Bay Area Baseball

Follow the latest news and notes on the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics

May 5, 2013
Giants playing them close, sweep Dodgers; Cain gets his 'W'

SAN FRANCISCO -- After the Giants closed out a sweep of the Dodgers with another win by the slimmest of margins, Hunter Pence said semi-jokingly that it "literally feels like it's been three weeks of one-run ballgames, win or lose."

It wasn't that much of a stretch. Four of the Giants' wins in their current six-game streak, including all three games against the Dodgers, were one-run games -- as were three of the losses in the five-game losing streak that preceded it.

That has made for high-leverage situations late in games for a variety of players. One of them Sunday was Jean Machi. After the Dodgers cut a 4-0 lead to 4-3 in the eighth, with runners still on first and second and two outs, Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought in Machi to face pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston Jr.

That might normally have been a situation for Santiago Casilla, but Casilla was off-limits after pitching two innings Saturday night. Machi, who allowed his first run in seven appearances for the Giants on Saturday, got Hairston to ground out to Brandon Crawford to preserve the lead.

Machi later credited Bochy and the coaching staff with having confidence in him to pitch in those kind of late-game situations (he compared pitching in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry to closing against a rival team in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues). When you play every game seemingly as close as the Giants do, it takes an entire 25-man roster.

"We're doing a lot of good things to win ballgames," Bochy said in summing up this weekend and the Giants' six-game streak.

In a promising sign for the Giants, a lot of those wins are coming against teams in their division. As first pointed out by Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, through their first 31 games, the Giants have already swept series from every N.L. West team. Their record in the division is 15-6.

"That's really all you can do," said right-hander Matt Cain. "You want to get into the playoffs and the best way to try to do that is try to win your division. So you've got to take those division games seriously."

That counts for series in April and May as much as August and September. So while it's still early, the Giants will wake up tomorrow morning with a one-game lead in the West over Colorado.

* Cain getting his first win of the season is the subject of tomorrow's print story. He went six starts in April without one, the longest such stretch to start a season of his career, and snapped it Sunday by taking a shutout into the eighth inning and finishing with one run allowed in 7 1/3.

Cain pitched around baserunners in most innings and benefited from the Dodgers hitting a handful of balls hard but right at Giants in the field. He acknowledged as much. He was also facing a Dodgers lineup missing three-fourths of its starting infield -- Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, who pinch-hit against Jeremy Affeldt in the 8th.

Among the promising signs for Cain, who came in with a 6.49 ERA, were that he kept the Dodgers in the park (after giving up nine home runs over his previous four starts) and was clocked at 93 mph on the gun in the late innings, which he and Bochy both held as proof his early-season struggles haven't been the result of any health or fatigue issues.

"My arm has felt good and my body's felt good throughout it all," Cain said. "It's just tweaking it a little bit and making better pitches at times.

"Sometimes, you're going that bad, you might want to wish something was going wrong physically," he said wryly. "But that wasn't the case."

Remarkably, Cain's first win of the season was also the first win by a Giants starter since Barry Zito on April 21 -- a span of 11 games without one. Cain said "all of us wanted to get us off that little skid."

Pence said it never seemed like Cain's confidence was shaken during his rocky April.

"That's what's pretty amazing about this team, about him ... is his poise," Pence said. "You find out what people are made of when they go through little rough stretches, and we're seeing what Cain is made of. He continues to be positive."

* Pence was Cain's best friend Sunday, driving in all four of the Giants' runs. He batted with multiple runners on in each of his first three at-bats and delivered an RBI fielder's choice in the first, RBI single in the third and two-run double in the fifth. Of the double, which seemed to trace a nearly straight line from Pence's bat to the brick wall in right, Bochy said: "I don't know if you can hit a ball harder than that."

Even with Angel Pagan out Sunday resting his hamstring strain, the top four hitters in the Giants' lineup combined in the first five innings to go 6-for-9 with two walks. That made for plenty of RBI opportunities for Pence, who now has 19 on the season.

"He's one of those guys that can carry you," Bochy said, "and today he did."

* The Dodgers came into this series already bruised and left battered. Along with placing shortstop Hanley Ramirez on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, they had to scratch Gonzalez from all three starting lineups with neck pain, saw Matt Magill record four outs in his second major-league start Saturday in place of Ted Lilly (also on the DL) and fell to 5-13 this season in the West.

Dodgers writers were reporting after the game that Gonzalez asked for a pinch-runner after his single in the eighth because he felt pain from running, and that he's scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow. So that's something to keep an eye on for a team that's already dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries 30 games into the season.

* Going back to Machi, he's making an already tough decision for the Giants even more difficult. Bochy expects Jose Mijares to return tomorrow from the bereavement list, at which time the Giants will have to decide whether to option a pitcher to make room for Mijares -- likely Machi, who was called up April 17 when Affeldt went on the DL -- or keep 13 pitchers and ship out a position player.

Complicating this is the uncertain status of Pagan, who Bochy said is "questionable" for tomorrow's series opener against the Phillies. If Pagan's hamstring is an ongoing issue, the Giants may need to keep Francisco Peguero as another option in the outfield. Peguero went hitless Sunday but made a couple nice plays in left, and if the Giants are facing a left-hander without Pagan, he allows Bochy to play an all-right-handed-hitting outfield with switch-hitting Andres Torres in center.

Machi has been solid, allowing just the one run on nine hits in 10 innings. Right-handed hitters are 3-for-19 against him.

* The probable pitching match-ups for Giants-Phillies, which begins tomorrow night:
Monday: Cliff Lee (2-2, 3.46) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3-0, 1.55)
Tuesday: Kyle Kendrick (3-1, 2.43) vs. Tim Lincecum (2-1, 4.41)
Wednesday: Jonathan Pettibone (2-0, 3.24) vs. Barry Zito (3-1, 3.06)

It's the Giants' first exposure this season to the N.L. East. Back in a matter of hours for Bumgarner-Lee.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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