble. Although he traveled with a Hall of Fame luggage tag on his suitcases — which he carried himself — he greeted fans and strangers alike with a firm handshake and a usually unnecessary introduction.

"Hi, I'm Harmon Killebrew."

So it was sad to learn Friday that the 13-time All-Star, who never made more than $115,000 a season in the days before free agency, is conceding his battle with esophageal cancer and entering hospice care.

"I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors' expectation of cure," said Killebrew, 74, who was diagnosed with cancer in December. "I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with [wife] Nita by my side."

Stat watch

The Dodgers-Pirates game that was rained out Thursday was the 22nd game to be postponed by weather this season, one more than all of last season. … So much for home-field advantage: Entering Saturday, 14 of 30 teams had better records on the road. … Tampa Bay's James Shields has given up more than two earned runs in one of eight starts this season and is 4-0 with a 1.33 earned-run average in his last six outings. In his last start, against Cleveland, he picked off runners on first base and second base, giving him a major-league-best five pickoffs this season.

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