Even-year magic? Giants searching for formula amid second-half swoon

Amid the inevitable rough patches in the schedule, the San Francisco Giants take encouragement in the even-year phenomenon, which bodes well for happy endings in the Bay Area. But recent history is no guarantee that some odd occurrences won't happen along the way.

The 2010, 2012 and 2014 Giants parlayed togetherness, rally thongs and dominant pitching into three titles. The 2016 club, a work in progress, is in the midst of an identity crisis. Are the Giants the juggernaut that cruised into the All-Star break with a 57-33 record and a 6 -game lead in the National League West? Or the lost boys who have dropped 13 of 18 since the break, provided an opening for the Los Angeles Dodgers and tested the proposition that Bruce Bochy-managed teams are adept at navigating turbulence and sticking the landing?

They'll find out soon enough if their recent funk is nothing that a few well-timed reinforcements can't cure.

The Giants have been on a self-improvement kick of late. In the days, hours and minutes leading up to Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, they fortified the rotation by acquiring left-hander Matt Moore from Tampa Bay, added depth to the bullpen with the acquisition of lefty Will Smith from Milwaukee and addressed a trouble spot at third base by trading for Minnesota's Eduardo Nunez. In addition, second baseman Joe Panik returned from a concussion last week, and outfielder Hunter Pence is back in the lineup after missing two months with a torn right hamstring.

In a best-case scenario, the 20 percent roster overhaul will result in a crisper brand of baseball and bring order to the chaos. Thingscan't get much worse.

"Without question, I think the message is that ownership is doing all they can,'' Bochy said. "When we're buyers and we go out and fill some needs and get players to help out, (the players here) are being rewarded for a good first half. I think that's a shot in the arm and a shot of adrenaline for the guys.''

The Giants need to be inoculated for something. Since the break, they rank 25th in the majors in runs (64) and 23nd in OPS (.683). The pitching staff is 23rd in baseball in ERA (4.45) and leads the majors with 30 home runs allowed. And they've committed 16 errors in 18 games after making only 46 in their first 90. Pick a facet of the game, and they've been deficient at it.

A brutal schedule hasn't helped. The Giants began the second half with an eight-game trip to San Diego, Boston and New York, followed by a seven-game homestand, which fed into the current nine-game swing through Philadelphia, Washington and Miami. That's a mother lode of jet lag, but it's not going to win them any sympathy points.

"I can't put my finger on it and say, 'This is why we haven't been able to win more games than we've lost,''' said center fielder Denard Span, whose 10th-inning home run gave San Francisco a 3-2 victory over the Phillies on Thursday. "I don't think anybody was complacent or took anything for granted. We just haven't been able to get things going.

"In the first half, we were in sync. Whenever we didn't pitch well, we hit well. Whenever we didn't hit well, we pitched well. In the second half, it's been vice versa. We score eight runs and lose. (In the first half), if we scored three runs, we won. This isn't how we wanted to start. But we're still in first place. Life could be better, but it could be worse.''

Wheeler dealers

Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and the Giants' front office have never hesitated to think bold at the deadline. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

In 2011, the Giants traded highly-regarded pitching prospect Zach Wheeler to the New York Mets for Carlos Beltran. He hit .323 with seven homers down the stretch, but San Francisco went 25-32 and faded from contention. Last year, the Giants swung a deadline deal for Cincinnati's Mike Leake, who went 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA for a team that finished out of the money. Outfielder Adam Duvall, packed off to the Reds in the deal, emerged as an All-Star this season.

Conversely, San Francisco's three title teams are replete with in-season feel-good acquisitions -- from Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Javier Lopez in 2010 to Pence and Marco Scutaro in 2012 to Jake Peavy in 2014. They all made a difference after joining the Giants midstream.

This time around, the Giants weren't shy about tapping a farm system that's better than the industry rankings suggest. They gave up pitcher Phil Bickford, the 18th overall pick in the 2015 draft, in the Smith trade and parted with third baseman Matt Duffy, shortstop prospect Lucius Fox and pitcher Michael Santos for Moore, who is two years and three months removed from Tommy John surgery. Moore's contract includes three club options for a total of $26 million from 2017-2019, and that club control was especially appealing to the Giants.

Get past Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto (who blew a 4-0 lead in a loss to the Phillies on Wednesday), and San Francisco's rotation has a house-of-cards feel to it. Jeff Samardzija has two quality starts in his last 11 outings. Matt Cain sports a .298 batting average against and a 1.50 WHIP, and opponents are slugging .498 against Peavy, who was demoted to the bullpen in the aftermath of the Moore trade.In his Giants debut Thursday, Moore threw six innings of two-run ball and emerged with a no-decision.

Moore was in the weight room at Tropicana Field on Monday when his phone buzzed moments after the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. It was a media outlet asking him to hop on and do an interview about the trade to San Francisco.

"I think you're a little bit ahead of where I am right now,'' a flustered Moore told the caller. "We can catch up some other time.''

Moments later,Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey came into the weight room and made it official, and Moore began the process of moving on with his professional life. Upon joining the Giants, he settled into a clubhouse where new arrivals blend seamlessly into the mix. Ninety minutes before Wednesday's game at Citizens Bank Park, he sat in front of a clubhouse TV and chatted with Samardzija as if they were longtime pals.

"I'm a fan of the game,'' Moore said. "I've paid attention in the postseason. You look at all the guys here and understand it's a special group. They're very much geared to one thing. From the day and a half I've been in the clubhouse, there's a different aroma. There's a lot of conversation about winning and how to get hitters out. There are a lot of open arms and guys who are happy I'm here. That really helps with the transition.''

Mr. Inspiration

For all the attention the Giants generated with their trades, the most meaningful upgrade might have come from within. Since his first full season with San Francisco in 2013, Pence ranks 12th among MLB outfielders in adjusted OPS+, which factors each player's home park into the equation. Pence also inspires his teammates and keeps them amused with his Cosmo Kramer-like bird's nest of hair, his unorthodox hitting and fielding mechanics and his penchant for hurtling his body in all directions with no regard for personal safety. His baseball preacher shtick might elicit eye rolls if he weren't so gosh-darned sincere about it.

"You can look at all the numbers you want to on Hunter Pence,'' Peavy said. "What's lost is that intangible, that 'X' factor that can't be quantified. Hunter Pence and Dustin Pedroia bring as much of that as anybody I've played with. It's all about Hunter's personality, his energy, his attitude and his mindset. We're a completely different team with him in the building -- never mind what he brings on the field.

"When Hunter walks in the room and starts talking about the game, he's influencing us from our minds on down. I call him our 'Spiritual Gangster.'''

Contrary to public perception, Pence didn't completely lose his mind during eight weeks of idleness on the disabled list. Hemeticulously tended to his rehab andkept encouraging his teammates through good days and bad. Now that he's back on the active roster, it's time to get his stroke in order and do whatever it takes to push this vehicle off the breakdown lane.

Pence's 10 years in the majors have taught him that hitting, and baseball in general, are two of life's great mysteries.

"I've been swinging (a bat) my whole life,'' Pence said, "and you never master it. You never figure it out. It's a beautiful thing. Every day, it's about coming in here and trying to get better.''

With two months left in the regular season, the Giants'quest to perpetuate their even-year mystique is a cooperative venture. If Pence, Bumgarner and Buster Posey are ready to lead, their teammates will be more than happy to follow.
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