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With timely hitting and strong bullpen, Giants out in front of NL West

Ryan Vogelsong said defense and solid bullpen have kept Giants on top of NL West.
Ryan Vogelsong said defense and solid bullpen have kept Giants on top of NL West.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO - Here at the one-quarter pole of the baseball season, things have gone pretty much to script in the National League West Division.

That’s the assessment of San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, whose Giants lead the division two months into the season. While the baseball campaign is a marathon and not a sprint, the hot, grueling, grinding months of summer lay ahead and the division race is always subject to roadblocks and land mines.

For now, the Giants are ahead of the pack and have been in first place since April 25. Their lead over the second place Dodgers and third place Rockies has been steady and San Francisco’s largest advantage, through Saturday, was four games on May 15.

“Back in spring training, I said this was a very strong division,” Bochy said before Saturday’s game with the Minnesota Twins at AT&T Park. “There’s a lot of a good pitching. Colorado has shown they can be a force and the Dodgers have the strong pitching. It’s what I thought.”

A quick look at the standings would indicate the Padres and Diamondbacks, are, at this point, an after-thought.

Not quite, said Bochy.

“Arizona will bounce back,” Bochy predicted. “They’re too good a team and same with San Diego. It’s a well-balanced division.”

While the Giants are on top of the division at Memorial Day, they are a few things for the D-backs and other teams in the division to be aware.

First, the Giants have a balanced line-up and Bochy adds, “we’re getting contributions from the bottom of the line-up.” Also, the Giants have a respectable pitching rotation and Bochy said it was important for ownership to re-sign Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, who improved to 3-2 with a 2-1 win Saturday here against the Twins.

“One big reason for our success so far is the ability to get the clutch hit,” Bochy pointed out. “We seem to get the big hit when we need to get it.”

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Giants led the majors with 94 RBIs with two outs. As a team, they are hitting .284 (55-for-194) with runners ins coring position and two outs. That is second to the Marlins, who were hitting .284 (58-for-203).

Also to think about is the Giants’ ability to take a lead. When San Francisco scores first, they were 22-4 (.846 winning percentage) and that was before Saturday's contest with Minnesota.

Overall, the Giants possess the best record in baseball. Prior to Saturday’s game, their 30-18 record translates into a .625 winning percentage.

“There are two major reasons, I think, for our start,” Vogelsong said after his win Saturday. “We’re getting big hits at key times, and the bullpen has been shutting guys down. Plus, we’re playing great defense. I can’t forget that because guys have picked me up so many times with the glove.”

Following Saturday’s win over Minnesota, the Giants’ team ERA dropped to 3.09 and only the Braves, among National League teams, had a lower club ERA.

Combined with the fifth best fielding record in the National League, pundits like to say that pitching and defense will beat good hitting in almost all cases.

TIME FOR AN UP-DATE

When Jason Kubel arrived with this Minnesota teammates for the weekend series at AT&T Park, that was his first appearance at that ball park since his days with the Diamondbacks.

After leading the D-backs in home runs with 30 in 2012, Kubel fell injury-prone last season and was eventually traded to Cleveland last August 29. Following eight games with the Indians and a .167 batting average, Kubel was released but signed on with the Twins.

Prior to arriving in the desert, Kubel spent seven years with the Twins and is 14th on the Twins’ all-time home run list. Among left-handed hitters, the 32-year-old native of Belle Foruche, S. D. is fifth on the home run list with 105 home runs.

“I had seven great years here before and it feels comfortable to come back,” Kubel said before Saturday’s game with the Giants. “It was an easy decision and I’m happy to be back.”

Off to a strong start, Kubel was among the leading American League hitters through the opening weeks but has fallen off over the past month.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Kubel was in the Twins line-up and hitting sixth against Ryan Vogelsong, the San Francisco starter. He was hitting .255 with one home run and 13 RBIs.

“I’ve developed some bad habits over the past few weeks,” Kubel added. “It’s been going better and I’m feeling better. Just have to keep it going.”